Saturday, January 26, 2008

City Planning, Windfall for Developers.

The Tribune provided an illuminating snapshot of zoning in Chicago versus other larger cities. Basically, developer wants to buy property to make extravagant condos + donations to aldermanic race = BIG condo on your front lawn.
The new, 8,200-square-foot mansion is by far the biggest house on the 1800 block of North Wood Street, leaving Fred Ehle's four-bedroom home next door in its shadow.

"I don't mind gentrification and development—I live in Bucktown—but it has gone out of control," Ehle said. "It's crazy. It's so obviously different than what the neighborhood was and still is."

Zoning rules had prohibited such a behemoth from going up on the block. But that was before the developer got a break from then-Ald. Ted Matlak (32nd). Two weeks after the developer applied for a lucrative "upzoning" so he could build a much bigger house, one of the developer's companies gave the alderman a $2,000 campaign contribution.

The real zoning code in Chicago is unwritten, but developers know it well: Changes in zoning go hand in hand with contributions to aldermanic campaigns.

Perhaps the phenomena of campaign coffers for zoning lenience is obvious to any Chicago politico, neighborhood activist, or longtime resident. But for fear of stating the obvious, papers often clam up when real corruption takes place. But I'm glad the Trib lied it out here.
It's a city where the council rubber stamps aldermen's wishes—rejecting just 15 requested zoning changes in a decade—and where almost half the zoning changes were concentrated in 10 of the city's 50 wards that are exploding with growth.
...City officials in the Zoning and Planning Departments review proposals and issue recommendations before aldermen vote. That review involves determining if new construction would be an "intrusion" to the neighborhood.

But aldermen pay little heed. City staff objected to about 40 percent of the zoning changes that the council approved over the last three years, city records show.

Ald. William J.P. Banks (36th), chairman of the City Council Zoning Committee, said the reality in the neighborhoods—as represented by the aldermen—is far more important than what city staff think about a zoning change application. He said the tradition of aldermanic prerogative in zoning is as strong as ever, but that he advises council members to run projects by their constituents first.

I have to say that I'm not surprised, but the "pay-to-lay" way of development is different from what I'm accustomed.

In Madison they passed an ordinance last year to restrict development that goes against the character of neighborhoods, creating "historic districts." Madison Ald. Tim Gruber faced strong opposition, nearly losing his District 11 seat because of neighbor disapproval of four-story condos, calling it too "high-rise" for them.

Granted, Madison is not your typical town when it comes to city governance either.

Back in Chicago, the "exposure" of developers paying alderman to build condos lends cred to the Humboldt Park No Se Vende! movement in my own neighborhood.

At the housing summit in November, residents demonstrated against the influx of "yuppies," condos, rising housing costs. Organizers for the Participator Democracy project related to me how resident's didn't necessarily have a problem with development, but they are being excluded from the fruits of development by being priced out of their neighborhoods, which severs the social ties that help the community fight crime and thrive economically.

One perk of gentrification is a tendency for lower crime in a geographic neighborhood. It's much easier for a city to move in new condos than to deal with underlying social dilemmas.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Presidential Politics - Who needs Media Matters when you have Jon Stewart

As we're in two wars and threatening another, facing a larger gap between rich and poor, recession, and unaffordable health care, the campaign is reaching a new schoolyardish vibe.

Kucinich is being kicked out of the debate, and thus the race. Edwards is being sidelined. Ron Paul is branded a crazy survivalist. McCain is being called unelectable by the party faithful because he is against torture. Bill Clinton is spouting off about the fantasy that is the Obama campaign and Bill's enjoying the fight between Barak and Hillary, while his Hillary is making Obama guilty by association for receiving donations from a federally indicted slumlord. Obama, for his part, allegedly has campaign staffers hassling Clinton supporters.

The campaign, governance is really not about policy, but the horse race.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Home-spun Mercenaries could kill free of penalty, thanks to U.S.-installed Democracy

I almost feel bad as a journalist when I don't have to even dig anymore to find our government being criminally stupid. I mean, Bush and co. are implicated on the front page of the New York Times.
With its international mandate in Iraq set to expire in 11 months, the Bush administration will insist that the government in Baghdad give the United States broad authority to conduct combat operations and guarantee civilian contractors specific legal protections from Iraqi law, according to administration and military officials.

...negotiations with the Iraqis, expected to begin next month, would also determine whether the American authority to conduct combat operations in the future would be unilateral, as it is now, or whether it would require consultation with the Iraqis or even Iraqi approval

Hey, remember when Dubya said he didn't want to make Irag in our own image, but allow them to decide for themselves? Well, now we're ratcheting up some legislation that would bypass your own country's military authority, as well as allowing the likes of private mercenary, Blackwater, to shoot at crowds of Iraqis and have legal immunity. Prime Minister (how quaint) Maliki will probably not be happy with that one.

Speaking of how we're spreading the rule of democracy in Iraq, lets consider how well Iraqis are being represented in their newfound republic. Three quarters of Iraqis would feel safer with U.S. and other foreign troops out, according to State Department polls. 65 percent of those Iraqis want us out immediately.

But just goes to show you how wonderful our democracies here and there are going. Bush and Co. say they have to make decisions that are often unpopular with the rest of the country. He knows best after all. And you can't trust those liberals at the State Department to skew public opinion to mirror their own ideologies...

...but seriously folks, I thought this was a republic, not a patriarchal system...

Iraqis likely are going to put up a tough fight over more U.S. military involvement, and freebies to Blackwater...
“These are going to be tough negotiations,” said one senior Bush administration official preparing for negotiations with the Iraqis. “They’re not supplicants.”

I say all this with all due respect to the U.S. troops over there who are working their asses off to help Iraqis with reconstruction. I read news of U.S. troops over there taking the place of the Shiite-led government in helping various ethnic Iraqis rebuild their businesses and utilities. I'm proud to say one of my close relatives is hoping to do good in Iraq.

However, I don't think the underlying tension between groups in Iraq is anything that can be "fixed" by us, even with the best intentions and efforts. Look at how it's gone so far...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

MCA, Maps, and Metamorphoses

"Mapping the Self," now featured at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art is an interesting, if not always beautiful look at how artists conceptualize cultural and political themes through the use of geography and space. It was impossible to include all the works in my review, given the plenitude of artistic displays. So if you are going to visit, take a good 1.5-2 hours at least. Also, if you are constrained by budgets, check it out on a Tuesday from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., when it is sponsored by our friends at Target.

You could also try pretending that you write reviews for a local alt-weekly. But they may check IDs....

One of the pieces that I didn't have the space to review was a one connecting relationships with the Great Wall of China. The Yugoslavian artist (I forgot the name, so go see the exhibit) and her partner started walking at opposite points on the wall toward each other. At the place that they met, which is featured in a photograph, they chose to end their relationship.

The poignant metaphor was that geographic and large external phenomena often determine people's fates more than anything within human control.

It was probably the most beautiful breakup that I'd ever witnessed...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Birthplace of Hip-Hop, under siege

DJ Kool Herc, father of hip hop, aka Clive Campbell popped up in the news today because real estate mogul, Mark Karasick, wants to buy the apartment complex where Herc started it all.

In the summer of 1973, Herc built a hi-fi sound system and threw the first Hip Hop dance party. Having heard him speak over the summer to UW-Madison's First Wave Spoken Word Learning Community, he explained that the event was about bringing people of many musical tastes together in a progressive celebration.
"Don't smoke pot in here. You got a problem with someone, take it outside."

Nowadays, residents and benefactors of the working class birthplace, 1520 Sedgwick Avenue are suspicious. What does a guy who has made real estate deals with Donald Trump want with a working-class apartment complex? Will he come in and gentrify it? raise the rents? change the character?

US Sen. Chuck Shumer, D-NY, joins the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board in a plea to buy the property with the help of city funds.

The movement reminds me of Humboldt Park's revulsion of gentrification over here in Chicago, "Humboldt Park No Se Vende!"

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Art Shows

Among a myriad of other activities, I write reviews on art exhibitions for New City Chicago alt-weekly. This show by Susan Kraut was uplifting, slightly impressionistic, and I recommend anyone in the Chicago area to drop by when they are feeling contemplative or need and inebriating pick-me up. Images of Italy are imprinted with warm and cold moody colors that more show the emotional state of the artist and statements about life than a realistic portrayal.

Taking them in just kind of makes you feel good.

Funding the CTA, an olympic opportunity that'll probably get flushed.

As the Chicago Transit Authority continues to wrangle over a debt-induced fare increase and round of detrimental service cuts, Mayor Daley is going to meet with President Bush to talk Olympics possibilities for 2016.
Here's the Tribune with more:
The meeting comes at the request of White House officials, who said Bush wants to be briefed on plans to hold the 2016 Games, a City Hall source said. The White House also wants to know what it can do to help the city's bid, the source said.

Daley says the city needs a new rapid-transit line west of the downtown area. He mentioned Saturday the federal government typically provides support for host cities with transportation, public safety and security.

Daley has been fixated, for awhile now, on a rapid transit service from O'Hare to Downtown for a while now, to help visiting business folks get there and spend money, make money.

That sounds like a good idea and all. But just fixing up the CTA blue Line is expected to cut the trip to 45 minutes, which is great considering Chicago's traffic typically making the current trip almost an hour by train, closer to one hour 15 min in rush hour traffic.

And wouldn't improving the bus system, ultra slow red line, barely existing yellow and purple lines, be a priority if you wanted to cycle people around the Olympics for cheap? Not to mention, keeping the system affordable and rideable for our daily commuters?

If anything is a strong deterrent for the Olympic bid, it's the crumbling mass transit system and bungling of Illinois government. Global visitor are much more attuned to hoping on the train, bus than U.S. folks.

Democracy in America, Skewered

Well, I can safely say that I've taken a look at the candidates following the Iowa Caucus and think that all the front-runners are putzes. However I do precurser this diatribe by saying that I think Obama is the least putzy.

Obama emerged with a wide lead over Clinton and Edwards, jump starting the brand new overarching theme that America wants Change! Really? You think? While Edwards has been spouting off talking points with his po' boy accent, he called Clinton part of the big status quo.

Meanwhile, in a debate about an issue that is driving American citizens nuts with worry, if not driving them into a second mortgage with jacked interest rates, let's talk about health care.... Video courtesy of

Clinton attacks Obama for not mandating health care for adults because that "wouldn't make the system universal," (Obama is flipflopping). Whereas Clinton points out that Obama requires children to be covered, thus making it a two class system where children are covered and adults aren't.

Obama shoots back that he doesn't think people are opting out of health care because of a freewill decision, but because they can't afford to have a doctor give them a pill for $300. Let's focus on the high costs, but perhaps a mandate would further distance the public?

Obama maybe has a point. And a mandate for children's coverage makes sense given their complete lack of money, and no choice in the matter. Hillary tries in vain to point out the loophole in this logic: so adults have a choice but kids don't, so that's why it should be mandatory for kids? I thought you said choice wasn't the issue.

Admist the circle of logical struggle, Obama, as the brand spanking new "frontrunner," extends the peaceful message of not distorting records but rather discussing differences in policy perspectives.

The following is fake dialogue meant to satirize the situation.

Obama: "Let's not fight, Hillary. Let's chat about our differences and enjoy the white powder. Remember how one of your staffers attacked me on my "blow problem," Obama jabs.

And Edwards chimes in as his perpetual running mate self, backing up Obama agaist their newfound, common foe.

Edwards: "Hillary, you're just bitching because you're losing; I like Barak."

Hillary: "At least I'm not a stupid campaign slogan," retorts Hillary.

At this point in the campaign, all the stereotypes are coming out.

Obama is the promising new voice and frontrunner, spouting off much hot air. And hopeful hot air is still hot air. Edwards is cozying up to his future running mate. Still injecting the anti-corporate, yay working class feeling into the campaign.
Hillary is the wonkish shrew, casting off her pleasant facade and thus having her good points lost in the middle of a popularity contest.

And now lets get to the Republicans. Another live-action debate about an issue where US citizens are dying: War on Terror!

Ron Paul, another candidate that I admire/think is interesting, explains that perhaps fundamentalists abroad are angry with the US because we've interfered with their country, installing military bases, doling out weapons and protecting our resources by telling them how wonderful Jeffersonian democracy can be. See the future Taliban in the 1980s, or "Freedom Fighters," as Reagan liked to say.

Romney, who has more personalities with different positions than Sybil, says that Paul "just doesn't understand jihad." This coming from a guy that fights for gay rights, then says he's against them, fights for gun control, then boasts of his love for hunting-having shot a bird once or twice. I'm to think that this asshole understands Jihad?

I don't even want to get into Mayor 9/11's perspective. Most of his responses involve, "Hey, remember 9/11?" But here he says this "hardcore Islamist revulsion towards the states has nothing to do with our foreign policy (contrary to the 9/11 commission, mind you), but they're just bad people who need to be shown moderation.

Paul tries to explain the US policy-foreign revulsion link again: What if China came over with the best intentions and installed military bases here to change the backwardness of our society. We'd be pissed, right?

Romney, the Mormon love child shouts back with a stupid chuckle, "Your just feeding into their propaganda." Guiliani 9/11 chortles in approval for good measure.

"I've read their propaganda," said Romney with John Kerry-esque self-aggrandizement

Guiliani, Romney, Goebbels: The "Islamofascists" are against our freedom...

All in all, an iota of truth in all their perspectives. Fundamentalist Islam doesn't look too kindly on Western values, and perhaps they need to change. But is interference from a culture with which their at odds going to help? I'm inclined to say that a Muslim Martin Luther would be more productive than an Uncle Sam, but Martin Luther really doesn't have a concern about oil and national security.

I digress...Maybe these presidential candidates should have a similar conversation instead of attacking each others' patriotism or affinity for hunting...

Hey kids, speaking of propaganda. Check out the similarities in these photos between Romney and Mormon founder Joseph Smith.

On top of all the political chicanery, Bill O'Reilly accosted an Obama staffer! Wow, I need a cigarette. Shit! I can't smoke either in this democracy. Glad that we exported it to Iraq...