I recently started a new position and will be blogging for the Sixth Circuit Blog, which summarizes opinions in selected criminal cases from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Please check out my first posts on that site, which address computer search warrants and limits on the “private search doctrine” in regard to computers.
There is continuing hubbub about the Trump towers sign in Chicago. As Emily Badger explains on Wonk Blog today, a lot of outspoken folks seems to hate it:
When the sign first took shape, one letter at a time over the course of several weeks earlier this summer, outrage began to build in a city that prizes its architectural views like Boston does its colonial character or New Orleans its jazz scene. Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the sign “tasteless.”The skyscraper’s architect, Adrian Smith, let it be known that he agreed. The Chicago Tribune’s Blair Kamin blasted it, prompting a very bizarre feud — and an excellent Daily Show segment — wherein Trump himself called the Pulitzer Prize-winner a “third-rate architecture critic.”
Now Emanuel has proposed an ordinance that would protect the city’s riverfront from such “visual clutter” in the future. Chicago can’t strike down this sign (the previous administration approved it). But, under the new rules, which would follow similarly protected corridors elsewhere in the city, building signs would have to be significantly smaller (in Trump’s case, about five times smaller). They’d have to be located much closer to the rooftop, effectively out of sight at eye level. No Vegas-style flashing lights or neon. And only a building’s principal occupant — using at least 51 percent of the floor space — could plaster its brand on the building. That means a company filling two floors of a high-rise can’t pay a developer for that right.
Badger does a good job trying to explain the negative reactions. She quotes Kamin, who argues that, because this sign sits at an important area for Chicago architecture, “this isn’t just a debate about a sign.” Rather, he says, “It’s about the quality of civic space.”
As I covered before, Kamin also opposed an earlier plan put forward by Mayor Emanuel to add advertising on city property to raise revenue. I noted then that, on the Cityscapes blog, Kamin called the first advertisement placed as part of this initiative—put on a historic bridge—“short-sighted,” “tasteless,” and “clueless.” I also noted, however, that, as shown cleverly in Morgan Spurlock’s The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, it is clear that Americans have an amazing tolerance for advertising.
Perhaps the newly proposed ordinance will be the perfect balance and will spread to other spaces beyond the riverfront? Time will tell.
Here’s a bit of city/data news, from CityLab, that you (and I) can actually help with.
The Urban Wildlife Institute at the Lincoln Park Zoo has created an interactive website, Chicago Wildlife Watch, “to help the Institute document and study the animals that live in Chicagoland” by viewing photos taken from cameras around the city and tagging which animals are in them.
As Lex Berko at CityLab explains:
According to the Institute’s director Seth Magle, who spoke to Chicago’sRedEye last week, this work used to fall under the purview of interns. As the Institute ramped up its identification efforts, the onslaught of photos—they currently have more than a million—became too much for their team to handle, so they decided to crowdsource. To date, more than 91,000 animals have been identified through Chicago Wildlife Watch.
I played around with the website, and there seems to be a lot of squirrels, and sometimes nothing, but that just makes it more exciting to find a deer or skunk.
I just started what is so far an excellent book by Elaine Lewinnek, an associate professor of American Studies at California State University, Fullerton. The book is called “The Working Man’s Reward,” and I wanted to plug it here. It grabbed me from the introduction, which proclaims that “Chicago’s first product was real estate.” She promises to examine how the dream of homeownership—heavily shaped in many ways by people and events in Chicago—has affected the urban and suburban landscape throughout America.
Lewinnek nicely summarizes some of her ideas at the end of the book’s introduction:
[R]eal estate is a particularly interesting product, offering to produce further profits while providing shelter, class status, community, access to jobs, and investment equity. Real estate decisions can affect health, educational opportunities, physical mobility, and ultimately class mobility. Real estate matters, so much so that riots erupted over it. [See Lewinnek’s blog post about Chicago’s 1919 race riots tied to property values.] As Chicagoans sorted out what a modern city would look like—through land speculation, boosterism, two riots, and many barely conscious, often-constrained choices—they developed a city form that affects the sprawling and often racially divided spaces that all Americans have inherited.
I’m eager to dig into many parts of this book, but one that stands out at the outset is its study of how innovative local initiatives often quickly spread to other municipalities—an idea I’ve written about before. Whet Moser, interviewing Lewinnek for Chicago Magazine, paraphrased her thesis as being about how Chicago “invented” the suburbs. In that interview, she describes how some of the first zoning laws were “fire limits” that came out of the great Chicago fire. The new building rules forbade wooden houses in the city, and that forced workers to live further from their places of work. Usefully, she “reject[s] monocausal explanations” for why the Chicago model spread, arguing that it was a complex combination of different social and political forces at work at the time. She also sees lessons for the future from her study, as summarized in this part of her interview with Moser:
At the end of the book, you argue that learning from this past is a way of preparing for the future. What did you learn in researching the book that you think we should learn from?
The things that people developed on their own—the real struggles to own humble, small houses, were things that they clung to. With the institutionalization of public housing, the small houses were bulldozed and people were put into huge towers that didn’t end up being good places to live. Now we’re going back to public housing that looks more suburban, more dispersed. Part of what working-class Chicagoans invented in the late 19th century and the early 20th century is some of what we might be coming full circle to.
And some of those possibilities, too, of living in diverse spaces; being conscious of the whole range of suburbs. To me those are kind of exciting possibilities.
Lewinnek blogs at Elaine’s Blog.
Earlier this month, Franklin Foer argued in The New Republic that “The Greatest Threat to Our Liberty Is Local Governments Run Amok.” It seems that the main purpose of the article is to use Ferguson as a means to challenge the idea of modern libertarian politicians that some matters of governance are best left to local governments. The problem is that the article overlooks a lot.
I want to very briefly call out one of those things: The article’s conflation of state and local governments. As I recently explained in an essay for The Urban Lawyer, states and municipalities maintain drastically different roles in our system of government. Not that these two levels of government can’t work to solve the same problems: ours is a system of polyphony. But it is a mistake to equate the legal authority of the state with that of the city.
The New York Times Magazine has a great piece out this week about Portland and how it is attracting young educated folks despite not having jobs suited for their skills. They are coming for its vibe, for lack of a better term. There are lots of tidbits of data in the article, about Portland and other cities. But this discussion about “the sacrifice measure” was the one that fascinated me the most:
David Albouy, an economics professor at the University of Illinois, has created a metric, the sacrifice measure, which essentially charts how poor a person is willing to be in order to live in a particular city. Portland, he discovered, is near the top of the list. Even when college-educated residents get jobs there, they earn 84 cents for the average dollar earned in other cities, according to Greg Schrock and Jason Jurjevich, professors of urban studies at Portland State University. In 41 of the country’s 50 largest cities, young, educated people earn more than they do in Portland. “It’s a buyer’s market for labor,” Schrock says.
I found a paper Albouy published in 2012, Are Big Cities Bad Places to Live? Estimating Quality of Life across Metropolitan Areas, that ranked cities by quality of life. It doesn’t discuss his “sacrifice measure” but does have an interesting ranking of metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas by established quality of life. Here’s the top 50. Portland is all the way down at 44, but the west coast definitely dominates the list.
The Spring Edition of The Urban Lawyer is up on the ABA’s page for the Section of State and Local Government. My article, Federalism and Municipal Innovation: Lessons from the Fight Against Vacant Properties, is part this edition. It is also available on SSRN.
Here’s a list of the other articles in this edition, with links to SSRN versions:
- “Setting the table for Urban Agriculture” by Margot Pollans & Michael Roberts.
- “Urban Agriculture and the Environment” by Catherine LaCroix.
- “It’s a ‘Criming Shame': Moving from Land Use Ethics to Criminalization of Behavior Leading to Permits and Other Zoning Related Acts” by Patricia Salkin & Bailey Ince.
- “Regional Problem Solving in Action: Lessons from the Greater Bear Creek Valley RPS Process” by Andrew Ainsworth & Edward Sullivan.
- “Agenda 21 and Its Discontents: Is Sustainable Development a Global Imperative or Globalizing Conspiracy?” by Richard K. Norton.
- “Flexible Development Tools: Private Gain and Public Use” by Jeffrey Kleeger.
Ucilia Wong has a great piece up online today at Forbes about cities adopting LEDs for street lighting. They are more expensive, but last longer and more energy efficient, especially since they can be controlled digitally to dim when appropriate. LEDs also decrease light pollution, as Wong demonstrates with some interesting before-and-after pictures.
Near the end, Wong makes this interesting observation:
For all of LEDs’ energy savings and anti-light-pollution potential, their real promise may be in hastening the arrival of the smart grid. Forward-thinking cities are using retrofit programs to turn lamp housings into intelligent hubs with microprocessors, cameras, sensors and wireless radios. Streetlights can feed the system with information about traffic, weather, air quality, sudden noises and unexpected crowds.
It looks as if LEDs will be a key component of the data-driven cities of tomorrow.
This post’s title is the title of a new paper in HUD’s Cityscape journal, Volume 16, Number 2, page 21. In it, a group of urban-planning experts from MIT argue, “Well-designed affordable housing involves more than the provision of safe decent, and inexpensive shelter; it needs to be central to the resilience of cities.”
They then list four goals for affordable housing:
Support the community social structure and economic livelihoods of residents.
Reduce the vulnerability of residents to environmental risks and stresses.
Enhance the personal security of residents in the face of violence or threats of displacement.
Empower communities through enhances capacities to share in their own governance.
I like the concept of city “resilience,” and the paper spends a little time usefully describing that idea. The rest of the paper gives detailed accounts of efforts to design housing to meet these goals.
In case you missed it, this summer a team of researchers The University of Sydney in Australia conducted a study that concluded a certain type of spider are growing bigger and developing heavier ovaries (i.e. more baby spiders) in urban environments. The researchers hypothesize that this is because of increased heat and insects to eat in cities. You can download their article on PLoS ONE.