Advertising on Chicago Architecture, Round II

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.

Social media and Chicago gangs

Kids off the Block Stone Markers with names IMG 4815
Bricks with names of young victims
I want to draw attention to an excellent article in the October issue of Wired Magazine about how social media is amping up the gang wars in Chicago.  The article starts by discussing Chief Keef and Lil JoJo, two rival rappers who taunted each other through YouTube and Twitter. Keef got a million-dollar record deal; JoJo was shot and killed.

Ben Austen, who wrote the article, interviewed people on the ground in Chicago: community leaders, local rappers and gang members, and cops.  I’ll just flag a few tidbits I found interesting; I encourage you to check out the whole article.

First, Austen starkly describes the difficulties facing Chicago law enforcement:

Last year more than 500 people were murdered in Chicago, a greater number than in far more populous cities such as New York and Los Angeles. The prevalence of gun crimes in Chicago is due in large part to a fragmentation of the gangs on its streets: There are now an estimated 70,000 members in the city, spread out among a mind-boggling 850 cliques, with many of these groupings formed around a couple of street corners or a specific school or park.

Second, for fans of The Wire, the HBO crime drama that ran from 2002 to 2008, Austen explains how the show’s depiction of gang-life, praised at the time for its “realistic portrayal of urban life,” is already outdated:

Harold Pollack, codirector of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, says that in every talk he gives about gangs, someone inevitably asks him about The Wire—wanting to know who is, say, the Stringer Bell of Chicago. But The Wire, based in part on David Simon’s Baltimore crime reporting in the 1980s and ’90s, is now very dated in its depiction of gangs as organized crime syndicates. For one thing, Stringer Bell would never let his underlings advertise their criminal activities, as a Central Florida crew did this spring when it posted on its public Facebook page that two of its members had violated their parole and been arrested for posing with guns on their personal Facebook pages. Even a few years ago, a member of, say, the Disciples would have been “violated”—physically punished—for talking about killings or publicly outing a fellow member. But today most “gangs” are without much hierarchical structure, and many of the cliques are only nominally tied to larger organizations.

Third, in telling a story about how police warned the family of a 12-year-old that Keef’s crew was posting threatening comments on a video the boy had posted insulting Keef, Austen touches on how “predictive policing” is far less exotic than critics often allege:

For a long time, criminal-justice experts have talked about predictive policing—the idea that you can use big data to sniff out crimes before they happen, conjuring up an ethically troublesome future like the one depicted in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report. But in Chicago and other big cities, police are finding it’s much easier than that. Give people social media and they’ll tell you what they’re about to do.

Finally, Austen observes that insulting a rival crew is “so much easier to do online than face-to-face.” This comment, interestly, echoes the heartbreaking-but-hilarious interview Louis C.K. did this week with Conan O’Brien about why he won’t let his kids have smart phones: “They look at a kid and they go, ‘you’re fat,’ and then they see the kid’s face scrunch up and they go, ‘oh, that doesn’t feel good to make a person do that.’ But they got to start with doing the mean thing. But when they write ‘you’re fat,’ then they just go, ‘mmm, that was fun, I like that.'”

Chicago proposes stronger maintenance requirements for vacant properties

Rahm EmanuelNews broke this week that Chicago is planning to amp up its vacant-property-maintenance requirements.

The new amendments were announced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Alderman Jo Ann Thompson after the city received a rash of calls about maintenance problems with vacant buildings. Most significantly, the changes would require lenders and owners to secure vacant property immediately, rather than the current allowance of 30 days. Also, the proposal would allow Chicago to issue fines after just one inspection, rather than two as current law provides. According to the Chicago Tribune, this amendment “is designed to trim to two months from three the process of citing a building owner and getting the case before a hearing officer, as well as to save manpower.”

Interestingly, this announcement comes on the heels of a ruling that the Federal Housing Finance Agency doesn’t have to comply with Chicago’s registry program for vacant buildings, exempting a large number of properties with mortgages owned by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae.

Quote: Desirée Rogers on Chicago advertising in London

Michelle ObamaGovernor's Ball Press TimeData showed that we could make an impact there. They spoke the language, so that wasn’t a barrier. [And there are] lots of flights [between London and Chicago].

-Desirée Rogers, now chairwoman of Chicago’s tourism bureau, to Chicago Magazine, on why the city chose to advertise in London. She added that foreign tourists spend more money in Chicago (according to her bureau, an average domestic tourist spends around $1,000 compared to $4,000 for a foreign traveler). The London ads include “tongue in cheek” slogans like “Over the pond, we have a lake,” “You have Big Ben, we have a big Bean,” and “Put down your shepherd’s pie,” with a picture of Chicago-style pizza.

Trouble at the Palatine Tax Asessor’s Office

Let me save you from the trouble I experienced trying to file for tax exemptions with the Palatine Township Tax Assessor’s Office (in Cook County). There’s very little online about how to do this properly, and the staff there seems poorly trained, as you’ll see. I hope that this post will prevent a few headaches.

In 2012, I bought a house from Mrs. Ross (pseudonym). In earlier years, the property had homeowner and senior tax exemptions, but in early summer 2013, I realized that no one applied for these exemptions for 2012. (See if exemptions have been applied for here.) I called the assessor’s office and was told that Mrs. Ross just needed to go in and fill out paperwork. Seemed easy enough.

Wrong. Mrs. Ross went to the assessor’s office and was sent home. I called the tax office again and learned that the first person I spoke to was completely wrong; it was actually me that needed to go in, and I just needed to bring a driver’s license, the settlement statement from closing, and an affidavit by a neighbor confirming that I live in my house. At least now I had the record straight, right?

Wrong, again. I went to the assessor’s office and explained my story, and the person at the front desk told me, again, that Mrs. Ross needed to come in. After explaining that I’d been through that already, she spoke with a supervisor and after 15 minutes of copying (I was the only one there) came back with a “certificate of error” for me to sign and told me a refund check would be in the mail. Problem solved!

Not quite. The certificate of error only addressed the homeowner’s exemption, not the senior exemption. The intake person told me that there was no way to get the senior exemption since it had been in Mrs. Ross’s deceased husband’s name. After I expressed doubt (repeatedly), a supervisor overheard and told me that, actually, I could get the exemption. But Mrs. Ross would need to go, with me, to the Cook County Assessor’s Office in downtown Chicago, with proof she was married to Mr. Ross, and refile for the senior exemption on my behalf. Needless to say, I’m letting that one go.

As far as I can tell, the Palatine Assessor follows Ron Swanson’s theory on employees:

Illinois close to passing cell-phone ban for drivers

Texting while at the wheel (4351110509)Within the next few days, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn is expected to sign a bill banning cell-phone use while driving. The penalty will be $75, at first, and if you rack up three offenses in a year’s time, your driver’s license gets revoked. Although texting while driving has been banned in Illinois for four years, enforcement is difficult because drivers can claim when caught that they were just picking up their phone to talk. According to, texting “has now surpassed drinking while driving as the top cause of teen driving deaths, resulting in some 3,000 deaths a year and 300,000 injuries.” If you need any convincing about the danger of texting while driving, watch this chilling new film, From One Second To The Next, created by acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog for AT&T.

NYC and Chicago have same bike-share problem

Divvy bike programYesterday’s New York Times ran a story about New York City’s difficulties maintaining a balance at the docking stations for its three-month-old bike-share program.  The problem is two-fold: not enough bikes outside near people’s homes in the morning, and not enough spaces to park the bikes near workplaces.

I read this story this morning and, coincidentally, saw the problem first hand in Chicago: A rider pulled up to the Divvy bike station outside my office, but the station was completely full. He just rode off, probably in search of an empty spot.

Currently, both New York and Chicago rely on trucks or vans to pick up bikes from full stations and move them to empty stations. The Times article explains that New York is planning to step up its efforts to provide better balance. The city has leased more spaces to store bikes near popular stations, and the program also is increasing its number of larger trucks, hiring more bike-moving employees, and introducing bike trailers (“bikes that can haul a small number of other bikes attached to them, to negotiate congested areas in which trucks can become snarled in traffic”). This issue of balancing is so crucial to these types of shared mobility programs that academic research is being conducted on how best to manage costs.

A few commentators on the Times article had interesting ideas, suggesting an incentive program where riders could get credit to their account, or even just points on the program’s app, for finding and docking at empty stations. This suggestion is backed by the earlier-mentioned research, which concluded that “it is possible to trade off reward payouts to customers against the cost of hiring staff to reposition bicycles, in order to minimize operating costs for a given desired service level.” But it might not be necessary, according to commentator David Martin from Paris, who explained the situation there: “Here in Paris, it was an issue during the first year or two, but not now. They figured it out. I really think New York will too. I imagine that the system in NY is computerized, so they have usage data. They can study the problem by looking at the usage data, then figure out solutions. It takes time, but it can be done.” What do you think?

Chicago announces locations of new speed cameras

traffic cameraThis weekend Chicago announced that 12 new speed cameras would be installed near city parks after a successful test program. Huffington Post reports that “had tickets been issued for all of the test-period violations, the city would have raked in roughly $4.7 million in ticket revenue in just one month.” The city wants to install 50 cameras by year end. The plan is clear: stop speeders, collect revenue. The fine for drivers going 10 mph over the speed limit is $100, and drivers going 6 mph over get a warning, and then a $35 fine. The new locations are as follows:

  • Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, 3857 W. 111th St.
  • Curie High School, 4959 S. Archer Ave.
  • Douglas Park, 1401 S. Sacramento Ave.
  • Garfield Park, 100 N. Central Park Ave.
  • Gompers Park, 4222 W. Foster Ave.
  • Humboldt Park, 1440 N. Humboldt Dr.
  • Jones High School, 606 S. State St.
  • Legion Park, 3100 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.
  • Marquette Park, 6743 S. Kedzie Ave.
  • Washington Park, 5531 S. Dr. Martin Luther King Dr.
  • McKinley Park, 2210 W. Pershing Road

The Chicago Tribune has a map of the new locations here.

Intense Lollapalooza Fencing

Walked down to check out Lollapalooza today in Chicago. Last year, as with prior years, there was concern about fence-jumpers sneaking into the festival. I didn’t see last year’s fencing, but this year’s fencing seems pretty intense: Both sides of the street had steep metal fencing, so that you’d have to scoot along a busy street AND scale the fence to get in. Check it out: 0802131315I’ll be interested to see how many people try and get through this fortress. I’m sure there will be some.

Chicago Mayor Praises Bike Share System

Photo credit: my cellphone

Chicago is celebrating its bike-share program as a big success. The press release stats are impressive: “In just one month Chicagoans have taken 80,000 trips and ridden over 250,000 miles on Divvy Bikes. That’s further than the distance to the moon! The new bike share system now has over 100 stations and is starting to expand into neighborhoods around the city.”

There is one of these racks right outside where I work. I hadn’t heard about it until I saw the bikes there; it reminds me of similar programs in Europe. I was surprised to see that, on most days, a majority of the bikes are checked out. I did see a well-dressed man very frustrated one day, trying furiously to get the bike back into the station by ramming it over and over again. And I heard that it has increased the amount of kamikaze bikers on the sidewalks. Also, of course, not everyone is happy with the bikes as a policy decision: on the mayor’s Facebook page, people were downright upset, with comments ranging from “stop wasting money” to “start focusing on issue X, Y, or Z.” But overall, this is a win for Chicago, in my opinion.

Here’s the link to the press release:

City of Chicago :: Mayor Emanuel Lauds Divvy Bike Share System Early Success.