The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Supposes Moses was an Asshat

Not Moishe, the mythological figure; Moses, the all-too-real figure in New York City history. I'm about halfway through Robert Caro's biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker, and I want to dig Moses up and punch him in the face.

The thing about really intelligent narcissists is they can, in fact, get their way, even when—especially when—they encounter real criticism. The crowning achievement of Moses' narcissism might be the West Side Improvement, comprising the West Side Highway and Henry Hudson Parkway, which run along the Hudson River from the top of Manhattan Island to the bottom. The story of how and why Moses built it where he built it takes up about 40 pages of the book, but Caro sums it up starting at the bottom of page 565:

Robert Moses had spent $109,000,000 [in 1938, worth $2.05 billion in 2021] of the public's money on the West Side Improvement. Counting the money expended on his advice by other city agencies on the portion of the Improvement south of Seventy-second Street, the Improvement had cost the public more than $200,000,000 [$3.8 billion in 2021].

But the total cost of the Improvement cannot be reckoned merely in dollars. The West Side Improvement also cost the people of New York City their most majestic waterfront, their most majestic forest, a unique residential community, and their last fresh-water marsh.

When the Improvement was finished, all these things were gone forever.

Adding them to the cost of the West Side Improvement, one might wonder if the Improvement had not cost New York City more than it was worth. Adding them into the cost, one might wonder if the West Side Improvement was really, on its total balance sheet, an "improvement" at all. One might wonder if it was not, on balance, a tragic and irremediable loss.

In the pages leading up to that conclusion, Caro spends some time discussing how the park Moses built along highway stopped at 125th Street. From there up to 155th Street, instead of a park, the African-American residents of Harlem got an elevated highway, with one little playground whose finishes included little monkey carvings on the stonework. You will not be surprised to learn that no other park in the project had a monkey motif.

Another thing, of which I can almost excuse him, was Moses' complete rejection of evidence of "induced demand," how increasing road capacity also increases congestion at a faster rate. That is, if you double road capacity, you will more than double the number of cars on the road. I can almost excuse him because traffic planners still ignore this phenomenon much of the time.

So halfway through the book I'm only at the end of 1938. We still have 25 years or so before Moses meets Jane Jacobs—and according to the index, Caro doesn't even cover that.

Winthrop Cooperative, Monday

The United Winthrop Tower Cooperative started life in the early 1970s as a public housing development. In response to rising crime and costs on the order of $1m a year, the residents bought the building from the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1993 and turned it into the affordable-housing co-op it remains today.

We had a really cool sunset Tuesday evening, so I snapped this on my walk with Cassie.

Local history

Today is the 29th anniversary of the Great Chicago Flood, in which no one got hurt despite nearly a billion liters of water surging through Loop basements:

On April 13th, 1992, Chicago was struck by a man-made natural disaster. The Great Chicago Flood of 1992 occurred completely underground and, fortunately, nobody was hurt. There were no dramatic rescues from office buildings and there were no canoes paddling Michigan Avenue. Still, the flood was a big deal. It made national news and shut down the Mercantile Exchange, The Sears Tower, and the Art Institute. It damaged records in City Hall, closed businesses in the Loop (some for weeks), and ultimately caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to Chicago buildings.

In September of 1991, Great Lakes Dredging, an independent contractor, replaced pilings in the Chicago river. Pilings protect the bridges from runaway barges. One of their new pilings near the Kinzie Street bridge damaged the roof of a freight tunnel, allowing water to slowly leak in.

In January of 1992 a television cable company discovered a leak in the tunnels. They tried to notify James McTigue — who they knew was familiar with the tunnels — but the city had recently re-organized and they couldn’t locate him until February. McTigue tracked down the leak, took photos, and showed them to his supervisors in March, explaining a leaking tunnel under the river could lead to a massive flood. Despite that warning, the city did not expedite repairs.

The city rejected an initial repair bid of $10,000 because it considered the cost too high, and new contractors were scheduled to inspect the tunnels on April 14th. In the early morning of April 13th, that small leak finally gave into the enormous water pressure of the Chicago River above. The tunnel’s ceiling collapsed and water began filling in. As they were in the system’s early days, many of the tunnels were still connected to the basements of many buildings in the Loop.

What followed (and, frankly, what led to the disaster) made this "the most Chicago story ever."

In other news of historic disasters, one of Chicago's oldest shopping malls, Northbrook Court, may soon become a neighborhood instead of a massive car park. As it represents just about everything wrong with the suburbs, good riddance. Maybe they'll even put in some shops people can walk to?

What I'm reading today

A few articles caught my attention this week:

Also, I'm just making a note to myself of Yuriy Ivon's rundown on Microsoft Azure Cosmos DB, because I'm using it a lot more than I have in the past.

One year and two weeks

We've spent 54 weeks in the looking-glass world of Covid-19. And while we may have so much more brain space than we had during the time a certain malignant personality invaded it every day, life has not entirely stopped. Things continue to improve, though:

Finally, today is the 40th anniversary of the day President Reagan got shot. I'm struggling a bit with the "40 years" bit.

Uptown Theater rehab in trouble?

One of the two organizations backing the $75 million Uptown Theater rehabilitation project in my neighborhood has backed out:

Farpoint Development is no longer involved in the efforts to revitalize the Uptown Theatre, the legendary movie palace and concert hall that has been shuttered since 1981. Jerry Mickelson, owner of the theater and founder of JAM Productions, and Ald. James Cappleman (46th) confirmed the news Monday.

Mickelson and Farpoint Development’s plans envisioned restoring the venue to its Jazz Age grandeur. On top of restoring the building’s facade and historic features, the project would have increased capacity from 4,300 to 5,800, installed removable seats on the first floor and added a new marquee.

Mickelson said he did not want to place a new timeline on the Uptown Theatre’s renovation due to the unpredictable nature of the coronavirus pandemic. He did say that there will be “strong” demand for live entertainment once the pandemic has subsided, and he is optimistic that the Uptown will eventually be open to help meet that demand.

“The Uptown Theatre is one of the most iconic venues in the country,” Mickelson said. “It’s got a bright future.”

I hope it's not dead and gone. It hasn't hosted an event since 1981, and it hasn't had the best maintenance since then. But losing it would really suck.

Lovely weather, lovely walk

Cassie and I walked to Horner Park in search of a dog-friendly area. She has a lot of energy, even after this:

Unfortunately, even though the Chicago Park District claims Horner Park has a dog-friendly area in its northwest corner, no such area exists. The city has begun constructing a new dog park on the southeast corner, but it hasn't opened yet.

Now that we're home, and I've opened all the windows (a process Cassie found intensely interesting), she began a solo vocal composition in rondo form: we have neighbors, the neighbors talk to each other, we have neighbors, we have birds, we have neighbors, we have squirrels, and finally, we have neighbors.

She has now passed out under my desk. And stopped commenting on the neighbors.

Why I hate the suburbs

As I mentioned in my post about Hailstorm Brewing that went out earlier today, you can have an excellent brewery with a TV-free taproom within 1500 meters of a Metra station and still qualify for the Brews and Choos project only on special dispensation. Because wow, getting from the Metra station to Hailstorm (and by extension, when I go later this spring, to Soundgrowler) might kill you.

Here's the path from the Hickory Creek Metra stop to Brothership Brewing:

It's short (just under a kilometer), along nearly-deserted exurban streets, and the streets have sidewalks for most of the way. Sure, you pass this:

But that's a typical landscape in northern Will County.

Now look at how you get to Hailstorm:

Why did I go through an ugly subdivision, several parking lots, and behind large industrial buildings instead of just walking down 80th Avenue? Because 80th Avenue is a six-lane arterial with no sidewalks and not a lot of stoplights. Cars drive down it at 90 km/h with nothing to slow them down except the stoplight at 183rd and the railroad tracks to the north.

And when I say "ugly subdivision," I mean a complete horror show of exurban McMansion architecture:

I really wanted to run over to some people I saw sitting in their garage and ask what series of life choices brought them to the decision to buy such an ugly house?

So, yes, I liked Hailstorm, and I hear good things about the tacos at Soundgrowler. But the entire point of the Brews and Choos Project is to drink beer safely. That means without driving to the breweries. But it also means not getting run over walking there. And the suburban/exurban landscape along the Cook-Will border (183rd St, on the map above) will kill your body if you walk along 80th Avenue or kill your soul if you walk through this development.

</rant>

A quarter of Texas has no electricity

Extreme cold and winter weather slammed Texas over the weekend, dropping temperatures to -9°C in Houston and causing snow in Galveston. But Texas politics has made the situation far, far worse as power failures have affected a quarter of all Texans:

As this map makes obvious, politics seems to have caused the worst of it. The right-wing Republican government of Texas slashed regulations and even disconnected Texas from the National Grid to avoid Federal rules. And now, the poorest and hardest-hit in the state are being charged extortionate rates for what little electricity the state can produce:

Until recently, the average price for electricity in Texas was a bit more than 12 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Even before the storm's full effects were felt, Griddy warned its customers on Friday that prices rose to an average of around 30 cents per kilowatt-hour. Things got even worse over the weekend and the Presidents Day holiday.

With demand high and market pressures raising costs, wholesale power prices "were more than $9,000 per megawatt hour late Monday morning, compared with pre-storm prices of less than $50 per megawatt hour," Reuters reported.

While Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott calls for an investigation into the regulatory body that his own party created, conservative trolls have tried to deflect their own malfeasance by claiming the renewable energy producers in Texas have failed, even though (a) only 10% of Texas electricity comes from renewables and (b) the renewable sources have actually increased their output to meet the new demand after the storm.

To put it bluntly, government policies favoring wealthy white men in Texas caused this entirely preventable, and entirely predictable, catastrophe. And, equally as predictable, the people most responsible for endangering the lives of their state's poorer and browner citizens have tried to blame everyone except themselves for it.

Meanwhile, about 10% of Oregon's residents went without electricity after a massive ice storm knocked out power lines and equipment throughout the Willamette Valley, resulting in the largest power outage in the state's history. Unlike the situation in Texas, this will not result in predatory pricing or people starving to death, because Oregon has a functioning government.

Cities don't actually collapse like that

Annalee Newitz, author of Four Lost Cities, explains that urban collapse doesn't look anything like dystopian fiction would have it:

It’s always lurking just around the corner, seductive and terrifying, but it never quite happens. Lost-city anxieties, like the ones aroused by the pandemic, result from a misunderstanding of what causes cities to decline. Pandemics, invasions, and other major calamities are not the usual culprits in urban abandonment. Instead, what kills cities is a long period in which their leaders fail to reckon honestly with ongoing, everyday problems—how workers are treated, whether infrastructure is repaired. Unsustainable, unresponsive governance in the face of long-term challenges may not look like a world-historical problem, but it’s the real threat that cities face.

This slow-motion catastrophe—a combination of natural disaster and political indifference—was far more important to [Angkor's] transformation than the Ayutthaya invasion [in 1431]. And it stands as a warning to many cities in the U.S. Without a coherent response from local government, cities lashed by climate change will gradually lose their populations. The demise won’t be spectacular, even if the storms are monstrous. Instead, people will leave in dribs and drabs, and the exodus could take generations.

So, I'm going to stay in Chicago, which will likely remain a thriving urban center for hundreds more years.