Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

Chicago’s Tech Boom

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Chicago’s high-tech community wants to lure the area’s start-up companies back to 1871 — the year that the Chicago Fire burned the city to the ground.  1871 is the name of a 50,000 SF space on the Merchandise Mart’s 12th floor designed to house entrepreneurs seeking a collaborative and flexible work environment.  The name reflects the spirit of innovation that rebuilt the city after the 1871 fire, said Kevin Willer, president of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center (CEC).

The non-profit CEC operates the space with support from venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker and the State of Illinois, as well corporate sponsorship from companies such as Comcast and Cisco Systems, Inc.  Willer and Matt Moog, founder and chief executive of Viewpoints Network,  led efforts to create a focal point for Chicago digital technology start-ups.

Chicago is a national leader in start-up companies.  Writing in Forbes, Kelly Reid notes that a new start-up is formed in Chicago every 48 hours.  “It takes about 10 years for a first wave of start-ups to succeed or fail, and those that make successful exits begin investing their own money and mentoring the next generation.   According to Built in Chicago, it takes about two of these cycles — or 20 years — to build an entrepreneurship community.”  Chicago is “right at the beginning of the boom.  There were about as many digital start-ups founded in 2009 (72) as there were in the prior two years (73).  In 2010, the trend continued; 107 between 2008 and 2009 and 98 in 2010.   The 193 companies founded in 2011 buck the trend; there were only 170 companies founded in the prior two years, indicating very positive growth. 193 start-ups in a year amounts to a new company founded every two days.”

According to USA Today and the National Capital Venture Association,  San Francisco (not surprisingly) is the nation’s leading home of start-up tech firms, with Boston occupying second place.  These are followed by New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., San Diego, Chicago, Boulder/Denver and Seattle.

Employment growth in the high-tech sector is fueling strong rental rate growth and declining vacancies in tech-oriented office markets of San Francisco, New York and Seattle, among others, according to CB Richard Ellis.   “The strengths of these tech-centric office sub-markets, with the strong rental rate growth and declining vacancies, are major factors supporting the overall office market recovery,” said Colin Yasukochi, CBRE’s director of research and analysis.  According to Yasukochi, “With the high-tech economy growing nearly six times faster than the national average, we expect that these sub-markets will continue to outperform.”

Willer points out that the CEC isn’’t an incubator, but a collaborative workspace where entrepreneurs can bounce ideas off each other.  Venture capital and angel investors also have a presence at the CEC.  “Economic development is about creating new enterprises as well as supporting corporations that are already here,” Willer said, noting that he hopes 1871 will become part of the Chicago’s tech “ecosystem”.  Chicago  start-ups raised $1.45 billion raised in 2010, the majority from Groupon  which is evidence that there is an energetic tech community in the city.

Demand for 1871 space exceeds the supply.   “On the first day we had 50 applications from companies come in,” said Steve Collens, senior vice president with The Pritzker Group. “They continue to pour in,” he said.  “The reality is that there are just very few co-working spaces here.  People are scattered from Ravenswood to River North to the West Loop.”

Chicago’s largest tech company lease in seven years was 572,000 SF, which Google leased for its Motorola Mobile subsidiary, also in the Merchandise Mart.

Foreclosures Decline, But Expect a Spike Thanks to Banks Settlement

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Foreclosure filings declined eight percent in February, the smallest year-over-year decrease since October 2010, as lenders began working through a backlog of seized properties, according to RealtyTrac Inc. A total of 206,900 homes received notices of default, auction or repossession last month, down two percent from January, according to the data firm, which noted that one in every 637 households received a filing.  Those numbers could rise sharply in coming months.

Banks slowed foreclosures for more than a year as attorneys general in every state investigated charges of shoddy and incomplete paperwork.  A $25 billion settlement with the five largest lenders removed some roadblocks to property seizures and gave the go-ahead for future actions, Brandon Moore, RealtyTrac’s chief executive officer, said.  “February’s numbers point to a gradually rising foreclosure tide.  That should result in more states posting annual increases in the coming months.”

“The pig is starting to move through the python,” said Daren Blomquist, RealtyTrac’s director of marketing.  The banks “have already adjusted their foreclosure practices to fit the terms of the settlement.  We expect that to continue as (the settlement) gets finalized,” Blomquist said.

The settlement clarifies the way in which foreclosures must be handled.  That is expected to let banks speed up their processing, putting many delinquent homeowners into the foreclosure process.  Cases could move forward after being on hold for months — even years — with their delinquent owners still living illegally in the properties.

“The foreclosure and mortgage settlement filed in court earlier this week will help pave the way to a properly functioning foreclosure process by providing a clear roadmap for necessary foreclosures,” Moore continued.  “That should result in more states posting annual increases in the coming months.  Not surprisingly, many of the biggest annual increases in February were in states with the more bureaucratic judicial foreclosure process, which resulted in a larger backlog of foreclosures built up over the last 18 months in those states.”

Cities with the highest foreclosure rates were Riverside-San Bernardino in California (one in 166 housing units); Atlanta (one in 244); Phoenix (one in 259); Miami (one in 264); and Chicago (one in 302).

The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Office of the Inspector General’s report found that several banks violated servicing standards and foreclosure procedures and engaged in extensive robo signing.  The banks agreed to follow new servicing standards and offer relief to borrowers by providing $10 billion in principal reductions, $3 billion in refinancing loans and $7 billion in alternatives to foreclosure.  Foreclosures in the 26 states with a judicial foreclosure process rose 24 percent over last year, while activity in the 24 states that follow a non-judicial foreclosure process fell by 23 percent

Default notices, the initial step in the foreclosure process increased more than 20 percent in 12 states, including Hawaii, Maryland, Connecticut, South Carolina, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Florida.  State attorneys general have filed lawsuits against major lenders in New York, California and Nevada in recent months, further slowing the pace of foreclosures in those states.

Rooftop Gardens Blooming in the Big Apple

Monday, February 20th, 2012

Green roofs are springing up in the concrete jungle of New York City – plants growing on waterproof membranes on top of buildings – in all five boroughs.  Considering the potential to reduce greenhouse gases, increase energy efficiency and capture storm-water runoff, this movement is understandable.  “Most of this work is small in scale so far, but it should get us all thinking,” said David Smiley, assistant professor of architecture and urban studies at Barnard College.  Green roofs are perceived as especially useful in New York because they absorb up to 70 percent of the rainwater that would otherwise drain away.  The city – built on islands and bounded by two rivers — has long struggled with excessive runoff after heavy rainstorms that overwhelm the drainage system that overflow with raw sewage.  Con Edison, the city’s energy supplier, pioneered urban greenery in 2008 by planting thousands of sedum on the roof of its building in Long Island City, across the East River from Manhattan.

“We’re slammed,” said Marni Majorelle, who founded Brooklyn-based Alive Structures to teach New Yorkers how to convert their rooftops into gardens.  “There’s a growing demand for green roofs from homeowners and developers. I see it as part of people’s plans – so many architects now include it.  It’s a new chapter for New York.”  According to a 2008 New York Times report on green roofs, New York City has 944 million SF of rooftop surfaces, but records of how much is used as rooftop gardens are limited.  It lags behind Germany and other American cities such as Chicago and Seattle, where – as Dwaine Lee, a green infrastructure professional, said – green roofs were have been planted for years.

New York is starting to catch up.  “It will keep growing, because the cost is coming down and the manufacturers of roofs are getting into the game,” said John Coogan, of OCV Architects, which creates roof spaces, predominantly next to non-profit-making organizations in affordable housing units.  It designed its first green roof in 2004 and has completed a dozen more spaces since.  Some believe that green roofs are just the tip of the iceberg.  Architect Vanessa Keith envisions an array of innovative ways to retrofit buildings – from roof ponds for cooling to electricity-generating water walls.  “Perhaps the current dilemma, rather than being seen as a death sentence or a depressing indictment of wasteful society, can provide an opportunity to rethink and retool our existing way of life,” she said.

Several New York urban farmers are innovating with their rooftop gardens For example, there is the nearly one-acre Brooklyn Grange, Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, Gotham Greens, and the aeroponic growing system.  An affordable rental building in the Bronx plans to open with a new rooftop commercial greenhouse, and the Brooklyn Grange will open a new farm on the Brooklyn waterfront to grow food and capture storm water, thanks to a grant from the city’s Department of Environmental Protection.

To encourage building owners to convert rooftops to food production, the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) released a proposed zoning text amendment that would exclude rooftop greenhouses on top of commercial buildings from the lot’s floor area ratio (FAR) and height limits.

The city has proposed that 1,200 acres of commercial rooftops be made available for urban farmers to build greenhouses.  “City law imposes restrictions on how tall buildings are allowed to be in different areas, which is one reasons why rooftops stay empty — developers often build to the maximum height possible,” said Sarah Laskow of Grist. “The planning department’s proposal would allow buildings to add rooftop greenhouses above regular height restrictions.  And according to a study from the Urban Design Lab, that would mean 1,200 acres of empty, flat rooftops would be eligible for green penthouses.”

Urban farms – especially those on rooftops – have many green features.  They insulate buildings; they absorb various gases that doesn’t belong in the atmosphere; and they help prevent rainwater runoff and pollution.  These rooftop farms would be “required to incorporate rainwater collection and reuse systems, which will help the city mitigate the pressure that big rainstorms puts on the sewer system.”

Is the Minnesota Forest Fire a Symptom of Climate Change?

Monday, September 19th, 2011

An August 18 lightning strike in a northern Minnesota forest after an unusually hot summer started a month-long fire that brought a pall of smoke to Chicago nearly a month after the blaze started.  Driven by northwest winds, the fire in the 1.1 million acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness that straddles the Canadian border grew from about 11,000 acres to more than 100,000, said Doug Anderson, a spokesman for the firefighting effort.

The Pagami Creek fire jumped about 16 miles east in a single day, “unprecedented for northern Minnesota,” said Lisa Radosevich-Craig, a firefighting spokeswoman.  The conflagration is in an area popular with canoeists and campers deep within the three million-acre Superior National Forest, approximately 80 miles north of Duluth.  According to Radosevich-Craig, the fire was spread by near-drought conditions that had already prompted the Forest Service to close some parts of the reserve and limit campfires in others.  “Typically more than an inch of rain would have fallen in this area during this time but didn’t,” Radosevich-Craig said.  “Where the winds are coming from and the strength of the winds is unprecedented.”  The fire has burned at least 160 square miles at the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, making it one of Minnesota’s largest on record.

The smoke was heavy enough in the Chicago area – which is 600 miles to the south — that some people complained about burning eyes and breathing problems, the National Weather Service said.  No one has been injured by the fire and no buildings have been destroyed.  “Nobody would have guessed it would be doubling and quadrupling in size,” said Jean Bergerson, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center.

“Sometimes it’s like snow falling, there’s so much ash coming down.  And the smoke is so thick it hurts your eyes and throat.  But other times the wind switches and you can’t tell there’s a fire at all. It’s kind of odd,” said Sue Butler, owner of the Trestle Inn saloon on Crooked Lake.  The forest fire is the largest in Minnesota since 1918, surpassing 2007’s Ham Lake fire, which burned about 38,000 acres in Minnesota and another 38,000 in Ontario while also burning 163 buildings. 

“But the colder temperatures should really help.  It’s a lot harder for fire to spread when it’s in the 50s than when it’s in the 80s,” said Doug Anderson, a spokesman for the inter-agency team battling the blaze.  “People (fire officials) were pretty surprised when they saw that 100,000-acre number go up on the board.  But I think there’s some optimism out there now.”  Fires in wilderness areas typically are allowed to run their course because they renew the forest naturally.  That was the initial policy with this fire as well, but Superior National Forest officials began an all-out assault to prevent the fire from spreading.  Those efforts came too late, and officials say they didn’t have enough firefighters or aircraft to stop the fire from growing significantly.

In terms of the haze that has blanketed the Chicago area, “The smoke is a big problem, added to the impact that mold count is higher, highest number we’ve had all year. The mold makes the smoke worse, and the smoke makes the mold worse,” said Dr. Joseph Leija, of Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park, IL.

The fact that Minnesota is having its biggest forest fire in nearly a century naturally leads to the subject of global warming’s role in the blaze.  Wausau, WI-based’s “Weather You Like It or Not” column notes that “According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Climatic Data Center, the meteorological summer 2011 (June – August) was the second warmest in recorded history.  The average temperature across the U.S was 74.5 degrees which is 2.4 degrees above normal.  The hottest summer ever was that of 1936 with an average temperature of 74.6 degrees.  However the states of New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana did have their hottest summer on record in 2011.  Of course they also had exceptional drought.  Their number of days with 100 degrees or higher was off the charts.  Some areas had over 70 days of such heat.”

Global warming and years of outdated fire-prevention strategies are setting the stage for massive “mega-fires” that scar communities’ homes and pocketbooks.  Early findings from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) trace the circumstances around eight mega-fires across the world in an effort to find clues on how best to avoid them and minimize potential damage.  These fires are defined more by their impact on people and the environment than by their specific size.  “Mega-fire is more of a concept than a construct,” said Robert Keane, a research ecologist at the U.S. Forest Service’s Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory who was not involved with the report.  “What I interpret (mega-fire) to mean is not only is it large, but it affects a lot of people,” he said.  In the United States, just one or two percent of all wildfires become large incidents, but they engulf about 85 percent of total suppression-related costs and total more than 95 percent of the total acres burned, the report notes, citing earlier work.  “Among all wildfires, mega-fires are the most costly, the most destructive and the most damaging. Against the backdrop of global warming, their onset may be signaling that many conventional wildfire protection strategies are ‘running out of road.'” 

“The growing number of large wildfires and the increasing incidence of mega-fires — along with climate change projections for hotter and drier fire seasons — lend urgency to this issue,” according to the report.

One Solution to Rundown Foreclosed Houses? Bulldoze Them

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Several banks have found a new solution to the glut of foreclosed houses – many of them in poor condition.  It’s the bulldozer. Bank of America (BoA) owns a glut of abandoned houses that no one wants to purchase.  As a result, the nation’s largest mortgage servicer is bulldozing some of its most uninhabitable inventory.  Additionally, Wells Fargo, CitiCorp, JP Morgan Chase and Fannie Mae have been demolishing a few of their repossessed houses.  BoA is donating 100 foreclosed houses in the Cleveland area and in some cases will contribute to the cost of their demolition in partnership with a local agency that manages blighted property.  The bank has similar plans impacting houses in Detroit and Chicago, and more cities tare expected to be added.

“There is way too much supply,” said Gus Frangos, president of the Cleveland-based Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corporation, which works with lenders, government officials and homeowners to salvage abandoned homes.  “The best thing we can do to stabilize the market is to get the garbage off.”  Detroit mayor Dave Bing is in the process of ” right-sizing” the motor city by razing entire neighborhoods.

BoA plans to donate and bulldoze 100 houses in Cleveland, 100 in Detroit, and 150 in Chicago.  The lender will pay up to $7,500 for demolition or $3,500 in areas eligible to receive funds through the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program.  Uses for the land include development, open space and urban farming.  “No one needs these homes, no one is going to buy them,” said Christopher Thornberg, founding partner at the Los Angeles office of Beacon Economics LLC.  “Bank of America is not going to be able to cover its losses, so it might as well give them away and get a little write-off and some nice public relations.”

Some foreclosed properties are so uninhabitable that the bank is willing pay to have them destroyed.  A bank spokesman said some in this category are worth less than $10,000.

Writing in The Atlantic, Daniel Indiviglio says that “The motivation here is pretty straightforward.  They get out of ongoing maintenance costs and taxes that they would have to pay as long as the property remains on the market.  But the even better news is that the banks can often write-off these properties as a result.  In some cases, banks can deduct as much as the homes’ fair market value from their income taxes.  From the real estate market’s standpoint this strategy is also positive.  With less supply, prices will stabilize more quickly.  Disposing of these foreclosures will make the market clear sooner.  And yet, the idea of bulldozing homes does seem rather unsavory, does it not?  Perhaps some of these homes are condemned and/or beyond repair.  In those cases, it might turn out to be more expensive to try to get them back up to code than it would be to knock them down and start over.  But does this really describe all of the cases?  This is reportedly happening to thousands of homes across the U.S.  My concern is that banks are using this as an easy out to minimize their loss with little concern about what’s best for the U.S. economy.  If some of these homes could be converted to perfectly adequate rental properties at minimal additional cost at some point in the future, for example, then this would make a lot more sense than knocking them down and building new homes from scratch.”

According to a Time magazine article,  “After multi-billion dollar legislative efforts in the form of the Stimulus, Dodd-Frank and stand-alone legislation, President Obama declared failure earlier this month and said he’s going back to the drawing board on a housing fix.  Negotiations between the 50 state attorneys general and the big mortgage lenders, rather than clearing the air for banks and borrowers, has become an enormous wet blanket as negotiations drag out and banks refuse to make any move without knowing how much of the reported $20 billion settlement will fall on them.  Economists argue that the failure to clear the housing market is a primary cause of the stunted recovery: continued household debt weighs on consumer spending, home ownership and excessive debt puts a drag on labor mobility, and banks fear the consequences of increased lending.”

Walkability Factor Increases Property Investment Values

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

According to a recent study, a 100-point scale, a 10-point increase in walkability increases property values by one to nine percent, depending on the property.  Chicago – with a Walk Score of 74 — was one of the nation’s most walkable cities.  The others are New York, Boston, San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Philadelphia.  The least walkable cities are Jacksonville, Nashville, Charlotte, Indianapolis, Oklahoma City, Memphis, Fort Worth, Kansas City, San Antonio, El Paso, Austin and Phoenix.

The report examined the impact on walkability and investment returns on more than 4,200 apartment, office, retail and industrial properties over the past decade.  Gary Pivo and Jeffrey D. Fisher compiled the data using performance information from the National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries and walkability data from Front Seat.  The study defines walkability as “the degree to which an area with walking distance of a property encourages walking trips from the property to other destinations.”

The Loop and the Near North Side were rated as Chicago’s most walkable neighborhoods with Walk Scores of 96 each.  Just five percent of Chicagoans live in car-dependent neighborhoods.  Illinois’ most walkable city is Forest Park – in the near western suburbs — with a Walk Score of 82; the least walkable is Godfrey – near downstate Alton — with a score of just 20.

It’s HOT Out There!

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

A severe heat wave that has kept a tight grip on the Midwest and Eastern United States that has resulted in the deaths of at least 20 people  is perceived by many as a sign of the impact of global warming.  Excessive heat watches, warnings and heat advisories were in effect in more than 30 states, in what the weather service described as “a large portion of the central U.S. and Ohio River Valley, as well as portions of the mid-Atlantic and northeastern states.  Temperatures will feel like 100 to 110 degrees or higher during the afternoon hours.”

The heat wave has brought heat index values — which measure how hot it feels — to as high as 131.  Heat indices reached 129 in Newton, IA; 121 in Taylorville, IL; 122 in Gwinner, ND, and 123 in Hutchinson, MN.  Minneapolis recorded its highest dew point ever, 82 degrees.  The dew point measures atmospheric moisture.

“This is completely out of whack for the Upper Midwest,” said Chris Vaccaro, a spokesman for the National Weather Service.  The heat wave toppled existing peak records for electricity usage.  Xcel Energy, which serves 1.64 million customers in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Minnesota, broke a demand record on Monday with 9,504 megawatts of power used, according to Tom Hoen, a company spokesman.  The old record set in August 2010 was 9,100 megawatts.  Utility companies in Iowa reported record usage.

In Chicago, the National Weather Service is warning that the heat wave could be the most intense since July 1999, with highs flirting with the record of 101 degrees set 31 years ago.  In the downtown area, which the weather service characterizes as an “urban heat island,” the index is likely to remain above 100 degrees late into the evening and probably will not fall below 90 all night.  More than a dozen heat-related deaths have been reported in the Midwest.

A “combination of very hot temperatures and high humidity will create dangerous heat indices over the central US”, said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) The National Weather Service said a stagnant air mass on the central plains is the cause of the extended heat wave.  NOAA data affirm that temperatures have risen across the United States by roughly 1.5° F over the past 30 years.

This naturally leads to the subject of global warming.  According to Public Radio International’s “The Takeaway”,  Chicago’s 50-year forecast: lethal and extreme weather, a termite invasion and a 1 ½ foot drop in Lake Michigan’s depth.”

According to Aaron Durnbaugh, the deputy commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Environment, the forecast is based on fact, not fiction.  “We worked closely with the best scientists we could find to put forward our forecast, both in a best-cast and worst-case scenario — looking towards the middle of the century and 2100, the end of the century — and identifying different impacts related to precipitation and temperature, and then a follow on impact from those changes.”

Chicago’s city planners have a plan to redesign the city to accommodate the 50-year forecast.  The plan, according to an article in the New York Times, includes everything from what types of trees to plant, to more permeable roads and water-storage tanks.  The city is preparing for “sun” days: “We’re expecting many more days above 90 or 95 degrees, with heat spiking potentially to 117 degrees in the summer,” Durnbaugh said.  “And we have a history, unfortunately, of heat-related disasters in Chicago.  Cities adapt or they go away.  Climate change is happening in both real and dramatic ways, but also in slow, pervasive ways.  We can handle it, but we do need to acknowledge it. We are on a 50-year cycle, but we need to get going.”

According to a study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, global climate change could, by 2081 to 2100, drive that average number of yearly heat wave-related deaths to between 166 and 2,217.  “Our study looks to quantify the impact of increased heat waves on human mortality,” said lead author Roger Peng, associate professor of biostatistics at Johns Hopkins University. “For a major U.S. city like Chicago, the impact will likely be profound and potentially devastating.  It’s very difficult to make predictions, but given what we know now — absent any form of adaptation or mitigation — our study shows that climate change will exacerbate the health impact of heat waves across a range of plausible future scenarios,” Peng concluded.

Record Rain Predicted in the 100-Year Forecast

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

It’s going to rain.  According to a study by climatologists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Texas Tech University, temperatures in Chicago will continue rising over the next century, largely due to human emissions of heat-trapping gasses.  The strength of that warming trend and the impact it brings depends on the amount of future emissions produced by the city and the world.  Katharine Hayhoe, a research associate professor in Texas Tech’s Department of Geosciences, co-led the team of more than 20 researchers along with Donald Wuebbles, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Illinois.

Rains of more than 2 ½ inches a day, an amount that can activate sewage overflows into Lake Michigan, are expected to rise by 50 percent between now and 2039.  By the end of the century, the number of big storms could jump by an almost unbelievable 160 percent.  “We’ve already seen an increase in these extreme weather events, especially in the Midwest and Northeast,” said Don Wuebbles, a U. of I. climatologist who co-authored the study.  “Chicago has had two 100-year storms in three years.  Iowa has had three 100-year floods in less than 20 years.  That’s telling us something.”

Researchers studying Milwaukee’s sewer system concluded that heavy rains caused by climate change could equal a 20 percent increase in the number of sewage overflows, a disturbing sign for Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and other Midwestern industrial cities with similar systems.  As new research points to a changing climate — including heaver rains punctuated by periods of drought — Chicago officials are struggling with the likelihood that the city will need solutions other than the $3 billion Deep Tunnel, an underground network of giant sewer pipes and reservoirs that won’t be completed until 2029.  “There is no doubt that things are going to get tougher,” said Marcelo Garcia, a U. of I. hydrological engineer who is studying Deep Tunnel’s effectiveness.  “I like to think of the entire system as a giant bathtub.  They built a really big bathtub to collect all this water, but it turns out it isn’t nearly as big as what they need.”

But Chicago needs to do more, said Thomas Cmar, an attorney in the Chicago office of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Every time the city tears up a street for improvements, they should be thinking about porous pavement in the parking lanes and street trees and rain gardens,” he said. “These things don’t require a lot of money upfront but can pay huge dividends down the line.”

The majority of climate scientists agree that rising global temperatures are changing rain patterns because of increased evaporation and more moisture in the air.  They are less certain about how fast climate change is happening and how human disruption of natural climate cycles affects day-to-day weather.

Another report from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) concurs. More Extreme Weather and the U.S. Energy Infrastructure, The study details National Wildlife Federation how severe droughts, heavier rainfall events, changing snowmelt, and more intense tropical storms may cause significant disruptions to the nation’s energy grid, all while the existing system calls for upgrades. “Our hospitals, homes, and economy depend on an energy infrastructure that will be increasingly disrupted by extreme weather events related to climate change,” said Amanda Staudt, Ph.D., a NWF climate scientist and the report’s author.

The Era of Mayor Rahm Begins

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne says it best:  “Mayor Rahm. It will be a hoot. It could even be good for Chicago.  And in a way he has never had to do before, Rahm Emanuel will finally reveal who he really is.  If he’s slick, it’s because he’s un-slick.  All transactions with him are of the postmodern he-knows-that-you-know-and-you-know-that-he knows-you-know variety.  He’s always operational, always trying to move the political needle.  Even his well-known love for profanity has helped him build his brand.”

That said, the mayor-elect of Chicago is facing a mountain of problems, including high poverty levels in some neighborhoods; a budget crisis that could amount to a $1 billion hole; failing schools; a public transportation system in serious trouble; and a police force that is significantly understaffed.  Additionally, Chicago’s business community and job-creation capacity were showing signs of distress even before the recession began; the 2010 Census shows that Chicago is losing residents; the costly parking meter fiasco has sparked strong reactions; and soaring property taxes remain unresolved.  Lastly, long-term avoidance of resolving public-worker pension funds has put the city into a financial corner.  In his victory speech in Chicago’s Plumbers Hall, Emanuel was optimistic about his ability to resolve the city’s problems.  “I am determined, with your help, to meet our challenges head on and make our great city even greater,” he said.

Before Tuesday’s historic election to replace the retiring Mayor Richard M. Daley, Emanuel’s poll numbers showed him winning less than 50 percent, which would have necessitated a runoff election in early April.  Instead, Emanuel won 55.2 percent of the Tuesday vote. Runner-up Gery Chico received 24 percent; Chicago City Clerk Miguel del Valle won nine percent; and former Senator Carol Moseley Braun won just under nine percent of the vote.

Emanuel’s ability to win 55 percent of the vote is impressive in its diversity; he won 40 of the city’s 50 wards and 48 percent of the black vote.   “We have not won anything until a child can go to school and not think of their safety we have not won anything until a parent can think of their work, and not where they’re going to find work, we have not won anything,” Emanuel said in his victory speech.  “The plural pronoun of ‘we’ is how we’re going to meet the challenges.  I do not want to see another child’s name in memorial killed by violence.”

Of course, the media have started their prognostications for Mayor Rahm, even before he’s taken office.  In the Chicago Sun-Times, City Hall reporter Fran Spielman writes that the enormity of problems facing Chicago could mean that he will only serve a single term as mayor.  According to Spielman, “Rahm Emanuel’s Round One victory gives him a running start on confronting problems so severe, the painful solutions could seal his fate as a one-termer. Whether Emanuel can avoid a one-and-done scenario — assuming he even wants to serve more than four years — will largely depend on how he tackles the biggest financial crisis in Chicago history.  The city is literally on the brink of bankruptcy with a structural deficit approaching $1 billion when under-funded employee pensions are factored in.  Mayor Daley borrowed to the hilt, sold off revenue-generating assets and spent most of the money to hold the line on taxes in his last two budgets. The city even borrowed $254 million to cover back pay raises long anticipated for police officers and firefighters.  There are no more easy answers. Only painful ones that will fundamentally alter services the city provides and further burden taxpayers already at the breaking point.”

Rahm Emanuel will be inaugurated as Chicago’s mayor on May 16.  He has huge shoes to fill and a daunting task ahead.  It is our belief that he is an extraordinarily seasoned politician and a sophisticated operator and a worthy successor to Mayor Daley.  We wish him well.

Gridlocked Chicago: There’s Some Disagreement

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Gridlocked Chicago:  There’s Some DisagreementChicago is # 1!  Unfortunately, this is not good news because the Windy City has been ranked by one study as having the worst traffic congestion in the nation.   The news was one finding of the Urban Mobility Report (UMR),  conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute, the United States’ largest university-affiliated transportation research agency.  Earlier TTI studies had ranked Chicago in second or third place.  Washington, D.C., and its suburbs currently occupy second place.

The study of 2009 driving conditions found that Chicago’s roadways have increasing gridlock, at virtually any hour of the day.  In addition to the normal time it takes to get from Point A to Point B by car, commuters in metropolitan Chicago and northwest Indiana spent 70 extra hours behind the wheel in 2009, according to the study.  Chicago’s earlier record was 64 hours of extra driving reported in 2008; 55 hours in 1999; and 18 hours in 1982.  The national average of time wasted stuck in traffic was a more manageable 34 hours.  The fact that Chicago is a nationwide shipping hub and has some of the nation’s heaviest truck traffic – plus two of the top bottleneck areas – also impacts congestion.  Additionally, Illinois has approximately 10.4 million registered vehicles, and a population of around 12.9 million, according to 2009 Census Bureau statistics

“In terms of the delay for each auto commuter, Chicago now tips the scales at No. 1, where in the last report, Los Angeles was locked in that spot,” said David Schrank, one of the report’s authors.  The average cost to each commuter is $1,738.  Nationally, traffic congestion cost $115 billion in 2009; additionally, consumers drove 4.8 billion additional hours and had to purchase an extra 3.9 billion gallons of gas.

Alter NOW finds that the report has its detractors:  Smart Growth America takes issue with some of the UMR’s findings.  “It assumes, for example, that everyone should be able to speed as rapidly down the highway during rush hour as they could in the middle of the night.  American taxpayers will never stand for being asked to turn over their wallets and their neighborhoods in order to build that kind of highway capacity“.

A June 30, 2010 study by IBM actually disputes the rankings, placing Los Angeles, New York and Houston as the U.S. cities with the worst traffic.  Topping the international list of cities notorious for congestion are Beijing, Mexico City, Johannesburg, Moscow and New Delhi.  Chicago doesn’t appear on IBM’s 20-city list.

Another mid-year 2010 study by Seattle-based INRIX, places Chicago in third place nationally.  “Between 5 and 6 p.m. Thursday is now the most-congested travel hour of the week in the Chicago area,” according to the INRIX National Traffic Scorecard.  “Last year, it was the 5-6 p.m. hour on Fridays.  The reason for the change?  It could be that more people are working part-time or ‘flex-time’, and Friday is a frequent day for flex-timers to take off or work from home,” said Chicago traffic expert Joe Schwieterman of DePaul University.  “Chicago doesn’t have a long-term plan to do much about congestion, we’re adding some lanes to the Tri-State, some work on I-80, but there’s not the construction in the works to relieve some of the worst bottlenecks“.