CategorySustainability

This city now runs on bikes and bees

Bicycling in Chicago is as much about having cheap transportation* as a thing to build new and maintain existing social relationships. And sometimes everything can come together in such an awesome way that you build a freakin’ business on the back of a bicycle.

I also posted about this on Grid Chicago.

Such is the case with many of my friends, including Jana Kinsman and Brandon Gobel. Jana created Bike-A-Bike and got several thousands of “startup” dollars via her Kickstarter. Brandon uses his sweet Bullitt to deliver odds and ends around town. And on April 3, 2012 (and other days), Brandon got to help Jana deliver beehives. They were empty that day but they went out on Wednesday, April 18, 2012, with real, live bees in his Bullitt’s aluminum box.

Here’s a 22 photo slideshow of the April 3 trip. Brandon sent me a bunch of photos from the April 18 trip and I’ll add those to the slideshow soon. Just come back in a day and they will be on this page, and on my Flickr.

You’ll find the bees buzzing in East Garfield Park and at The “Awesome” Plant (er, just The Plant) in Back of the Yards.

* I’ve seen a lot of polls ask, “Why do you bike?” and they always have answers I don’t care about. Like, “for fun”, or “for the environment”. Yeah, right. The most significant motivator for why people do anything is how much it costs them. Bicycling is cheap, nearly free. The bus is downright expensive compared to it, and driving a car everywhere (like 60 miles round trip to work) is personal economic suicide.

Open House Chicago 2011 rocked

You can see Adler Planetarium from the Sky Park at MDA City Apartments, 63 E Lake Street. 

The Chicago Architecture Foundation arranged with building owners and tenants to give the public access to awesome spaces this past weekend, on Saturday and Sunday. Aside from frustration with the interface and design problems with the website, I thoroughly enjoyed each site I visited. View a list of all the sites that were open.

I checked out:

Inside the Christian Scientist chapel at 55 E Wacker Drive. 

The Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, was designed by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architects. And it’s actually going to be built. 

The air we breathe… is disgusting

Read the companion article on Grid Chicago

My friend Bill Vassilakis, and his partner Jeff Munie, won the 2011 Design Makes Change competition, The Air We Breathe.

This happened in June. I showed up in the evening during 2nd Fridays in Pilsen for the opening gallery, at 1915 S Halsted, to see Bill and Jeff’s competition entry. I had no idea at the time that they had won. I was impressed by the “Community Voicebox.”

What is the Community Voicebox?

From the project overview (PDF):

The “Voice Box” project claims that local environmental health issues are not solely a result of point source emissions, but a combination of political, economic and environmental issues, which combine to create overall inequalities in environmental health and morbidity.

The Voice Box project is focused around a mobile community forum where information is recorded and exchanged. The local knowledge of the community would be recorded and shared with others in the community, the general public and decision makers via a real time online outlet. This online website will serve as the ‘voice’ of the community and as a record of local knowledge. The Voice Box would be a built upon a mobile trailer with a combination of indoor and outdoor spaces, which open to create an inviting area for residents to relax, respond and exchange.

Two major components of Community Voicebox are the four-wheel, pedal-powered vehicle (acquired in July). The second part is recording audio and video and sharing it on their website. Bill and Jeff were able to purchase these things with a grant from the competition.

What are the environmental health issues?

In as few words as possible, ancient coal power plants in Chicago, namely Fisk and Crawford generating stations, owned by Midwest Generation. I’ve written before about these major pollution sources on Steven Can Plan where I cited a 2002 Harvard study (PDF) that found the power plants combined caused 41 premature deaths per year.

Did anyone else think that smokestacks created clouds?

Digging deeper into the Community Voicebox concept

I wrote about the Community Voicebox quadricycle on Grid Chicago – here I talk to Bill about the community and environmental aspects of the project.

How did you find out about The Air We Breathe (TAWB) competition?

Posters around town (at school, the library, restaurants, etc)

What made you decide to enter the competition?

The quality of air in Pilsen has been a topic of conversation among my friends and roommates as long as I’ve lived in the neighborhood (about 5 years).  I was excited to hear about The Air We Breathe competition as a chance to bring everyday quality of life issues into focus in front of anyone walking down Halsted Street.

Did you have your idea for the entry (Community Voicebox) before or after knowing about the competition?

Although we developed our proposal specifically for the contest, we included elements we are familiar with and interested in.  We wanted it to be pedal powered, to directly engage the neighborhood and to present the community’s situation to the world via the internet.

Why did you create the Community Voicebox? What do you want to accomplish with the final product?

We created the voicebox because we wanted to bring the issue to everyone in the community, regardless of whether or not it is a priority for them, and document what they have to say about it.  Ultimately, we hope to use this documentation of the community’s various experiences and perspectives to inform local policy and to serve as a conduit for sharing solutions with other places that are similarly situated, in terms of environmental health issues.

Can you describe how and when the Community Voicebox is being built? (think logistics, materials, partners, designs, etc…)

We’re designing the Voicebox to be as adaptable as possible so that when we turn it over to student organizations or community groups, it can be modified to serve as many purposes as possible.  That said, the primary goal we hope to accomplish is to create a fun, comfortable space in which to offer an opportunity for anyone and everyone to tell their stories through whatever means they wish. This will happen on and around a four-wheel pedal car.

Aside from education, awareness, and exchanging information with the community, do you think Community Voicebox will help bring about a more visible and tangible change when it comes to pollution in Chicago?

Absolutely!  At minimum I hope that making the Voicebox a visible presence at Pilsen’s many community events (as big as Fiesta Del Sol and small as block parties on Miller Street) will help keep air quality on the local policy agenda.  The ideal outcome would be the a leveling of the playing field, in terms of environmental health.  Residents of Pilsen are exposed to levels of pollution that would never be tolerated in any other parts of the city. Basically we want to foster dialogue between the many communities of the neighborhood about pressing local issues.  Environmental health seems like a good place to start.

The Community Voicebox will be interviewing residents, and recording stories, in these parks and neighborhoods in the Lower West Side. 

A page from the project overview document showing a sample of the project’s research materials, mostly centered around the evidence of pollution in the Pilsen and surrounding neighborhoods. 

Did you know Chicago has a full-size wind turbine?

I bet you didn’t know that a produce distribution company in a tiny warehouse in Pilsen (eh, Blue Island Avenue and 14th Street) moved to a huge, sustainable warehouse in Back of the Yards with a wind turbine and big solar panels.

Epstein Engineering has more information on their website:

Epstein provided architectural design, civil engineering and LEED consulting services for the new 91,300 square foot headquarters and produce distribution facility for Testa Produce, Inc. located in the old Union Stockyards complex in Chicago, Illinois. The 12.86-acre project includes 20,000 square feet of Class A office space and a distribution center containing a 7,600 square foot 0° freezer, 24,700 square feet of cooler space, approximately 39,000 square feet of dry warehouse and 40 truck dock positions on two refrigerated cross docks.

The building aims to achieve LEED Platinum, but is not yet certified.

More letter writing

I’m two for two on writing letters and getting the results I intended to see.

First, there was getting the bike rack at Dominick’s in Bridgeport.

Then there was getting parking spaces removed so a pinch point in the Halsted Street bike lane at 15th Street was less “pinchy.”

Now I’m trying to get the United States Postal Service to stop parking and driving in bike lanes, especially the Kinzie Street protected bike lane.

I mailed out letters to six recipients on Wednesday.

Let’s get Chicago off coal

Updated May 26, 2011: Added new photo and video; new information about arrests and bail.

Activists working with Greenpeace climbed hundreds of feet into the sky on the Fisk power plant’s smokestack this past Tuesday morning. They hung banners that say “QUIT COAL” and painted the same message vertically on the side of the smokestack facing the Stevenson highway.

The Chicago city council continues to delay a final vote on the Clean Power Ordinance which would force the Fisk (1111 W Cermak in Pilsen) and Crawford (3501 S Pulaski in Little Village) to either shut down or clean their emissions. The coal-fired power plants can legally spew so much toxins into the air because they were grandfathered into the EPA’s regulations. The presidents of Midwest Generation and Edison International will tell that they’re cleaning up the act and reducing mercury emissions, but the laws applicable to this plant are already so lax. So this cleanup is still insufficient.

The action was timed to go along with an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hearing on Tuesday, May 23, 2011, at which the EPA discussed “proposed rules that would regulate toxic emissions, including mercury, from coal-fired power plants for the first time.”

It’s insufficient for the hundreds of local residents who’ve prematurely died because of the polluted air they breathed.

It’s too bad the pollution fighting bike lanes on Blue Island down the street from the Fisk plant can’t mitigate the spew.

Since I took the above photo on May 24, 2011, the QUIT COAL message has been amplified with a red outline. It must have happened overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday, as the activists came down Wednesday morning (and were arrested) by waiting Chicago Police. The Chicago Tribune reports:

The eight Greenpeace anti-pollution protesters who were arrested Wednesday after climbing down from the smokestack of a Pilsen coal-fired plant were charged this morning with felony criminal damage to property.

The three women and five men were also charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass, police said. They are scheduled to appear in bond court later [Thursday].

Bails for the “arrestees” was set between $15,000 and $30,000.

Photo by Greenpeace USA.

Video by Greenpeace via Good.is.

Chicago aldermen are complicit with Midwest Generation and its parent company in polluting Chicago and harming its citizens for everyday they delay passing the Clean Power Ordinance.

Chicago is the First City when it comes to permeable paving

The New York Times wrote on Sunday about the Pilsen pollution fighting bike lanes I’m really gung-ho about. They didn’t provide any new information, failing to even mention their location. But they did publish an excellent 3D graphic showing how it works! (The article’s main focus is how Chicago is predicted to become hotter and wetter, “more like Baton Rouge”, and how city planners, geniuses all, are working on this problem.)

First, here’s a photo of what the bike and parking lanes look like now, both made with a topper created by Italcementi that removes nitrous oxides from the air:

Then take a look at this diagram showing the streetscape design on Blue Island between Wood and Ashland (still under construction).

Hat tip to The Car Whisperer – “Chicago may stop paving streets altogether in ten years”.

Evidence of “Olympic change” in Rio’s favelas

I have never read Al Jazeera’s English edition until yesterday. I think I saw a post to this article on Twitter; it’s about how construction for the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro, Rio, Brasil, is already removing parts of the favelas, or hillside shantytowns. The article is quite relevant for me because I wrote last week about how rising ticket prices threaten the egalitarian nature of watching futebol at the Rio’s most famous stadium, the Maracanã. From Al Jazeera:

This week came a series of troubling tales of the bulldozing and cleansing of the favelas, all in the name of “making Brazil ready for the Games”. Hundreds of families from Favela de Metro find themselves living on rubble with nowhere to go after a pitiless housing demolition by Brazilian authorities. By bulldozing homes before families had the chance to find new housing or be “relocated”, the government is in flagrant violation of the most basic concepts of human rights.

As you might expect, residents and planners have different ideas on what it means to remove these homes:

[Eduardo] Freitas doesn’t need a masters from the University of Chicago to understand what is happening. “The World Cup is on its way and they want this area. I think it is inhumane,” he said.

The Rio housing authority says that this is all in the name of “development” and by refurbishing the area, they are offering the favela dwellers, “dignity”.

The same thing has happened all across the United States and is still happening in Chicago. The Chicago Housing Authority, very quickly in the past 10 years, has demolished all of its high-rises (some were converted to condominiums, like Raymond Hilliard Homes at 54 W Cermak, or transferred to different ownership) under the Plan for Transformation. This displaced thousands of residents; some were moved to newly-built multi-flat buildings in specially-designed, mixed-income neighborhoods. But there weren’t enough of these buildings to absorb all of the residents who had to move out of the high-rises. I’m still not clear on where they went.

A favela in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Kevin Jones.

Chicago’s final public housing high-rise was demolished in April 2011.

There used to be homes here

This is a testament to the destructive power of urban highways, be they tunneled, trenched, or elevated.

While biking through Chicago’s west side on Monday along the Congress branch of the Chicago Transit Authority Blue Line, my friend Tony remarked subtly on the “neighborhood” that lines the Eisenhower expressway (you call them highways or freeways):

There used to be homes on the other side of the street.

Indeed, there were homes across from the homes, like a typical neighborhood in any city. Or something useful and interesting for the neighborhood across the street that wasn’t 12 lanes of fast-moving automobiles and a rapid transit line, with all the noise, pollution, and crashes that comes with it.

Let’s not ever let this happen again; no more highways through neighborhoods.

Construction update: Pilsen streetscape improvement

The most popular posts on Steven Can Plan are Chicago infrastructure construction updates.

In October 2009 I told you about the Cermak/Blue Island Streetscape project from the Chicago Department of Transportation. The article was called, “Pollution fighting bike lane coming to Pilsen.” I was kind of skeptical at first, but never mentioned this to anyone.

I’m happy to say it’s a reality and you can see the world’s first (I think) bike lane made of permeable pavers that have an ingredient that reduces the amount of nitrogen oxide in the nearby air. On Tuesday I was riding to Bridgeport via south Halsted Street and saw the construction on Cermak Street. I rode west to check it out. Then I saw work happening on Blue Island Avenue and had to check it out. These’re the results!

The construction situation at the northwest corner of Halsted and Cermak, where new sidewalks will be built.

Some vaulted sidewalks are being filled in.

The pollution fighting bike lane! Not complete: it needs signage and striping so you may see people parking in the future bike lane. The top inch of the permeable pavers has TX Aria from Italcementi.

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