Tagbuildings

I’ve got property tax data for Chicago Cityscape

Wrigley Field Ahead of a Seemingless Meaningless Game, September 2011

Wrigley Field is an old baseball stadium in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. Photo by Dan X. O’Neil

1. Licensed Chicago Contractors, my website that tracks what developers and the city are proposing to build or demolish in your neighborhood, is now called Chicago Cityscape.

2. I’m grateful to Ian Dees who helped me get property tax data for 2009-2013 for over 1.4 million PINs (property identification numbers) in Cook County.

I’m going through various parts of the property tax data and figuring out how to integrate it with Chicago Cityscape. The first time Ian got the data I found out I didn’t tell him to get the right PINs. I think I’ve fixed that now.

As part of this process I’m checking properties somewhat randomly, based on the permits I’m browsing. I most recently viewed a Wrigley Field building permit at 1060 W Addison Street – for a Zac Brown concert – so I searched its PIN and how much the property is “worth”. Here goes:

Year Amount Billed Assessed Value
2013 $1,517,665.09 $8,049,996
2012 1,498,971.03 8,049,996
2011 1,493,002.47 8,865,636
2010 1,489,160.89 8,865,636
2009 1,360,673.45 10,613,423

Notice how the assessed value dropped over $2 million from 2009 to 2010. And even though it had three unique assessed values, the annually changing tax rate adjusted the amount billed. You can see this information on the Cook County Property Info portal.

Finding interesting data in the building permits dataset

I had several great conversations with fellow #chihacknight visitors at the 1871 tech hub (222 W Merchandise Mart Plaza) about how to reveal more information about what’s being built in Chicago. I had introduced Licensed Chicago Contractors at the previous week’s hack night and tonight I showed site changes I made like how much faster it is now that I use DataTables’s server-side processing function.

Some of the discussions resulted in suggestions to try new tools and methods that would make processing the data more efficient, or more revealing. What are the ways I can aggregate the data, or connect to similar data from other sources?

One of the new features I announced I’ll be adding is statistics on building activity by neighborhood. I started testing some queries to see the results, and to find the query that outputs that information in a way that’ll pique users’ interests.

I calculated the aggregate estimated costs of all building permit activity for the past 90 days in select neighborhoods. All of the data was automatically generated using a simple MySQL query, but one that will get faster after switching to Postgres. (I eliminated any project whose estimated cost was less than $1,000 because there are many project types that are $0 to several hundred dollars.)

  • Logan Square: 77 projects, totaling $16,295,997.50 at a $211,636.33 average cost
  • West Loop: 30 projects, totaling $27,646,899.00 at a $921,563.30 average cost
  • Andersonville: 6 projects, totaling $358,770.00 at a $59,795.00 average cost
  • Bronzeville: 34 projects, totaling $17,050,662.00 at a $501,490.06 average cost
  • Hyde Park: 20 projects, totaling $13,492,265.00 at a $674,613.25 average cost
  • Humboldt Park: 35 projects, totaling $41,917,988.00 at a $1,197,656.80 average cost

How does Humboldt Park double the other neighborhoods’ average? I think it’s pretty simple: this $40 million Salvation Army residence that’s going to be built at 825 N Christiana Avenue.

The results for Bronzeville were higher than I expected because this is a distressed neighborhood that has lost of lot of population and has seen little development in the past several years. This isn’t to say the neighborhood is poor – I saw a report last fall that highlighted how the purchasing power of Bronzeville residents was quite high relative to neighboring communities.

Ronnie Harris showed me the report when I participated in the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s civic app competition and hackathon. We, along with Josh Engel, designed Build It! Bronzeville, although my participation was really pushing them to develop Josh’s game idea more and construct a paper version of it. Our team won the competition and Ronnie and Josh have kept working on it (I saw them at last week’s hack night).

Projects that pushed up Bronzeville’s average included several multi-family homes at around $1.4 million each on the blocks of 4700 and 4800 S Calumet Avenue.

Code discussion

I can’t test for the “Loop” right now in the way I have my data structured because a LIKE ‘%loop%’ query of the database will include “West Loop” records.

I need to change how the building permit data is stored – in my database – a little so that my site’s PHP codebase and MySQL queries can sift through the data faster. For example, I’m storing several key-value pairs as a JSON-encoded string in a TEXT field. One #chihacknight developer suggested I switch from MySQL to PostgreSQL because Postgres has native JSON-parsing functions.

I looked up how to use Postgres’s JSON functions and realized that, yes, I probably should do that, but that I also need to change the array structure of the data I’m encoding to JSON. In other words, with a tiny change now, I can be better prepared for the eventual migration to Postgres.

Verifying LEED certification and eco-friendly features

Read more commentary on LEED certification.

If a building claims it has environmentally friendly features (is that the same as eco-friendly?) but hasn’t applied for and received LEED certification, should we still call it “green”?

I’m talking specifically about Emerald, a two-tower (mid-height) condominium development on Green Street in Chicago’s Greektown/West Loop neighborhood. I watched its construction from beginning to end because I passed it daily on my commute to work.

The development’s sales website claims that because it sits on Green Street, it’s “naturally eco-friendly.” The website says the building has “bamboo flooring, low-VOC paint and beautiful fabrics made from recycled fiber. Even our marketing materials utilize recycled paper manufactured with windpower and printed with soy inks.”

These scaffold panels are advertising office space in a new tower that has since been built on this site. The one on the right reads “Reflect the social conscience of your organization.” Photo by Payton Chung.

Additionally, it has a 4-pipe HVAC system versus an “inferior” 2-pipe system, and high efficiency windows.

But I looked in the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Certified Project Directory and didn’t find a project named “Emerald.” Let’s assume my search and the results are correct and Emerald does NOT have LEED certification. Are the claims on the website accurate? How can we trust that the paint truly has less volatile organic compounds?

If it was LEED certified would we trust it more then?

The building advertised in the photo above, 300 N LaSalle, received two certifications: Silver in Commercial Interior, and Gold in Core & Shell. The advertisement’s claims have some verification, but how trustworthy? My photo.

I’m not a LEED AP (Accredited Professional), but I understand that LEED certification requires thorough documentation. After a review of your application and submittals (essentially an audit), the USGBC makes its determination. I don’t believe anyone representing the USGBC inspects the building.

We then have to question why the Emerald developers didn’t seek LEED certification. Or did they?

Two new skyscrapers in River North

Both of those steel and glass skyscrapers opened in 2009.

On the left (westernmost) is 300 N LaSalle Street. The official website says the building is pre-certified for LEED. This really means someone looked at the design specs and said it means certification. But designs change and I can’t yet find this project on the U.S. Green Building Council’s Certified Projects list.

On the right (easternmost) is 353 N Clark Street. The developer, South Parcel Development, sought LEED Silver certification for Core & Shell but received one better: Gold.

Diversity in business and buildings

One of Jane Jacobs’ key points in her works tells about the need for diversity in neighborhoods: choices and options in housing, jobs, natural and gathering spaces, and entertainment. As lives and lifestyles change, people aren’t forced to move or move out. Urbanophile touched on that in part two of “Building Suburbs That Last.”

This should sound familiar to you since it is exactly how Jane Jacobs described a healthy city neighborhood. She says it better than I ever could: “Flourishing diversity anywhere in a city means the mingling of high-yield, middling-yield, low-yield and no yield enterprises.” And, “Time makes the high building costs of one generation the bargains of a following generation. Time pays off original capital costs, and this depreciation can be reflected in the yields required from a building. Time makes certain structures obsolete for some enterprises, and they become available to others.”

“Turnover Plaza,” a photo by PJ Chmiel.

I don’t believe that Jane’s discussions will convince any banker, economist or developer. For those arguments, you’ll have to refer to the rest of Aaron’s article on how smart, commercial land use development occurs in order to create sustainable suburbs. You should refer to paragraphs like:

If you having nothing but high value buildings, no one but national chains can afford to invest. If you have nothing but low value buildings, no one wants to. It is important to have a mixture of buildings, supporting a mixture of uses, mixture of high, medium and lower values uses, and both national chains (which bring much good with them) and indigenous business. It is this diversity that again helps to mitigate against the failure of any one element. And also provides room for the local business that is both committed to the town and a source of at least some independent economic life.

Where else does diversity give an advantage?

A building without a name

Do you recognize this building?

This building doesn’t have a memorable name so I often forget it. The 105-foot crown lights up at night making it the most visible building in Chicago, competing with the Sears Tower in the colored lights spectacle throughout the year.

According to Emporis, “311 South Wacker Drive is the tallest building in the world known only by its street address.”

I don’t think it’s known very well, though. Perhaps if the tenants gave it a name, more people would know what to call it – civic buffs, budding planners, and longtime residents love to show they’re up to snuff when it comes to talking about their city, but they usually take a pass on this one, opting instead to call attention to the UBS Tower three blocks away on Madison, with its eye-catching lobby. (Architecture and design students around the world will know this concrete skyscraper before the average Chicago learns its “name.”)

I bet, though, that you’re more likely to find 311 S Wacker before you find the Chicago Board of Trade building.

Downtown Chicago from 28 floors up and half a mile away

I went to the top floor of UIC’s University Hall and took a few hundred shots with my Olympus E-500 digital SLR. That was 3 years. I came across them while switching photo libraries, iPhoto to Aperture. From this high up vantage point that’s removed from the skyscraper core, you can see different spaces, shapes, and interactions.

Placemaking roundup

A roundup of recent posts on the blogosphere about attempts at placemaking. While engineers, planners, designers, and architects can spend time and money on making a place, only its users have the authority to call it one. How will these “places” fare?

  • Disney will be revamping its stores to match the Apple Stores’ level of attraction and attention by no longer placing the attention on toys, but more on experience and interaction. “Imagination Park” from Brand Avenue.
  • A team led by MIT researchers entered a competition to build a new, permanent, tourist attraction to be built for and after the 2012 Olympics in London. Visitors would ascend one of two 400-foot towers and watch the city from inside plastic bubbles, while on the face of the bubbles, a “mood barometer” would be projected. Read deeper into the project’s beginnings and the people behind “The Cloud” on City of Sound.
  • Two new parks (or plazas?) open in downtown Chicago, Illinois, and both feature boxed up lawns. This new “park” phenomenon helps Lynn Becker refine the definition of a park.
  • Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat changes “tall buildings” standards to now include lowest pedestrian entrance. The result: Trump Tower now taller than Jin Mao Building in Shanghai, China. Burj Dubai still world’s tallest: “John Hancock Center stacked atop Sears Tower.”

Photo of typeset as seating in Printers’ Row Park in Chicago, Illinois. See item three below.

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