Tagsprawl

What are you thankful for about your city?

Aaron asks on Urbanophile, “What are you thankful for about your city?” His own answer was

I won’t pick just one city, but I’m thankful that across America, no matter how thriving or struggling the city, it always seem there are people passionately making it a better place. From Austin and Chicago to Detroit and Braddock and Buffalo, there’s a passionate generation of urbanist out there fighting the fight for their city. I shudder to think where we’d be without them. This gives me hope that more places that we think that are struggling are going to ultimately make a turnaround.

My answer

This is not really about my city, Chicago, but about all cities of a similar density: I appreciate that it does not take 25 minutes of driving to get to a store (of any type) or my friend’s house. In 25 minutes, I can ride my bike to 15 full-service grocery stores and 10 friends’ houses. And I can do it safely because the roads are narrow which helps keep traffic speeds are low.

The nearest Dominick’s finally installed a bike rack after having been without one since its opening over a decade ago and its renovation two years ago.

This is in contrast to where I spent Thanksgiving, in Mesa, Arizona. The road that connects my family’s house to the bank I needed to visit is 90 feet wide, having a speed limit of 45 MPH but a design limit of at least 60 MPH.

Chicago’s big box saga continues

The Chicago big box saga is a tale of who gets to build where, how big, and how much wage it pays. It can be extended to include debates on store design.

While big box stores were built here before the first Wal-Mart in Chicago, the saga begins with that megastore. The City Council passed a “living wage” ordinance (also called the big box wage ordinance) that required stores with over 90,000 square feet and $1 billion in revenue to pay their employees a minimum of $10 per hour, and an additional $3 per hour in fringe benefits. The Mayor vetoed the ordinance. Wal-Mart built its store in the Austin neighborhood and paid their normal wage (in 2010 it seems to be $8.75). It won’t be until 2011 (at the earliest) that the second Wal-Mart will open in Pullman.

An urban-friendly Best Buy in the same complex as a senior citizen assisted living center.

Meanwhile, Target opens new Chicago stores in McKinley Park and West Rogers Park (on Peterson Avenue), both in 2006. Best Buy opened stores on Elston Avenue, Belmont Avenue, Clark Street, Roosevelt Road, and Michigan Avenue. Kohl’s, a discount department store, opened a store alongside Best Buy on Elston (to the tune of 130,000 square feet, on par with Wal-Mart) in 2005. Home Depot and Menards have also opened stores since the big box ordinance veto in 2006 seemingly without a hitch.

This month, Target proposed to a group of residents and the 2nd Ward Alderman, Robert Fioretti, a new store at Jackson and Aberdeen in the West Loop. Many residents were disappointed by the store design. At least one resident didn’t understand the need for a store with the South Loop store on Roosevelt so close.

How the saga can end

The prevailing wages at big box stores in Chicago should be researched. The current research about Wal-Mart and big box stores’ tax revenue contributions should be validated by additional studies. There are several universities up to this task, and mine, the University of Illinois at Chicago, has released multiple studies – here’s one about localized job creation and elimination.

With solid background information, alderman and city agencies, as well as residents, can potentially make better informed and more effective decisions about the future of large-scale retailing in Chicago.

More of this please (Home Depot hardware store in dense neighborhood)…

…And less of these.

Lastly, the City Council and Zoning and Planning departments should set design standards for this style of shopping to ensure urban friendly and transit oriented developments. Home Depot and Target should be lauded for their stores on Halsted Street in Lincoln Park (more info), and on Roosevelt Road in South Loop, respectively*. However, each has since built their typical suburban monstrosities in other neighborhoods, that neither recognize that some customers would like to arrive by car (instead by transit or bike), nor consider the environment (minimum-size parking lots make a large contribution to the city’s current problems managing stormwater runoff). Future Wal-Marts should promote sustainable design.

First and second photos by Payton Chung. Third photo by PonderInc.

*While the Target in McKinley Park (Chicago) is LEED Certified, the South Loop store probably has an annual lower carbon footprint because of all the visitors who arrive by transit and bike. The South Loop store is near a major train station and several bus routes (at least five). The McKinley store is on a highway and two bus routes.

Tuesday roundup: High-speed rail and Asian carp

A collection of links and news stories I liked yesterday, Monday, June 4, 2010, the first business day of a new year and new decade. I hope you’ve started on this new year’s resolution.

  • Riding The Rails: How $8 Billion in Stimulus Funding for High-Speed rail Could Change the Face of the midwest—or Get Derailed* (Mindful Metropolis – The article presents nothing new, but for novices on the topic, it combines all of the talks, plans, and dollar amounts that have been discussed over the past few years. New to me, though, is feedback from a meeting of train advocates and industry types at the Spertus Institute in October 2009. *Links to Flash version of entire magazine issue. Download accessible PDF, look for page 28.
  • Columnist warns of forced porch-sitting, with possible mandatory neighbor interaction (Sprawled Out) – John Michlig takes Milwaukee Sentinel writer to task about shoddy journalism and defends real, walkable neighborhood designs. Also, a mention of a new neighborhood design called “coving.”
  • ‘Fewer’ people use fast train (China.org.cn) – The world’s fastest high-speed rail opens in China (Wuhan to Guangzhou); two weeks later there’s subtle criticism of low ridership reports. China.org.cn is interesting; known as “China Internet Information Center” and “published under the auspices of the State Council Information Office and the China International Publishing Group in Beijing.” It’s hard to know what information comes from the government and what doesn’t.
  • Fight Against Asian Carp Threatens Fragile Great Lakes Unity (New York Times) – The State of New York has joined the State of Michigan’s lawsuit against the State of Illinois to force Illinois to close the waterway connection between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River. The states fear that Asian carp will soon invade the Great Lakes and destroy the ecology. The State of Illinois operates eight locks and dams along the Illinois Waterway and Illinois River. See map below (made with Google My Maps).


View Lake Michigan to the Mississippi in a larger map

Traffic: It never ends

Automobile congestion on the Kennedy Expressway* (I-90/94), taken from the L tracks above Lake Street in Chicago, Illinois.

Other things that never end (a roundup of sorts):

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