Tag: interview

Danielle Allen on the geography of power sharing and how I think it applies to Chicago

Danielle Allen is a professor of public policy at Harvard University. She also started the Allen Lab for Democracy Renovation at Harvard. Danielle was interviewed on the California YIMBY “Abundance” podcast, published December 21.

Danielle said something that I thought was extremely relevant to understanding why the way decisions on Chicago land use and zoning are made is defective and leads to bad outcomes (including segregation and lack of housing in higher-resource neighborhoods ).

Before I excerpt from the interview, here are three summaries of how Chicago land use and zoning decision making processes are, as I said, “defective”. They come from myself, Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance (CAFHA), and the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (better known as HUD).

My own summary: There are 51 ways – at least – to legalize housing in Chicago. The first is the collection of ordinances, regulations, and processes administered by City Hall (as well as the division of power within City Hall amongst the mayor’s office and the departments, and the influence exerted by same); the other 50 are the individual and idiosyncratic ways of the 50 alderpersons. Projects are entitled (approved) on a project by project and lot by lot basis. Every lot is zoned and its zoning district is fungible depending on if the local alderperson supports the change.

CAFHA: “The City of Chicago’s longstanding policy and practice of ‘aldermanic prerogative’ – whereby the City of Chicago delegates to the City’s 50 aldermen and alderwomen (“aldermen”) unfettered power over zoning, land use, city lots, and public financing, in order to decide where, if, and how affordable housing is built in their wards – discriminates on the basis of race, color, national origin, familial status, and disability, and perpetuates segregation on those bases, notwithstanding the city’s certifications it would overcome such segregation. These same policies and practices violate the City of Chicago’s duty to affirmatively further fair housing.”(CAFHA et. al. submitted this complaint to HUD in November 2018)

HUD: “The Department’s investigation indicates that the City affords each of its fifty wards a local veto over proposals to build affordable housing, and that many majority-White wards use the local veto to block, deter, or downsize such proposals. As a result, new affordable housing is rarely, if ever, constructed in the majority-White wards that already have the least affordable housing. The City acknowledges this effect of the practice, its historical use for the purpose of creating and maintaining patterns of racial segregation, and its continued use as a tool that effectuates racially motivated opposition to affordable housing. The City’s use of the local veto despite understanding its effects raises serious concerns about the City’s compliance with Title VI and Section 109.

“The Department understands that the local veto over affordable housing proposals is not a law or formal policy, but a practice arising from (1) the requirement that City Council approve all such proposals, and (2) the custom of only approving those proposals which have the affirmative support of the alderman for the ward in which the development is proposed. This investigation identified three ways in which aldermen wield the local veto to block, deter, or downsize proposals to build affordable housing:” [read the rest of they response to CAFHA’s complaint]

On to the interview!

This excerpted part of the conversation starts at 11:14.

Screen grab from the interview of Danielle Allen by Nolan Gray and Ned Resnikoff.

Ned Resnikoff: Nolan [Gray] and I have talked a lot about this idea that we need to, we need to bring back actual planning. So the idea that you have a sort of democratic process for for a citywide general plan, but then if something if a project conforms to that general plan, it’s like, well, the city, the community has already sort of planned to allow for that. And so I guess I’m curious how you think about that, like, is there? Is there a role for project by project planning? Or is it the sort of thing that should happen more at the citywide level or neighborhood level?

[Note that Chicago does not have a general or comprehensive plan. Another way to look at this is that Chicago’s zoning map is its comp plan.]

Danielle Allen: I think it can be either city wide or regional, it sort of depends on what the issue is, or neighborhood. If you take the case of land use in renewable energy contexts, it could literally be like the folks who sort of share the same wind footprint. And so do you think this is the hardest? Well, there’s many hard problems in this space.

But one of the hardest problems in the space is the fact that our current jurisdictional structures don’t always map the footprints of the affected community for a given issue.

[I bolded that statement. I think the issue where this is most relevant is housing production – the people who need or would use proposed housing is the affected community not mapped to the footprint of the Chicago alderperson’s jurisdiction and the application of that alderperson’s power is defined by one of 50 ways, leading to the outcomes of not building enough housing which are outlined in CAFHA’s complaint and HUD’s general agreement of the nature of the complaint.]

Danielle continues… So that’s the kind of thing I’m wrestling with, and my lab is working on, is kind of having concrete cases where that’s true. And then how do you start to actually give people access to a governance structure that aligns with the actual footprint of impact? And how would you make that work given the existing legacy jurisdictional structures? So I don’t think we have answers to that question yet. But I feel like that’s the problem we have to solve.

So for example, again, renewable energy is basically a land use issue, right? Because it takes so much more land to source energy through renewable sources, whether solar or wind. So at the end of the day, it’s like, anybody who thinks about land use, we need you in the kind of climate conversation because it is just fundamentally a land use question. I think what we’re working on is the different structures, that kind of collective ownership, so that the benefits that could come from harvesting the renewable energy resource that you are somehow connected to either because you’re upwind or downwind or someplace in between, but if the wind gets used, you’re going to be affected by it. You know, those kinds of things might give us some new governance structures that can kind of come in and help us break through some of our impasses. That’s the sort of thing we’re trying to figure out, to align the need for that participatory element that does deliver the appropriate kind of empowerment, but is also driving towards something effective.

How Chicagoans commute map: An interview with the cartographer

Chicago Commute Map by Transitized

A screenshot of the map showing Lakeview and the Brown, Red, Purple and Purple Line Express stations.

Shaun Jacobsen blogs at Transitized.com and yesterday published the How Chicagoans Commute map. I emailed him to get some more insight on why he made it, how, and what insights it tells about Chicago and transit. The map color-symbolizes census tracts based on the simple majority commuting transportation mode.

What got you started on it?

It was your post about the Census data and breaking it down by ZIP code to show people how many homes have cars. I’ve used that method a few times. The method of looking up each case each time it came up took too long, so this kind of puts it in one place.

What story did you want to tell?

I wanted to demonstrate that many households in the city don’t have any cars at all, and these residents need to be planned for as well. What I really liked was how the north side transit lines stuck out. Those clearly have an impact on how people commute, but I wonder what the cause is. Are the Red and Brown Lines really good lines (in people’s opinions) so they take them, or are people deciding to live closer to the lines because they want to use it (because they work downtown, for example)?

The reason I decided to post the map on Thursday was because while I was writing the story about a proposed development in Uptown and I wanted  information on how many people had cars around that development. As the map shows, almost all of Uptown is transit-commuting, and a lot of us don’t even own any cars.

What data and tools did you use?

I first used the Chicago Data Portal to grab the census tract boundaries. Then I grabbed all of the census data for B08141 (“means of transportation to work by number of vehicles available”) and DP04 (“selected housing characteristics”) for each tract and combined it using the tract ID and Excel’s VLOOKUP formula.

Read the rest of this interview on Web Map Academy.

What I like best about bicycling in Chicago

In an interview with a student reporter I gave this past weekend, I was asked to say what I like best about bicycling in Chicago.

I didn’t want to give an answer that would have been true about bicycling in any other city – the question was about here and not about riding a bike. My first answer may seem to disparage Chicago (maybe it won’t be printed…) but a few questions later I told the reporter I wanted to revisit this question.

My new answer put bicycling in Chicago in an extremely positive light and I was being entirely truthful:

What I like best about bicycling in Chicago is the existence of many and diverse subcultures. I mentioned that you can find a group of people who like riding fixed gear bikes, or find a group of parents who ride with their children, or even a group of cargo bike owners (actually, this subculture hasn’t taken off yet – I need to work on that). There are also group rides for every occasion, including one on Sunday for May Day, the Haymarket Ride to Union Park

I felt relieved that I was able to eventually answer this question. I didn’t want to leave the interview telling the reporter that I didn’t like anything about bicycling IN Chicago.

The 2010 Perimeter Ride rolls out after a late dinner at Superdawg. Photo by Eric Rogers.

My television interview about dooring data

Last week you heard me on WGN 720 AM talk about bicycling in Chicago and my bike crash map.

This week you’ll get to see me talk about bike crash and dooring data on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight program. It comes after a rule change announced on Sunday: the Illinois Department of Transportation will begin collecting crash reports for doorings. Previously, these were “unreportable.”

WTTW reporter Ash-har Quraishi came over to my house Thursday to ask me about what kind of information the crash data I obtained from IDOT includes and excludes.

You may have heard me on the radio this morning in Chicago

Here’s the audio clip of my interview with WGN 720 AM producer Rob Hart about biking in Chicago and the bike crash map I made. It aired this morning – I had no idea until someone left me a comment on a Flickr photo that they heard me.

Listen now: Steven Vance on biking and bike crashes in Chicago on WGN.mp3 (will play in your browser).

I am too nervous to listen to this. I’m sure I said something wrong or misspoke.

Biking in Chicago is fun and you should do it. You don’t need special gear or equipment and you can buy a cheap bike at Working Bikes in Pilsen, at 2434 S Western Avenue.


[ding, ding]

A little bell may be what comes to mind when you think of riding your bike, but the reality is more like this.

[sounds of traffic]

A busy street full of cars, trucks, and buses. With drivers who are looking at something else.

Me: There’s a lot of driveways. A lot of drivers are making right and left turns and if you ride too close to the curb they will probably not see you, so you have to ride sometimes outside the bike lane if you want to be noticed.

Steven Vance ditched his car 5 years ago. He rides his bike all over the city and he says sometimes it’s a white knuckled experience.

Me: It can be. It does take a little bit of resolve. Sometimes your nerves will get frayed, but I think the benefit outweighs the cost.

After a newspaper [Bay Citizen] in San Francisco mapped out bike crashes on its website, Vance decided to plot bike crashes in the Chicago area on his.

Me: I saw that, and I thought, “You know what, I think I can do that.” I asked the Illinois Department of Transportation for the data and they promptly sent it over and I, as quickly as possible, put it online.

The diagonal streets are the worst, he found, and that includes Milwaukee Avenue.

Me: You could find Milwaukee just by the number of dots representing the crashes. You didn’t need a label to say that this was Milwaukee Avenue. You could tell simply by the string, the constant string of dots.