Saturday, February 12, 2005

Millennium Park Photographing Update

Ben Joravsky published a piece in yesterday's Chicago Reader following up on his story earlier this month that discussed the harassment of professional photographers and journalists at Chicago's Millennium Park.

As I recounted in an earlier post, individuals assumed to be professional photographers were accosted by park security guards and asked to purchase permits in order to shoot photos. A representative from the park indicated that the sculptures, installations, and architecture were copyrighted and required either a city permit or authorization from the creator before they could be photographed or reproduced.

According to Joravsky's followup article, the creators of the park's "enhancements" own the copyrights, but they are not paid royalties when permits are purchased. The real reason for the city's shakedown is that the city has exclusive licensing rights for selling images of Millennium Park.

Apparently, the city does not want to endure competition from entrepreneurs who may go and photograph Millennium Park enhancements and place the images on postcards, t-shirts, etc... Some use of public space, huh? has scanned in Joravsky's latest article. The relevant post's permalink seems to be malfunctioning, so you may have to go to their main page to get to the Feb. 10,2005 posting with the article.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

More Chicago Park News


In the latest saga of the corporatization of Chicago's public spaces, Chicagoist has a post on the city's deal with radio and billboard monopolist, Clear Channel to build a temporary concert venue on Northerly Island--the former home of Meigs Field.

Meigs Field was the small, executive airport that Chicago's Mayor Daley rendered inoperable in March 2003 by sending bulldozers in the middle of the night to destroy the runway under the auspices of protecting the city from terrorism. Of course the airport was not part of Daniel Burnham's brilliant 1909 lakefront plan. Daley had wanted to change uses when the 50-year lease for the airport expired in 1996. Repeated legal wrangling and obstruction from downstate politicians and special interest aviation groups stifled efforts to close the airport.

Although Mayor Daley's tactics and rationale for closing the airport raised some eyebrows, the airport was clearly a poor use of public space on the city's lakefront. The Lake Michigan Federation has a great proposal to turn the space into a nature preserve which, conceptually, has the support of Daley.

The new agreement is for Clear Channel to operate the concert facility for three years with two one-year extension options. In contrast to concerts at the Grant Park pavilion, Clear Channel's facility will charge for tickets with the city getting a share of the revenues.

While it is understandable for the city to find new sources of revenue to develop the park, given the potential for profitmaking in this venture, there is a strong possibility that the vision for a permanent, public-use, nature park could be compromised.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Bush Budget on Transport - A First Glance

Today the Bush Administration unveiled its 2006 budget request to Congress. As we have discussed earlier, the state of federal transportation spending---essential to urban and suburban development--has been uncertain for more than a year.

In today's budget request, the administration seems to have relented on earlier threats to veto a transportation reauthorization bill that exceeded $256 billion over six years. The administration is now setting forth $283.9 billion which exceeds the amount the House of Representatives approved during last year's stalled negotiations ($275 billion) but still falls short of the Senate preference ($318 billion).

It is good to see the administration up its committments, but there are still numerous unanswered questions. A statement by White House Budget Director Joshua Bolten at his press conference makes me cautious:

The amount we are carrying in the budget for a six-year highway bill is $283.9 billion, which reflects an understanding between the administration and the leadership on what a reasonable bill that meets our infrastructure needs, but also ensures that the trust fund, the highway trust fund is able to carry out its obligations into the future, without requiring money being brought over from the general fund.

Essentially Bolten is saying, "don't expect any money from the general fund to finance transportation." There are serious questions about relying on the Highway Trust Fund for federal transportation spending. Much of that fund comes from user fees and fuel taxes. There is significant worry that those fees will not be enough to meet needs--especially as fuel efficiency increases.

By ruling out discretionary spending on transportation, we can look forward to a crumbling highway system and inadequate public transit systems. We will continue to monitor transportation funding as it winds its way through Congress.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Voting begins in Edinburgh on Congestion Charge

(Edinburgh traffic jam--supplied by

Over the next two weeks, residents of the City of Edinburgh, Scotland will be voting on whether the city should initiate a congestion charge scheme. London has had such a scheme for about two years. In London, drivers must pay £5 to enter the center city between 7:00am and 6:30pm, Monday-Friday. Money earned through the congestion charge is put largely into public transportation improvements.

While the London scheme remains controversial, some studies suggest that it has reduced vehicular traffic within the central zone by as much as 15% and bus ridership has increased dramatically.

In Edinburgh, the proposed scheme is a bit more complex. There are two cordons--one around the city center and the other around the perimeter of the city. The charge would be in effect for the inner cordon from 7:00am-6:30pm and the outer cordon from 7:00am-10:00am, Monday-Friday. The £2 charge would allow you to go through each cordon throughout the day.

The citizens of Edinburgh appear to be less-than enthusiastic about the scheme, with polls suggesting 65% of the city's residents opposing the scheme. Mingus Linklatter, columnist at the Scotsman, sees a serious problem with congestion in Edinburgh, but has little faith in the municipal leadership in developing transportation alternatives given their track record in dismantling rail service in years past. Some local affiliates of the leftist Liberal Democrats are breaking from their national party's pro-charge stand, by making similar claims of lack-of-confidence in Edinburgh's Labour-headed council.

The mode of election--postal ballots--has also been criticized, as nearly 12% of eligible voters who had taken themselves off the municipal junk mail list, may not receive ballots.

Should the tally be supportive of the scheme, the council would still have to get approval from the Scottish Executive before the plan would go into effect. The outcome may be portentous, as other municipalities in Great Britain, are being pressured into considering congestion schemes of their own.

*Update* Take a look at Richard Bloomfield's blog and Freedom and Whisky for debate on the charge in the Scottish blogosphere.

Greenbelt in Toronto?

The McGuinty government in Ontario is pushing one of the most ambitious "smart growth" initiatives ever seen in North America. The Standing Committee on General Government held several public meetings this past week to get public comment on the Greenbelt Act of 2004.

The act would add 1 million acres of protected land to the Golden Horseshoe region of southern Ontario surrounding Toronto, limiting suburban sprawl and protecting the Oak Ridges Moraine--an important groundwater recharge area stretching north of the Greater Toronto Area.

If the act is passed, over 1.8 million acres around Toronto will be protected from future urbanization.

The main opposition groups tend to be farmers who argue that the boundaries for protection often divide farms and restrict landowners' ability to sell their land for development.

Many environmental groups have supported the McGuinty plan, but not without reservations. One of the largest coalitions--Ontario Greenbelt Alliance--includes local environmental and conservation groups and larger advocacy organizations like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace.

They are arguing that the amount of protected acreage needs to be increase and fear that the act could allow large infrastructure projects--like roads--to be built within the supposed areas of protection.

Furthermore, groups like the Ontario Nature Federation, believe that the plan has too many loopholes thus allowing land to be exempted from protection. There is also an exemption for mining activities in protected land, which frightens some environmentalists.

Given the fact that McGuinty's Liberal Party has a healthy majority in Ontario's Legislative Assembly it is likely that the Greenbelt measure will be passed in spite of criticism from both the Tories and the New Democrats.

Regardless, the issue of sprawl in Ontario is a serious public policy subject on many levels. A recent Statistics Canada report identified the region's urban growth as contributing to the exponential decline of farmland; while the Ontario College of Family Physicians has just published a report indicating that sprawl in Ontario can negatively affect public health.

Below is a map from the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance that shows their recommendation for expanding the protected areas proposed by the Greenbelt Act. You may click on the picture to get to a larger version (registration with flikr may be required).

Greenbelt Plan

(Linked with Outside the Beltway)

Friday, February 04, 2005

Amy Applebaum on Philip Johnson

Amy Applebaum, of the Washington Post, has an excellent column wondering why architect Philip Johnson's active support for fascism was barely noted in the many obituaries published following his death.

Johnson didn't merely sympathize, like Lindbergh, or make a juvenile joke, like Prince Harry. On the contrary, Johnson helped organize a U.S. fascist party. He worked on behalf of the Nazi sympathizer and radio broadcaster, Father Charles E. Coughlin.

TEA 21 - Reauthorization Update February 2005

As I mentioned in a post last year, this blog will provide periodic updates on the reauthorization of the US Federal Government's multi-year highway & transit funding bill, TEA-21.

It was not surprising that Bush failed to mention transportation reauthorization in his state of the union speech as it has been an extremely low priority for his administration and represents a possible confrontation with the Republican-controlled Congress.

Just last week, a group of Republican Senators wrote a letter to the President indicating their commitment to pass a reauthorization bill. Democratic Senator, Dick Durbin, also sent his own letter to the President arguing for adequate transportation financing in his budget outlining discretionary spending, due to be presented to Congress next week.

Although a bill has not been formally introduced in either chamber, it is expected that the Senate will still be asking for $318 billion over six years; the House will be asking $275 billion. The White House had indicated last year that anything over $256 billion will be vetoed.

The next few weeks will be critical as bills get introduced and funneled through committees. Rep. Dan Young, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has indicated he wants the House version of the legislation to be introduced on the floor by March 7.

The fact that it has taken nearly a year and a half to deal with reauthorization is unconscionable. One aspect to watch closely will be how transit projects fare in the reauthorization & budget process.

Discretionary funding for transit has fallen over the past budget year from $1.4 billion to $965 million. Because TEA-21 had a guaranteed limit for transit funding, the Highway Trust Fund has had to pick up the slack due to decreases in general fund appropriations.

It will not be surprising to see an assault on the guaranteed funding levels for transit during this round of the reauthorization debate to free up more money for highways.

If this scenario unfolds, it could be disastrous to sustainable metropolitan development as you will see continuing sprawl, transit cutbacks, and a quickly deteriorating highway system where maintenance costs will be neglected. You may also see increasing local and state taxes to meet citizen demand for transportation improvements.

Whatever happens, it is likely to be ugly and a step back for engendering livable communities.

In the interim, Congressional inaction is still holding up innovative urban transportation projects like the Chickamauga Greenway in Chattanooga.

(Linked with Outside the Beltway)

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

City, Suburbs, and Dolls

Via Gapersblock and Chicagoist, toy maker Mattel, has introduced a new doll to its American Girl product line. For those unfamiliar with American Girl, it represents product synergy at its best. Mattel produces dolls, matching clothes for girls, books, and other products that develop a "personality" for the doll.

The story of the new doll, Marisol, is causing a bit of controversy. She is from Chicago's Mexican-American community of Pilsen who is having to move to the suburban community of Des Plaines. According to accounts of the book, Pilsen is referred to as "no place to grow up," rife with violence, and a place from where reasonable people want to flee.

While the caricature of Mexican-Americans exploits discredited stereotypes ("Marisol was born to dance") and Pilsen's cultural and economic diversity seems to be downplayed, the story of Marisol does tap into an often-ignored aspect of metropolitan development: a complex reversal of the "white flight" dynamic that fueled post-war suburbanization.

Many accounts of the 2000 census figures show the increasing ethnic and cultural diversification of the suburbs. Much of this is due to gentrification schemes that price low income people out of their communities. Higher income--often white--residents are displacing low income renters. Pilsen is one of the areas in Chicago where gentrification is quickly coming. With the redevelopment of University Village, Chicago's southwest side is ripe for significant transformation. The story of Marisol, in turn, may be the template for forced displacement.