Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Worthy 5th Ward Challenger: Anne Marie Miles

posted by chicago pop

Fifth Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston has been parked in the same political spot for a while now. Unfortunately, the meter has expired, but her car is still there. It's time to call the tow truck. Other people would like to park there.

As of this past Monday's filing deadline, 9 candidates have received the call from dispatch, and are currently on the ballot to take Leslie Hairston's parking spot at the job she has held, with very little to show for it, since 1999.

We think this crowded field is a good thing. The factors that have contributed to stasis on the City Council, and indirectly in the 5th Ward, have slackened considerably in 2010. Chicago city politics, like politics on the national level, are currently wide open and tumultuous.

This does not bode well for status-quo politicians who have preferred to coast on complacency. Hairston is an incumbent in a time of anti-incumbent sentiment. Her bread-and-circuses approach to discretionary spending reveals a lack of long-term vision for the ward. Employment opportunities in the ward, which would have benefited from 200 new jobs had she helped shepherd the Doctors Hospital project, remain scarce. The major city players who have supported her in the past are leaving the picture -- both Mayor Daley and 4th Ward Alderman Toni Preckwinkle.

There are thus good reasons for challengers to take on the 5th Ward Alderman. On the basis of her record, Leslie Hairston is vulnerable in ways that she was not in any of the previous three elections. Even if more than half the field drops out before the end of the year, the current Alderman will still face at least one qualified opponent worthy of the 5th Ward's historic tradition of independent, visionary politics: Anne Marie Miles.

We had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Anne Marie several weeks ago, and are very pleased that such a strong candidate has officially entered the ring for the February 2011 aldermanic elections. Before too long, we'll be interviewing Anne Marie Miles on HPP to give readers a better sense of who she is and where she comes from.

For now, though, we'll let her speak in her own words.


From an undated letter to the editor shared with HPP:

I am running for Alderman of the Fifth Ward of Chicago, because I believe that the Fifth Ward no longer represents the independent voice of reason that it once was for so many years. Over the last decade that voice has diminished and is now on the brink of extinction.

Bona fide leadership is sorely lacking, while there are many issues in the ward that are not being addressed; constituent services are at the top of that list, especially when voters cannot receive coherent responses to justifiable concerns. Constituents continue to wait for communication on education programs, crime prevention, broken pavements, potholes, gutters and tree limbs.

I became utterly committed to run for alderman, when I learned that in a summer with the highest youth unemployment rates in years, vital ward funds were being used to pay for parking spaces for people who live in the co-ops and condos along the lakefront. How many summer jobs could have been created for Fifth Ward residents with that money -- over $100,000.00 -- in Ward funds -- spent on free parking spaces, most of which were never used.

The priority of the Fifth Ward must be economic revitalization. Concern for community, children and senior citizens must be at the very top of that agenda. Common sense leadership is required in City Council; leaders who are willing to confront issues urgently affecting the city, and who can provide a productive plan for economic development, encouragement for children to graduate from high school, and facilitate increased community program development.

I bring a strong commitment to the Fifth Ward where I have resided and raised a family, since the 1990's. I bring renewed energy and resources, and will relentlessly call upon business leaders, parents, educators and youth program directors, to ensure the revitalization of the historic Fifth Ward community and its place in this great city of Chicago.

From a campaign press release of November 23, 2010:

Anne Marie Miles is an advocate, community activist and a loyal, passionate Fifth Ward supporter. She is involved with parent associations and local community groups focused on improving children's lives and reducing teen violence. Miles is the former Secretary and President of the University of Chicago Comer Hospital Service Committee, and has worked for Chicago Volunteer Legal Services providing free legal services to lower income residents. She is currently on the steering committee of Safe Youth Chicago of the Union League Club of Chicago.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Harold Washington Park Advisory Council: Organizational Meeting Thursday, Nov. 18

Help form an Advisory Council

for Harold Washington Park

Please join us for our organizational meeting:

Thursday, November 18, 2010

6:30 PM

Hyde Park Art Center

5020 S. Cornell

We welcome and need your leadership, ideas and support. Let us make Harold Washington Park better, together.

What is a Park Advisory Council? A park advisory council is a group of individuals who meet regularly with the Chicago Park District’s local park supervisor to support the effective functioning of the park and advises them on the needs and concerns of the community.

Agenda will include Council Formation & Elections, meeting schedule. Once formed the Council will identify its goals and priorities. For purposes of this effort Harold Washington Park is defined as the area between 4900 S. Chicago Beach Dr. - 53rd Street and between S. Hyde Park Blvd. and Lake Shore Drive.)

Please call Park Supervisor Heather Kelly at (773) 747-2703 with any questions.

City of Chicago, Richard M. Daley, Mayor

Chicago Park District

Timothy J. Mitchell, General Superintendent & CEO

Visit or call (312) 742-PLAY; (312) 747-2001 (TTY)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Facelift for East Park Towers, Funeral for Tobacco for Less

posted by chicago pop

New/Original Facade of East Park Towers

It's hard to find a picture on the web of what the facade of East Park Towers used to look like. That's probably because it was absolutely hideous, and anyone with an interest in photographing the building did well to elevate the picture frame above street level to focus instead on the handsome upper stories overlooking Harold Washington Park. But you probably remember: a blank concrete wall, textured with pebbles, a bad 70's fad, sort of like the aluminum sheeting that was once draped over the Palmer House and other old downtown buildings to make them look "modern."

Old Facade of East Park Towers, Courtesy of HPP reader
and Talented Photographer Eric Allix Rogers

Well, it's gone. And thank you to MAC for restoring East Park Towers' handsome and understated neo-classical foyer. This makes up for being next to Hyde Park-Kenwood's third spookiest building.


Elsewhere in the neighborhood: what will become of this little basement space? We've seen a boutique bike shop, a tobacco store, and then a mini-mart come through this location in a brief three year period. For a variety of reasons, none of them has worked out. This corner deserves something special. It would be great if the landlord agreed.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Grease! A 50's Rock and Roll Musical. King College Prep, Nov 18-20

King College Prep High School
4445 South Drexel Blvd
Chicago, Illinois 60653
Phone: 773-535-1180

Monday, November 1, 2010

Chicago and the Opium of the Developers

posted by chicago pop

Fantasy Real Estate: Chicago's Latest Virtual Reality Game.
Beautiful Renderings Cost Nothing and Keep Stakeholders In a Trance -- But For How Long?

To read the news about all the great development projects the Chicago city council is approving, you wouldn't think that home foreclosures and unemployment continue to be a record highs, that state and local government are running enormous deficits, and that the numbers on all of these might shoot up to even greater heights if, as it very well might, the economy tumbles into a "double-dip" recession.

If you are a bureaucrat in the City Department of Planning, or a city council member in a city that has no money, and you therefore have nothing to do, but are still getting paid (somehow) to show up, it can't hurt to approve grandiose projects that will get Blair Kamin and the Tribune all excited, even if there's no realistic way some of these things will happen in less than 10 year's time -- 20 year's time if we're pessimistic. That's the kind of hole we're in. It's about this big:

Glory Days Gone Past, or, Chicago's Real Estate Crater
[source: Curbed Chicago]

Other cases abound. Remember the exotic 90 floor Shangri La Hotel on Wacker and Clark, the one that is now an empty 26 story shell that will most likely be the first Loop building to be demolished in almost half a century? "Solstice in the Park," the cutting edge green building that was supposed to go up on the corner of Cornell and 56th, doesn't even have a hole in the ground, though it is probably demolished in concept. Optimists will note that it is apparently still listing 8 units for sale, with construction to start "in 2012".

The new blog Curbed Chicago gives a sense of the split personality that still pervades Chicago's real estate world, with posts detailing the ever bigger graveyard of pre-crash projects like the New City "mixed-use development [that] was to have 490 residential units and 370,000 square feet of retail" at North and Clyborn, alongside euphoric posts and splashy renderings of what we supposedly can still expect "as soon as the market turns around," as if the Great Recession is just another downturn and we just need to wait for consumers to start spending again.

The above monster, together with three others, adds "more than 2.5 million square feet of commercial space" to the market in Chicago, suggesting just how far some of the local real estate moguls still have to fall to get to post-crash reality. Loathe to sacrifice the model that has driven its success since the reign of the first Mayor Daley and his famous commitment to the downtown business elite, for these guys it is still onward and upward. Witness the Tribune Blair Kamin in a review of a recently approved "plan" for the vast (bigger than the Loop) abandoned US Steel Yard:

Plans for the old US Steel Yards: $98 million in pre-project infrastructure approved by City Council (from what pot of gold?); $4 billion final cost
Imagine: Sleek residential high-rises lining a vast industrial slip where ore boats delivered the raw materials for steel-making. A new park built over the foundations of a massive open hearth. A broad extension of South Shore Drive that would be an urban boulevard. Parks and alleys that would channel stormwater into Lake Michigan instead of the city’s sewers.

I am imagining it, and that's likely all I will be able to do as far as this project is concerned for about another 25 years. Reality check, anyone?

So when I see glossy renderings for more local projects, like the Vermilion Development Inc plans for Harper Court (12-story, 150,000-square-foot office building, about 100,000 square feet for retailers and parking for 435), or even the more humble "Shops and Lofts" at 47th and Cottage Grove, which will supposedly host an Aldi and 140 units of affordable and CHA rental housing, I have to wonder.

The truth is, and it hurts to say this, as much as the University of Chicago wants to build out the neighborhood at Harper Court and 53rd, they may have missed their chance. That chance was a 20-year window of opportunity that, for some reason or another, was squandered in the likes of Doctors Hospital type fiascoes in which a major institutional power got its arse whooped in the valleys of the local neighborhood Afghanistan. We are likely to live with things as they now stand until our kids move away to college, we move out of the neighborhood for other jobs, or we are dead.

Such gaps in the geological record of American real estate are not unheard of. Around 50th and Cornell, near the popular Istria cafe, there are a cluster of high-rise buildings built in the 1920s. They are gorgeous and speak to the confidence of the age that built them, loaded with the kinds of finishes and craftsmanship that you don't find in residential buildings today. Most of these towers only have windows on two or three sides, because the developers expected neighboring towers of equal ambition and height to go up beside them.

Those other towers never materialized, and the window-less building faces are now mute brick walls to the rest of the neighborhood. The next buildings to appear were built roughly a quarter century later, in the 1950s.

We may be looking at something comparable this time around, and it's not clear that Antheus or the University of Chicago or anybody else will be able to convince enough Sam Zell-type testosterone jockeys, shell-shocked banks or private equity high-rollers to put money into projects that will add hundreds of condos or offices that, right now, no one wants. The suburban empty nesters that were once selling their split-level homes to buy condos in the South Loop probably aren't going to make any moves for a while.

So, by all means, make no small plans, as is only right in the city of Daniel Burnham. But someone should do us the favor of explaining how all of this stuff will get built in an economy that is not going to reset at "2006" anytime soon, if ever.