Who Is John Galt?

Paul Krugman enthuses about trains.

Anyway, my experience is that of the three modes of mechanized transport I use, trains are by far the most liberating. Planes are awful: waiting to clear security, then having to sit with your electronics turned off during takeoff and landing, no place to go if you want to get up in any case. Cars — well, even aside from traffic jams (tell me how much freedom you experience waiting for an hour in line at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel), the thing about cars is that you have to drive them, which kind of limits other stuff.

I would go further: driving cars is one of the biggest wastes of human experience, time, and potential that there is. I was reminded of this while stuck in DC-area traffic a week or so ago. I had forgotten how bad it is. The only good thing I can think to say about driving is that the less I do it, the more I enjoy it when I do. I used to commute between Ann Arbor and Chicago when I was in grad school (sometimes twice a week — just like William LeBaron Jenney), and I was often highly productive on the train, because it imposed a discipline by eliminating internet, phone, and other distractions, even while it offered the ability to get up and walk around, stretch, and get something to eat or drink. Even when I was not very productive, I was more effective and enjoyed the travel far more than I ever have by car.

Holdout Oriented Design

I’m going to have an article coming out in the Journal of Planning History, part of an issue on postwar university planning and urban renewal. My contribution is about the University of Chicago and comes from my dissertation research. The nature of the piece meant that I could not include some of the most interesting parts, particularly related to building design, so I’m providing it here for public consumption.

The University of Chicago was worried about neighborhood racial transition in the 1950s and set upon an area management strategy led by Julian Levi, a lawyer and planner, through the South East Chicago Commission, and Lawrence Kimpton, the UC president. In the late 1950s Kimpton began to contact metro Chicago education institutions and tried to interest them in moving to Hyde Park in order to spur redevelopment and clear out residential blocks (examples include Barat College, McCormick Theological Seminary, and the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago). The Illinois Synod of the Lutherans agreed to form the LSTC and locate it in Hyde Park in order to be close to and share resources with the divinity school at the University of Chicago. The university owned several parcels on a block on E. 55th and sold them to the LSTC. However, a group of local residents, weary of the university’s major urban renewal efforts, created an organized opposition. They stopped other owners on the block from selling to the UC/LSTC team and LSTC leaders (a business officer named Frank Zimmerman) decided to give up the block in favor of one to the west, where UC also owned several parcels.

UC and LSTC started over in assembling land on the block (between Greenwood and University on E. 55th) and again found opposition, egged on by owners on the next block. In one instance, LSTC and UC hired the wife of a UC grad student to report on tenant meetings, and in another the university tried to buy up shares in a cooperative in order to outvote holdout owners in cooperative board decisions (unsuccessfully). After 5 years of real estate wrangling, LSTC owned all but one building on the block and directed their architecture firm, Perkins + Will, to design a building around the holdout. The LSTC released the plan in 1962.

Image from the Chicago Maroon

The owners were sufficiently spooked by the prospect of being surrounded by the theology school and its parking lot that they agreed to trade their building for a UC-owned building a few blocks away in Hyde Park. However, the Perkins + Will design remains to this day, rotated 90 degrees from its originally proposed site plan.

Image from Google Earth

In the end, UC got its wish and both blocks were redeveloped. Though they initially declined Chicago’s invitation to move to Hyde Park, the McCormick Theological Seminary subsequently relocated from Lincoln Park to Hyde Park, where its building closes the “C” of the LSTC building.

Columbia and Eminent Domain

Let me pause in my research on campus expansion and eminent domain at the University of California Berkeley to talk about…universities and eminent domain.

Manhattanville property owners had their day in state appeals court Thursday, arguing against the use of eminent domain by the Empire State Development Corporation on behalf of Columbia University. You might remember I touched on this a while back. As a private university, Columbia does not have state-granted powers of eminent domain, which is why they have to work in tandem with the ESDC, a state authority with those powers. Can a private university constitute a “public use,” a fundamental requirement for condemnation? On its face, it looks pretty unlikely — however, “public use” has seen an increasingly broad interpretation up to the Kelo v. New London decision, where turning over property to a private party for economic development was justified as a public use. The judge in this case seems to be skeptical of this idea, so it remains to be seen if she will continue the federal court’s interpretation.

As a note, in the 1950s and 1960s, university leaders around the country were sharing information left and right about their expansion plans and development ideas — is this no longer the case?

Judge Rosalyn Richter questioned the public accessibility of Columbia’s campus buildings and Associate Justice James Catterson asked Casolaro to cite an example of a case in which a “private university was deemed a public benefit.”

Casolaro responded, “I am not able to point to such a case.”

I can’t believe Bollinger and Columbia planners were not ready for this with their ducks in a row. Clearing blight has been one of the key examples of a public benefit and, debatable as the outcomes may be, its legal basis is really pretty solid.

New York Times

One of the most annoying things about the Times is their fealty to New York real estate. You can see the way it shapes their content in showing off working architects in Sketchpad, their profiles of architecture students, overpriced apartment features, and the highly annoying writing of Nicolai Ourosoff. Of course it is understandable not from a news standpoint but from an economic one — people in New York make money off real estate and the Times to a certain extent depends on those businesses, that clientele, and that part of the economy.

However, there is an exception that I regularly find interesting — Streetscapes, written by Christopher Gray. Just a good, regular set of features helping understand the built environment, from design to planning to real estate.

Bruegmann Whopper Watch

Way back in the day when I was a distance running coach and aficionado who paid attention to such things, running journalist Scott Douglas started a project called the Galloway Whopper Watch which documented the excessive claims of marathon success made by former elite runner and now walk-run advocate Jeff Galloway. It sadly seems to have gone by the wayside but it was a useful exercise in collecting these extravagant and rather easily falsifiable assertions.

In my mind, the time has come to apply such an effort to the claims of Robert Bruegmann, professor of Art History, Architecture, and Urban Planning at the University of Illinois-Chicago. I have written about Bruegmann’s work before, specifically his work on sprawl. His work of more traditional architectural history, such as a book on Holabird and Roche, is far less objectionable (even useful) and less subject to comment on this blog.

The catalyst for this was his appearance on the Chicago Public Radio local affairs program Eight Forty-Eight yesterday. In it, Bruegmann responded to the typically boosteristic claims of Richard Florida that the economic crisis will aid cities and harm suburbs. However, he launched into his stump speech on suburbs from his work on Sprawl and asserted the following in the course of the interview (my transcription).
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Wouldn’t It Be Nice?

The Illinois Appellate Court took a strike at Chicago’s Landmarks ordinance this week, issuing a ruling from a pair of Chicago landowners (one of whom is an executive for real estate firm Draper & Kramer) that terms the ordinance “vague” and “ambiguous.” The suit is sent back down to the trial court, where the ordinance will likely be struck down, then appealed by the city up to the state supreme court.

I’d like to offer an analysis of the ruling and the ordinance, but the appeals court has not yet put the ruling online, four days after it was released. This is pretty ridiculous, as there is a great deal of interest in this case and this ruling. The ordinance is online from the City of Chicago here.

Blair Kamin runs down the basics here:

The ruling, which came down Friday, takes direct aim at the seven standards by which Chicago decides whether a building or district can be safeguarded from demolition or defacement—association with a significant historic event, evidence of important architecture and so on. A site must satisfy at least two of the seven standards to become a landmark.

While these criteria are expressed in common, easily understood language, that is not sufficient for the judges, who seem to yearn for hairsplitting, legalistic exactitude. “We believe,” they write, “that the terms ‘value,’ ‘important,’ ‘significant,’ and ‘unique’ are vague, ambiguous, and overly broad.”

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A New Transportation Coalition

How about that? Big Steel wants to get on board with the planner people to get a piece of the stimulus package via funding for mass transit projects.

The industry, in response, is lobbying the Obama transition team for infrastructure projects that would require big amounts of steel. Mass transit systems are high on the list, and so is bridge repair.

As Owen Gutfreund details in his book 20th Century Sprawl, the auto-dependent highway-heavy transportation system we have had for the last 50 years came about as the result of a great deal of lobbying and marketing by a coalition of interests that would benefit from sprawl and highways.

At the end of the nineteenth century, the Good Roads movement worked to define highways as a “public good.” Bicyclists were soon joined in the effort by auto manufacturers, dealers, oil companies, civil engineers, road-building contractors, planners, and the car-using public. The resulting system of highway finance, as it evolved over successive iterations of federal legislation, had the effect of institutionalizing subsidies for automobility and encouraging decentralized development. (p. 227)

With every public investment in the economy steel, cement, labor, auto, and land development interests have worked to steer federal funds into road and highway building projects (even bicycles makers at the turn of the century!). No form of transportation pays for itself from user fees, so the question is, what do federal and state governments subsidize. As Big Steel lines up with transit, the answer may finally be rail development.

Review Essay: Railroads and Metropolitan Form

I was asked to write a review essay of four recent books related to the theme of transportation and urban form. My draft version is available on the sidebar. One important book I refer to is David Scobey’s Empire City, a terrific book on real estate in New York in the 19th century.

ANN DURKIN KEATING. Chicagoland: City and Suburbs in the Railroad Age. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

JOHN HENRY HEPP IV. The Middle Class City: Transforming Space and Time in Philadelphia, 1876-1926. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.

HILARY BALLON. New York’s Pennsylvania Stations. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002.

DAVID M. YOUNG. The Iron Horse and the Windy City: How Railroads Shaped Chicago. Dekalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2005.

For more than a decade now, federal transportation policy and the efforts of numerous cities around the country have emphasized the importance of regionalism in their planning activities, dovetailing with practitioners’ and scholars’ emerging concerns with finding a new model for urban development and the organization of metropolitan space. The 1991 passage of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) codified and reinvigorated a regional approach to transportation, reversing a decade-long devolution of transportation planning. The legislation supported the work of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) in urban regions, allowing them to consider mass transit, among other modes of transportation, in addition to providing for private automobiles in allocating transportation resources. With the power to direct and use federal transportation funding, regionally-oriented politicians and planners were faced with the challenge of improving transportation systems that, for half a century, had provided almost exclusively for the automobile.

Hyde Park Progress

As part of the research for my dissertation, I have been looking at a variety of planning and real estate activities undertaken by the University of Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s. Among many memorable instances, one stands out to illustrate how the postwar university had amassed a great deal of political power that it leveraged at the national level to facilitate urban renewal. In preparation for a major “slum clearance” effort, the university thought they might receive federal money under recent housing legislation. Julian Levi, the director of the South East Chicago Commission and Lawrence Kimpton, the UofC chancellor, called on one of the university’s trustees, Inland Steel executive Clarence Randall, who was serving as an economic development advisor to President Eisenhower. Levi and Kimpton passed word through Randall that they would like to speak with administration leaders about what federal funds could do for their community and 10 days later they were sitting with Eisenhower in the Oval Office. They received a planning grant of 198,000 dollars from the Housing and Home Finance Agency (predecessor to HUD) and $15,000,000 for land acquisition and administrative costs for the Hyde Park A&B projects (about 120 million in 2008 dollars). Those political connections are a part of the history of higher education that is almost totally ignored by scholars in education and in urban history.

You might note all over Hyde Park there are renewed cries for urban renewal and development. Recently it caught my eye that current vice-chair of the University of Chicago trustees, Valerie Jarrett, was just named a senior advisor within the White House. I wonder how long until UofC president Zimmer taps his connections to the Obama administration for South East Chicago-specific urban aid?

(Just a note, one of the contributors to the Hyde Park Progress blog is Peter E. Rossi, son of Peter H. Rossi, the late sociologist who co-wrote The Politics of Urban Renewal on the 1958 urban renewal plan, one of the university’s next phases of activities after the slum clearance projects.)

Podcast #2

It’s long-awaited and it’s available. Drawn from one of the chapters of my MUP thesis and presented at last fall’s conference on planning history. All audio, like the last one. I’m thinking about adding visuals and making it a .mov or something similar. It looks like I’ll be teaching a class on history and media, so I’ll be practicing up.

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