The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

My density has brought me to you...

The Chicago Tribune's architecture critic does not like the current proposal for the new Lincoln Yards development and its nine 120 m–plus buildings:

It would be dramatically out of scale with its surroundings, piercing the delicate urban fabric of the city’s North Side with a swath of downtown height and bulk. It also would be out of character with its environs, more Anytown than Our Town.

And that’s what the debate over Lincoln Yards is really about — not just the zoning change the developers seek, which would reclassify their land from a manufacturing district to a mixed-use waterfront zone, but urban character.

What kind of city are we building? Who is it for? Does it have room for the small and the granular as well as the muscular and the monumental?

The 180 m towers that line South Wacker Drive barely make an impression because they exist in the shadow of the 442 m Willis Tower. Alongside Armitage and the rest of west Lincoln Park, a tower of that size is a monster.

Cities need to grow and change, but this is the sort of incongruous Dodge City growth you expect in Houston, a city infamous for its lack of zoning.

And it could have lasting consequences, likely worsening the traffic congestion that already plagues streets like Clybourn and North avenues.

I just read The Battle for Lincoln Park while in London this week. That book talked about the period from around 1930 to around 1970, when affluent white rehabbers east of Larrabee battled the less-affluent, mixed-ethnicity residents west of Larrabee for control over the character of the neighborhood. Both lost; large commercial developers won. Note to Blair Kamin: History does not repeat, but it does rhyme. 

Bankruptcy laws in the US

Whether the US bankruptcy code intended to create a new indentured class of university graduates, its prohibition on discharging student-loan debt has done so.

But the code really helps badly-run businesses, and not just at the criminal scale of Sears. The private-equity fund that owned a grocery store chain in Indiana has done very well under the code, while destroying the future of the chain's retirees:

The anger arises because although the sell-off allowed Sun Capital and its investors to recover their money and then some, the company entered bankruptcy leaving unpaid more than $80 million in debts to workers’ severance and pensions.

For Sun Capital, this process of buying companies, seeking profits and leaving pensions unpaid is a familiar one. Over the past 10 years, it has taken five companies into bankruptcy while leaving behind debts of about $280 million owed to employee pensions.

The unpaid pension debts mean that some retirees will get smaller checks. Much of the tab will be picked up by the government’s pension insurer, a federal agency facing its own budget shortfalls.

“They did everyone dirty,” said Kilby Baker, 70, a retired warehouse worker whose pension check was cut by about 25 percent after Marsh Supermarkets withdrew from the pension. “We all gave up wage increases so we could have a better pension. Then they just took it away from us.”

Truly, the law is a ass. It's also working as its Republican authors intended.

New Congress, old shutdown

The Trump Shutdown will last until the new Congress convenes on Thursday, for the simple reason that there is no longer a Congress to vote for new funding:

Republican leaders gave up hope on Thursday of reopening the government before the new year, leaving the border wall impasse to House Democrats as they assume the majority next week — and presenting Representative Nancy Pelosi with her first major challenge as speaker.

House Democrats, who take control on Wednesday, are weighing three approaches to getting funds flowing, none of which would include additional money for President Trump’s proposed wall along the southwestern border. Whichever path they choose, party leaders said they would vote promptly on Jan. 3, hoping to project the image of Democrats as a steadying hand in Washington even as Republicans try to blame Ms. Pelosi and her party for the shutdown and lax border control.

“We will vote swiftly to reopen government and show that Democrats will govern responsibly in stark contrast to this chaotic White House,” Ms. Pelosi said in a statement.

Ms. Pelosi is determined to prevent the shutdown brinkmanship from interfering with the Democrats’ assumption of power and her ceremony-soaked return to the speakership. But it appeared almost certain that the careful rollout of Democrats’ legislative agenda — including a sweeping anticorruption and voting rights bill — would be at least partly eclipsed by the funding crisis.

The shutdown has affected about a quarter of the government, left 800,000 federal workers furloughed or working without pay, and on Thursday entered its sixth day.

Meanwhile, even Republicans have started arguing that the best way to deal with the president is simply to ignore him.

Would that the world could. And we're not even halfway through his term yet.

Heading home

I wish I could stay longer. London in winter isn't so bad. But I'm sure I'll be back in a couple of months.

Meanwhile, I need a nap. I've got an 8-hour flight to take it on.

Boxing Day

Jennifer Finney Boyan explains the English tradition, along with its Irish counterpart:

In England, it’s Boxing Day; in Ireland and elsewhere, it’s St. Stephen’s Day. When I was a student in London, my professor, a Briton, explained that it was called Boxing Day because it’s the day disappointed children punch one another out.

For years I trusted this story, which only proves that there are some people who will believe anything, and I am one of them.

The real origins of Boxing Day go back to feudal times, when workers on a lord’s estate would ask, on this day, for a Christmas box, in exchange for good service throughout the year. Later, the tradition expanded to include the collection of alms for the poor.

In Ireland, St. Stephen’s Day brings the appearance of the Wren Boys— costumed revelers engaged in a ritualized hunting of a wren. The best-known Wren parade happens in Dingle, in County Kerry. There’s a lot of marching around and collecting of money, some of which goes to charity and some of which — according to at least one of my Irish friends — goes to pay for a round at the pub. The veneration of the wren predates Christianity, in fact: The Irish word for wren, “dreoilin” — comes from two words, “draoi ean,” the druid bird.

In London on this Boxing Day, few stores have opened, but at least the Tube has resumed a normal schedule. And, of course, the sun hasn't come out from behind the low overcast all day. Perfect British winter weather.

Some reasons why I love this place

After an amazing dinner at One Aldwych this evening, I grabbed a book from my room* and headed down to my own hotel's bar. Between the two places I met people from Italy, Spain, Cape Verde (via Portugal), Germany, Russia, Poland, Sardinia (yes, a part of Italy), and Wales (yes, a part of the UK).

London has made itself over the past two decades into this kind of mixed, cosmopolitan, vibrant city. I hope it continues; Brexit could kill it. So I'm glad I'm visiting now while it's at peak international. (The $1.27-to-£1 exchange rate doesn't hurt either.)

More photos. First, it was the best of Thames, it was the worst of Thames (compare with this one):

Second, the other side of St Pauls, along with yours truly and a pint of Beavertown Brewery Neck Oil Session IPA, at Founder's Arms on the Queen's Walk:

Finally, one of the greatest cultural centers in modern Europe, the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden:

And now, as my body thinks it's just coming up on 4pm, I will take yet another walk. London is a beautiful city; there's little I like more than just exploring it.

*An excellent and personally-relevant history of urban "renewal" in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago called The Battle for Lincoln Park.

Ghostly London

Christmas Eve, not Hallowe'en, is the night Londoners tell ghost stories:

The city’s occasional creepiness has been actively fabricated, a product of its history of destruction and haphazard rebuilding. It has long been a canvas for only semi-realized grand designs, from Christopher Wren’s 17th century plans to turn the city into a second Florence to 1970s schemes to flatten historic Covent Garden Market. Destruction in the form of fires, bombing and brutal redevelopment have also reshaped the city, scorching the past away supposedly to replace it with a brighter, sunnier future.

That future never quite arrives. Great schemes get their ambitions slashed, while traces of the past are never truly effaced. London thus resembles an architectural lumber room whose random contents are waiting to be sorted into their correct order. Cottages still cower under the expressway and graveyards are shaken by passing trains. Glass and steel towers may rise, but they do so over pits full of plague corpses or along the line of old ditches once filled with dead dogs. Everywhere there are semi-effaced reminders of the past, sometimes delightful, sometimes sullen and (to the suggestible mind) resentful.

London has so many of these part-effaced remnants that it’s no wonder stories get spun around them. It’s so easy here to imagine the fields being paved over, the bombs falling, the wrecking ball swinging, and the old inhabitants being moved on. With old housing projects being demolished, skyscrapers rising and rent hikes scattering people from their old neighbourhoods, London is still changing radically, of course. And I sometimes wonder what we present day Londoners are leaving behind of ourselves, and whether it too might give future residents the shivers on a dark night.

It also has throngs of the living tonight. I just pushed my way through Covent Garden and Soho, completely underestimating the crowds. Most of the places I'd like to hang out this afternoon close early, but apparently the tourist center of London is open for business. I'm sure there are a few ghosts there as well...

Time for a kip

I've arrived safely in the Ancestral Homeland, and as my body will tell you, it's too early to text anyone back home to let them know.

Right now I plan to sleep. Assuming I wake up sometime today, I'll get some caffeine, possibly a bite, and then walk around my second-favorite city in the world for a bit, aiming to queue up for St Paul's midnight service sometime around 22:30. (I might also try to get in to the Christmas carol service at 16:00; haven't decided yet.)