The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Chicago's hidden depths

Slate explains how Chicago's Deep Tunnel project has relieved the city of the worst effects of rainstorms—but just isn't adequate for the new, wetter climate:

The history of Chicago can be told as a series of escapes from wastewater, each more ingenious than the last. Before the Civil War, entire city blocks were lifted on hydraulic jacks to allow for better drainage, and the first tunnel to bring in potable water from the middle of Lake Michigan was completed in 1867. In 1900, engineers reversed the flow of the Chicago River to protect the city’s drinking water, shifting its fetid contents from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi, enraging the city of St. Louis (which sued, and lost) and, years later, making Chicago the single-largest contributor to the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. In 1955, the American Society of Civil Engineers declared the river reversal one of the seven engineering wonders of the United States, alongside such better-known undertakings as the Hoover Dam, the Empire State Building, and the Panama Canal.

“The [Metropolitan Water Reclamation District] designed a system of sewers, tunnels, and reservoirs for a city that doesn’t exist anymore,” says Karen Hobbs, a former deputy environmental commissioner in Chicago who oversaw the creation of the city’s climate plan and now works as a policy analyst at the National Resources Defense Council. Metropolitan Chicago is no longer the place it was in 1960. The weather isn’t what it was then either. It’s a cautionary tale for a time when climate change has the nation’s planners, scientists, and engineers contemplating enormous endeavors like storm surge barriers or more radical, long-term geoengineering schemes. It’s also a reminder that any project that spans six decades from commencement to completion will be finished in a different world than the one in which it was conceived.

“It’s a marvel,” Hobbs adds. “But we have this tendency in this country to think we can build our way out of stuff. And we can’t always build our way out.”

Belatedly, the city has started using porous pavement in alleys and encouraging other ways of keeping water out of the sewers.

Restauranteur caught in Spain

Former Embeya owner Attila Gyulai, accused of embezzling over a million dollars from the restaurant he co-owned with chef Thai Dang his wife Komal Patel, was arrested in Spain yesterday:

Gyulai and his wife, Komal Patel, disappeared in summer 2016 after abruptly shutting the restaurant. They abandoned their Ford Flex SUV in front of their River West home, a detail uncovered in an exhaustive investigation by Crain's. Police ticketed the car two​ weeks later and impounded it in mid-August. By then, bank records later would show, their accounts had been used for a series of payments outside the United States.

Though the West Loop restaurant had won praise for its design and Asian cuisine, Cook County Circuit Court records show the couple took $1.5 million out of the restaurant, which was partly owned by chef Thai Dang. Judges had ordered Gyulai and Patel to pay the money back. Gyulai and Patel were last known to be living in Tulum, Mexico.

Dang, who was left to pay creditors after his partner disappeared, now owns Haisous, a restaurant in Pilsen, with his wife, Danielle. "We never thought this day would come this quick," he said via text upon learning of Gyulai's arrest. "We just knew we had to keep moving on with our lives."

Good. If the accusations prove true, he needs to go to jail.

My first prediction of 2018 came true

On January 1st, confronted with the coldest New Year's Day in Chicago history, I predicted that every other day in 2018 would be warmer.

I was right.* Even though the overnight low on January 2nd was just as cold (-23°C) as the night before, the day warmed up all the way to -13°C from January 1st's -17°C. Ten days later it hit 15°C, and kept bouncing around like that all winter.

Last I saw, the NCDC predicted the coming winter would be normally wet and slightly warmer than most. I'd link to the page, but thanks to President Trump's infantile temper, I got this instead:

Thanks, Obama Trump!

* Yes, through some supernatural intervention we could have weather 22°C below predictions tonight or tomorrow, but I'm pretty confident the current forecast of -1°C is likelier.

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. 

Stuff to read on the plane

Just a quick post of articles I want to load up on my Surface at O'Hare:

Off to take Parker to boarding. Thence the Land of UK.

Grisly Chicago history

Forty years ago, Des Plaines, Ill., police arrested John Wayne Gacy on suspicion of murder. Then they found more than 20 bodies in his crawlspace. The Tribune has a retrospective:

John Wayne Gacy’s confession to the rape and murder of more than 30 people didn’t just awaken America to a nightmare hidden in its own backyard. The discovery 40 years ago of the dank, muddy mass grave underneath Gacy's yellow brick ranch house at 8213 W. Summerdale Ave. forever shattered the image of the safe suburban community.

A police search for missing Maine West sophomore Robert Piest led investigators to 36-year-old Gacy, a “stocky, bull necked contractor,” described by neighbors and business associates as a pillar of the community: a likable, boastful divorced businessman and Democratic precinct captain who hosted themed neighborhood parties and entertained children as a clown named Pogo.

“(The public) would feel much more comfortable if Gacy was this type of creepy, sequestered ghoul that was unkempt and heinous,” Detective Sgt. Jason Moran of the Cook County sheriff’s office, who is a point man on the Gacy case, said recently. “But instead, he dressed as a clown and bounced kids on his knee. He would knock at your door and say vote for my candidate.”

Gacy’s nice-guy persona masked something far more sinister. Once they were safely restrained — usually in a pair of handcuffs as he demonstrated a “trick” he learned as a clown — Gacy’s easy smile melted away, revealing a cold, growling predator who sexually assaulted his victims before strangling many of them with a knotted rope. He buried 29 of his 33 victims in trenches underneath and around his home and dumped four others from bridges once his property could hold no more bodies.

Yes: this is the guy that made us Gen-X kids fear clowns.

Concerts this weekend

It's been a busy week with lots of Händel.

Last Saturday the Apollo Chorus performed Messiah with the Peoria Symphony Orchestra, which involved a 3-hour bus ride each way and enough downtime for a long game of Cards Against Humanity.

Monday we had a regular rehearsal. Tuesday some of us sang in a local retirement community's Messiah sing-along. Wednesday, caroling at Cloud Gate in Millennium Park. Thursday, dress rehearsal with orchestra. Today at 7pm and tomorrow at 2pm, full performances at Harris Theater. Wednesday, another rehearsal. Friday, finally, another Messiah performance, with some of us joining the choir at St Michael's Church in Old Town.

If you're in Chicago, should hear one of our performances.

The good and bad in Chicago this morning

Two good stories and a bad one.

First, a good story: Chicago now has more breweries than any other city in the US:

The metro region has surged past several longtime stalwarts to become home to more breweries than any other city in the nation — 167 — according to statistics published this week by the Brewers Association.

Behind it are the metro areas that for years Chicago beer drinkers could only envy: Denver (158), Seattle (153) and San Diego (150).

In fifth and sixth places are two other large cities whose brewing scenes have surged in recent years: Los Angeles (146) and New York (141).

Seems like I have some work to do over the next few months.

Now the bad story: Eddie Lampert can't save Sears. But we knew that:

If you believe Edward Lampert has finally figured out how to revive Sears, then you probably still believe in Santa Claus. The hedge fund mogul who oversaw the 125-year-old retailer’s long slide into bankruptcy is dangling the prospect of an 11th-hour buyout, casting his proposal as an altruistic effort to save the remaining 50,000 jobs at Sears.

My advice to those workers: Don’t expect a Christmas miracle.

First of all, there’s less to Lampert’s offer than initial appearances suggest. It’s been touted as a $4.6 billion bid to buy Sears out of bankruptcy, where it landed in October after losing $11 billion since 2011. But $1.8 billion of the offer would take the form of debt forgiveness by Lampert-affiliated entities, Sears’ largest lenders with about $2.6 billion in company debt. About $950 million would be cash, provided Lampert can find a lender willing to front the money. (As has been the pattern in recent years, Lampert isn’t putting more of his own cash into Sears.) Another $1 billion or so represents Sears liabilities to be assumed by a new company Lampert would form to acquire company assets including 500 stores, inventories, and the Kenmore and DieHard brands.

Oh, and Lampert also wants releases from claims related to his pre-bankruptcy transactions with Sears. Other creditors have commissioned an investigation into whether Lampert, Sears’ controlling shareholder since 2005 and CEO from 2013 until October’s Chapter 11 filing, gave himself favorable treatment in such deals as the spinoff of Lands End and the sale of Sears real estate to a newly formed company where he has a controlling stake.

And finally, another good story: the CTA will start modernizing the stretch of the El that goes by my neighborhood this fall, completing it just in time for the renovation of the Uptown Theater. Should all of this come together, it means I bought my apartment at exactly the right time:

The Red and Purple Line project will rebuild stations, bridges and track along a century-old corridor between Lawrence and Bryn Mawr avenues on the Red Line, the agency’s busiest line, CTA officials said. The construction also will include a controversial bypass that will take Brown Line trains above Red and Purple Line trains north of the busy Belmont station, CTA officials said.

Construction is expected to start in the fall of 2019, with the entire project to be completed in 2025, CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase said.

Chase said that by the end of 2019, the CTA expects to start advance work to prepare for later phases of the project. This work will include building temporary stations to replace the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr stations, which will be rebuilt. The CTA also will do track work to prepare for further repairs. Exact timing for the work will depend on the contractor.

Chase said the bypass work will start in 2020. The agency will start building new stations from Lawrence to Bryn Mawr in about two or three years, she said.

That will make a huge difference in Uptown, where the 110-year-old El stations look like they're about to collapse on themselves.

Long weekend

The Apollo Chorus of Chicago performed yesterday with the Peoria Symphony, which involved two 3-hour bus rides and two complete runs-through of Händel's Messiah. Coming up this week, we have two full rehearsals, two community outreach events, and two more performances next weekend.

Then after a committee meeting Monday, I'll actually have...one night off.

So there's a lot going on this month.

But today, I need a nap.