The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Make no small plans

Chicagoan Bob Lempa had a simple question for Peggy Baker on Tuesday:

WGN-TV reporter Shannon Halligan tracked down the story:

The man behind the message is Bob Lempa, who made big Valentine's Day plans this year. He wanted to write a proposal message so big his girlfriend Peggy Baker could see it from her 37th floor window in the Blue Cross Blue Shield building. The couple have been together for nine years since they met at a party for a mutual friend, and he was ready to pop the question.

"I had been by Maggie Daley Park a number of times just getting the feel of where I could do it, how big it would have to be, because Peggy’s on the 37th floor so I knew it had to be big to be seen," Lempa said.

But when the big day rolled around, there was one problem: no snow. So he decided to wait until Tuesday, when there was finally enough on the ground for him to clear away and write his message. It wasn’t an easy surprise to pull off. The letters were 45 feet tall and 31 feet wide, and took a little over six hours to make.

Halligan reports Baker said yes. Gawd, I hope so.

Here's the message in a larger view from my office yesterday:

Nicely done, Bob. And good luck to you both!

Whither Chicago's middle class?

The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) has published a study of Chicago income by census tract, and has found a disturbing trend:

Chicago’s middle class, once the backbone of the city, is declining so swiftly that it’s almost gone, and a set of maps from a local university lays that reality bare.

The dynamic stands to affect nearly everything about Chicago going forward, from politics to schools to who will live here.

“It raises a lot of questions as to what kind of city it will be,” said Janet Smith, co-director of the Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement at the University of Illinois at Chicago, which compiled the maps that document Chicago’s shrinking middle class — and an increasingly polarized city — over the past five decades.

UIC’s maps show that fully half of the city was middle income in 1970, including large swaths on every side of town. Today, just 16 percent of the city’s 797 census tracts are considered middle income. Those middle income areas are confined mostly to the corners of the city, and to thin strips between areas of wealth and poverty.

Lutton goes on to examine the economic, cultural, and other trends that are driving this change.

Lunchtime reading

I had these lined up to read at lunchtime:

Meanwhile, for only the second time in four weeks, we can see sun outside the office windows:

Sears lives to die another day

On Thursday, a court accepted Eddie Lampert's $5.2 bn bid to keep Sears running and himself as its head:

Lampert’s purchase, made through his hedge fund, ESL Investments, is intended to keep 425 Sears and Kmart stores open, preserving some 45,000 jobs. It was the only bid submitted in an auction that would have kept the once-mighty department store giant in business and avoid liquidation.

Lampert’s plan was opposed by a committee of unsecured creditors skeptical that Hoffman Estates-based Sears will be any more successful after exiting bankruptcy. The committee pushed for a liquidation, arguing that shutting down the company and selling its assets could recover more of what Sears owes.

Still unresolved is a dispute between Sears and ESL over which is responsible for paying $166 million for inventory received after Sears filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Oct. 15. Although Drain did not have jurisdiction to decide the issue, he gave an advisory opinion in favor of Sears’ claim that ESL is responsible for those liabilities.

The judge’s decision saves Sears from liquidation, but still unanswered is whether Lampert can reinvigorate a retail chain that many consumers have fond memories of, but no current relationship with. Lampert has said he wants to invest in smaller stores and those that are profitable, with a focus on popular categories like appliances and repair services.

I'm not a bankruptcy attorney, so I don't know whether this is a good ruling. I, personally, would have preferred that Sears stay open and Lampert stay far away from it. But at least it's not dead yet.

Home sick and tired

I'm under the weather today, which has helped me catch up on all these stories that I haven't gotten to yet:

And now, I will nap.

We're #1 again!

At least by one metric, O'Hare has pipped Atlanta and gotten back to the top of the league table for total annual aviation operations:

O’Hare saw 903,747 flights in 2018, up 4.2 percent compared with the previous year, while Atlanta hosted 895,502 flights, up 1.8 percent, the FAA said. Los Angeles, Dallas/Fort Worth and Denver were in third, fourth and fifth place, respectively.

O’Hare also handled more than 83.4 million passengers last year, a 4.5 percent increase over 2017, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation. Both O’Hare and Midway Airport together saw more than 105 million passengers, a new record, the city said.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is still No. 1 in terms of passenger volume, and has held the crown of world’s busiest airport by that measure for 20 years. But a travel industry analyst said the new numbers are “excellent news” for Chicago, which is embarking on an $8.5 billion O’Hare modernization.

The article implies to big factors in the statistic: first, O'Hare now has six parallel runways instead of six intersecting ones, meaning traffic can flow much more easily. But second, American and United rely more on smaller, sub-50-seat airplanes than Delta does, which means more operations but fewer enplanements. So, it's a mixed bag, good for Chicago in some ways but not great for travelers at O'Hare.

So many candidates for mayor, so little data

Chicago has 13 people running for Mayor right now, with early voting already open and the first round vote due on the 26th. If no candidate gets an outright majority, the top-two vote-getters will have a runoff election on April 2nd.

Several local news agencies have rounded up the candidates and their responses to stock questions. Here are the ones I'm reading:

There are also contested elections in several wards, including mine. I've got a lot of reading to do in the next 3 weeks.

What a strange week in Chicago weather

A week ago at this hour, it was -17°C outside and we had 230 mm of snow on the ground. Then the Polar Vortex hit, followed quickly by the biggest warm-up in Chicago history:

From 17:37 CST Tuesday the 29th until 23:51 Thursday the 31st, the temperature hung out below 0°F. But it had already started rising, from the near-record-low -30.6°C Wednesday morning until yesterday afternoon's near-record-high 10.6°C—a record-smashing total rise of Δ41°C.

This was the view from my office Friday evening, when the temperature hadn't been above freezing for a week and the lake was 44% frozen over:

This is half an hour ago:

The forecast calls for even weirder weather the next few days. Tonight we will get a once-a-decade ice storm, then gradually warming temperatures through Thursday and another winter blast Saturday.

Hey. This all builds character, right?