The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Ribfest 2017

I've been a bit busy, so I just got a chance to pull Saturday's Ribfest photos off my phone.

I have to say, this year's fest was a little underwhelming. Some of my previous favorites, like Piggery, didn't present this year. So instead of 10 local restaurants, there were actually only five locals, three catering companies, and two itinerants. Not only, but the suggested donation jumped from $5 to $10 just to get in there. And three-bone samplers now cost $8.

So I only sampled four places this year, and none of them was as good as last year's Piggery bones.

  • Mrs. Murphy's. I mean, I love the sauce, but this year they glooped so much of it onto less-than-perfect meat that I was a little put off. Only 2½ stars this time.
  • Pork Chop. Holy crumpets, the ribs were meaty, with some smoky-spicy sauce that I really liked. 3½ stars.
  • Citizen's American Eatery. First, I don't think they exist; I think it's a temporary brand for a catering company, only I don't know which one. That said, they had really good tug-off-the-bone ribs with a sweet-spicy sauce that they didn't slather on the meat. 3½ stars.
  • River Forest Catering. They had the best meat I had but not the best sauce. And they're a catering company. 3 stars.

I really missed the greats this year: Smoke Daddy, Smoque, and Fat Willy's. I wonder why.

Welcome to summer

Chicago temperatures stayed below 32°C for almost nine months: September 7th all the way until last Sunday, June 4th. Then we had absolutely gorgeous weather during the last work week, which all ended on Saturday when the temperature hit 32°C for the first of (so far) three times. Our forecast calls for continued hot and shitty weather through at least Thursday.

Hey, it happens every year. And our cool weather was pretty good while it lasted.

The bad part is that the temperature killed my Fitbit numbers this weekend. I had the worst day since December 23rd, and that poor performance was because I spent 8 hours on an airplane. Fingers crossed that yesterday's 7,044 steps remains the worst of the year.

We're #16!

Real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield has published a list of the top-25 tech cities in the U.S. It turns out, we're not Silicon Valley:

The report’s authors analyzed data from a variety of sources to measure factors such as universities, capital, talent and high-growth companies. The authors evaluated the cities on the potential for tech to affect the commercial real estate business, they wrote in the report.

Chicago’s overall rank, No. 16, placed it behind Portland and New York and ahead of Atlanta and Los Angeles. The authors addressed the low rankings of the country’s two largest cities in a release, saying New York faced a historic lack of engineers — which may change as investment in local universities and tech schools increases — and that Los Angeles’ economy is too diverse for tech to be a driving factor. They wrote that Seattle, home to tech giants Microsoft and Amazon, is likely the biggest competitor to the Bay Area.

The percentage of Chicago’s workforce made up of tech workers is also relatively low compared to other tech cities on the list, at about 5 percent. That places Chicago just behind Indianapolis and just ahead of New York, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Moody’s Analytics. Compare that to Silicon Valley, where more than 27.4 percent are tech workers.

We're still living in the Greatest City in North America. But as far as tech goes, we're a little behind the Bay Area, Boston, and Raleigh-Durham.

The Roman Tube

While we wait for former FBI Director James Comey to finish testifying before the Senate today, take a look at this really cool thing:

They say all roads lead to Rome, but they also lead outward to a number of intriguing places. There’s Antinoopolis in northern Africa, Londinium in what we now know as the U.K., and—should funding from the mighty Emperor Hadrian arrive—the yet-built Panticapaeum station along the Pontus Euxinus, or Black Sea.

Or so says this wonderfully thought-out fantasy transit map from Sasha Trubetskoy, showing the major thoroughfares of the Roman Empire circa 125 A.D. as dozens of stops along multicolored subway lines. Trubetskoy, who when not dabbling in history has explored the judgmental cartography of the Bay Area, started poking into the idea after noticing there was a dearth of good maps of Rome’s old road network, let alone train-themed ones. So he decided to go for it, pouring about 50 hours of research and design work into his sprawling “Roman Roads.”

“I enjoy reading about history, though I’m not a huge classics buff,” says Trubetskoy, a 20-year-old statistics major at the University of Chicago. “But there’s something alluring about Rome’s ability to carve out such a huge and advanced empire, with a legacy that lasts today.”

And hey, he's in Chicago.

Regressive taxation in Illinois

The Chicago Tribune today published the first in a three-part series showing how Illinois property tax assessments contribute to rising inequality while failing to fund schools:

The valuations are a crucial factor when it comes to determining property tax bills, a burden that for many determines whether they can afford to stay in their homes. Done well, these estimates should be fair, transparent and stand up to scrutiny.

But that’s not how it works in Cook County, where Assessor Joseph Berrios has resisted reforms and ignored industry standards while his office churned out inaccurate values. The result is a staggering pattern of inequality.

 

The assessor’s office says it does not check its own work for fairness and accuracy, as is standard practice for assessors around the world.

So the Tribune stepped in, compiling and analyzing more than 100 million property tax records from the years 2003 through 2015, along with thousands of pages of documents, then vetting the findings with top experts in the field. The process took more than a year.

The conclusion: Residential assessments have been so far off the mark for so many years that the credibility of the entire property tax system is in doubt.

I've advocated for my entire adult life in favor of progressive income taxes and against regressive property and value-added taxes. I hope the Tribune gets some traction on this.

The 606: Two years in

Chicago Tribune "Cityscapes" reporter Blair Kamin discusses the 606 Trail, which opened two years ago today:

When The 606, which is named for Chicago's ZIP Code prefix, opened on the carefully selected day of June 6, 2015, it was almost embarrassingly bare. Trees and wooded plants had yet to grow. Sedges and prairie grasses hadn't been planted. Some spots had more pavement than plantings. "The 606: Is that all there is?" asked Crain's Chicago Business.

The picture looks very different today. Trees and shrubs are growing. Grasses are spreading. A pleasing variety of textures and colors combines with a consistent palette of soothing green. The amount of enclosure is increasing, courtesy of trembling aspens, thin oaks and smoke trees that pop up from the planter boxes on the trail's expansive Humboldt Boulevard overlook.

As good as these moments are, The 606 still lacks the overall magic we expect from the Van Valkenburgh firm, which designed Maggie Daley Park and is the landscape architect for the forthcoming Obama Presidential Center.

Some areas along the trail didn't get mesh fencing, allowing people and dogs to trample fragile grasses. Dirt patches blight the sides of the spiraling Exelon Observatory on the trail's west end. It clearly will take time for The 606 to fulfill its promise as a kind of plant gallery — a botanical array that unfolds as bikers, skateboarders, joggers and others pass by.

Nonetheless, it is already clear that The 606 is popular. It drew 1.3 million visitors last year, according to Vivian Garcia, the Chicago Park District's 606 manager. Cyclists and people on foot have managed to coexist on The 606, whose trail is just 14 feet wide. Walkers and joggers tend to stick to the blue rubberized paths on the trail's flanks.

It's also 200 meters from my office, which is fantastic.

 

Chicago's taxi fleet is dying

USA Today is reporting that Uber and Lyft are destroying the taxi industry here:

About 42% of Chicago’s taxi fleet was not operating in the month of March, and cabbies have seen their revenue slide for their long-beleaguered industry by nearly 40% over the last three years as riders are increasingly ditching cabs for ride-hailing apps Uber, Lyft and Via, according to a study released Monday by the Chicago cab drivers union.

More than 2,900 of Chicago’s nearly 7,000 licensed taxis were inactive in March 2017 — meaning they had not picked up a fare in a month, according to the Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Local 2500 report. The average monthly income per active medallion — the permit that gives cabbies the exclusive right to pick up passengers who hail them on the street — has dipped from $5,276 in January 2014 to $3,206 this year.

The number of riders in Chicago hailing cabs has also plummeted during that same period from 2.3 million monthly riders to about 1.1 million.

The Illinois Transportation Trade Association of Illinois unsuccessfully sued the city of Chicago, arguing that Chicago had unconstitutionally enforced two sets of rules for taxi and ride-sharing industries and made it impossible for cabbies to compete with Uber and Lyft.

But the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately rejected the taxi industry’s argument. Cabs and ride-hailing, the court ruled last October, are distinct services and could thus be regulated differently. In April, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case and the 7th Circuit’s finding stood.

As a consumer of these services, I have switched almost entirely to Lyft. (I hate, hate, hate Uber's business practices and refuse to patronize them.) So though I'm part of the problem, I believe the taxi industry did a lot of this to themselves. How difficult would it have been for the taxi fleet to solve the predictability problem? I mean, if there were an app that would summon a taxi to a specific place and tell you what the fare is to your destination ahead of time, how would Lyft have become so successful?

Happy birthday, El

Chicago opened its first elevated train 125 years ago tomorrow, on 6 June 1892:

On June 6, 1892, 125 years ago this week, the first elevated line called the "Alley L" opened for business, running from Congress Parkway and State Street to 39th Street, along the alley, behind and around buildings and through backyards, said Graham Garfield, CTA general manager of customer information and unofficial agency historian.

It was a novel way to travel — above the streets and eye-level to people's second- and third-floor windows. Garfield said some residents along the path may have forgotten that the train was coming that first day and had to quickly draw the curtains to protect their privacy, while others gathered on back porches to watch the smoky, steam-powered "L" go by.

The wooden train, run by the private Chicago and South Side Rapid Transit Railroad Co. along what is now the Green Line, was popular and crowded from the start. And along with other north, south and west sections of the "L" built over the next 10 years, it helped to both expand the city and create its character... The combined subway and elevated system now has 224.1 miles of track and sees more than a million riders daily.

The first elevated train anywhere—which still exists, to some extent—ran from London Bridge to Greenwich and opened in 1836.

Illinois still has no budget

Now in our first full week of the third straight year that Illinois has no budget, it's interesting watching people try to figure out who's to blame. In Crain's alone, we have three opinions.

Their editorial board blames Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan, because they blame him for everything. Also, their readership tend to be Republicans. Because it's Crain's.

Still, they haven't tried very hard to muzzle their opinion writers. Business columnist Joe Cahill, noticing that before we had Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and his naive belief that politics and business are the same thing (like most Republicans) we had a budget, blames the governor.

And Springfield columnist Rich Miller avoids blaming either one 100%, but does note that Rauner's ideological inflexibility and his inexperience as a politician led him to reject a workable compromise offered by Madigan.

But we still don't have a budget. And the gubernatorial election isn't for another 16 months.

Sigh.