Archive for August, 2009

View of Lake Michigan: Portage Lakefront

August 27th, 2009 1 comment

Portage Lakefront Pavilion

This is a story about the good, and a lot of tough love between communities.

To date the Portage lakefront is the only location where progress toward realizing the Marquette Plan is visible, and there are significant reasons why this is the case. The predominant reason is that Portage is a solidly white middle-class suburban community with middle-class values and an intact civil society. That is not the case with East Chicago or Gary. The Marquette Plan comes out of middle-class desires to access and utilize the commons on our lakefront.

Portage Lakefront Plan seen in context of the Marquette Plan

[ Summary presentation of the Marquette Plan – pdf]

<Quick History Lesson>

Unlike Hammond, Whiting, East Chicago and Gary, Portage’s industrial history only goes back to 1959 when National Steel opened a plant along Lake Michigan on the very site where the new Portage Lakefront Park now resides. In 1961 the Port of Indiana at Burns harbor, a deep water port, was opened. And in 1963 Bethlehem Steel Company started construction on their large integrated steel facility.

This eastern expansion of heavy industry along Lake Michigan’s southern shores prompted Senator Paul H. Douglas of Illinois to establish the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in an effort to preserve portions of Indiana’s natural shoreline, including its biodiversity, and unique landscape left thousands of years ago by the receding glaciers of the ice age.

In a few short years Portage went from a farming community with ancient dunes and swales and an expansive lakefront to an industrial community with no lakefront access. While Gary experienced a hollowing-out of its neighborhoods due to “White Flight” and massive disinvestment by Industry, Gary’s new neighbor, Portage was a fast expanding brand new, and mostly white, industrial community. Today, Portage has an estimated population of 36,000, the largest city in Porter County and the third largest in Northwest Indiana, behind Gary and Hammond. Portage is still mostly white with 92% white, ~8% hispanic, and <.2% black. Like most developments during this era Portage was designed on a suburban pattern model.

</Quick History Lesson>

Building Success:

Portage’s civic leaders not only adopted the Marquette Plan immediately, they expanded on it with their City’s Northside Master Plan. Of the five lakefront communities included in Phase I of the Marquette Plan, Portage is the only community to take advantage of JJR’s (award winning) work. You can see from the diagrams below how Portage has benefitted from a consistent visioning and planning process. Like East Chicago, Portage suffers from very little public access to the lake, and yet they propose to gain additional access by recovering existing brownfields along its waterway – the same strategy proposed in the Marquette Plan for East Chicago. You can see from these plans how Portage is looking to maximize what little they have by leveraging its waterways and River front. Clearly they have a long way to go, and not all the solutions are the most ideal, but this is a very good beginning. It is a testament to what can be done.

Marquette Subarea Conceptual Plan for Portage Lakefront Portage Master Plan for Lakefront and Riverfront

In contrast to Portage, East Chicago has traded against the plan for a private development along the lakefront for one of the Mayor’s largest fundraisers (a family member was chief of staff and is now chief of police) and branded it as the Marquette Plan with no public input. The Mayor’s plan completely abandons the Marquette Plan which, like Portage, aimed to recover abandoned brownfields along its waterway – The Indiana Harbor Shipping Canal. Both the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) and the Regional Development Authority (RDA) have not only allowed this to occur without objection, but are encouraging and funding it. I will leave this story for another post.

It is important not to down play Portage’s regional identity as a white community as a contributing factor for its success. Unfortunately, “white” is still an important factor in identity politics in this challenged region. I don’t mean in any way to take away from the hard work that went into Portage’s successes, but to clarify the impediments the other communities face. It is just as important to acknowledge Portages ability to pull together a professional staff capable of realizing opportunities, attracting investment dollars, managing resources, and implementing solutions. And this is exactly why Portage poses a formidable challenge for the highly blighted older minority and urban communities along the lake. Because the leaders of Portage are more capable of forging the right relationships to produce results through an efficient process they are afforded more opportunities. Portage isn’t sitting still, in fact, they have begun to cherry pick opportunities slated for the other shoreline communities.

As an advocate for the older urban Lakefront communities, which dominate the Southern Shores of Lake Michigan, there is a part of me that is insulted that this project spearheads the redevelopment efforts as envisioned in the Marquette Plan. There is also a reality that money’s from the other minority communities, through the RDA, help finance this project. Now that Portage has completed this catalytic project, and jump-started its market by bringing valuable brownfields into productive common recreation use, Portage is set to realize its broader vision. Unfortunately, now that they have realized all this they no longer have a need to contribute to the RDA.

What Portage is able to realize is exactly what we had hope would happen when we first set out to develop the Marquette Plan. That is why we developed catalytic projects in each of our urban lakefront communities. The blighted conditions that remain in East Chicago and Gary are waiting for someone to implement their catalytic project as outlined in the Marquette Plan.

While regional entities praise the Portage project for reclaiming valuable though contaminated lakefront property, they also sight contamination as an impediment to redevelopment in my community. When it comes to redeveloping the Brownfields in East Chicago, all too often we are treated as if East Chicago were Chernobyl. If East Chicago is Chernobyl, and I am serious about this, then the USEPA ought to make this perfectly clear so we can begin abandon our properties and all our industrial facilities. If East Chicago is not Chernobyl then lets get to work and stop avoiding the impediments to change.

With the Portage project success has been gained, but now we need greater success.

This past spring we went out to Portage to take a look at the new lakefront park. Finding the entrance and then realizing that it was the entrance was just plain weird to say the least. It required entering and traversing a poorly marked U.S. Steel facility adjacent and across the river from the park. I suspect this was only a temporary solution, at least until they can construct a more formal and appropriate entrance. The most striking feature of the park besides the feeling of trespassing on industrial property when you enter is the pavilion. The Pavilion provides a very strong silhouette dominating the site and the visual field. By its design it begins to inform your experience in this rather strange setting.

<Recommended Video>

The NWI Times posted a wonderful video introducing the new lakefront and laying out the awesomeness of its achievement:

Former Portage Mayor Doug Olson and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Superintendent Costa

Marquette Plan – Portage Lakefront ]

</Recommended Video>

<Build it and they will come>

via the [ Post-Tribune ] August 27, 2009

Portage lakefront draws crowd :: Porter County :: Post-Tribune.

</Build it and they will come>

View of Lake Michigan: wbew Chicago Public Radio

August 27th, 2009 No comments

Below is a short Interview I did with wbew Chicago Public Radio out of Chesterton Indiana about the Marquette Plan and the challenges we face envisioning diverse uses on our lakefront.

Planning Mishap: Case Study

August 19th, 2009 No comments

Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) is conducting a 2040 plan for Northwest Indiana. This includes  Lake, Porter, and LaPorte Counties. On July 15th, 2009 they issued a DRAFT VISION STATEMENT with an outline of goals, objectives, and strategies. I was asked to comment on its 44 pages, which takes a little commitment of time to review it in its entirety. The following is the first page, “A Thriving Economy” along with my comments. My additions and comments are in red.

Response to NIRPC’s 2040 draft vision statement-pg1 (140kb pdf)

In Memoriam: Streader

August 12th, 2009 1 comment

Jorge Garcia “Streader”: 1958 – 2009

Streader and Sherry @ Club Ki Yowga for a Copeland Bingo 3-23-2007

I just heard the news of Streader’s passing. My heart goes out to Sherry and his kids.

Rarely have I photographed the moment of meeting someone whom I will befriend. This was the moment I met Streader. Politics brought us together. He was standing in the entry way just out side the hall at Club Ki Yowga. A story had just broke in the NWI times of Streader resigning his position with the City and blowing the whistle on unscrupulous activities at City Hall. This ignited a shock wave through the City – one of George Pabey’s inner circle was talking. He had worked along side George Pabey to overthrow the Pasterick regime, who had been in power for more than 30 years. Now Streader was putting everything he had into replacing Pabey. In so doing he showed himself to be larger than politicians. He always enjoyed himself.

As those in East Chicago know, the outcome of 2007 Mayoral race was a disaster, Pabey won big. Streader was very upset with the outcome. Since then we met occasionally to talk political strategy and future elections. I even learned he hung with the Rakoczy family when he was young. He threw himself deeply into his brothers race for County Engineer. Jorge never tired from it all. Your friends in East Chicago are going to miss you.

Categories: Misc

What I’m Reading

August 6th, 2009 No comments
Categories: Reading List

The Bucket Brigade

August 6th, 2009 No comments

[ Community Global Monitor ]

Betsy Dent of Calumet Project with one of the Buckets

The Bucket Brigade is the brain child of Denny Larson of the Community Global Monitor.

“The “Bucket Brigade” is a simple, but effective, tool that dozens of communities are using to find out for themselves what chemicals are in the air.  Armed with their own data and information about the health effects of chemicals, these communities are winning impressive reductions of pollution, safety improvements and increasing enforcement of environmental laws.

The “Bucket Brigade” is named for a easy to use air sampling device housed inside a 5 gallon plastic bucket.  The “Bucket” was developed in Northern California in 1995 by an environmental engineering firm in order to simplify and reduce the costs of widely accepted methods used for testing toxic gases in the air”

The Bucket Brigade was brought to East Chicago by the Calumet Project to help monitor the discharges from the construction of a confined deposal facility (CDF), the dredging of the Indiana Harbor Shipping Canal (arguably the most polluted waterway in the country), and the long term management of the site. They have also looked at BP discharges.

Post-Tribune ]

A group of East Chicago residents hope to convince the government to do better air quality monitoring in their neighborhood and will lobby for better pollution control.

The so-called Calumet Project Bucket Brigade took an air sample on July 10 near the intersection of 129th Street and Indianapolis Boulevard in East Chicago. The result was 14 chemicals. Five of them — acrolein, acrylonitrile, carbon disulfide, styrene and 1,4-dichlorobenzene — registered well above what other states list as “levels of concern.”

Interesting Stuff

August 6th, 2009 No comments
  • via [ Infrastructuralist ]
    “7 Urban Freeways To Tear Down Today–And What Tomorrow Might Look Like If We Do”
  • via [ Jetson Green
    Unlocking Energy efficiency in the U.S. Economy, a McKinsey & Company Report
    [ Full Report ]
  • via [ NY Times ]
    “White Roofs Catch On as Energy Cost Cutters”
  • via [ Pruned ]
    “The Wetland Machines of Ayala” – designing and building artificial wetlands to treat contaminated water from agriculture, industries and urban areas so that it could be reused
  • via [ Phil Gyford’s Website ]
    “Graphs that Lie”
Categories: Misc

Energy: Throwing Clean Energy After Dirty

August 5th, 2009 No comments

In business there is a saying “throwing good money after bad.”  The idea is that it is better to cut your losses and go with something else than to continue a losing strategy that drains your resources. for the energy sector it follows that it would be better to cut losses with oil and go with some other alternative, but like our banking sector, the U.S. government seems to have the same boneheaded belief that our commitment to oil is too large to give up on. But unlike the banking system, oil is a limited resource. At some point in the near future America has to move forward with an alternative resource. The question today is at what cost to the environment are we going to continue our relationship with oil?

I found this article this morning about throwing good energy after bad, or clean after dirty. I suppose adding Palin’s name to the title is suppose to appeal to some obvious instinct.

via [ ]

Palin’s Pipeline: Clean Energy for the Lower 48 or Power for the Tar Sands?

by Abby Schultz – Jun 29th, 2009

Environmentalists fear at least half of the relatively clean-burning Alaskan North Slope gas will end up fueling tar sands operations in Alberta, where the pipeline will end, instead of coming to the lower 48 states to replace carbon-intensive coal in power plants. The tar sands operations already consume about 20 percent of Canada’s natural gas, and they are expected to need as much as twice that by 2035.

View of Lake Michigan: Warren Dunes Beach, Michigan

August 4th, 2009 No comments

[ Michigan Beach Monitoring System ]

With temperatures above 80 degrees we are back to the beach. This time getting away from the industrial and polluted Lakefront of Indiana and to the Warren Dunes Beach in Michigan. We generally make it out to the Michigan beaches three or four times a year and we have never been disappointed. Although the water conditions on the Lake Michigan shores are good I can’t say the same about Michigan’s Lake Huron Shores. Contamination levels there remind me of Indiana. 


To view our experience at Indiana’s beaches go to [ View of Lake Michigan: Beach Closings ]

Categories: View of Lake Michigan

View of Lake Michigan :: Beach Closings

August 1st, 2009 4 comments

data source: [ Indiana BeachGuard System ]

For the past seven summers our family has been going to Whilhala beach in Whiting for an evening walk or a swim. This summer we got a pool and the weather has been too cool so we haven’t gone until Tuesday. On Tuesday the kids and I decided to go for a nice end of the day swim in the lake after swimming all day in the pool. When we got to the beach we found they had changed their policies and closed the beach area at 6 pm. We couldn’t even take a walk. The kids were disappointed, not only could they not go swimming that evening, but something they have always taken for granted suddenly came to an end. My answer to their cries at that moment was to agree with them – it wasn’t right and I didn’t understand why they closed the beach, but to make it up to them I promised to take them to Indiana Dunes the next day – Thursday.

Map of the Region

Later that evening I found this article in the NWTimes “Vandalism prompts partial closing of Whihala Beach

photo source: John Luke, the Times

Increased gang activity has forced the county to close the Hammond side of Whihala Beach until further notice, a Lake County parks official said Tuesday.

The following day the kids and I got up and prepared for a day at the Dunes. When we got to the park, they were eager to get into the water. I slowed them down a bit by diverting their attention to hiking first.

This is perhaps my favorite view of Lake Michigan from its southern shores. From here you can imagine the beauty that once was throughout this spectacular region.

Once the kids made their way to the beach they were in the water immediately. Unfortunately, it was no more than 5 minutes later that a voice announced that all swimmers had to come out of the water – the water was too polluted for their safety. I could see the frustration race across Marta’s face. Moments before this video she was in tears.

I could not be more disappointed in my community leaders. I am tired of fighting to stop them from ignoring the problems, problems for which they are directly responsible and from which they benefit.

When we got home I realized I had forgotten to ask for a refund, and I found this frontpage article in the Post -Tribune “Local beaches perform poorly in water tests

The Testing the Waters report, released Wednesday by the National Resources Defense Council, shows that beaches in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties had advisories for bacteria or were closed because of bacteria 333 times in 2008, a 56 percent increase from the 213 events in 2007.

That’s up from 111 advisories and closings in 2006.

Overall, 18 percent of the beach samples taken in Indiana last year had bacteria levels higher than the recommended levels. That put the state 28th of the 32 states tested. The report includes samples from any coastal, bay or Great Lakes state.

And then there was this little nugget from Tom Anderson the Director of the Safe the Dunes Council.

Anderson said not knowing the source of the pollutants makes it hard for local officials and groups to fight the problem.

“It’s like where should we focus something if we don’t know where it’s coming from?” Anderson said.

He called for source testing to be included in the study, but that has its own problems. The federal act that requires the testing does not provide funding for source testing, said Amber Finkelstein, a public information officer for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

Low-cost solutions for bringing down bacteria levels are available, however, Anderson said. He pointed to Michigan City, which recently prohibited people from feeding birds and bought lids for garbage cans.

<Public Disclosure>

It might be prudent here to mention that “Save the Dunes” recently received a large grant from BP. Oh, and may be I ought to mention that Tom Anderson serves on the Indiana Air pollution Control Board. The same board that recently re-designated Northwest Indiana from a Non-attainment zone to an attainment zone for Sulfur Dioxide. It may also be important to know that BP is presently retooling its Whiting refinery to process the high sulfur product coming out of the Alberta Tar Sands. Anyhow, I always thought Tom meant well.

</Public Disclosure>

Knowing that the water current flows counter clockwise in Lake Michigan, it is not hard to imagine who the source could be, especially with such acutely high levels of bacteria over 600/100ml.

Two views of Burns Harbor: 1) Looking west from the Indiana Dunes State Park, and 2) satellite image

Then there is this very glaring problem. I suppose most communities would have dealt with this in a previous era. Yes that is a known contaminated creek flushing right into the middle of the state beach. When it reaches the lake IDEM expects that “Dilution will be the Solution” to keep bathers safe. We wouldn’t have it any other way in Northwest Indiana. Do you suppose this could have a negative effect on tourism?

Via Save the Dunes [ Dunes Creek Watershed ]

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) report “Testing the Waters 2009” tends to take a national perspective when it comes to the problem of identifying the main sources of pollution causing the beach closings. Nationally “Runoff” accounts for 36% of the sources of pollution, with 62% as unknown. However, in Indiana 99% of the source of contamination is considered “unknown.” In my mind this is a criminal disregard for the health of the public.  The same “unknown” used to defend the largest landowners with the greatest intensive uses on Indiana’s Urban Lake Front.

More than 90% of our urban Lakefront is owned by three large industries; BP Whiting – the largest oil refinery in the Midwest, Arcelormittal – the largest integrated Steel Mill in the Country, and U.S. Steel – the second largest Steel Mill. Additionally the big three own the majority rights to our air and watersheds. If there is a major environmental problem, you can generally point to them as the source. They are also effective at using the marginal effects of non-point source pollution such as surface runoff and vehicular pollution to offset criticisms of their discharges. IDEM repeats these same constructed arguments. Granted runoff is a large contributor to the problem, but we also know from whom the contaminants are running.

View of Shoreline Industries from the breakwall at the Hammond Marina

IDEM regulates both industrial and municipal discharges. The cities are not with out fault. They have yet to separate storm water from their sewage systems which contributes to the surface runoff problem. To know the source is easy, to not – is to ignore the problem.

It doesn’t hurt industries interests that the Commissioner of IDEM is Tom Easterly, the environmental Director for Bethlehem Steel (now owned by ArcelorMittal) and Nisource, and who once told a table of Great Lake Commissioners over lunch that:


“there is no need for recreation or commercial fishing in the Great Lakes because there were never any natural fisheries here. The Great Lakes are no better than stocked ponds.”


With one of the highest concentrations of heavy industries in the country, It follows that Indiana’s urban Lake front would also see some of the highest levels of pollution. And in fact the data bares this out. Not only do we know that the indiana Harbor Shipping Canal is the most polluted waterway in the country, but according to the NRDC Study “Testing the Waters 2008” East Chicago’s Jeorse Park Beach ranks third in the nation, and first in Great Lakes, for exceeding Daily National Standards. The geographical center of BP, Mittal and US Steel is East Chicago’s Joerse Park Beach. This make Joerse Park Beach ground zero for some of the highest levels of pollutants in beach waters in the country.

<Clearing the Waters>

The source of pollution is ignorance and we know who the agents of ignorance are. They are self interested community and industrial leaders, who like to pretend that the problems stem from decisions made by “the public.” The source of our pollution is the same as the source of our public corruption. They go hand in hand. The only difference is that the private actors in this dance do not go to jail.

</Clearing the Waters>

– Now, off to the Michigan Dunes