Archive

Archive for September, 2009

The Heat

September 30th, 2009
Oh Lord, I know I’ve been forever changed by the conflict between these two lives. Being immersed in the mill, I’ve become like the steel I work: cold, hard, sharp, heavy, dirty, bent, flawed, and rusting, Yet through other’s eyes, I am useful, durable, and to an extent even valuable.

- By Greg Gvotny “Going to the Mill,” the Heat

Thomas East Chicago, Misc

Quote

September 29th, 2009

via [ infraNet lab ]

The 20th century was witness to both an infrastructure boom and bust. It is the 21st century that will need to project not only how to address crumbling and insufficient infrastructure, but also how to position new infrastructures that confront urgent issues of climate change, sustenance inequality, and our increasingly urbanized world. 21st century infrastructure should create a new public realm, enrich political policy, and embed productive processes.

.

Thomas Misc

What I am Looking at: Manufactured Landscapes

September 29th, 2009

[ Manufactured Landscapes ] by documentary film maker Jennifer Baichwal

[ Trailer ]

A 2006 documentary by Jennifer Baichwal on the world and work of photographer Edward Burtynsky. Acclaimed for his large-scale photographs of “manufactured landscapes”—quarries, recycling yards, factories, mines and dams—Burtynsky creates stunningly beautiful art from civilization’s materials and debris. The film follows him through China, as he shoots the evidence and effects of that country’s massive industrial revolution. With breathtaking sequences, such as the opening tracking shot through an almost endless factory, the filmmakers also extend the narratives of Burtynsky’s photographs, allowing us to meditate on our impact on the planet and witness both the epicenters of industrial endeavor and the dumping grounds of its waste.

[ Clips ]

Thomas What I am Looking at

Alberta Tar Sands: Petropolis

September 29th, 2009

via [ Petropolis ]

Peter Mettler documents the metropolis of oil through aerial  images of the Tar Sands. These images are simultaneously beautiful and horrifying, showing the large flowing deposits of toxic chemicals released from bitumen mining, spill out ponds, atmospheric disturbances and massive quantities of carbon dioxide released into the air.  For anyone interested in gaining a visual perspective on the project, I would urge you to check out the film.


Stacks of Sulfur

[ Trailer ]

Thomas BP / TAR SANDS, Environment, Tar Sands

“My Man Mitch” - “Dick Cheney’s Dick Cheney”

September 28th, 2009


Lawrence Wilkerson looks at Shirley Anne Warshaw’s new book The Co-Presidency of Bush and Cheney. This is a comprehensive rendering of the Cheney’s evisceration of the country’s regulatory system, where my Governor, Mitch Daniel’s appears in a supporting role and referred to as ”Dick Cheney’s Dick Cheney.”  This portrait gives the moniker “My Man Mitch” a whole new meaning.

via [ The Washington Note ]

Whether oil, gas, forestry, mining, fisheries, national parks, clean air, pharmaceuticals, food, endangered species - you name it - Cheney was the kingpin in the dismantling of relevant oversight and regulation.

Cheney managed this principally by putting into the regulatory or oversight positions within the executive branch of our government, people who either hailed from long service in the industry or field they were overseeing or regulating, or who had lobbied for that industry or field for long years, or a combination of the two.

Not content to have CEQ, EPA, the Departments of Energy, Agriculture, and Interior at his beck and call, Cheney went after the real seat of executive power - the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

The OMB was the ultimate reviewer of all proposed regulatory changes. Its director, Mitch Daniels, as Warshaw points out, was referred to as “Dick Cheney’s Dick Cheney.” Daniels, coming from the huge pharmaceutical company Eli Lily, knew big business. Sean O’Keefe, another Cheney man, was OMB’s deputy. And with John Graham and, later, Susan Dudley in the key regulatory positions at OMB, Cheney had a winning hand. Graham at Harvard and Dudley at George Mason University had both made names in risk management analysis concerning industrial pollution and corporate malfeasance that were shamefully full of holes but extremely pro-business.

In the case of Dudley, the analyses were underwritten by such sponsors as ExxonMobil and BP Amoco. From their positions in OMB’s office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Graham and Dudley gave Cheney the ultimate power to oversee and check if necessary almost everyone in the bureaucracy concerned with regulation-writing.

The Washington Note

A Local Impact
National policies are not abstractions when your community sits on the worlds greatest fresh water resource managed by several international treaties and is the home to three of the largest, wealthiest, and to a measurable degree dirtiest multinational industries; BP, ArcelorMittal, and US Steel. This is how policies have location with real effects. The legacy of Cheney’s energy task force and environmental policies continue today unopposed, and this has a real negative effect for East Chicago.

East Chicago is the site of BP’s Canadian Crude project. The BP project is GROUND ZERO for concentrating highly negative environmental impacts in a poor minority community while directing benefits elsewhere.

Recently BP convened the “Good Government Initiative,” essentially cutting-off political opposition to there project while simultaneously walking behind the public process to extract a tax abatement from East Chicago without a single public hearing. BP also effectively pushed through a flawed NPDES permit without a single political eyebrow raised, editorial written, or an environmental group objecting in Indiana. Instead of calling foul regional leaders, including the regional news paper - NWI Times, rallied behind BP against out-of-state opposition, by citing the bad environmental stewardship of others.

Thomas National, State

Hayes hopes to ’save’ children

September 27th, 2009

Ronald “Ron” Hayes takes the Lord’s message to the streets paving the way for hope.

A streetminister for more than 20 years, his mission is saving people, saving children and putting them on the right path. “Kids today, especially teenagers are going through a struggle of life. Some of their peers do drugs or get involved with gangs. I want to direct children in a positive direction and to show them there’s more to life than going along with peers.”

Hayes remembers his ministry starting with 12 kids that he would pick up and take to church and then buy them lunch at McDonalds. “These kids were involved with gangs and drugs and I informed them there is a better way to go,” he said.

Six months later he was still picking them up, ministering to them and even playing basketball with them. They eventually joined a church and so did their parents.

That success story has fueled the street ministry that has grown beyond East Chicago to include 25 to 30 other communities, and Cabrini Green where he ministers with Rev. Pat Brown of Gary. Hayes is known to many for the cross he physically bears to remind people of the sacrifice Jesus Christ made for all of us.

One way he’s found to reach at-risk youth is bicycles. Hayes has distributed approximately 7,000 bicycles through his ministry. “Bikes are an important part of young kid’s lives,” he said. “You’ll notice the ones that have working parents they buy a bike. When you buy a child a bike you give them leadership, direction, something they say is theirs.”

While some bikes are donated or reworked, some are brand new purchased by those who believe and support Hayes’ work.

“Right now we’re up against a war. It’s a war to save our children, our teens especially,” he said. “Peer pressure is taking over and the ‘baggy pants’ attitude of children is a bad message. We need them to get education and to make up their minds and that no matter what happens they will stay in school.

“That is my message to children. Stay in school. Get an education and go to college. You need an education, especially today.”

By Sue Bero, Times Correspondent

Hayes hopes to ’save’ children .

Thomas Misc

Info Graphics: Willard Cope Brinton’s Graphic Presentation (1939)

September 26th, 2009

Remarkable 1939 information graphics by Willard Cope Brinton via [ Flowing Data ]

The entire book is freely available in PDF format, but it’s low resolution and takes forever to browse. Michael Stoll has posted some higher quality shots on Flickr.

Thomas Information Graphics

Yosi Sergant NEA Communications Director Resigns

September 26th, 2009

Although, I don’t know all the facts behind Yosi Sergant’s resignation, I’m reluctant to come to his defense like I would for Van Jones. I am simply not a fan of his work with Shepard Fairey on the HOPE poster.

From "Guerrillero Heroico" to Jim Fitzpatrick's "Che Guervara" to fake Warhol

Steven Mcdonald’s article “Yosi Sergant and the Art of Change: The Publicist Behind Shepard Fairey’s Obama Hope Posters ” offers some insight in to Yosi Sergant and his work.

via [ Atlantic Wire ]

The Atlantic follows the Yosi Sergant story from offensive conference call to resignation.

The communications director for the National Endowment for the Arts, Yosi Sergant, resigned Thursday, a month after becoming the target of conservative ire for suggesting in a conference call that NEA-funded artists use their work to support the Obama administration. Specifically, Sargent asked artists “to pick something, whether it’s health care, education, the environment,” and apply their “artistic creative communities’ utilities and bring them to the table.” Conservative bloggers, including an artist who participated in the call, considered this government propagandizing and a misuse of NEA funds. A brief history:

[ Read More ]

Thomas National

East Chicago Portrait Series: Mexican Independence Parade

September 21st, 2009

@ [ Thomasfrank.org ]

2009 Mexican Independence Parade: Slideshow (260 images, 13 min.)

You may have noticed I’ve been testing out different tools for displaying large amounts of images. This is one approach I think I may look to develop further. Unfortunately, there is limited functionality, as I could not post it to this blog.

This is the first edition of a new project called the “East Chicago Portrait Series.” I hope this piece shows the strength and energy of the Latino Culture here in the E.C. You can see from the photos how much the Latino Culture is thoroughly apart of the East Chicago identity, and the complexity of that identity. East Chicago breaks from many stereotypes. There is a back-story to many of the images. I know several of the people in the slideshow. Many are my neighbors.

I think this format offers an important framework that often goes missing in planning documents. It begins to give character to both the people and their public spaces, giving some insight into the development, the population, and the uses of this particular public space. Although many in the Parade are East Chicagoan’s, some of the traditional and more iconic costuming of Hispanic culture are hired entertainers.

Thomas East Chicago Portrait Series

Comprehensive Planning

September 12th, 2009

In a previous post To Grandma’s House We Go I tried to show in a simple real life example the importance of community focused planning, and how incompatible the present land use patterns in East Chicago are for the activities of children. I also did a post on Portages catalytic project - a subarea plan of the Marquette Plan. In this post I tried to show how Portage benefits from implementing their catalytic project, with a strategy very similar to East Chicago - little exposure to the lake but utilizing their riverfront to realize greater opportunities. With the Comprehensive Plan, East Chicago threw away the Marquette Plan’s catalytic project.

There is no greater canvas than what is writ on the land. There is no better way to understand who we are than how we allocate resources and provide for ourselves - that is what comprehensive planning is about.

<Background>
In 2006, as president of Redevelopment, I was asked to participate in the Mayor’s weekly economic development meetings. This was something I had been requesting. These meetings included representatives from the major industries in the City, including BP, ArcelorMittal, Kemira, NIPSCO (Northern Indiana Public Service Company, electric utility),  and the Northwest Indiana Forum (a regional economic development corp), and a few department heads. I was tapped to work on a sub committee to inventory and characterize underutilized parcels and prepare market them. The committee was headed up by Eric Pritcher (a NIPSCO representative), and included John Artist (E.C. Director of Redevelopment), Jimmy Ventura (E.C. Director of Economic Development), Kay Nelson (Environmental Director at the Forum), and Diane Thalmann (Director of Economic Development NIPSCO). When I walked into my first meeting Kay Nelson was going through the inventory of properties and discussing land use. I asked one question “who is determining land use?” Kay responded “they were.” I then asked if this ought to go through a comprehensive planning process.

Well I continued to advocate for a comprehensive plan, suggesting that the kinds of initiatives the city had planned would require the authority of a comprehensive plan. The city tried it their way until they realized they were required to bring their plans to the residents.

Eventually the Mayor appointed me to chair a staring committee to conduct a comprehensive plan for the city. In this role I managed a process of consensus building in defining goals and objectives, determine how to finance the process, authoring an RFQ (request for qualifications) for a planning entity, manage the interview process, and final selection. However, once the actual planning process began I was relieved of my duties and the City engaged the planners (in this case the Lakota group) themselves, and I became just another homeowner with a private interest in the community.
</Background>

The following are the comments I submitted in response to the city’s proposed concepts. I’ve included three maps of existing land use, proposed land use, and my comments on land use adjacent to our waterways. I could have submitted many more comments, but I felt it most important to focus on a Catalytic framework for the community. In essence - a first order of business for properties that are held in common - our waterfronts.

East Chicago 2007 Comprehensive Plan

My Comments

Comments to Proposed Scenarios:

My comments focus on the beneficial potential of our waterway and Lakefront to meet the demographic and economic needs of the coming generations. I strongly believe that development must occur in an environmentally responsible and sustainable manner. This does not discount industry. It is a part of our foreseeable future, but after 30 years of an industrial depression industry cannot be our ONLY future. Re-industrialization alone, will continue our present state of depression. We must provide the quality of life our educated children demand when they choose a community to live and raise their children.

1) Lakefront Development: I support plans that would reposition these lands as public lands with public access, not private condos and a yacht club.

2) Trail System: Create a trail system throughout our waterways, connecting our neighborhoods from the south to the north and to the Lakefront. This is an opportunity to use a natural trail system to bridge gaps with in the community and re-connect our isolated neighborhoods. Unfortunately, each concept presented proposes to add additional industrial uses between the community and natural areas, continuing to repeat bad practices of cutting neighborhoods off from each other and community focused assets - nature.

3) Mittal Property: This is possibly the most significant piece of property in East Chicago. How we determine its future use will determine the possibilities for the next generations to come. This land is presently a decommissioned Mittal property that is adjacent to future consolidated plans of the plant. It has water access on the canal and is adjacent to the core of North Harbor. This property is also in walking distance to the Lakefront.

Besides Concept C of the “Dickey Road Industrial Area” there is no other community focus redevelopment of these industrial lands that can serve as a buffer between such absolutely incompatible uses (Heavy Industry / Residential). This is one reuse scenario vs. two reindustrialization scenarios. Concept C will need to be flexible if it is to be seriously considered, and I believe strongly that this concept ought to serve as the foundation for land reuse discussions and not an outlier in those discussions. If this recreation scenario is not acceptable then we ought to consider other less intense uses, such as passive green space. We can also consider a land trusts. Openlands has a very good relationship with Mittal and would be interested in aiding these discussions.

4) Mittal’s Electric Furnace: I suspect Mittal has requested that we leave this parcel out of any discussions. I understand Mittal has been planning to decommission its present use in the near future. However, it will be important to any future discussions on this side of the canal

5) Turning Basin: It is important not to accept a short-sided plan that only re-industrializes the underutilized land. This parcel is well positioned to serve as a waterway focus development that is more compatible with nearby neighborhoods and perhaps serve as an access point for the community. It could easily serve as an anchor and catalytic project for future development along the waterways. I can imagine a dry dock area. I have talked to the land owner and he is open to the idea.

6) Property along North sea-wall of the Indiana Harbor Shipping Canal: This is a great opportunity to assemble these near-shore properties for natural areas and trails. Industry can continue to operate as they have. U.S. Gypsum has already developed plans, in partnership with Daniel Goldfarb of the Wildlife Habitat Council, to do natural plantings and trails. Daniel has also worked with Conoco Phillips and Citgo to develop similar plans on their properties in East Chicago.

7) CDF: We need to work quickly with the U.S.A.C.E. to develop greenery along the southern and eastern edges of the property. The south because it is across the canal from proposed recreation, and the east because it sits at a major gateway to the city.

8) Natural Area: This is a natural wetland that has never been developed. While there are no remaining natural assets with public access within the city, Industrializing this land today does not make any sense. There is an opportunity to open this land to a trail system and extend the green space north to Columbus drive.

9) Area bordered by the Canal to its east, Railroad avenue to the west, Columbus Drive to the North, and the CSX Line to the south: Plans are underway to clean the southern branch of the Grand Calumet River. This opens opportunities to create community focus development along its banks and extend the neighborhood to the east side of Railroad avenue. There is enough acreage for about 400 homes and green space. This kind of development would justify cost associated with preparing these lands for new uses. I suggest developing a program to relocate businesses to the planned industrial park north of the canal.

10) TOD: This is a great opportunity to leverage a strategy for the airport for the benefit of East Chicago. By extending the South Shore to the Airport down the CSX line, just north of Chicago Avenue, the airport gets much needed access to the Chicago business travel market, and East Chicago gets a TOD opportunity near its downtown (Indianapolis and Chicago ave). The CSX traffic could be rerouted south to the 9th expansion bridge. This would bolster East Chicago’s retail district and link our municipal functions more directly with the Chicago market. It would also give the housing starts identified in #9 a strong reason for attracting young professionals and create a walkable community once again around our downtown district.

11) Green Space along southern Fork in the Canal: 90% of the proposed green space in this Plan is DNR property along the Grand Calumet River. Each Alternate Scenario in this Comprehensive Plan proposes to re-industrialize the land between our neighborhoods and these natural areas. These once again repeat bad past practice by cutting off neighborhoods from each and community focused assets. If anything we ought to use natural areas to buffer neighborhoods for industry. Not the inverse which is what is proposed. To be consistent with the DNR natural areas I suggest creating a strategy to extend these areas to our neighborhoods starting with this parcel.

12) Industrial Property along Cline: This property is within a half mile of the East Calumet neighborhood. It is inappropriate for heavy industrial use. Let’s again stop repeating past mistakes. I suggest light industrial uses servicing the airport. We also need to provide significant buffers between the neighborhood and its industrial neighbors.

13) Alternate Flight Pattern from the Gary Airport: I have a petition with more than 200 signatures asking for the flight pattern to be diverted away from Guadeloupe Circle, Prairie Park and Washington Park neighborhoods. These neighborhoods represent the only sustaining middle class neighborhoods in East Chicago. These neighborhoods include two elementary schools, a middle school and a hospital. The noise pollution in these neighborhoods due to the present flight pattern consistently rises above 90 decibels. Absolutely unacceptable.

14) Brownfield Strategy: Lastly this plan lacks any brownfield redevelopment framework necessary to diversify landuses and our local economy. With 40% of our industrial land out of productive use East Chicago is in serious need of a brownfield redevelopment framework. Without it East Chicago can not avail themselves of Federal Brownfield redevelopment funds to inventory, characterize, remediate these properties so as to put them into new uses. All of which the USEPA has already promised to fund for this City. To neglect it is criminal.

General Thoughts

Existing Conditions:

1) ~80% of E.C. is zoned Heavy Industry, with about 40% of our industrial lands are out-of-use. With advances in technology and the U.S. economy shifting to a service oriented economy, we have endured 30 years of a industrial depression. Re-industrialization is what E.C. has always done. Today, East Chicago is no longer the center for Jobs it ones was. In fact, the city is now the largest single employer of East Chicagoans, employing 1,300 people (these are considered service jobs). This does not including School City, the Library and the other taxing districts. The Comprehensive Plan does nothing to reposition the use of these most impaired lands to meet the needs of a contemporary American community / economy.

2) Incompatible uses: During the settlement of East Chicago, housing and industry went hand in hand. It was during this era that Sunnyside, Washington Park and Marktown were developed. Each was developed with generous natural buffers between them and industry. A 100 years of industrialization has brought continued encroachment of industry on these neighborhoods, cutting them off from there surroundings, and essentially creating the condition for blight. This has resulted in homeowners losing the wealth creation potential necessary for a sustainable community and supporting retail businesses in the downtown district. Today this is unacceptable and this plan does nothing to mitigate against these impacts, but does quite the contrary and creates the conditions for more stress on homeowners. Our community is a pattern of heavy industry adjacent to neighborhoods (such as North Harbor and Mittal, East Calumet and Citgo). In some cases industry surrounds the neighborhood (such as Marktown, and New Addition). The Comprehensive Plan does nothing to reconnect isolated neighborhoods, buffer them better from industry, or reclaim any of the abandoned industrial properties as a community focused asset.

3) Question: How many communities in America have Oil Refineries (the size of BP - the Largest inland refinery) and Steel Mills (Mittal)? And how many of them are in small densely populated urban communities? I will go out on a limb to suggest that there are none besides East Chicago. Lake County ranks as the seventh most toxic county in the nation (out of 3140 counties), with 50.3 million pounds of chemicals released in 2005 (based on TRI data), or 20 percent of the state’s total output. These discharges are attributed to three industries located in or around East Chicago (BP, Mittal, and U.S. Steel). For the sake of the residents don’t you think there is too much industry, and pollution concentrated in such a small area? This plan ought to propose a strategy to address the negative impact industry has on the Quality of life of the residents and establish a compatible land use strategy so that both Industry and resident’s can prosper?

With out improving the Quality of Life, East Chicago will not attract young professionals to live here, not even our children, who have gone off to receive an education. The Marquette Plan addressed these issues by repositioning the region economically and environmentally and focusing on our strongest asset - our lake and waterways (the place where our older industries occupied).

Comprehensive Plan Concepts vs. The Marquette Plan

In light of the fact that the land use scenarios proposed by the Comprehensive Plan are in direct opposition to the Marquette Plan, I believe it is important to draw out the comparisons.

The Comprehensive Plan focuses exclusively on a single dimension of the Marquette Plan, the reaffirmation of its lost industrial base. Hence, the RE-INDUSTRIALIZATION OF EAST CHICAGO. There is little attempt in the Comprehensive Plan to diversify land use, clean-up our most contaminated properties, and improve the quality of life for residents. There is no formal Brownfield framework for addressing these issues. How can East Chicago reposition our economy to meet the needs of a contemporary American community if we do not address the impairments at the base of our economy?

a. The Marquette Plan focused on our most environmentally impaired and out-of-use lands along the canal and where the market has not been able to function.

b. The Marquette Plan repositions the land adjacent to North Harbor towards community focus development. Besides Concept C of the “Dickey Road Industrial Area” there is no community focus redevelopment on these adjacent lands in the Comprehensive Plan. This is one reuse scenario vs. two reindustrialization scenarios. Concept C will need to be flexible if it is to be seriously considered, and I believe strongly that this concept ought to serve as a beginning for land reuse discussions and not an outlier in those discussions.

c. The Marquette Plan takes in to account that heavy industry is consolidating and encourages it to move up the peninsula and north of the canal away from neighborhoods. This again is contrary to the Comprehensive Plan, which has no apparent concern for these incompatible adjacent uses.

d. The Marquette Plan creates buffers between heavy industry and our neighborhoods in North Harbor, Marktown and New Addition. This begins to address the depressed housing market and blight we see in these neighborhoods by pulling industry away from where people live. A major characteristic of the Comprehensive Plan is the lack of buffering between such incompatible uses (Heavy Industry and Residential).

e. The Marquette Plan proposes to pull down Cline Avenue and reroute traffic along the rail line and directly into the steel plant, giving the community access to these newly available lands along the canal. The Comprehensive Plan maintains Cline avenue as a formidable barrier to community focus development.

f. The Marquette Plan adds much needed public access and green space to East Chicago along our waterways and Lake. The Comprehensive Plan pretends to add public access and green spaces. It proposes private development in all scenarios on our lakefront (Condos and a Yacht club). Re-industrialization is also a commitment to private development along our waterways. The green space along the Grand Calumet River is in fact in DNR control and for the protection of these lands. The Comprehensive Plan proposes to sever access between our neighborhoods and these much needed natural areas with industry.

g. The Marquette Plan creates an opportunity for a trail system throughout our waterways, connecting our neighborhoods from the south to the north and to the Lakefront. The Comprehensive Plan add no additional trails to the DNR plans and does not leverage the open area along the canal, but again proposes to re-industrialize these lands.

NOTE: Within the next 10 years an environmental cleanup of the Grand Calumet River will be complete, opening adjacent lands to new use. To place industry back on these lands make as much sense as allowing U.S. Steel to pollute into the Grand Calumet River after a $20 million clean up job.

East Chicago's Marquette Plan

East Chicago’s replacement of the Marquette plan focuses on private condo development on the lake front and pushes community open space to the other side of Cline Avenue (a state highway). To do this they have propose to move the water filtration facility to make room for the private development. To implement this plan they have seeked and received RDA funds, and stimulus funds. What could have been an increase in public access amenities has turned into a private affair for the Mayor’s funders, <RED FLAG>yacht club included</RED FLAG>. It must be noted that east Chicago has 7.3 miles of lakefront exposure and only 100 yards of public access. This proposal does not increase public access. Thusly it ought not to qualify for public dollars.

In absent of a solid well thought out proposal for redevelopment along our waterways and Lakefront I propose that the Comprehensive Plan adopt the Marquette Plan as its waterway and Lakefront component.

Thomas Case Studies, East Chicago, Planning Mishaps

Albert Tar Sands

September 11th, 2009

Pullman to Marktown Bike Tour

September 11th, 2009

On labor day I participated in the 5th annual Labor Day Pullman to Marktown tour sponsored by the Pullman Labor Ride. We had a wonderful time. I took several hundred photos of the event and got the chance to speak a little on the contrasts between the Illinois and Indiana sides of the Calumet Region.

Link to full set of photos [ Pullman to Marktown Bike Ride ]

Kevin Murphy’s Labor Day Presentation to bike tour participants at the Zone

Thomas Adaptive Reuse, Case Studies, East Chicago

Alberta Tar Sands

September 9th, 2009

To Grandma’s House We Go

September 8th, 2009

East Chicago Indiana, August 30, 2009

On August 30, 2009 our family took a bike ride (white dotted line in above map) from our house in Indiana Harbor to Grandma’s house on the East Chicago side of town. The ride is ~2.2 miles through a variety of landscapes including heavy Industrial. There are only two ways to get from the Harbor side to the East Chicago side. You either take Columbus Drive or Chicago Avenue. Neither are very friendly toward bikers or walkers, not to mention children. Besides the occasional metal scraper lugging overly large qualities of metal on bikes it is very rare to see anyone walking or riding through these corridors. We tend to ride our bikes within the neighborhood or load the bikes in the bed of the truck and ride elsewhere. But on this day it was gorgeous we took a tour down Columbus Drive.

Google map tour of our bike ride with photos from the above slideshow.

Background / Strengths / Weaknesses

Regardless of what officials say, East Chicago is not community or child focused. There is no access to nature within the community, nor are there any friendly corridors for children to travel on to get through the community. In fact the community is so fragmented by industrial interests that I have begun to compare it to the land fragmentation in Palestine. Granted the comparison is limited. A sure sign of public corruption is the lack of community focused planning and development.

Local environmentalists, particularly Mark Reskin of IUN, often argue that industry was the first to settle East Chicago and housing encroached on the industry, as if that would be an argument for the kind of environmental devastation that has occurred under his tenure. The fact is the earliest settlers were not industry, but pioneers and hunters. Later in the 1800’s  wealthy Chicagoan’s built large vacation homes on the East Chicago shores, and highlands. I realize it is difficult for many to recognize any of the regions natural features, but this was once a region of ancient dunes and swales and natural marshlands.

When industry first came to these shores, they brought with them worker villages, such as Sunnyside and Marktown, to attract a stable workforce. They also demolished or moved the large homes. During this period housing and industry went hand in hand, as they looked to build a workable community. Industrial and community leaders went to great efforts to hire some of the countries best landscape designers and architects, and built a world-class library system and recreation facilities.

It is often thought that industry constructed these villages adjacent to their factories in a hap-hazard manner, so that workers could walk to work. When you review these early settlement patterns you can see how natural buffers and distance had been used to separate housing from industry. In fact Marktown’s original designs were based on Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City concept. Thus Buffering between these two incompatible adjacent uses goes back over 150 years and was written into East Chicago’s early city plans. I’m not suggesting that these buffers, with our present understanding of environmental hazard, were adequate, but it does reveal how the original intent of the designs and concepts acknowledged the need for them.

<slight tangent>
I find it remarkable to see the development of suburban corporate headquarters around Chicago (down the I-80 corridor, I-90, and the northshore), provide generous buffering between their office complexes and the surrounding community. In recent years many of these developments have become LEED certified. Yet in East Chicago some of these same corporations provide no buffering between their industrial complexes and the surround community. I don’t have to mention that none of the facilities are LEED certified. An interesting case is the BP campus in Naperville, which used to be located in Whiting until they could no longer attract professionals to the area do to the lack of quality of life, and yes BP’s campus is LEED certified.
</slight tangent>

What actually occurred here over the last hundred years was the continual encroachment of industry interests on residential quality of life, and the taking of community and private residential wealth. Each new industry involved not only a taking of public and private property, but a taking of community values and visions. Every successive period involved a massive taking of community wealth in the service of industrial benefit. It must be noted that this taking of the public and the personal wealth of the residents could not be done by industry alone. It required the participation of local, regional and state governments, and later included environmentalist.

This encroachment continues today as BP expands its facilities, by placing six cokers just across the street from one of our neighborhoods. Local tif districts had to rewrite their schedules to take into account the future increased assessed value that would be lost due to the BP project - a clear demonstration of the taking of private homeowner wealth for industry interests. In the 1980’s a whole neighborhood was demolished to make way for Pollution Control Industries (PCI). Praxair sits on what was once public property with plans developed for a central park uniting the East Chicago and Harbor sides.

Today’s challenges:

  • High concentration of heavy industry
    • More than 80% of East Chicago is zoned heavy industrial with ~14% zoned residential.
    • 40% of industrial properties are out of production and considered to be a brownfield
    • About 15% of residential properties are apart of the USEPA Superfund site - Calumet neighborhood.
  • Fourteen fairly isolated neighborhoods with little to no linkage between them, cut off by industry. Several neighborhoods suffer from incompatible adjacent uses, such as chemical, oil, or manufacturing plants. The result is that many neighborhoods have their own identity and community center.
  • Little or no access to natural areas
    • East Chicago has 7.3 miles of lakefront Exposure with only 100 yards accessible to the public - Joerse beach.
    • Yet Jeorse Beach is such an impaired asset that it ranks 3rd in the country, and 1st on the great lakes, for beach closings due to hight bacteria level.
    • Dupont prairies, with ancient dune and swales is highly contaminated and not accessible to the the public.
    • No bike trails
  • Lake County ranks as the 7th most polluted county in the country (out of 3141 counties). The pollution is mainly attributed to three major industries which reside in or within a half mile of East Chicago: BP (largest oil refinery in the midwest, second largest in the country), ArcelorMittal (largest integrated steel mill in the country), and US Steel. These industries represent tens-of-billions-of-dollars of interests in East Chicago. I suggest Lake county aim at being just average - ranked 1570 out of 3141 counties.
  • Location of 2 (Kemira, Dover Chemical) of the top 101 most dangerous chemical facilities [ Link to report ]
  • The Indiana Harbor Shipping Canal is also considered to be the most polluted waterway in the country.
  • Depressed downtown with many vacancies, making most residents auto dependent for shopping.
  • Blighted neighborhoods and housing stock. The medium home value in several of our neighborhoods is less than $25,000
  • No sustained cultural institutions.
  • High Crime
  • Poor Educational system - ranks last in the state of Indiana on ISTEP test
  • Political/industrial/environmental corruption

East Chicago is a clear and obvious point source to our shared environmental challenges. I truly believe the extreme nature of East Chicago’s environmental impairments qualify it to be ground-zero in the environmental and sustainability debate. Repairing the land use practices that are allowed to occur here would go a long way in repairing what ails the world.

The Good (Strengths):

  • There are still remnants of East Chicago’s heyday. I live in one such place, across from Washington Park, which was originally designed by Jens Jensen, with a greenhouse.
  • Good recreation facilities including an old minor league baseball stadium
  • There are still remnants of great talent and people of good intention. We have families whose tenure goes back to the 1920’s, but they are becoming fewer.
  • Faith Based Organizations. As a port of entry community East Chicago has always been known for its churches. Today most of the remaining talent are associated with faith based organization.
  • Lakefront: although it is highly impaired, it is a repairable asset
  • Riverfront: although, again, highly impaired the riverfront could become the cities strongest natural asset and provide a way to knit the neighborhoods together with bike paths. Includes access to the dupont prairies and another parcel (~200 acres) of untouched land right in the middle of east chicago (with Praxair to the east, the canal to the west, the CSX rail line to the south and a tank farm to the north).
  • Industry continues to play an important role in this community. We just need to raise their environmental performance to a minimum level that is compatible with a sustainable community. Industry is also a link to our past history.
  • Historic Landmarks: including industrial housing communities such as Marktown and Sunnyside, and an array of other buildings. We just have to stop the Mayor from demolitioning them.
  • Proximity to Chicago. Despite our proximity, if East Chicago does not have fluid access to Chicago, it might as well be hundreds of miles away.
  • Opportunities for a downtown commuter rail system, with direct access to Chicago.

In my mind no project ought to move forward in this community if it doesn’t address the challenges we clearly face and/or build the capacity of our strengths. This is the position I took when the BP project was first considered and I hold to it today. So how is it that East Chicago can be the recipient of a $3.8 billion investment by BP and NOT receive any of the benefits to address our obvious impairments (while spreading the wage and economic development benefits to middle-class communities in the southern part of the county)? Under this scenario why would a poor blighted community like East Chicago provide BP with a $165 million dollar tax abatement?

UPDATE:

Added video tour.

Thomas Case Studies, East Chicago

Pierogi Fest 2009

September 6th, 2009

Pierogi Fest 2009, Whiting Indiana

Festival goers walking by (~15 min.)

Thomas Misc

Repost: Van Jones

September 5th, 2009

[ Green for All ]

“When we think of a green economy, it should be an economy where we don’t have any throw away resources. We don’t have any throw away species. We don’t have any throw away children or neighborhood either. We don’t have any throw away nations either.”

- Van Jones

As a resident of East Chicago Indiana this message resonates with me.

Update (9-6-09): Van Jones resigns.

Update (9-5-09): Since the right has turned the heat up on Van Jones in an effort to discredit him and weaken the efforts he has championed, I thought it important to repost this video.

I live in an industrial fenceline community which is home to mostly poor minorities, and I have been apart of regional planning efforts that have not been too kind to them. If you follow this blog you will undoubtedly recognize that the population that lives here does not share in the quality of live most Americans have come to know.

Based on my experience I would say Van Jones’ criticism of industrial policy isn’t strong enough. Not only do East Chicago and Gary receive a disproportionate share of the negative externalities of industry (pollution, disinvestment, congestion, neglect, and the occasional explosion), they also receive a disproportionate share of the benefits. With a low industrial tax rate, these communities receive very little tax benefit. The political leadership has also awarded these industries with tax abatements (BP recently received a $165 million tax abatement in East Chicago). These communities also receive very little wage benefit to support the local population, as most wage earners and contractors choose to live in other less polluted middle-class communities. Most economic development dollars received by industry also go to other less polluted middle-class communities.

One other very important fact that needs to be better articulated is how these industries crowd out, or hold down other markets. This can be attributed to the negative externalities, and the general lack of quality of life.

One example of how this has effected other markets is what happened twenty-five years ago when BP, then Standard Oil, was forced to relocate there professional training facility from Whiting Indiana to Naperville Illinois. They simply could no longer attract professionals to the region due to quality of life issues. They ended up donating their whiting facilities to St. Joseph College. Today, BP’s Naperville facility is a LEED certified campus.

You can find many examples in the housing and retail markets…

Thomas Economics, Energy, Environment