City Ledes:  Windy City Throwdown

CityLedes is a weekly roundup of urban-related news happening across the country and globe, as compiled by Mark Bergen, Harry Moroz and David Sparks.

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The Lede: Teachers strike in Chicago, which leaves Mayor Emanuel between a rock and a hard place. L.A. eases up on truants. D.C. charter wait lists cause seat shifting well into October. N.Y.C. drags its heels on dealing with rising sea levels. Modernizing the Muni in the Bay Area. Houston reconsiders the streetcar after a 70-year absence. The housing market looks up in Baltimore, D.C., and Atlanta. A new model of condo financing in Miami. Contemplating fragmented Philly. Brooklyn is expensive. States and cities axe government jobs. Chinese subways are insolvent. Airport headaches in Europe. The shine comes off a couple of new casinos in The Buckeye State. Miami-Dade’s ballot will be 10 pages long. Houston has fewer dead people than a voter purge effort would have one believe. City life in the ‘burbs? Forget it, Walmart. It’s Chinatown.

Transportation and Infrastructure
Economy and Development
Energy, Environment, and Health
Public Safety
Mayors and City Councils
Culture and other Curiosities


“Real school” closes. Catalyst Chicago runs down the latest in the teachers’ strike. Rahm gets a(n unwanted) Romney boost, but stays the course. Research shows that strikes hinder student achievement.

Why one teacher is striking:

When you support Mayor Emanuel’s tax increment financing program in diverting hundreds of millions of dollars of school funds into to the pockets of wealthy developers like billionaire member of your school board, Penny Pritzker so she can build more hotels, that not only hurts kids, but somebody should be going to jail.

When you close and turnaround schools disrupting thousands of kids’ lives and educations and often plunging them into violence and have no data to support your practice, that hurts our kids.

When you leave thousands of kids in classrooms with no teacher for weeks and months on end due to central office bureaucracy trumping basic needs of students, that not only hurts our kids, it basically ruins the whole idea of why we have a district at all.

School starts, tensely, in Boston.

Yonkers, NY tries out a new arrangement to finance school improvements:

U.S. school districts traditionally finance infrastructure improvements by issuing bonds backed by local tax revenue, and they routinely maintain facilities through their operating budgets. The Yonkers school district, which sits just north of New York City, is weighing plans to contract with investors to pay for improvements and maintenance for as long as 30 years on more than three dozen school buildings with an average age of 73.

In exchange, the investors would receive a steady stream of payments from the city and the state—which helps fund the district. The investors also might be able to use school facilities after school hours for profit, sharing any proceeds with the district.

L.A. schools get tolerant:

In a decisive step away from the zero tolerance policies of the 1990s, Los Angeles school police have agreed to stop issuing citations to truant students and instead refer them to city youth centers for educational counseling and other services to help address their academic struggles.

A new approach is also in the works at the Los Angeles County Probation Department. Officials there are launching alternative programs to keep students out of the court system and provide them instead with counseling, tutoring and other community services.

The move away from punitive law enforcement actions and toward support services reflects a growing awareness, grounded in research, that treating minor offenses with police actions did not necessarily make campuses safer or students more accountable. Instead, officials and activists say, it often alienated struggling students from school, pushing some to drop out and get in more serious trouble with the law.

Teach for America may be turning around KIPP schools in Indiana’s capital. A report tracks just how bad truancy is in Cleveland schools.

The D.C. wait-list shuffle:

The change has been spurred by the rapid expansion of public charter schools, which operate outside the traditional school system and under different enrollment rules. As parents try to get their children into the best schools, they can apply to an unlimited number of them. Once admitted, students can hold seats in more than one school.

Those parents seeking to preserve their options often relinquish the extras only when forced to on the first day of class. Principals then scramble to fill their rolls from long wait lists, recruiting students who are enrolled elsewhere. The cascading effect lasts into October.

New state exams in North Carolina result in surprise expenses for local school districts. Report: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools fails to keep its best teachers and get rid of its weakest. Seattle schools require a half-cup of fruits or vegetables on every lunch tray. The New Orleans Recovery School District mulls how to spend its $1.7 million windfall.

Transportation and Infrastructure

Muni techs up:

The Bay Area’s busiest transit agency, 700,000 boardings a day, has relied on an inefficient mixture of radios, phones, a GPS tracking system and old-fashioned handwritten reports to manage the fleet.

The cumbersome system can result in delayed responses to problems, such as several buses showing up all at once or none showing up at all, that can leave passengers fuming.

But now city transit officials are placing a lot of hope in new fleet-management technology created in 2011 specifically for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency during a civic-oriented “hackathon.” After more than a year in development, abbreviated field testing began last week. Additional tweaks will be made, with the launch of a more ambitious pilot project probably still a few weeks away.

Angelenos will vote on whether to extend their ½-cent transpo sales tax:

What is to be voted on is not a new tax. Rather, if approved on November 6, it will continue assessing the 1/2-cent sales tax between 2039 and 2069. The outcome may well determine the degree to which L.A. is able to produce a truly appealing alternative to automobile travel within a reasonable amount of time.

Why pass a tax extension now, when the revenues will not begin to be collected for another 27 years? To build more quickly.

Effectively, the mayor wants to be able to “bond against” future revenues — in other words, to take out loans from the investment market that will not be paid back until beginning in 2039, in order to pay for transportation projects now. The tax extension does not appear likely to add to the list of transit projects that will be completed — it will just allow them to be completed more quickly.

Sen. Boxer is at work on the next transportation bill. What sequestration might mean for transportation.

Major League Baseball may be urging the Nationals not to pick up the tab to keep the Metro open late. A pedal-less bike. Cycling advocates in Cleveland want more from the city. Uber provokes the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission further. Houston eyes a streetcar revival. DNC transportation was a headache for visitors, but a boon for regional airports. Miami-Dade’s mayor wants to spend $313 million on 136 replacement Metrorail cars. Portland neighborhood groups speak out against apartments without parking.


Housing and the presidential election:

A variety of issues will face the Congress—should it choose to act on them—among them government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) reform; tax reform, including the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC); various federal subsidy programs; and several capital-markets regulations, such as those involving commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS).

While it’s doubtful either party will have a sufficient Senate majority to ramrod through truly controversial legislation, wide-ranging tax-related reforms will no doubt “all be on the table,” observes Michael Berman, immediate past chairman of the Mortgage Bankers Association and former president and CEO of CWCapital.

Baltimore’s housing market improves. D.C.’s housing market continues its upswing. Metro Atlanta foreclosures are down 12% this year.

The Seattle City Council approves an emergency moratorium on backyard houses. Miami’s new condo financing model shifts the risk to the buyers (mostly cash-rich foreigners):

Under the new model, condo buyers are agreeing to put up as much as 80 percent in a series of down payments during construction. Ten percent of each deposit is kept safe in an account the developer doesn’t touch, as required by state law. The rest is available for construction.

Economy and Development

The city in the suburbs. The suburbs:

The Bay Area is certainly an exceptional place, but the suburbanization of poverty is evident in virtually every American metropolis. What it precisely means is also a difficult question. On the one hand, the fact that the city of Oakland no longer has half of the families in poverty of an entire region is a good thing, both for the city and for the region. For some poor families, this move has meant more peace and quiet, safer streets and better schools. But this does not mean that poor families are going everywhere equally — as you can see, they head primarily to a series of outlying, fast-growing suburbs, rather than to the wealthy and exclusive suburbs that ring the Bay. Exclusion is not what it once was during the days of racial covenants, but this does not mean that inclusion is shared equally. Nor are poor families necessarily finding more job possibilities or a more economically or environmentally sustainable life — commuting statistics for the outer suburbs show a heavy dependence on expensive, long-distance car travel. Moreover, services for low-income families in suburban locations can be severely lacking compared to central-city locations.

Walmart invades Chinatown, Los Angeles:

“They’re going to hurt the small businesses,” said Grace Yen, a Taiwanese immigrant who came here in 1986, as she sat in a Chinatown bakery. “They have a bigger market. They’re going to take over everything.”

The Walmart Neighborhood Market would offer Chinatown its first mainstream grocery store in decades. But since the company’s plan was announced in February, a furious battle has broken out over the project, with community activists and labor unions determined to block the world’s largest retailer from the neighborhood.

Center City is Philadelphia’s economic engine. Contemplating the oft-uncontemplated City of Brotherly Love:

The key to understanding Philadelphia, I’m told, is that unlike most places, it isn’t really a city at all. Rather, it’s a collection of towns (both in-city neighborhoods and suburbs) in which the various parts of the region really have little to do with each other. It’s like they live in different worlds. Unlike with say Chicago, where there is huge neighborhood consciousness but also a fierce attachment to Chicago the city, Philly is more fragmented. Or at least that’s what I was told. The City of Philadelphia was shaped the 1854 act of consolidation, which implemented a city-county merger with Philadelphia County, dissolving all existing municipalities there. Yet some of them seem to have independent lives yet today.

The city itself has very good bones. I was surprised to see it so intact. Philadelphia is known for its murals, which it uses to enliven areas where there have been demolitions. So I was expecting wholesale destruction on the lines of Detroit or some traditional Rust Belt burg. Make no mistake, Philadelphia has endless miles of slums. But the city seems to have mostly survived. Unfortunately, a lot of the buildings are in horrible shape, so whether they can be saved is another story, but at least they aren’t already gone.

Another surprise to me is that Philly is a two-story city. Most neighborhood buildings, including the ubiquitous row houses, are only two stories tall. I was expecting more verticality. Still, the dwelling unit density and lot area coverage are pretty high.

State and local governments cut 10,000 jobs in August.

Baltimore decides against doing an economic impact study of the Grand Prix race it just held. The El Salvador Community Corridor in Los Angeles, the city’s first designated Salvadoran neighborhood. Land-use litigation eats up the budgets of California cities. Hoboken, NJ decides to stay short. The Seattle City Council comes out in support of bringing back basketball to the city.

Brooklyn is the second-most expensive place in America. At least Red Hook has a blacksmith shop. Google tries to organize Kansas City, MO.

Rough bet:

Monthly gambling revenue from Horseshoe Casino Cleveland and Hollywood Casino Toledo dipped for the second straight month, a sign the luster of Ohio’s newly-minted casinos is wearing off.

Meanwhile, Columbus, with its casino red-tape soon to be cut, plans to put most of its earnings in state coffers.

Springfield, MA’s courtship of a casino was going so smoothly

The panel overseeing the state’s new casino gambling law has asked Springfield officials to delay the city’s selection process for a casino operator.

Massachusetts Gaming Commission chairman Stephen Crosby on Tuesday cited a possible conflict-of-interest involving a consultant hired by the city to help it choose between at least four potential casino developers.

Members of the Minneapolis Planning Commission might be a bit too involved with the other side. Banned from earmarking TIF funds for certain expenses, a small Indiana city twisted around the rule and, perhaps, the law.

Energy, Environment, and Health

Seattle’s dry streak ends. The future of electric cars. Fewer Florida teens smoke. Residents applying in New Orleans for disaster food stamps in the wake of Hurricane Isaac are turned away due to large crowds.

NYC needs to improve its preparations for rising tides:

So far, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has commissioned exhaustive research on the challenge of climate change. His administration is expanding wetlands to accommodate surging tides, installing green roofs to absorb rainwater and prodding property owners to move boilers out of flood-prone basements.

But even as city officials earn high marks for environmental awareness, critics say New York is moving too slowly to address the potential for flooding that could paralyze transportation, cripple the low-lying financial district and temporarily drive hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.

Rhode Island’s recycling agency will recycle money collected from the sale of recyclables to cities to support recycling programs.

Tainted tattoos in Rochester. San Francisco plots against its own water source.

Detroit’s water board pushes ahead with a $48 million reshuffling plan that partners with a consultant—-and wipes away 81% of the department staff.

Public Safety

St. Paul tries to clean up its crime lab.

Where to put the bad guys:

Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott said that concern was first raised during a meeting of law-enforcement and Ohio Casino Control Commission officials in May, but no agreements have been reached during subsequent meetings.

“It’s a big issue,” Scott said. “If the casino authority arrests someone, how do they get them to my jail? The city is going to say, ‘You catch ’em, you clean ’em.’??”

Columbus Deputy Chief Richard Bash said the city doesn’t transport prisoners for other jurisdictions because of liability issues. He wants bad guys to know that they’ll figure it out, though, if the need should arise.

A commission lays bear harsh treatment of prisoners in L.A. County jails. The city cannot destroy property of the homeless. Medical marijuana goes underground in L.A.:

It’s an easy journey to the underground, as the line between the legal and illegal markets in California has always been sketchy. The medical cannabis trade did not rise from a boardroom meeting when voters passed the medical marijuana initiative Proposition 215 in 1996. It sprouted out of the marijuana networks that already existed, with largely the same growers, middlemen and customers.

While some push for a wet house in San Francisco, others want to mandate treatment for the city’s chronic drunks. SoHo street vendors sue after they were evicted from the neighborhood without warning last May. Seattle Mayor McGinn is expected to launch community forums for discussions on gun violence. Tampa might get to keep a souvenir of the RNC: a network of surveillance cameras.

Mayors and City Councils

Trenton Mayor Tony Mack is arrested, charged with conspiracy, and released on bail. Dan Amira counts up the number of New Jersey mayors who have charged with corruption: a million. San Fran Mayor Ed Lee’s popularity is slipping, but his cronies are still powerful. Philadelphia hires a chief data officer. Mayor Menino vetoes a City Council redistricting plan for not being sufficiently racially diverse.

In the bid to reconstruct the city’s charter, Detroit’s council rejects the Governor’s plans.

A Minnesota city banned an Islamic center’ request to use its land as a mosque, but the center is moving ahead anyway.

The state with the most little governments.

Charlotte is a hit with the DNC crowd. Miami-Dade voters will face a very long ballot:

It’s so long that voters will have to fill out multiple sheets with races on both sides, then feed those multiple pages through ballot scanners, one page at a time.

It’s a pocketbook issue, too: Some people who vote by mail will have to dig deeper and pay at least 65 cents postage and up to $1.50 to return their multi-page ballots in heavier envelopes.

Harris County, TX cancels a voter purge due to “faulty death data:”

[Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Don] Sumners, who also is the county’s voter registrar, said conversations with the Secretary of State’s Office convinced him the list of possible dead was too unreliable to act on until after the Nov. 6 election.

“We’re not even going to process any of the cancellations until after the election,” Sumners said. “Because we’ve gotten such a response from people that say that they are still alive.”


A “milquetoast” bond measure warms up:

An unlikely mix of groups including the San Francisco Tenants Union, San Francisco Tomorrow, the local Republican Party and the Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council have come out against Prop. B, mostly on the grounds that the Recreation and Park Department is increasingly privatizing parks and can’t be trusted to handle more public money.

But the most notable anti-B paid ballot argument comes from some very strange bedfellows: Quentin Kopp, Aaron Peskin and Matt Gonzalez. Other than their distinction of all having served as president of the Board of Supervisors, it’s hard to imagine conservative Kopp and liberal Peskin and Gonzalez ever having had anything in common.

But the three penned a missive for the voters’ guide condemning the park department’s “reckless stewardship policies and irresponsible fiscal practices.”

Pension obligation bonds gone bad:

Not only that, but the Lehman bankers also explained that Calpers had recently switched to a new way of billing its member cities for these “loans.” It wanted to help them preserve their cash in the wake of the technology crash, so it had slowed the cities’ payments to Calpers. The bad news was that it had slowed them so much that the bills were compounding before any city could pay them down. That meant Stockton’s debt to Calpers was just going to get bigger and bigger over the years, the bankers said.

Land-use, the straw that broke the budgetary camel’s back (via Planetizen):

Mammoth Lakes hardly fits the profile of other cities that have recently plunged into bankruptcy.

It was not pensions or plummeting property values or questionable accounting practices that pushed the tiny mountain resort town over the edge: It was a $43-million court judgment in a lawsuit brought by a developer after the town tried to back out of an agreement.

San Bernardino will cut almost 100 city jobs. Henderson, NV consolidates to save money. New London, CT might run out of money. The state budget overseer approves Philly’s contentious five-year budget plan.

Queens car wash workers unionize.


Cuban defectors increasingly choose Tampa over Miami:

Why Tampa?

To avoid Miami’s anti-Castro cauldron, analysts say. But also because the defectors are less likely to be recognized on the streets and because Miami has many knowledgeable FBI agents — and too many Castro spies.

“Welcome Immigrants,” the billboard.


A nation off the rails:

Meanwhile, smaller Chinese cities are racing to open their first subway lines. Kunming, a city of 3.2 million in Yunnan Province, is the latest to open its first line, but its name – “Line 6” – may turn out to be a bit optimistic.

In 2011, as China’s seemly unstoppable economy began to sputter, the subway boom turned bust. In early January 2012, Caixin quoted Zhang Jiangyu, vice director for the powerful National Development and Reform Commission’s transit technology planning office, as saying that 70 to 80 percent of China’s planned rapid transit lines are being “postponed.”

And last month, the other shoe dropped: China’s subways are insolvent.

Sheldon Adelson chooses Madrid for Eurovegas. Vineyards in Madrid. The Sagrada Familia, an infographic. London is the fashion capital of the world. Creative cities programs in Seoul. No park benches under trees.

Putting empty office towers to use to house the urban poor (via Spaces & Flows). Slum entrepreneurialism.

Forget the debt crisis. Airports are causing lots of headaches in Europe. Berlin’s airport will open two years late. The controversy over a third runway at Heathrow grows. London Mayor Boris Johnson calls the controversy a “fudge-arama.”

Excavating Aztec Mexico City. The city will expand its bike-share system. Fusing bike, dock, and road. Istanbul evaluates its earthquake risk.

Pedestrians get eaten up in India:

But just like in a food chain, one who walks is eaten by all the ones above him. Two-wheelers and four-wheelers are ready to devour the pedestrian who tries to walk meekly by the road side on a path that was made for him but that also has been eaten yet again by parked two-wheelers and four-wheelers. Another way to look at this marginalization of primary producer of mobility is the distribution of mobility space in Indian cities. It is defined by speed with pedestrians relegated to the sides as swift-flowing vehicles gain the central roads.

Keeping Mumbai grounded:

Yet it is important to query what theory cultures and geographical imaginations have been mapped onto Mumbai in this recent emphasis on the city. This paper argues that, unless Mumbai’s specificities and grounded realities are used to disrupt and reframe existing urban analysis, there is a risk of replicating the comparative perspectives and visions of élite policy-making. This does not mean conferring paradigmatic status on Mumbai or isolating Mumbai as an exceptional form of contemporary urbanism, but instead generating new theoretical dialogue and opening up new channels of urban research and policy formation within a wider world of cities.

Culture and Other Curiosities

Al Salaam Pollería, Los Angeles. Double Rainbow, San Francisco. (Remember this Double Rainbow?)

Netflix will recreate Central Park in Baltimore. Playful City U.S.A.

An update on Joe and Sofia. Mostly on Joe. London surnames (via @palafo).

Bridgeport, America.

HMcDonalds hmistake.

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Tags: affordable housinginfrastructurechicagomayorshealthcareportlandmichael bloombergparkingretailsuburbs

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