Blagojevich Calls for Recycling of All State-Owned Electronic Waste

Perhaps he’s wary of Green Party candidate Rich Whitney’s recent rise in the polls in the Illinois governor’s race, but the Governor signed an executive order today mandating that all state agencies recycle their electronic waste in an environmentally responsible manner.
According to the Quad-City Times, Blagojevich wants the legislature to develop a comprehensive state-wide electronics waste recylcing bill in the spring.

It is amazing that there is not more stringent legislation on the disposal of electronic items, considering elements such as mercury and lead that are contained in computers and other consumer electronics.  A perennial problem has been the global trade in “e-waste” to the Global South where there is often a less stringent regulatory environment and despeerate economic conditions.  The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition has been doing good work exposing the hazards this trade in waste poses for people in the developing world.
The main treaty governing the trade in e-waste, the Basel Convention, has not been ratified by the United States. Therefore, when states want to process their e-waste responsibly, they have to develop individual state laws.  A recent study by the National Electronics Recycling Infrastructure Clearinghouse has shown that there is an incredible amount of economic inefficiency and duplication that ensues due to the lack of federal coordination of the nation’s e-waste.

Illinois Gubernatorial Candidates on Growth Issues

It’s election season here in the United States and in Illinois we are seeing a race for the Governor’s office.  Republican Judy Barr Topinka and Green Party candidate Rich Whitney are battling to unseat incumbent Democrat Rod Blagojevich.

It is an interesting race given the troubles Republicans are having nationally, Blagojevich’s ethics problems, and the fact that Whitney is polling well for a third party candidate.

The latest poll [Oct. 15] by the non-partisan Rasmussen Reports shows Blagojevich 44%, Topinka 36%, and Whitney 9%.  Since that poll was taken, however, one of Blagojevich’s associates pleaded guilty to using his state appointment to take kickbacks from firms with an interest in getting state business and his wife earned six-figures in a real estate deal involving friends who have received no-bid contracts from the state.

One would expect these latest revelations to further erode Blagojevich’s slim lead over Topinka.  He seems to be trying to lay low as he backed out from a previously-scheduled debate with his challengers.

One of the things that has been sorely missing from the campaign has been a discussion of actual public policy challenges facing the state.  The Chicago Tribune has done some good reporting in this regard and had all three candidates answer important questions in relative detail.

One of the major problems facing the northeastern part of the state has been the lack of planning for metropolitan growth.  Roads are inadequate to handle demand and public transit is non-existent.  In theory, state government  has quite a bit of authority to address growth and regional infrastructure.  The Tribune asked each candidate about their transportation plans which are central to regional policy.

The headline of Tribune transportation reporter Jon Hilkevitch’s article–“All candidates lack plans for roads, transit”–pretty much tells the story.,

Governor Blagojevich claims that he has been unable to get Republicans in the legislature to agree to a bond-issue that would raise $2.3 billion for roads and $425 million for transit.  Passage of the bond issue would allow for the state to be eligible for more than $3 billion in federal matching funds.

Topinka wants to put a casino in Chicago to help fund road improvements.  This seems to be her answer to every policy problem, as her casino plan is also supposed to fund schools, offer property tax relief, and supplant part of the state gas tax!  Many observers think that the expansion of gambling in the state is a tough sell.  Daley has unsuccessfully tried in the past to get state authorization for a Chicago casino and the fact that there are already multiple casinos in the state would make it a huge political fight.  Plus, the amount of money she is suggesting could be raised from a Chicago casino is questionable.  Daley claimed two years ago that revenues would be between $200-$700 million.  Topinka’s proposals require at least $4 billion!

Whitney has said that he is dedicated to developing mass transit options
both in the Chicago area, as well as improving rail service downstate.  It is unclear how he would pay for it, however.

In the next week or so I will run down the candidates’ positions on a variety of environmental issues.

Poverty in the Suburbs

The Chicago Tribune today reports on the growing numbers of people in poverty in Chicago’s suburbs. According to the article:

The recent census figures show the poverty rate in suburban Cook County rose to 8.2 percent in 2005, up from 6.4 percent in 1999. The figure was 5.3 percent in 1989.

The article attributes the rise to the search for affordable housing by low-wage earning, immigrant families. Chicago still has a higher proportion of its population in poverty than the suburbs, with more than 18% of its families living below poverty. However, the rising number in the suburbs indicates that the issue is becoming more regional.

Sustainable Architecture in Chicago

Kevin Nance, the architectural critic for the Sun Times offers a preview of the new exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art on “Sustainable Architecture in Chicago: Works in Progress.”

Chicago is developing an international reputation as a “green city.”  Much of the credit goes to many of the architectural firms in town that are being featured in the MCA exhibition.

The exhibition features plans and renderings of buildings and open spaces around the Chicago metropolitan area.

Neighborhood Change and Urban Identity

This week’s announcement by Bon-Ton Stores that they will be closing the State Street location of Carson Pirie Scott is the latest in a series of well-publicized changes downtown Chicago’s retail landscape. Late last year their State Street neighbor, Marshall Field’s, was swallowed up by Federated Department Stores in a large merger of the country’s two top department store conglomerates. In an effort to streamline advertising and branding costs, Federated announced that the all of the regional chains acquired in the merger–including Field’s–would adopt the Macy’s brand.

From the perspective of urban development, the reaction to these changes is interesting. There was vocal opposition to the Field’s name change, including a petition drive and an impending protest on 9 September when the name change becomes permanent. The reaction to Carsons has been less dramatic–perhaps due to the fact that opposition to the Field’s transition was largely ineffectal.

One of the themes that continues to emerge in local news stories about these changes on State Street was how many people expressed nostalgia and regret that the neighborhood is changing. The Tribune today has an interesting article that briefly reviews the history of State Street as the regional shopping mecca going back more than a century.

State Street has figured prominently in the city’s identity over the years, being memorialized in the 1922 Fred Fisher song made famous by Frank Sinatra, “Chicago,” wherein State Street is referred to as that “Great Street” where “they do things they don’t do on Broadway.” Fisher never clearly discloses what these “things” are–although later in the song he recounts how he “saw a man and he danced with his wife”–but clearly the attempt here is to seek pride in the Chicago’s status as the “Second City.”

As post-War suburbanization commenced in the Chicago region during 1950s, State Street suffered. The big downtown stores–including Carson’s and Fields–set up operations in the big regional shopping malls that were being constructed in suburbia. These new malls, often located in proximity to the new interstate highways, offered the old downtown shopping opportunities in suburban settings closer to the burgeoning middle classes who were fleeing the city in droves.

State Street suffered accordingly and in the late 1970s, the city tried to replicate the mall atmposphere by shutting the street down to private automobile traffic. This idea failed since the street couldn’t really turn into a pedestrian mall becase there was still CTA bus and taxi traffic. The result was a dead zone of very little street life. The city re-opened State Street to all vehicular traffic in 1996 which coincided with the development of more residential properties in the neighborhood. Much of the downtown shopping migrated a mile or so north to the North Michigan Avenue district.

State Street has blossomed into a very different type of neighborhood than it was–which offers a great example of the dynamism of urban spaces. With DePaul’s renovation of the old Goldblatt’s department store building into classroom space, the opening of the University Center dormotory, and the Harold Washington Library serving as anchors, the neighborhood is taking on an eclectic character, merging residential, commercial, and civic functions into a different type of urban space.

Neighborhood change, however, often conflicts with peoples’ preconceptions about the place. This is especially the case when old and prominent institutions leave or change their fundamental character. Interestingly, an article in today’s New York Times profiles Terry Lundgren, the CEO of Federated and the force behind changing Fields into the Macy’s brand. The article largely gives Lundgren positive marks for smoothing over the reaction against consolidating regional stores under the Macy’s name. One anecdote recounted in the story is telling:

To prove the point, Mr. Lundgren tells a story. Soon after Federated disclosed that Marshall Field’s, an upscale Midwest department store, would lose its name, scores of shoppers wrote blistering letters to the company, with several threatening to cut up their Field’s charge cards.

Worried that the reaction might be widespread and hurt the chain’s sales, Mr. Lundgren asked the accounting department to pull the purchase records of the first 100 letter writers. “There was no activity,” he said. “Or incredibly little activity.”

“This is where the tension was coming from,” he continued. “There was a group of people who did not want a change. But do they like the merchandise in the store? Not according to their spending. In their letters, they talked about when they were a child. But nobody was talking in the present tense.”

This reveals the reality of the tensions between people’s identity with a prominent landmark occupying urban space and the reality of corporate interests in a period of increasing consolidation in many industries–inculding retail. Both Field’s and Carson’s have long-ago been acquired by businesses with no measurable ties to the city and are facing increasing pressure by stockholders to maintain competitiveness. These recent decisions show that the ultimate decisions made by these companies are designed with these isolated corporate interests in mind. In fact on the same day that Bon-Ton announced the closure of the State Street Carson’s, their second quarter earnings report was released which failed to meet Wall Street expectations.
Of course, no one expects coporations to engage in activity that is at odds with their bottom line; however, private interests invariably have effects on public spaces. The inevitible tension that results provides the substance of much social and political interest.