The Atlantic’s CityLab Features RU Sociology Prof Stephanie Farmer’s Research on the Privatization of Chicago’s Parking Meters

Anyone who’s ever ridden a bus in Chicago’s Loop knows it can be a . . . well . . . um . . . rather slow experience at times, a the vehicle lurches from stoplight to stoplight, discharging and picking up passengers, and competing with cars, trucks, etc. for space on the crowded, traffic-choked streets. That’s why Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, is a great transit option on the verge of implementation in Chicago as a way to use the power of buses more efficiently to provide genuinely rapid options for people in the city’s famous central business district — and eventually, out into the neighborhoods where hundreds of thousands of people depend upon bus service to get to work, to school, etc.

Central Loop BRT route plan (source: Mark Byrnes / CityLab)

Central Loop BRT route plan (source: Mark Byrnes / CityLab)

Eric Jaffe’s fine article from 26 Feb 2015 on The Atlantic’s CityLab blog features an in-depth analysis of Chicago’s BRT plans, and includes extensive commentary by Roosevelt’s own Dr. Stephanie Farmer, a sociologist who studies urban systems and who has done detailed research on Chicago’s notoriously unfortunate parking deal by former Mayor Daley, who privatized the city’s parking meters a few years’ back for a windfall one-time fee of $1.15B that now looks extremely short-sighted. As Jaffe writes:

Farmer StephanieThere’s no way to sugarcoat Chicago’s terrible parking deal. For a one-time fee of $1.15 billion—most of it spent immediately filling budget deficits—Chicago leased its parking spaces, and the meter revenue that comes with them, to Morgan Stanley for the next 75 years. As bad as the deal seems at face value, sociologist Stephanie Farmer of Roosevelt University in Chicago recently found it’s even worse in the weeds. Especially its implications for transportation planning. And especially it’s implications for planning a BRT network.

Farmer outlines the corrosive ways that the deal might impact Chicago’s emerging bus plans in a 2014 paper in Environment and Planning A. Turns out Morgan Stanley built protections into the deal that limited its own risk. Some of these protections, known as “adverse action” clauses, prevent the city from disrupting the meters for any reason. If Chicago shuts down meters temporarily for a parade, for instance, or permanently for a bus lane, it triggers an automatic “adverse action” compensation.

That compensation can take two main forms: either the city must move meters to a comparably popular location, which takes time, or it must pay what are called “true-up” penalties, which takes cash. In some cases, the city has taken out bonds to meet true-up penalties, meaning it owes interest on them over time, too. Together, the compensation rules could “have the effect of ossifying a particular configuration of the urban built environment,” writes Farmer, as costs force planners to abandon projects entirely.

“You can imagine the more that we have to pay—not just the true-up penalties, but you can tack on the interest payments to pay for the true-up penalties—it squeezes more and more out of the budget what we could actually do in terms of building sustainable transportation on the roads,” she tells CityLab.

Farmer says BRT is the transit mode “most impacted by true-up revenue penalties,” because it needs so much space for dedicated lanes. She reports that some early Chicago BRT routes avoided adverse action payments because they found sites for replacement meters. But all the planners she spoke with felt that eventually the city will run out of alternative locations, leaving planners to pay true-up fees, target suboptimal corridors, or design poor systems. Here’s how one planner put it to her:

At the very least, the BRT planning process in Chicago just got a lot longer. Farmer reports that CTA conducted a “parking utilization analysis” for each potential BRT route, which required workers to drive up and down the corridors for a week, assess the meter situation, then find comparable meter sites. Ultimately, she writes, planners are in the unenviable position of worrying about Morgan Stanley’s well-being rather than that of Chicago commuters.

“All the planners I talked to, they all pretty much agreed that now, when they make plans, they have to consider how their plans are going to be impacted by the parking meters,” says Farmer. “So it’s one more layer of consideration. It’s not necessarily always going to be a barrier, but it will be another part of the process.”

Posted in cities, economics, faculty, Illinois, news, planning, policy, research, Roosevelt, transportation | Leave a comment

A Microscopic Internship of Macro Proportions: Emily Rhea Reports on Her SUST Internship Experience this Semester

This guest post is by RU junior Emily Rhea, a SUST major who is working as a science research intern on Prof. Michele Hoffman Trotter’s Microcosm film project this year. During the Spring 2015 semester, Emily reports on her experiences conducting experiments designed to simulate the acidification of the ocean, one of the profoundly worrisome impacts of global climate change on sea chemistry and, therefore, marine biodiversity. 

I began interning for the Microcosm film project with Michele Hoffman-Trotter in late November of last year. From the start it was decided that I would assist in scientific research pertaining to the study of the effects of ocean acidification on marine life and do occasional other research for the film. Now, we’re not even half way into spring semester, and I can hardly believe the advancements we’ve made.

Achievements in the experiment

RU student and SUST major Emily Rhea works in the chemistry lab at Columbia College on a Microcosm ocean acidification experiment, Nov. 2014 (photo: M. Hoffman)

RU student and SUST major Emily Rhea works in the chemistry lab at Columbia College on a Microcosm ocean acidification experiment, Nov. 2014 (photo: M. Hoffman)

We began with a basic acid-base titration experiment with a solution having a pH close to that of ocean water in order to gain some insight into the expected properties of the ocean water as well as to become comfortable with the experimental set up and run through. This initial “practice” run-through proved to be very important as there were factors causing the pH meter to jump and produce inconsistent results. It took us about three sessions to test for the possible causes and become comfortable with the accuracy of the pH meter.

Now, finally, we have compiled all of our data from the trials with the ocean-like substance (sodium bicarbonate) and are moving on to testing lab-made ocean water. This is very exciting for us as we now have a formal experimental protocol and are finally ready to really get started collecting the important data.

Another very exciting aspect of the experiment is that the wonderful Dr. Beatrix Budy, Associate Professor of Science at Columbia College Chicago, who helped to design this experiment and has been our guide along the way, is submitting a paper about the experiment to a scientific conference on education. In a very funny twist, the researchers, or “three undergrad interns” as the paper says, have become the study subject. If accepted, Michele and possibly Dr. Budy will travel to Hawai’i to present our findings in hopes that a version of the experiment can be used as a lab unit in classrooms around the country or possibly the world.

Achievements in new connections

Through the Microcosm film project I have made many new and exciting connections. As a result of partnership with the Shedd Aquarium, we were able to use advanced tools and technology for filming and capitalize on their incredible expertise to aid with our research. This has been a fantastic experience and has allowed us, especially the wide-eyed undergrad interns, to see and experience things that likely we would not have otherwise.

Sea TurtleMichele also shared the internship opportunity with Hawai’i Wildlife Fund on Maui with myself and Jenny Paddack, which we have both applied and been accepted for. We are very excited to be traveling to Maui this summer to work on Hawksbill Sea Turtle conservation.

Last weekend I attended and volunteered at the Our World Underwater conference with Michele and the Microcosm team. This was a great opportunity to meet others working in the field of oceanography and get further insight into what those who dive regularly are seeing happen to our ocean.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned since I began taking classes at Roosevelt, thanks to my wonderful teachers like Prof. Hoffman, is that following your dreams is a real and achievable option. Once you start working on something that you truly feel passionate about, connections are made and while there will be a few hang-ups, they do not compare to the number of events that just perfectly fall into place. I can’t wait to see where the rest of the semester and my internship with Microcosm take me and can’t imagine where my dreams might lead during the remainder of my time at Roosevelt.

Emily Rhea, submitted 27 Feb 2015

Posted in biodiversity, climate change, conservation, ecology, education, faculty, internships, pollution, Roosevelt, science, students, water | Leave a comment

Illinois Audubon Society and Joliet Park District Announce Major Expansion of an Urban Woodland

Green space is a premium in urban environments, and opportunities to expand existing high-quality parkland and natural areas come along all too infrequently. This week, the city of Joliet (pop. 148,000) learned that its famed urban forest in the East Side green space of Pilcher Park, long recognized as one of the highest quality extent woodlands in the Chicago Region, would be expanded in size significantly and begin the process of becoming a State Natural Area. This announcement from the IL Audubon Society provides the details of this important development.

Pilcher Park is known for its old-growth trees, high biodiversity among tree and understory species, rugged and beautiful woodland ravines, and brilliant native wildflowers. Despite the presence of some invasive garlic mustard, the park retains some of the highest biological quality woodland in the area, and is a frequent destination for plant scientists and botany class field trips.

A BioBlitz is planned for the park in June 2015 under the auspices of the IL Nature Preserves, the University of St. Francis, and possibly the Field Museum of Natural History, among other potential partners. The Park also includes an excellent Nature Center and provides year-round environmental and cultural programming for the community.

JOLIET, IL.  The Illinois Audubon Society today announced this past Tuesday, 24 Feb 2015, the acquisition of 80 acres adjacent to Joliet Park District’s Pilcher Park in Will County. With a generous $1.38 million dollar grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, the Society purchased the property for $1.9 million dollars.

The purchase price exceeds an all-time high in the Society’s history as a land trust. Pending the District’s receipt of an Illinois Department of Natural Resources Open Space Land Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) grant, the Society intends to sell the parcel to Joliet Park District (JPD) at a bargain-sale. Through its Natural Areas Program, the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation assists nonprofit organizations and local governments in acquiring important natural areas and wildlife habitat. Since its inception in 2002, the Foundation has provided over $55 million in grant awards for the protection of habitat at 148 sites located in counties throughout Illinois.

From left: Tom Clay, Executive Director, Illinois Audubon Society; Rita Renwick, Board of Directors and President, Will County Audubon Society; and Marlene & Al Lewis, part owners of the 80-acre tract (photo: IL Audubon Society)

From left: Tom Clay, Executive Director, Illinois Audubon Society; Rita Renwick, Board of Directors and President, Will County Audubon Society; and Marlene & Al Lewis, part owners of the 80-acre tract (photo: IL Audubon Society)

Illinois Audubon Executive Director Tom Clay said, “This acquisition is truly a future model for land protection. We are adding 80-acres of high-quality woodland and wetland communities to one of Joliet’s most beautiful city parks at a minimal cost to taxpayers.” Clay added, “At a time when state and local governments struggle to make ends meet, this transaction demonstrates that private and public organizations can work together in cost-effective ways to protect our most critical landscapes.”  Rita Renwick, President of Will County Audubon Society represented the local chapter of Illinois Audubon Society at the closing. Rita is also a member of the Illinois Audubon Society Board of Directors.

Joliet Park District Chief Executive Officer Dominic Egizio said the District plans to immediately begin working on the addition. “We will demolish existing structures, repair existing roads, address erosion in ravines, culverts and roadsides and align new trails for public use, connecting Pilcher Park to the added acreage,” Egizio said.

Hickory Creek, the southern border of Pilcher Park (photo: M. Bryson, Jan 2012)

Hickory Creek, the southern border of Pilcher Park (photo: M. Bryson, Jan 2012)

Pilcher Park and the surrounding tract offer an appealing mix of graceful ravines, lush bottomland forest and small winding streams. Harlow Higginbotham, an important figure in Chicago during the late nineteenth century, once owned Pilcher Park. Higginbotham was the president of Chicago’s extremely successful Columbian Exposition in 1893. In 1920, Higginbotham sold the parcel to Robert Pilcher, a businessman and self-taught naturalist, who eventually donated his acreage of virgin woodland to the City of Joliet with the stipulation that the land be left wild.

The 80-acre tract buffers Pilcher Park (413-acres) and is in immediate proximity to Highland Park (41-acres) and Higginbotham Woods (239-acres). Pilcher Park is a Category 1 Natural Area Inventory Site (INAI), meaning the site hosts documented high quality natural communities. Glen Marcum, President of Joliet Park District’s (JPD) Board of Commissioners said, “We have wanted to protect this Pilcher Park buffer for many years and today’s acquisition is cause for celebration.”

President Marcum and the remaining JPD Board of Directors, Vice-President Art Schultz, Commissioners Tim Broderick, Brett Gould and Sue Gulas, intend to seek Illinois Nature Preserve status for Pilcher Park.

Posted in biodiversity, cities, conservation, ecology, Illinois, news, parks and public land, science, suburbs, wildlife | Leave a comment

Conservation at Spring Valley: Melanie Blume Reports on Her SUST Internship Experience this Semester

Blume, MelanieThis is the 2nd guest post by RU senior Melanie Blume, a SUST major who is interning with conservation and education staff at the Spring Valley Nature Center and the Volkening Heritage Farm near Roosevelt’s campus in Schaumburg IL. These excellent facilities are part of the 135-acre Spring Valley Conservation Area, the largest and most ecologically significant green space with the Village of Schaumburg limits, and are managed by the Schaumburg Park District. 

During the Spring 2015 semester, Melanie reflects on her work at Spring Valley on prairie conservation, seed propagation, invasive species identification and removal at the Nature Center; as well as on garden preparation, planting of their extensive vegetable garden, and contributing to Farm to Table programs with a focus on local food production at the Volkening Farm.

Blog 2 greenhouseA couple of weeks ago during my internship at the Spring Valley Nature Center, I worked in a large greenhouse with a system that regularly sprinkles water and keeps the temperature and humidity at a steady tropical level in contrast to the frigid temperatures outdoors (pictured at left). There are countless shelves lined with trays of various plants at various life stages (illustrated below). These collected plants are ultimately replanted, which saves the conservation crew a substantial bit of money.

I spent about four hours in the greenhouse on Wednesday of that week transplanting native columbine and sedges (sedges are similar to grasses but have three edges instead of two). From one crowded tray of little sedge seedlings I made about 3 trays of healthy plants that we will plant in spring. This will help to increase regeneration of native plants and grasses within the Spring Valley ecosystem. With exotic plants like buckthorn, wild locust, and Creeping Charlie, native plants like sedges, grasses, and wildflowers are at a disadvantage in their once mastered ecosystem, which is why conservation efforts like this are critical to restoring the forests and prairies to their natural form.

Blume Blog 2 seedlings

Matt McBrien, who is in charge of conservation at Spring Valley, explained that what they do is called stratification. This means mimicking in the greenhouse what happens in nature. Typically seeds should be stored in wet and moist conditions for an average of two months. This process simulates the winter season that helps break down the seeds outer coating. In a separate green house that is not heated there are bags upon bags of collected seeds from native plants. They use brown shopping bags for some so they can dry out a bit, and Ziploc bags for others. After that we propagate them into hearty plants that we can transplant in the spring. In areas with a lot of soil erosion, planting native grasses can prevent further erosion and help restore the ecosystem.

Before nonnative plants and insects made their way into our forests’ ecology, the ecosystem was able to sustain itself balanced naturally by years of evolution. That is why these seed trays don’t need to be sterilized like we did when preparing the vegetable seedling trays at the farm. Native grasses and other plants have acquired natural defenses to protect them against common pests. The native species have been adapting to coexist with the other native plants and organisms for centuries. This is also why the introduction of plants like buckthorn or black locust can bring a forest to its end after thriving for hundreds of years

Settling Europeans used rows of buckthorn bushes as impenetrable fences meant to outline their property. But using buckthorn had unforeseen consequences that we are still battling today. These plants procreate profusely by having seeds in every part of the plant — they’re even lined up in the stems and twigs that snap off constantly. They are easily carried by the wind or picked up by a passerby. Nonnative buckthorn fills in forests making them impossible to walk through as inhabitants once could. A part of me wonders if this is nature’s way of protecting its forests from the people who change the forest ecology anyways. Buckthorn gets its leaves earlier than many of the native plants and keeps them longer in the fall, for this reason it can outcompete native wildflowers and grasses.

The ongoing effort to restore and maintain a native ecosystem requires a combination of strategies including seed propagation and removal of nonnative species. In addition, semi-annual burnings in grassy areas with hard woods is supremely beneficial to ridding the area of exotic pests and plants. The native grasses have extensive roots that allow the grasses to grow back up through the ashy fertilizer. In areas with soft wood trees like willows and pines, a prescribed burn would cause more damage than good. Some of the native hard wood trees are maples and oaks.

Spring Valley has 135 acres of land to work with and the conservation work does not go unnoticed. Spring Valley is a true gem that represents what Schaumburg’s landscape looked like only a century ago.

Melanie Blume, submitted 15 Feb 2015

Posted in biodiversity, conservation, ecology, education, history, Illinois, internships, parks and public land, restoration, Roosevelt, science, service, students, suburbs | Leave a comment

RU Community Garden Plans for Its Upcoming Growing Season in Schaumburg

RUrbanPioneers Community Garden at Roosevelt's Schaumburg Campus, Summer 2013 (M. Radeck)

RUrbanPioneers Community Garden at Roosevelt’s Schaumburg Campus, Summer 2013 (M. Radeck)

Roosevelt University’s Physical Resources Department is coordinating the Schaumburg campus’ RUrbanPioneer Community Garden for the 2015 growing season. This is the garden’s fourth year and its leadership team, led by senior SUST major and Environmental Sustainability Associate Mary Rasic, is excited to get started.

All members of the Roosevelt community who are interested in access to fresh, organic produce are welcome to participate. Garden members tend their own plots and participate in community tasks from early spring through November.

The RU community garden in 2014 (M. Rasic)

The RU community garden in 2014 (M. Rasic)

Last year, the garden team installed a drip irrigation system making each plot customizable to suit individual gardeners’ needs. They continue to learn and experiment with procedures, techniques, and equipment to make for a sustainable gardening. Each year the garden has produced fresh veggies and herbs for the Schaumburg Campus dining center, and gardeners have donated many pounds of produce to local food pantries in the Schaumburg area.

If you have any questions or would like to reserve your plot(s), please email Mary Rasic at and she will be happy to assist you. We think you can tell by the photo below that a good time is pretty much guaranteed!

Mary Rasic and Kevin Markowski work in the RU community garden, summer 2014

Mary Rasic and Kevin Markowski work in the RU community garden, summer 2014; cool sunglasses are always a plus.

Posted in agriculture, education, food, Roosevelt, suburbs | Leave a comment

RU Forum on Uses and Abuses of TIF at Chicago Campus on Feb 18th

Roosevelt University will host a forum on the uses and abuses of Tax Increment Financing in Chicago from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 18 in room 418 of the University’s Wabash Building, 425 South Wabash Ave., Chicago.

During the forum, Tom Tresser of the TIF Illumination Project will present new findings on the use of TIFs in Chicago’s 42nd ward where Roosevelt University and other Loop properties are located. To investigate and explain the impact of TIFs on a ward-by-ward basis, Tresser’s research is expected to trace the trajectory of approximately $422 million in Chicago property taxes that have been diverted for TIF use in 2013.

Co-sponsored by Roosevelt’s Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation and the Department of Sociology, the event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Leon Bailey, associate professor at the Department of Sociology at 312-341-3836

Posted in activities, cities, economics, ethics, Illinois, planning, policy, Roosevelt, social justice

Trail Development Proposal for Ladd Arboretum in Evanston To Be Discussed on Feb 17th

Ladd Arboretum (City of Evanston)

Ladd Arboretum (City of Evanston)

The City of Evanston will host a community workshop on Tuesday, February 17, 6 8 p.m., to discuss the proposed changes to trails in the Ladd Arboretum, a 17-acre nature preserve on the north side of Evanston. The workshop will be held in the Parasol Room (4th floor) of the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave.

At issue is the proposed trail redevelopment by the City of Evanston and whether or not the existing trails in the arboretum should be paved. According to the project’s critics, the changes proposed by the city will impact the look and feel of this unique, natural resource. Under the current proposal, the project would rebuild the multi-use trail, currently made of gravel, with a paved pathway. As noted by an email communication from Nature’s Perspective Landscaping, “the impact of the pathway will be detrimental to a number of old growth trees and disturb well-established wildlife habitats. The conversion of these paths to paved concrete or asphalt is not only unnecessary and costly, but against what the Arboretum stands for: preservation of nature, not man-made convenience.” On the other hand, Evanston officials have noted for several years that the trails drain poorly and are in need of some kind of significant improvement.

The questions at hand are ones that affect many urban and suburban parklands in periods of transition or what it sometimes called “redevelopment” — how natural should the landscaping be? how should we balance aesthetics with accessibility?

Posted in events, parks and public land, planning, suburbs