WBEZ | M(apps) & Data http://www.wbez.org/tags/mapps-data Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Why buses arrive in bunches http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/why-buses-arrive-bunches-110941 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/172338843&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>It&rsquo;s a situation that plays out every day in Chicago. Riders show up at a bus stop, and the bus doesn&#39;t show up on time. Then all at once, two appear together.</p><p>The phenomenon is called bus bunching. Corrin Pitluck noticed it often while riding and driving around Chicago, so she put this question to Curious City:</p><p><em>I&rsquo;m interested to know about the urban physics involved in bus bunching, how it happens. I&rsquo;d also like to get drivers&rsquo; perspectives on how they feel about it and how they deal with it and what tools they have to unbunch their buses.</em></p><p>Most CTA bus riders have been frustrated by bunching at least once, but it&rsquo;s not just a problem for them. Bunching is a symptom of a bus system that&rsquo;s not running efficiently, and that creates more street traffic for everyone: bus riders, car drivers and bikers, too.</p><p>And don&rsquo;t be fooled that bunching is simple to combat. Not only is the problem practically inevitable, short-term fixes can sometimes make bus riders feel worse.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">A typical scenario</span></p><p>We watched bus bunching play out on a recent weekday morning at the 66 Chicago bus stop at Chicago and Milwaukee avenues.</p><p>Passengers getting off the Blue Line at Chicago waited for buses downtown, while bus riders worked to get off and board the &ldquo;L.&rdquo; Both groups converged at the bus stop, leaving bus drivers to wait while each got where they were headed.</p><p>Meanwhile, three 66 Chicago buses all rolled east down Chicago toward the stop together.</p><p>&ldquo;Oh, don&rsquo;t get me started,&rdquo; Matt Zachar said while waiting for a bus to arrive. &ldquo;It is inconceivable. I don&rsquo;t understand why one can&rsquo;t just wait and be on schedule like he&rsquo;s supposed to.&rdquo;</p><p>Many riders feel just like Zachar, unable to figure out how two, three or more buses can even be in the same place at once. Bus bunching is ninth on the Chicago Transit Authority complaint list, the subject of around 2 percent of all calls. It seems like there should be something the Chicago Transit Authority can do to keep the buses on schedule.</p><p>That&rsquo;s not always the case, though, according to University of Chicago Professor Donald Eisenstein.</p><p>Eisenstein studies self-organizing systems, like workers in a production line. As a system, buses by design are set up to buch.</p><p>&ldquo;A bus system by nature has bad dynamics,&rdquo; Eisenstein said. &ldquo;Left on its own, buses will bunch.&rdquo;</p><p>Big gaps between buses, he said, will get bigger, while small gaps will shrink. This reality makes it almost impossible to eliminate bunching on a route unless there&rsquo;s a lot of time between buses.</p><p>&ldquo;Zero isn&rsquo;t a possibility,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;The natural dynamics fight against you. I don&rsquo;t think you&rsquo;ll ever get zero bus bunching, so your goal is to reduce it as much as possible.&rdquo;</p><p><a name="slideshow"></a><iframe frameborder="0" height="450" scrolling="no" src="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/bus-bunching" width="620"></iframe></p><p><em><a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/bus-bunching/">Click here for a full screen and shareable version</a>&nbsp;</em></p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">&#39;At the mercy of the street&#39;</span></p><p>Mike Connelly, the CTA&rsquo;s vice president of planning, said bus bunching isn&rsquo;t a major issue for the agency. According to CTA performance metrics, only around 3 percent of bus trips experience bunching, which the agency defines as a gap of less than 60 seconds between buses at a stop.</p><p>Of course that percentage is greater during morning and evening commutes, as well as along the busiest routes. Still, for Connelly, bus bunching is a smaller part of making sure the buses are on time and consistent.</p><p>&ldquo;Though everyone may be affected at some point, we feel that it&rsquo;s something we work at and that we have a very high standard for [being] unbunched,&rdquo; Connelly said.<a name="routes"></a></p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="320" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" src="http://cf.datawrapper.de/Z5XAO/2/" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="620"></iframe></p><p>The main way the CTA tries to combat bunching is scheduling. Each bus is equipped with a GPS tracker, and four times a year the CTA analyses the data to see if there&rsquo;s a more efficient way to run the buses.</p><p>Next, buses are monitored and controlled at key spots on the route, called terminal points. A street supervisor can speed up or hold a bus back to make sure it leaves that point on time and with enough space between it and the bus in front.</p><p>From there, &ldquo;we&rsquo;re at the mercy of the street,&rdquo; Connelly said. There are a few go-to methods, but each comes with a cost: financial costs to the CTA or potential to frustrate bus riders.</p><blockquote><p><a href="#slideshow"><strong>Check out our visual explanation of bus bunching to learn more about how CTA tries to stop bunches</strong></a></p></blockquote><p><span style="font-size:22px;">A driver&rsquo;s view</span></p><p>The CTA&rsquo;s job is complicated by us, the riders, who need to go to a specific point and in a predictable way, so buses can&rsquo;t always go the fastest or easiest way possible.</p><p>&ldquo;For us, the bottom line is that we carry people, so the people have to be our bottom-line,&rdquo; Connelly said. &ldquo;If we were UPS, where you load the boxes and we go, we could make a choice not to deliver down this street at 9 a.m., because there is something going on this street and we could come back at 2 in the afternoon. That&rsquo;s not our choice. Our choice is that there are people waiting at the stop and we&rsquo;re going to go pick them up.&rdquo;</p><p>While bunching can be an annoyance for riders, it&rsquo;s even more stressful for the drivers themselves.</p><p>Michael Toomey is an 11-year CTA veteran and current bus operator on the 77 Belmont route. He said the main thing he wished customers understood was how the smallest disturbances on the street can lead to big delays on his route.</p><p>&ldquo;[It&rsquo;s] minor factors most people wouldn&rsquo;t notice, like a double parked car that I get stuck behind and the bus behind me comes straight through,&rdquo; Toomey said. &ldquo;So if I become two minutes late on a route that runs every four minutes, that&rsquo;s the same as being 15 minutes late on a route that runs every 30 minutes. I get more stress knowing I&rsquo;m two minutes behind schedule and the next bus is scheduled four minutes back, which means I&rsquo;ve got twice as many people to pick up.&rdquo;</p><p>Drivers can do a few things on their own to stop bus bunching, such as leapfrogging the driver in front of them or skipping unneeded stops. On larger problems they coordinate moves with the control center and street supervisors.</p><p>&ldquo;If I see my coworker in front of me, he has a standing load, I pull up and say &lsquo;Come on, you guys. I&rsquo;ve got room&rsquo; and we work together,&rdquo; Toomey said.</p><p>Though Toomey can spot many bunches starting &mdash; he knows how much time an extra load from the Belmont &lsquo;L&rsquo; stop will add, for example &mdash; he sometimes gets as mystified as riders.</p><p>&ldquo;Some days it&rsquo;s wide open, the next it&rsquo;s bumper to bumper stopped,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s something we as operators ask, too. We&rsquo;re throwing our hands up, expecting something major, and there&rsquo;s not.&rdquo;</p><p>Toomey said he wished customers could see the bunching and delays from his eyes, as a problem they share.</p><p>&ldquo;I rode the bus for years, so I&rsquo;ve seen both sides,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I wish more people had the opportunities to experience it firsthand, because if people could actually see what was happening behind the scenes they&rsquo;d be more understanding.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Now we have an answer. Who asked the question?</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/corrinpitluck.jpg" style="height: 201px; width: 280px; float: left;" title="Corrin Pitluck asked Curious City about how bus bunching works. (Chris Hagan/WBEZ)" />Our question-asker, Corrin Pitluck, takes a lot of trips from her Logan Square home with her kids, heading to school or visiting friends. Both as a CTA bus rider and a car driver, she&rsquo;s been fascinated by bus bunching.</p><p>&ldquo;I might be waiting for a bus and it&rsquo;s clear two buses are coming up, or might be driving and making a right turn and trying to be a good citizen and not turn in front of a bus, but waiting back there a ways behind a queue of buses,&rdquo; Pitluck said.</p><p>Growing up in New Jersey and Southern California, she&rsquo;s seen lots of different types of public transportation, and she&rsquo;s seen how easy it is for a bunch to form.</p><p>&ldquo;I have wondered and shook my fist at this bunching problem for decades now.&rdquo;</p><p>We love that she took this empathic element so seriously. It prompted us to speak with driver Michael Toomey and convey the gist to her.</p><p>She was just as shocked as we were when Toomey told a story of a seven-bus bunch he was involved in early in his career at the intersection of Cicero and Chicago. Utility work and an accident shut down all but one lane, and it took him more than a half hour to go one block.</p><p>&ldquo;Oh my gosh, that&rsquo;s unbelievable!&rdquo; Pitluck said.</p><p>Pitluck said the experience helped her understand the position of drivers and the difficulties they face on the road.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a lot that&rsquo;s out of their hands,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;They have some tools but they&rsquo;re kind of limited in dealing with this ... that buses bunch.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Chris Hagan is a web producer and data reporter at WBEZ. Find him on twitter </em><a href="https://twitter.com/chrishagan"><em>@chrishagan</em></a><em>.</em></p></p> Wed, 15 Oct 2014 15:10:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/why-buses-arrive-bunches-110941 How home appraisals are calculated http://www.wbez.org/news/how-home-appraisals-are-calculated-110910 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/diningroom.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>WBEZ&rsquo;s been looking at why some Chicago neighborhoods aren&rsquo;t recovering as quickly as others in this post bubble market. <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/neighborhood-value-challenge-housing-recovery-110530">As we reported over the summer</a>, part of the measure of a neighborhood is the value -- or appraisal -- of the property there.</p><p>So exactly how is that value measured? I tagged along with an appraiser to find out.</p><p>&ldquo;What is the home consisting of? How many bedrooms, how many bathrooms? What&rsquo;s the floor plan? What&rsquo; the quality of the interior,&rdquo; said Michael Hobbs, president of PahRoo Appraisal and Consultancy. &ldquo;Then, how does that as a package go together and how does that compete with others in proximity.&rdquo;</p><p>He said it&rsquo;s not just about walking through a house. It&rsquo;s also hours of research and looking at comparable properties in the area.</p><p>One of the properties we looked at was a bungalow in the city&rsquo;s Albany Park neighborhood. It was originally listed at $329,900.</p><p>Before we even stepped inside the house, Hobbs sized up the neighborhood to see how this house fits in. The block had a mix of single-family homes and two flat rentals.</p><p>&ldquo;If you look around you can see there&rsquo;s a couple frame properties on the block, a few stucco, but most of them are brick,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Hobbs also took note of recent tuck pointing work, updated windows and gutters.</p><p>A placard on the front door notes home&rsquo;s historic bungalow designation.</p><p>&ldquo;The first thing we notice as we walk in is the original wood work that&rsquo;s still here, from the flooring to the doors,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Some other original features include vintage brass handles and a certain crown molding common in the early 1900s when the home was built.</p><p>Hobbs took note that the sellers made efforts to preserve these touches to maintain the bungalow&rsquo;s historic status.</p><p>He made note to research what the demand is for vintage properties in this micro market.</p><p>The kitchen also has a retro look.</p><p>&ldquo;This is quite typical for the age. You can see the metal sink, original metal cabinetry,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>It&rsquo;s flanked with yellow tile backsplash and a green and blue tile floor. Behind us is a breakfast nook right out of a 50s diner.</p><p>&ldquo;We measure the perimeter of the home. We&rsquo;ll start in one corner and literally measure our way around the property. We make a full floor plan and sketch, and what we&rsquo;re noting here as we&rsquo;re walking through is that this home has 3 bedrooms on the first floor and a bathroom,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>The homeowners could&rsquo;ve paid for updates, but Hobbs said that cost wouldn&rsquo;t necessarily result in a higher market value.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s almost no home improvement project that returns 100 percent of the cost to the actual owner. And that&rsquo;s an important clarification for a lot of people. Just because you spent $50,000 doesn&rsquo;t necessarily mean you&rsquo;re going to get $50,000 back,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>The home has a large unfinished basement that&rsquo;s mostly dingy, storage space. But it also includes a finished portion with wood paneling--think VFW hall. Hobbs also made note of the water heater and boiler, not to inspect them, but to make note the home has them.</p><p>In the backyard, there&rsquo;s no lawn or garage, but there&rsquo;s a concrete patio and enclosed parking pad.</p><p>&ldquo;The first thing I see is how much shorter the neighboring homes are,&rdquo; Hobbs said.</p><p>He points out the home&rsquo;s larger back end and wider lot than those nearby.</p><p>Back inside, the second level of the home opens up into a large red room with white trim and built in shelves, reminiscent of an old classroom.</p><p>&ldquo;As we can see based on the plywood on the floor and the wear on it, this has been here for an awfully long time,&rdquo; Hobbs said.</p><p>For home buyers looking to get a mortgage loan, banks often require an appraisal.</p><p>Regulation post housing crisis is set up to safeguard against collusion between appraisers and bankers, a problem in the past. So now a third party, an appraisal management company assigns the jobs.</p><p>Hobbs said that&rsquo;s sped up the closing of the home deals, which is good for buyers and sellers, but can limit an appraiser&rsquo;s time for thorough market research.</p><p>&ldquo;So we have to make some assumptions. And therefore we end up completing reports in a shorter amount of time and with maybe less of the information we more traditionally would have had because the push is faster, faster, faster,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Hobbs said people often criticize appraisers for the short time they spend looking at a property.</p><p>&ldquo;You were only in my home for 30 minutes or 45 minutes or an hour, how do you know how much it&rsquo;s worth? I&rsquo;m like, we got to go do research,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>That means looking at comparisons or comps nearby. How dissimilar are they and how much might those features change the value of the home we&rsquo;re appraising?</p><p>&ldquo;So it&rsquo;s a matter of both looking back in terms of what has closed. Looking laterally&hellip;buyer activity has chosen that home instead of this one. And then what&rsquo;s active. What&rsquo;s ahead of us in the form of what this buyer looks at as alternatives,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Appraisers get the buyer/seller contract before viewing the property. Hobbs said the appraisal and contract price often end up being the same. He said that doesn&rsquo;t necessarily mean the appraiser was influenced by the offer price.&nbsp; Rather, buyers and sellers have more access to information to make a more informed valuation for themselves.</p><p>&ldquo;Really the appraiser is coming along and documenting the activities of typical buyers and sellers to really confirm that one person isn&rsquo;t way out there,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Here&rsquo;s your chance to make an appraisal.</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="3600" scrolling="no" src="https://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/WBEZ-Graphics/AppraisalQuiz/index.html" width="620"></iframe></p></p> Tue, 07 Oct 2014 21:26:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/how-home-appraisals-are-calculated-110910 Uptown Theater: How could it be repurposed? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/uptown-theater-how-could-it-be-repurposed-110707 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/uptown thumbnail.png" alt="" /><p></p> Tue, 26 Aug 2014 18:17:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/uptown-theater-how-could-it-be-repurposed-110707 Chicago's shifting grocery landscape mirrors changing city economics http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/chicagos-shifting-grocery-landscape-mirrors-changing-city-economics-110695 <p><p>Once upon a time Jewel and Dominick&rsquo;s ruled the grocery game in Chicago with more stores than any other chain.</p><p>Now, Jewel, under its third new owner in 14 years, is facing stiff competition. And Dominick&rsquo;s? It doesn&rsquo;t exist anymore.</p><p>Today the most ubiquitous chain is a discount grocer that actually grew during the recent recession, attracting everyone from traditional discount shoppers to hipsters to middle-class families.</p><p>Aldi.</p><p>With 36 stores in Chicago alone, we wanted to understand what this says about Chicago&rsquo;s changing grocery store landscape and the shoppers who fill their carts.</p><p>To see what goes into Aldi&rsquo;s &ldquo;secret sauce,&rdquo; we took a trip to the chain&rsquo;s U.S. headquarters in west suburban Batavia.</p><p>Officials led us into a huge white industrial kitchen with tables full of various products. Aldi&rsquo;s main ingredient for success is its use of mostly in-house labels to keep prices down. No Betty Crocker or Cheerios here. But that only works if customers think those brands hold up to the national brands.</p><p>Like their national buyers do, we conducted blind taste testing with national brands and the Aldi brands. We sipped orange juice and Riesling, munched on blueberry muffins and party cheese, sampled yogurt and guacamole. In most instances, we could barely detect a difference between the national brand and Aldi&rsquo;s. Except of course, in price. The Aldi brand orange juice we tried cost 32 percent less.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/alditestkitchen.jpg" title="Aldi's test kitchen in the west suburb of Batavia. (WBEZ/Monica Eng)" /></div><p>The grocery business is super competitive. Profit margins are in the low single digits. So Aldi&rsquo;s other recipe for keeping costs down can be found in the stores themselves. Aldi stores occupy a smaller footprint than other big supermarket chains. You might almost miss it if you&rsquo;re driving by.</p><p>There&rsquo;s no music, no frills. Customers pay a deposit to use the shopping carts. Grocery bags aren&rsquo;t free. Everything is calibrated to be as efficient as possible.</p><p>&ldquo;For example when we look at the product in the store, you can notice it&rsquo;s all stocked in cases. If I didn&rsquo;t point that out, you may not notice it,&rdquo; said Aldi vice president Scott Patton.</p><p>&ldquo;They match the label of the product. They&rsquo;re the same color scheme. It has the brand on it. So we&rsquo;ve made the case and the box an extension of the product, which we can now stock eight to ten units of potato chips in two or three seconds versus unit by unit.&rdquo;</p><p>The rise of a low-end grocer like Aldi isn&rsquo;t the only trend worth noting. More upscale chains like Whole Foods have also seen serious growth. In 2001, there were three in Chicago. Today there are six. And that doesn&rsquo;t include the former Dominick&rsquo;s spaces the organic chain is snapping up.</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="400" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" src="http://cf.datawrapper.de/tOq67/1/" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="620"></iframe></p><p>We looked at the data for major Chicago grocery stores since 2001. In addition to Aldi and Whole Foods we tracked the numbers for Jewel, Trader Joe&rsquo;s, Mariano&rsquo;s, Pete&rsquo;s, Tony&rsquo;s, Save a Lot, and Food for Less.</p><blockquote><p><a href="#map"><strong><span style="font-size:16px;">Map: Tracking Chicago&#39;s shifting grocery stores</span></strong></a></p></blockquote><p>Ken Perkins, an analyst for Morningstar, said in some ways changes in the industry reflect changes in the city.</p><p>&ldquo;As the economy has really been difficult you&rsquo;ve seen people on the low end shift to discounters and a lot of people who are willing to pay for premium for in store experience and quality food. I think that polarization is what you&rsquo;ve seen not only in Chicago but across the country,&rdquo; Perkins said.</p><p>University of Illinois at Chicago researchers <a href="http://voorheescenter.wix.com/home#!neighborhood-change-project-/cjew">found much the same thing when they looked at income gaps in Chicago</a>. Higher-income households have increased -- so have lower-income households. But those in the middle have shrunk. Not unlike Jewel and Dominick&#39;s, the middle-of-the-road grocers that served them.</p><p>Food and retail researcher Mari Gallagher has a few theories about what happened to those grocers.</p><p>&ldquo;It used to be that the middle-market was about 30,000 sq ft. It was pretty ubiquitous in different neighborhoods. It might look a little different in Lake Forest than in it did in Roseland, a Chicago neighborhood for example. But it pretty much offered the same kind of cookie cutter thing and then stores got much bigger and as stores got bigger they tried to go a little bit upscale and they struggled with are we an upscale bigger store or are we a middle-market store. So they lost a bit of their identity,&rdquo; Gallagher said.</p><p>She also noted other players have grabbed a big chunk of the grocery business, such as gas stations, mini marts, dollar stores and big-box retailers like Walmart and Costco.</p><p>But customer taste has changed, too. Organic is more popular and, for some, pushing a cart around a grocery store became more of an experience than a chore.</p><p>&ldquo;We see more and more customers now even those customers with means shopping at multiple stores,&rdquo; Gallagher said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not so uncommon for thrifty shopper to go to Aldi or Save A Lot for staples or key items and then go to speciality stores or high-end stores for organic produce. They might go to Whole Foods and Aldi&rsquo;s and two or three other stores.&rdquo;</p><p>Increasingly, that includes Mariano&rsquo;s. The fast-growing chain appears to be reinventing the middle-market grocery store. The stores aren&rsquo;t super premium, but there&rsquo;s also a focus on hospitality. The workers wear black ties, there&rsquo;s a wine bar, and on the weekends somebody playing a grand piano.</p><p>It&rsquo;s CEO, Bob Mariano, once worked for Dominick&rsquo;s. In fact, old man Dominick was his mentor. Company officials declined an interview on its strategy, but a few months ago the CEO spoke at a press conference to announce that a Mariano&rsquo;s was coming to Bronzeville. That neighborhood is a food desert and residents were excited by the idea of having a real grocery store.</p><p>After a round of applause, Mariano said: &ldquo;That&rsquo;s a lot of pressure because I&rsquo;m just a grocer. People sometimes ask me what do I do for pleasure, what&rsquo;s my hobbies? I tell them I don&rsquo;t golf, I don&rsquo;t sail. I just open grocery stores.&rdquo;</p><p>Three years ago there were no Mariano&rsquo;s in the city. Today there are 10 with more opening up all the time.</p><p>In Chicago today there are more grocery stores overall than there were a decade ago. But not everyone is sharing in this abundance. There are still large parts of the South and West Sides that are left out.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/why-does-south-shore-still-not-have-grocery-store-110699">Part two of our series The Check-Out Line</a>, will explore whether race plays a role in determining where grocery stores are built.</em></p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Map: Tracking Chicago&#39;s shifting grocery stores<a name="map"></a></span></p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="660" scrolling="no" src="http://interactive.wbez.org/checkout-line/" width="620"></iframe></p><p><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the&nbsp;</em><strong><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/content/chewing-fat-podcast-louisa-chu-and-monica-eng">Chewing the Fat</a></em></strong><em>&nbsp;podcast. Follow Monica at&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/monicaeng">@monicaeng</a></em>&nbsp;<em>or write to her at&nbsp;<a href="mailto:meng@wbez.org">meng@wbez.org</a></em></p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/nmoore-0">Natalie Moore</a></em>&nbsp;<em>is WBEZ&rsquo;s South Side bureau reporter.</em>&nbsp;<em><a href="mailto:nmoore@wbez.org">nmoore@wbez.org</a> Follow Natalie on</em>&nbsp;<em><a href="https://plus.google.com/104033432051539426343">Google+</a>, &nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/natalieymoore">Twitter</a></em></p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="450" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/playlists/48706770&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;visual=true" width="100%"></iframe></p></p> Mon, 25 Aug 2014 07:58:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/chicagos-shifting-grocery-landscape-mirrors-changing-city-economics-110695 More Chicago kids say 'no' to their neighborhood grammar school http://www.wbez.org/news/education/more-chicago-kids-say-no-their-neighborhood-grammar-school-110604 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/schools/neighborhoods"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Neighborhood-Schools-Map.jpg" style="height: 493px; width: 620px;" title="Fewer kids are choosing to attend their neighborhood grammar school. The maps show all Chicago grammar schools in 2001 and 2014. Green dots are neighborhood schools—the darker the green, the greater the percentage of children from the attendance area who choose to attend. Red dots are schools that draw from the entire city and admit students based on lottery or testing." /></a></div></div><p>Dismissal from Marsh elementary on Chicago&rsquo;s Southeast Side is a quintessential American scene. The bell rings, kids pour from the school and down the neighborhood&rsquo;s streets, swinging backpacks and asking moms like Toni Gonzalez for ice cream.</p><p>&ldquo;This school is a hidden treasure,&rdquo; Gonzalez said as she waited among dozens of moms and dads for her kids to emerge from Marsh on one of the last days of school, in June. &ldquo;Very tight community, very well organized school. I actually work in the area too, so I&rsquo;m using my lunch hour to pop over and pick the kids up.&rdquo;</p><p>Marsh is a classic neighborhood school. Ninety-four percent of the Chicago Public Schools students in Marsh&rsquo;s attendance boundary are enrolled here, and that&rsquo;s despite an explosion in families&rsquo; options &mdash; many more charter schools, gifted or magnet schools to choose from. Kids can even go to other neighborhood schools; while the district once insisted that a child live in the attendance boundary to enroll in a neighborhood school, that rule has been relaxed.</p><p>But numbers obtained by WBEZ show that most neighborhood grammar schools are moving in a very different direction from Marsh.</p><p>In 2000, 74 percent of Chicago&rsquo;s elementary kids went to their assigned neighborhood grammar school. Today, just 62 percent do&mdash;and that number is falling.</p><blockquote><p><a href="#chart"><strong>CHART</strong>: Community buy-in for neighborhood grammar schools</a></p></blockquote><p>The figures show how much the system shifted over the decade that included <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/news/education/100th-school-renaissance-2010-brings-out-hopes-criticism">Renaissance 2010</a>, a program that gained national attention by opening dozens of new grammar schools and closing dozens of neighborhood schools deemed low-performing or under-enrolled. And they show that under expanded school choice, the relationship between the &ldquo;City of Neighborhoods&rdquo; and its neighborhood elementary schools is undergoing a sea change, reshaping the school system and the city&rsquo;s culture.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Neighborhood-Schools--Washington-Irving.jpg" title="Washington Irving is a neighborhood school in name only. Most CPS kids in the Irving boundary choose other schools. Because nearby kids don’t enroll, there is space for others; 80 percent of Irving students are from outside the boundary. (WBEZ/Linda Lutton)" /></div></div><p><strong>Idyllic neighborhood, ignored neighborhood school</strong></p><p>Take Washington Irving in the Tri-Taylor neighborhood. The picturesque grammar school at the heart of this picturesque neighborhood is largely ignored by the families who live here.</p><p>In the 2000-01 school year, 69 percent of CPS kids from the community went to Irving. Last school year, just 46 percent of CPS kids in Irving&rsquo;s boundary were enrolled there &mdash; others were at CPS magnet schools, gifted schools, charter schools, or other neighborhood schools (still others were at private schools; those students aren&rsquo;t captured in these numbers).</p><p>Since 2000, as Chicago has expanded school choice, 221 of the city&rsquo;s 368 neighborhood grammar schools have also seen double digit drops in the proportion of kids from their boundaries who choose to attend.</p><p>&ldquo;Neighborhood schools in the traditional and historical sense are under pressure, and more in some places than others,&rdquo; says Jeffrey Henig, who studies the politics of education reform at Teachers College in New York City.</p><p>While the neighborhood school is still a strong concept in suburban America, it&rsquo;s taken a &ldquo;body blow&rdquo; in cities like Chicago that are trying to improve their school systems through school choice, Henig says. But he notes this isn&rsquo;t the first time; desegregation efforts chipped away decades ago at the neighborhood schools concept in big cities. In Chicago, that&rsquo;s how magnet schools were born.</p><p>The district is trying to make where kids go to school be less about their address, and more about the type of school parents choose. It&rsquo;s also trying to free families from low performing schools.</p><p>Tri-Taylor resident Kim Escamilla is not nostalgic for the neighborhood school.</p><p>&ldquo;I like how he&rsquo;s doing in school, so if I have to drive I&rsquo;ll drive,&rdquo; says Escamilla, who brings her son to Rowe Charter School on the Near Northwest Side. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;We like it for him,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;They&rsquo;re strict, keep him on point, and that&rsquo;s what he needs as a young boy.&rdquo;</p><p>Escamilla recently moved to Tri-Taylor. But the friends her son has made on the block scatter for school.</p><p>&ldquo;None of them go to Irving, down the street,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>Of course, if you peer into any school, there are issues are at play beyond the district&rsquo;s expansion of school choice. <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/news/education/diverse-neighborhoods-segregated-schools">Race, class, neighborhood change</a>, an exceptional principal or a terrible one &mdash; all can affect whether nearby kids choose to attend. But overall, there are 73,000 fewer Chicago kids attending their neighborhood school today than in 2000.</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="180" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" src="http://cf.datawrapper.de/5H5xE/3/" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="620"></iframe></p><p><strong>Getting out of the &lsquo;neighborhood schools business&rsquo;</strong></p><p><a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/schools/neighborhoods">WBEZ made a map</a> that shows how Chicago&rsquo;s ties to its neighborhood schools have weakened as the city has expanded school choice. The map plots out the 100 new elementary schools Chicago has opened since 2000 &mdash; nearly all citywide admissions schools, where kids apply and a lottery lets them in. And it shows 102 school closures&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;nearly all of them neighborhood schools with community attendance boundaries and guaranteed admission for kids there.</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="760" scrolling="no" src="http://interactive.wbez.org/schools/neighborhoods/" width="620"></iframe></p><p>&ldquo;This speaks to what we&rsquo;ve been saying, that Chicago Public Schools is getting out of the neighborhood schools business,&rdquo; says Jitu Brown, an organizer with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization who has argued that district budget cuts and school closings have undermined neighborhood schools.</p><p>&ldquo;Parents aren&rsquo;t voting with their feet,&rdquo; says Brown. &ldquo;The district is throwing a grenade in the neighborhood schools and then the parents find somewhere to send their babies. That&rsquo;s what&rsquo;s happening.&rdquo;</p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s shift away from neighborhood schools has implications that go beyond education&mdash;for property values and community development, for schools&rsquo; relationships with their communities. Brown thinks weakening ties to neighborhood schools is one reason for the violence tormenting Chicago. Nowhere has the exodus from neighborhood schools been more stark than in Chicago&rsquo;s African American neighborhoods.</p><p>Others believe the system we&rsquo;re moving to is promising. They say families will invest in down-and-out areas if they aren&rsquo;t required to send their kids to the neighborhood school. They note that neighborhood schools in a segregated city separate kids along race and class lines. And they say starting new schools&mdash;and letting families choose&mdash;is the fastest way to break cycles of poverty.</p><p><a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/schools/neighborhoods">WBEZ&rsquo;s map</a> shows community buy-in to neighborhood schools remains strongest in Latino neighborhoods, and in geographically isolated neighborhoods like the Far Southeast Side (where Marsh Elementary is located) and the Far Northwest and Southwest sides. The map also shows a shrinking school system, with 50,000 fewer elementary school kids in CPS today than in 2000-01.</p><p><strong>Two CTA buses to a neighborhood school</strong></p><p>Loraine Herbert&rsquo;s neighborhood school is just a block from her home in Englewood. But she feels there&rsquo;s too much gang activity in the area, so to keep her seventh-grade son safe she takes him and a younger sister two and a half miles away on two CTA buses, to another neighborhood school&mdash; Burke Elementary near Washington Park.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s not charter, magnet or anything. It doesn&rsquo;t have a label. Just a Chicago public school,&rdquo; says Herbert, who feels the school is worth the extra effort it takes to get here. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s convenient. And I love the school. And I love the teachers and the principal and the assistant principal.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Neighborhood-Schools-Loraine-Herbert.jpg" title="Loraine Herbert takes two CTA buses every day to bring her kids to Burke Elementary, a neighborhood school she likes better than her own. Fifty thousand grammar school kids choose CPS neighborhood schools that are not their own. That’s almost as many kids as attend charters, gifted schools and magnets combined. (WBEZ/Linda Lutton)" /></div></div><p>Herbert&rsquo;s case highlights another dynamic in Chicago&rsquo;s evolving school choice system: 52,963 grammar school kids choose neighborhood schools that are not their own. That&rsquo;s almost as many kids as attend charters, gifted schools and magnets combined. That figure is 56,709.</p><p>And though Herbert loves just about everything at Burke, the school is on probation, and CPS gives it the lowest &nbsp;of three performance grades. Every day, 683 kids who live in Burke&rsquo;s attendance area leave for other CPS schools. Meanwhile, 128 kids like Herbert&rsquo;s travel to get here.</p><p>Every year, more grammar school kids are crisscrossing the city this way. The same morning WBEZ accompanied Hebert on her route to Burke Elementary, we met another mother traveling with her two kids. Also citing safety, she takes the same two buses as Herbert but in the exact opposite direction.</p><p>And one more mom we met traveling that day, Tiffany Holmes, says she&rsquo;s glad the district doesn&rsquo;t seem to care anymore about attendance lines. That has allowed her to leave her son at his current school even though the family has moved out of the area. &nbsp;It&rsquo;s a better school than his current assigned neighborhood school, she says. But Holmes holds no particular allegiance.</p><p>&ldquo;I mean, I can find other schools that&rsquo;s even better than this. You know? I mean, that&rsquo;s how it goes. Because I want the best for my children.&rdquo;</p><p>A <a href="https://www.catalyst-chicago.org/sites/catalyst-chicago.org/files/assets/20081106/catnovdec08.pdf">Catalyst report</a> from 2008 found that under Chicago&rsquo;s choice system, African American families in particular were often traveling long distances for low-performing schools. No similar analysis has been done since.</p><p>WBEZ found dozens of schools are now &ldquo;neighborhood schools&rdquo; in name only, enrolling more kids from outside the attendance area than within.</p><p><strong>The district response: creating quality neighborhood schools</strong></p><p>&ldquo;The number of children who make the choice to attend their neighborhood school has changed. And I think it has to do with a district that perhaps did not place its resources in its neighborhood schools,&rdquo; says schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who took over leadership of CPS a year and a half ago.</p><p>&ldquo;What I&rsquo;m hell-bent on doing is to ensure that our neighborhood schools get the same opportunity &mdash; are held to the same criteria &mdash; but that those schools are quality as well,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>Byrd-Bennett says the district is now investing in neighborhood schools. She points to an initiative created under her watch &mdash; the Office of Strategic School Support Services, or &ldquo;OS4&rdquo; &mdash; dedicated to improving the lowest performing neighborhood schools. And she touts International Baccalaureate and STEM programs added or expanded at grammar schools.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Neighborhood-Schools--McPherson-Kim-Silver-_-fam.jpg" title="Kim Silver and her husband Bob Farster spend hours plugging their neighborhood school, McPherson Elementary. Silver gives tours, designed yard signs. She says she didn’t want the long commutes, testing for giftedness at age 4, or lotteries associated with magnet, charter or gifted schools. (WBEZ/Linda Lutton)" /></div><p><strong>A &lsquo;nascent backlash&rsquo; against choice?</strong></p><p>Jeffrey Henig, the Teachers College professor, says the argument that families trapped in bad neighborhoods should have some option other than a crummy local school is a powerful one.</p><p>Henig says whether neighborhood schools survive depends on whether there&rsquo;s a constituency interested in defending them, one that&rsquo;s politically strong enough. &ldquo;In many cities there&rsquo;s at least a nascent backlash against choice schools and a rallying around the idea of protecting neighborhood schools,&rdquo; Henig says.</p><p>And in pockets across the city, parents looking to avoid long commutes, gifted testing at age 4, and lotteries are taking a second look at their neighborhood school.</p><p>Kim Silver spends hours plugging McPherson Elementary, in Ravenswood. On tours, she shows off her neighborhood school&rsquo;s project-based learning, smaller class sizes, and technology, including iPads for all third-through-eighth graders. A bright purple yard sign Silver designed announces that her kids go to McPherson. They&rsquo;re the only ones on the block who do. Other kids here go to magnet or gifted schools&mdash;some 45 minutes away. Silver says she knows of one nearby family who bought a condo in the West Loop to get their second child into the same school as the first. They come to their Ravenswood home on weekends.</p><p>&ldquo;That is the craziness that the choice system affords us,&rdquo; says Silver. &ldquo;We love this neighborhood, we want to be in this neighborhood, we want to walk our kids to school.&rdquo;</p><p>WBEZ found that since 2000, only 16 neighborhood schools in the city significantly increased the proportion of neighborhood kids choosing to enroll. Nearly all are schools with cachet, in higher-income areas &mdash; Nettelhorst, Lincoln, Coonley, South Loop.</p><p>Several of those schools &mdash; and McPherson &mdash; are in the 47<sup>th</sup> ward, &nbsp;where alderman Ameya Pawar has a specific campaign to strengthen neighborhood schools, and get more residents to enroll in them. Pawar says neighborhood schools are an economic development engine in suburban communities; there&rsquo;s no reason they can&rsquo;t be in big cities as well.</p><p>&ldquo;Rather than go on a crusade against charters and choice, I just want to set that crusade aside and say, I think there&rsquo;s a better way to do that locally, by getting people involved in your neighborhood schools. And giving families peace of mind, the same peace of mind they seek out in the suburbs.&rdquo;</p><p>Right now, a growing number of Chicago families are looking beyond their neighborhood school for that peace of mind&mdash;or at least, for what they see as a better school.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Chart: Community Buy-in to Neighborhood Grammar Schools<a name="chart"></a></span></p><p><span style="font-size:16px;"><em><a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/schools/neighborhoods/sort.html">Click here for a larger version of this chart, including all years from 2001-2014.</a></em></span></p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="630" scrolling="no" src="http://interactive.wbez.org/schools/neighborhoods/sort.html" width="620"></iframe></p><p><em>Linda Lutton is a WBEZ education reporter. Follow her <u><a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZeducation">@WBEZeducati</a>on</u></em></p><p><em>Map and chart visualizations by Chris Hagan</em></p><p><em>All data used to report this story is posted below in an Excel file.<a name="data"></a></em></p></p> Wed, 06 Aug 2014 12:19:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/education/more-chicago-kids-say-no-their-neighborhood-grammar-school-110604 Neighborhood value a challenge for housing recovery http://www.wbez.org/news/neighborhood-value-challenge-housing-recovery-110530 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/buying-distressed.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s housing market has been recovering steadily in recent years. The rate of foreclosure filings has gone down across the city, and home prices have significantly increased compared to a year ago.</p><p>But some neighborhoods aren&rsquo;t recovering nearly as fast as others. You might think you know all the reasons why, but there&rsquo;s a new wrinkle in this post-bubble housing market.</p><p>It&rsquo;s no surprise that a nicely finished four-bedroom, two-bathroom single family home in Chicago&rsquo;s North Center neighborhood can be listed on the market for $669,000. A similar home in Austin on the city&rsquo;s West Side could be listed at $179,000.</p><blockquote><p><a href="#map"><strong>Map: See how housing numbers compare in Chicago communities</strong></a></p></blockquote><p>Geoff Smith with DePaul Housing Institute says in this recovery, hot neighborhoods like Lincoln Park are reaching sale prices beyond their original peak.</p><p>&ldquo;Really, the price increase you&rsquo;re seeing in these stronger markets are more a function of supply and demand dynamics and access to credit. To the extent that [credit] is available is going to be more abundant in those areas because borrowers have stronger financial conditions,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>So a nearly half a million dollar price difference from one neighborhood to the next is likely based a lot on location.</p><p>But in some cases, it could actually be more difficult for a middle class family to get a bank loan to buy the cheaper house in the distressed neighborhood.</p><p><strong>One family&rsquo;s odyssey</strong></p><p>This happened to my friend Leila Noelliste. Her middle class family wanted to put down roots in North Lawndale on the West Side of the city. Last year, 80 percent of its total residential property sales were cash transactions and nearly a quarter were considered extremely low value, like about the price of a car.</p><p>Noelliste wasn&rsquo;t making a cash purchase. She offered $182,000 for a two- flat in the neighborhood.</p><p>&ldquo;When we got it inspected, it was really sturdy. Good foundation, good roof, didn&rsquo;t need a lot of repairs,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;There were two sets of tenants living in it. It was just a good building on a good block.&rdquo;</p><p>She had plans for her family to live in one unit while renting out the other. But those plans came to a halt because of the home&rsquo;s value --its appraisal.</p><p>&ldquo;It was appraised for like in the 140s. And we were shocked. I mean, I know this isn&rsquo;t a great area, but that just seemed really, really low,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>The bank would only finance a loan for the appraised amount. Noelliste and her husband Norman Baldwin didn&rsquo;t have the out of pocket money to pay the extra $40,000 on top of a down payment, so they had to move on.</p><p>That block in North Lawndale is wedged between two main thoroughfares, Cermak and Ogden. The street is mostly rental units, nicely maintained buildings. But there were a number of boarded up houses and vacant lots.</p><p>A short drive east on Ogden Avenue takes you in front of small businesses, boarded up commercial properties and some vacant lots before you get to the vast manicured greenery of Douglas Park. The rising buildings of the Medical District can be seen in the distance, and new rehabs start to pop up along the residential streets.</p><p><strong>&ldquo;Baffling, frustrating&rdquo;</strong></p><p>A less than 10-minute drive brings you to the Near West Side, where Leila ended up buying a home.</p><p>&ldquo;Upstairs we have a master bedroom with a walk-in closet, with a master bathroom. And then we have two smaller bedrooms. One of the bedrooms we use as my office-guest room. And the other room, my son is in. So it&rsquo;s a beautiful home,&rdquo; Noelliste said.</p><p>They offered $285,000 for the place, and it was accepted..</p><p>&ldquo;My credit was good, Norm&rsquo;s credit was good. We had a lot in our savings. All it was &nbsp;[the lower appraisal on the two-flat] was the value of the house. That&rsquo;s all it boiled down to. &nbsp;Which is baffling, very, very frustrating,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Here&rsquo;s a family now living in a $285,000 house, but couldn&rsquo;t get the financing for a place &nbsp;$100,000 cheaper in a less desirable neighborhood.</p><p>&ldquo;Our friends who were looking in the area, they too were like middle class people who wanted to move back into Lawndale and to try to help build the community and they were just essentially being shut out,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>To be clear, this applies to homebuyers looking to get a loan and not cash purchasers.</p><p>Geoff Smith with DePaul says cash investors aren&rsquo;t bad. They can even help market recovery.</p><p>&ldquo;You need those types of players to continue to have the market be active and for it to recover. If there&rsquo;s weak demand in a market and no one&rsquo;s buying anything, the properties will continue to deteriorate,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;So the hope is the investors will stabilize the neighborhood to some extent.&rdquo;</p><p>But for neighborhoods like Lawndale, that recovery is slow going with the cash activity. &nbsp;The Noelliste family couldn&rsquo;t get the loan they needed because values were low in this distressed neighborhood. &nbsp;So they went to a nicer area, a neighborhood that includes the Medical District and the United Center, &nbsp;and they had no problem getting a loan to buy a house for $285,000.</p><p>A number of housing people I talked to about Noelliste&rsquo;s home buying story, including mortgage lenders, housing advocates, appraisers-- none of them were surprised. They all said, &ldquo;Yeah, that happens.&rdquo;</p><p>Michael Hobbs, president of Pahroo Appraisal and Consultancy was one of those people.</p><p>&ldquo;If distressed properties are the predominant occurrence in that market, then that is what&rsquo;s typically going to drive pricing,&rdquo; he said.</p><p><strong>Comparing neighborhood properties</strong></p><p>That means if you&rsquo;ve got an area with lots of boarded up houses and lots of extremely low value sales, then it&rsquo;s likely that even a newly rehabbed house would be appraised at a lower price. Hobbs says that&rsquo;s because most residential appraisals are determined by comparing that property with ones that have recently sold in the neighborhood.</p><p>&ldquo;In the desirable neighborhoods, there&rsquo;s an insufficient amount of inventory or supply and therefore buyers are competing even more ferociously to be in place, to be the one individual or family that is successful in buying that property,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>So in an area like Lincoln Park, that demand drives prices way up, even beyond peak prices. And appraisers and banks feel comfortable with that because they have the numbers to back it up. But when someone wants to make a traditional purchase in a marginal area like Lawndale, appraisers and lenders are more conservative, especially after what happened during the housing crisis.</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;re not rewarded for taking risk,&rdquo; said Rob Rose, chief operating officer of the Chicago Community Loan Fund.</p><p>He said it can be more punitive for banks to go against regulation or to make policy exceptions, like approving a mortgage loan for $182,000 when the house was appraised at $140,000.</p><p>According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, lending policy exceptions will be reviewed to determine whether the lending institution&rsquo;s decisions are adequately documented and appropriate in light of all of the relevant credit considerations. According to FDIC, a lot of exceptions may signal a weakening of a bank&rsquo;s underwriting practices.</p><p>Rose said for people in Noelliste&rsquo;s situation, it&rsquo;s just easier for banks to say no. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;For those bankers involved, then that&rsquo;s a bit of their own equity they have to put at risk for the regulators to explain why they made that exception,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Rose said in the post-bubble market, banks are putting more weight on the value of a property than they did before. He thinks using cash transactions and distressed sales as comparables doesn&rsquo;t really give a true market sense for what a house should sell for.</p><p>&ldquo;So if I&rsquo;m telling you the market is such that I can now sell this house for a higher amount, that should mean something,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Rose says banks sometimes get in their own way in this post bubble market. He says banks need to start having the courage to make policy exceptions and be willing to explain their actions.</p><p>Rose says it&rsquo;s unlikely that national institutions like Bank of America or Chase would do this because of the volume of loans they deal with. But he says community banks have the opportunity to step up and give loans at a higher value to people who are willing and have the ability to make the payments.</p><p>He says then we might eventually see values edge up in these marginal neighborhoods.</p><p><span style="font-size: 22px;">Map: Chicago housing statistics<a name="map"></a></span></p><p><iframe height="750px" scrolling="no" seamless="seamless" src="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/maps/housing/index.html" width="600px"></iframe></p><p><em>Susie An is WBEZ&rsquo;s business reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/soosieon">@soosieon</a>.</em></p></p> Mon, 21 Jul 2014 08:18:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/neighborhood-value-challenge-housing-recovery-110530 The Big Sort http://www.wbez.org/news/big-sort-110502 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/big-sort---8th-grade-grad_0.jpg" title="After eighth grade graduation, Chicago students scatter to 130 different high schools. Test scores show that high-performing students and low-performing students in particular are clustering into separate schools under the city’s school choice model. Within neighborhoods, there is further sorting based on achievement. (WBEZ/Linda Lutton)" /></div></div></div></div></div><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="20" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/158915147&amp;color=ff5500&amp;inverse=false&amp;auto_play=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>This spring, at grammar schools all across Chicago, thousands of eighth graders donned caps and gowns and walked across auditorium stages to receive their elementary school diplomas. This fall, the graduates from each of those schools will scatter&mdash;to more than 130 different Chicago public high schools, and counting.</p><p>But who goes where?</p><p>Over the past decade, Chicago has opened more than 50 new high schools, and will open more this fall. The school district is trying to expand the number of quality school options and offer students a choice of where to go to school. And in many ways, Chicago high schools seem to be improving. Graduation rates are <a href="http://news.uchicago.edu/article/2014/04/24/focus-ninth-grade-triggers-climb-chicago-high-school-graduation-rates">inching up</a>. The city now boasts <a href="http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/illinois">five of the top ten high schools in the state</a>.</p><p>But a new WBEZ analysis shows an unintended consequence of the choice system: students of different achievement levels are being sorted into separate high schools.</p><p>WBEZ analyzed incoming test scores for freshmen from the fall of 2012, the most recent year data is available. That year, the district mandated that every high school give students an &ldquo;EXPLORE&rdquo; exam about a month into the school year.</p><p>The 26,340 scores range from painfully low to perfect.</p><p>But WBEZ found few schools in the city enroll the full span of students. Instead, low-scoring students and high-scoring students in particular are attending completely different high schools. Other schools enroll a glut of average kids.</p><p>Think of it as academic tracking&mdash;not within schools, but between them.</p><hr /><blockquote><p><strong>THE BIG SORT</strong></p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/schools/the-big-sort.html" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/bigsortgraph.jpg" style="height: 287px; width: 540px;" title="" /></a></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>See how student achievement relates to high school choice&nbsp;<a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/schools/the-big-sort.html">in an interactive chart linking each score in 2012 to a school</a>. Sort schools by type, demographics or location, and explore and compare the distribution of scores at each school.</em></div></blockquote><hr /><p>The findings raise some of the same long-running questions educators have debated about the academic and social implications of in-school tracking. But they also raise questions about whether the city&rsquo;s school choice system is actually creating better schools, or whether it&rsquo;s simply sorting certain students out and leaving the weakest learners in separate, struggling schools.</p><p>WBEZ&rsquo;s analysis shows:</p><ul><li><strong>Serious brain drain</strong>. The city&rsquo;s selective &ldquo;test-in&rdquo; high schools &mdash; among the best in the state &mdash; capture nearly all the top students in the school system. There were 104 kids who scored a perfect 25 on the EXPLORE exam. One hundred of them &mdash; 96 percent&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;enrolled in just six of the city&rsquo;s 130 high schools (Northside, Whitney Young, Payton, Lane, Lincoln Park, and Jones). In fact, 80 percent of perfect scorers went to just three schools. Among the city&rsquo;s top 2 percent of test takers (those scoring a 23, 24, or 25 on their exam), 87 percent are at those same six schools. Chicago has proposed creating an 11th selective enrollment high school, Barack Obama College Prep, to be located in the same area as the schools already attracting the city&rsquo;s top performers.</li><li><strong>Clustering of low-performing students.</strong> Fifteen percent of the city&rsquo;s high schools are populated with vastly disproportionate numbers of low-performing students. More than 80 percent of incoming students at these schools score below the district average. &nbsp;The schools enroll 10 percent of all Chicago high school students.</li><li><strong>Black students are most likely to be affected by sorting. &nbsp;</strong>WBEZ&rsquo;s analysis shows African American students are doubly segregated, first by race, then by achievement. Of the 40 most academically narrow schools in Chicago, 34 of them are predominantly black. Even though just 40 percent of students in the public schools are African American, Chicago has black high schools for low achievers, black high schools for average kids, black test-in high schools for high achievers. &nbsp;</li><li><strong>Within neighborhoods, more sorting. </strong>Schools within a particular community may appear to be attracting the same students demographically, but WBEZ finds significant sorting by achievement. Especially in neighborhoods on the South and West sides, the comprehensive neighborhood high school has become a repository for low performers; nearby charters or other new schools are attracting far greater percentages of above-average kids.</li><li><strong>The dozens of new high schools Chicago has opened since 2004</strong> <strong>fall on both sides of the &ldquo;sorting&rdquo; spectrum.</strong> New schools with the widest range of incoming test performers include Ogden International IB on the Near North Side; Goode, a Southwest Side magnet school with preference for neighborhood students; and Chicago High School for the Arts, which admits students based on arts auditions. New schools showing the least amount of academic diversity include Daniel Hale Williams (where incoming students score at about the district average); also low-scoring &nbsp;DuSable Leadership Academy Charter (in the same building as Williams, ordered in 2013 to begin phasing out), Ace Tech Charter, and Austin Business and Entrepreneurial High School.</li></ul><p>The idea behind school choice is to to let families pick the type of school they want for their kids, something more affluent Americans can do by moving or by paying for private school. Choice is also seen as a way to improve all schools by injecting more market-based competition into the school system.</p><p>But the sorting of students by achievement into separate high schools seems to be an unintended consequence.</p><p>&ldquo;It certainly wasn&rsquo;t a goal,&rdquo; says Paul Hill, the founder of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, and the architect of <a href="http://www.crpe.org/research/portfolio-strategy">the &ldquo;portfolio&rdquo; school choice model Chicago and other big cities are following</a>. Hill says he and others were concerned about sorting based on race or class, but dramatic sorting by achievement level was not foreseen.</p><p>Chicago schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who has been on the job for a year and a half, says she is aware that students are clustering in different high schools by achievement, and is concerned about any suggestion that that&rsquo;s a good thing.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s no research to support that,&rdquo; said Byrd-Bennett, who said she, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the school board &ldquo;come from a very different belief system,&rdquo; one that does not rely on sorting students by achievement. &ldquo;What we believe is you&rsquo;ve got to elevate, raise the level and the quality of instruction at all of our schools, including our neighborhood (schools),&rdquo; said Byrd-Bennett. However, she rejected the notion that sorting is an outcome of school choice or Chicago&rsquo;s massive expansion in the number of high schools. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;This has got to be a district of choice. If I choose to go to my neighborhood school, it&rsquo;s because it ought to be a great school as well,&rdquo; said Byrd-Bennett.</p><p><strong>New York City and New Orleans see a similar dynamic</strong></p><p>Despite most New Orleans schools being open to students of all academic levels, &ldquo;high performing students tend to go to high-performing schools, and low-performing students tend to go to low-performing schools,&rdquo; says Andrew McEachin, a North Carolina State University professor who has studied school choice in the now all-charter city. &ldquo;So even though it&#39;s a choice-based district, you see that there&#39;s kind of like a tiered system, where people are choosing schools similar to their background and achievement levels.&rdquo;</p><p>The same thing is happening in New York City. Why? Researchers say &ldquo;achievement&rdquo; may be an indication of the resources students have at home. Higher performing students&rsquo; families are better at getting information about school quality, navigating the system, and securing things like transportation to school or test prep for entrance exams.</p><p>McEachin and others say the consequences of sorting could reverberate to other aspects of the school system. &ldquo;What is the unintended consequence of this ability grouping on the teacher labor market?&rdquo; asks McEachin. &ldquo;Is it going to make it even harder to get good teachers to the lowest-achieving students?&rdquo;</p><p>Sorting by performance isn&rsquo;t new in Chicago Public Schools, and isn&rsquo;t unique to choice systems. Some of the city&rsquo;s toughest high schools have not attracted generally higher performing middle-class students for decades. But under choice and a dramatic expansion in the number of high schools, parents and counselors say sorting of students is becoming more pronounced.</p><p><strong>Students know the hierarchy</strong></p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/2491597027_6716951610_z.jpg" title="Chicago students can identify the hierarchy high schools fall into. Lane Tech is for 'A' students, they say. (flickr/Alex Cheek)" /></div></div></div></div><p>In Chicago, students can tell you which high schools are for which students. On a sunny afternoon before school let out in June, kids at Lane Tech&mdash;one of the city&rsquo;s selective schools &mdash; describe the landscape.</p><p>&ldquo;If you get straight As and you do really good on testing, the school you&rsquo;ll probably get accepted into is Northside, Walter Payton, Whitney Young,&rdquo; says freshman Amber Hunt.</p><p>What about the B students? &ldquo;Schools with IB programs sometimes take solid Bs,&rdquo; says Amber. &ldquo;Charter schools are kind of like if you&rsquo;re average, or slightly below average.&rdquo;</p><p>Lots of students give the same answers. Ninth grader Evelyn Almodovar says she knows &ldquo;C&rdquo; students who went to private high schools because &ldquo;they didn&rsquo;t want to be embarrassed about going to a school that&rsquo;s known as having worse students.&rdquo;</p><p>And what about the lowest performers, those who struggle in grammar school? They go to neighborhood schools, every student tells me. &ldquo;Low-ranking schools,&rdquo; says freshman Anais Roman, naming a neighborhood school and low-scoring charter in her area.</p><p>Many elementary school counselors describe a nearly identical hierarchy (one grammar school even posts its graduates&rsquo; &ldquo;<a href="http://www.newberryacademy.org/counselors-corner/high-school-resources/high-school-destinations-for-newberry-graduates/">high school destinations</a>&rdquo; in the same basic A-to-F order).</p><p>In an indication of just how segmented high schools have become, a counselor said her elementary school sends &ldquo;average&rdquo; students to a nearby high school that&rsquo;s seen as safe, admits no low performers, and scores at about the district average. But she said she would not recommend the school for her top students&mdash;even though they&rsquo;re eligible to attend. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t think they would offer the academic rigor,&rdquo; she said of the school.</p><p>A number of counselors lamented the sorting.</p><p>&ldquo;We look at the suburbs, and we look at much of the rest of the country&mdash;there&rsquo;s one school to go to based on your address, and that neighborhood &nbsp;high school would have all sorts of different programs available,&rdquo; says Walsh Elementary counselor Kristy Brooks.</p><p>Brooks says she sees positive aspects to Chicago&rsquo;s high school choice system&mdash;kids leave segregated neighborhoods and find new classmates and opportunities, students push themselves to get into top schools. But she says she sees neighborhood schools being left with low-performing students who didn&rsquo;t have the academic performance or the help to get to another school. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I think in the long run it would be better to have equity in all schools,&rdquo; says Brooks.</p><p>But if all students were in a single comprehensive high school, wouldn&rsquo;t they be tracked within that school anyway? Does it matter if they&rsquo;re in separate schools?</p><p>&ldquo;In part it doesn&rsquo;t matter&mdash;it&rsquo;s disastrous either way,&rdquo; says Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder and an opponent of tracking.</p><p>&ldquo;But in part it matters because once we get to that point of between-school tracking, it&rsquo;s even harder to try to address. If we&rsquo;re going to reform the system and make it more equitable, starting with the kids in the same schools is a good first step,&rdquo; says Welner, who argues tracking cements current stratifications in society.</p><p><strong>Top performers benefit from sorting</strong></p><p>For many students at Lane Tech, this is the first time they&rsquo;ve attended school with all high achievers.</p><p>&ldquo;It raises the standards a lot,&rdquo; says freshman Paradise Cosey.</p><p>Another freshman says she feels more &ldquo;comfortable&rdquo; at 4,000-student Lane Tech than she did at her elementary school; she says this is the first year since fifth grade that classmates haven&rsquo;t asked to copy her work.</p><p>High performing students are like gold in a school. Everybody does better around them&mdash;including other high-performing students. And it&rsquo;s not just about test scores. The <a href="http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/05/10/31safe.h30.html">biggest predictor of whether a school is safe</a>, orderly, and set up for learning is students&rsquo; academic achievement. Having top performers makes an entire school easier to run.</p><p>Paul Hill says some stratification doesn&rsquo;t bother him, &ldquo;One thing that this just demonstrates yet again is that human beings just love status hierarchies and we&rsquo;ll create them any way we can.&rdquo; Hill says Americans believe in equality, but they also believe in elite schools.</p><p>&ldquo;But when it trickles down to the lowest-performing kids are in the schools with the least of everything, then that&rsquo;s not tolerable,&rdquo; says Hill.</p><p><strong>Marshall High, a school of &ldquo;last resort&rdquo;</strong></p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/big-sort-marshall-STILL-GETTING-PERMISSION.jpg" title="Kadeesha Williams originally wanted to go to Marine Military Academy, but ended up enrolling at Marshall. Her classmates would have been very different at Marine, where 48 percent of students come in above average. At Marshall, 14 percent come in above the district’s average. The school is set up to help the lower scoring students who enroll there. (WBEZ/Linda Lutton)" /></div></div></div><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="20" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/159037769&amp;color=ff5500&amp;inverse=false&amp;auto_play=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>At Marshall Metropolitan High School, 86 percent of students come in scoring below the district average. Some can&rsquo;t read.</p><p>Marshall, the attendance-area high school for a big swath of Chicago&rsquo;s West Side, is among the 15 percent of Chicago high schools enrolling vastly disproportionate numbers of low achievers.</p><p>&ldquo;Well, I didn&rsquo;t actually choose to come to Marshall,&rdquo; says rising sophomore Kadeesha Williams. &ldquo;My mom said because it was in the area.&rdquo;</p><p>Kadeesha had wanted to go to Marine Military Academy down the street. &ldquo;I wanted to be a Marine, so I wanted to get the type of education they get so I can get ready,&rdquo; she said. But the family turned her application in late. &ldquo;We went to take a test. But my mom, she lost the paperwork.&rdquo;</p><p>Kadeesha&rsquo;s mom says the paperwork was actually lost at the school&mdash;they had no record of Kadeesha taking the test, she says. &nbsp;</p><p>Kadeesha is liking Marshall. &ldquo;Marshall&rsquo;s a good school,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;Because the teachers here, they&rsquo;re very into you. They&rsquo;re a lot of help.&rdquo;</p><p>Other students say they came to Marshall because family went here. Some come to play for Marshall&rsquo;s storied basketball team or, lately, the school&rsquo;s budding chess team.</p><p>Teacher James Dorrell says for other students, &ldquo;it&rsquo;s sort of like a school of last resort. They try to enroll in charter schools or selective enrollments, and once they can&rsquo;t get in, they would come here&rdquo;&mdash;though he sees Marshall as much more than that. About half of the school&#39;s students come from the neighborhood, the other half from outside the attendance boundary.</p><p>Dorrell says after a re-staffing and infusion of money in 2010, Marshall is hugely improved. The entire school is set up to help the struggling kids who enroll here. Freshmen have double periods of English and math. Many take reading&mdash;a subject other high schools don&rsquo;t even offer.</p><p>But more students still drop out than graduate from Marshall. And test scores have barely moved.</p><p>Marshall raises a question at the heart of tracking&mdash;and at the heart of Chicago&rsquo;s system of school choice. Is it better to group low performers together? Better for whom?</p><p>&ldquo;The pros are yes, we can have these interventions,&rdquo; says Dorrell. &ldquo;The cons would be&mdash;you would want some high achievers because they sort of raise the bar, and other kids could see what it takes to be successful. So I think having kids with higher test scores would benefit all of this group. But I also see the benefit of having these kids&hellip;tracked by ability.&rdquo;</p><p>Marshall is open to all students in the neighborhood. But there are no freshman honors courses, no AP classes (the school is trying to change that). There&rsquo;s little to attract higher achievers.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/schools/the-big-sort.html"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/marshallgraph_0.jpg" title="A huge percentage of Chicago’s best students go to selective enrollment schools. But even after those students are creamed off the top, more sorting takes place within communities. Low achieving students are concentrating in the city’s traditional neighborhood high schools, like Marshall Metropolitan High on the West Side." /></a></div></div></div></div><p>There are four new high schools within a mile of Marshall. Two are military schools with minimum test score requirements, keeping out low performers. The third is a Noble Street charter school, which requires much more effort to enroll than Marshall. (Parents need to come to an information session on a particular evening in order to obtain an application, for instance. Students must write an essay.) &nbsp;At the two military schools, 48 percent and 64 percent of incoming students score above average. At the Noble Street charter, 41 percent of students enter above average. At Marshall, the figure is three times less&mdash;just 14 percent of incoming kids score above average.</p><p>That story is repeated in neighborhood after neighborhood in Chicago&mdash;and raises questions about whether the city&rsquo;s school choice system is creating better schools, or simply pulling away better performing students, leaving the low achievers segregated into separate, failing schools.</p><p>Michael Milkie, the founder and CEO of the Noble Network of Charter Schools, Chicago&rsquo;s largest high school charter network, sees the entire question of sorting as a &ldquo;red herring.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;I think the most important part by far are the adults in the building, their ability to deliver instruction, and the school culture. Those are the things that far outweigh whether you have a concentration of certain learners or a wide variety of learners,&rdquo; says Milkie. All Noble schools attract far more high performers than neighborhood schools in the same communities; CPS recently told Noble Street that applications &ldquo;must be available to all parents and students without limitations,&rdquo; and that the charter network must indicate that the required student essay is actually optional.</p><p>Milkie believes his students are exactly the same as those in other schools. He says the Noble scores look higher because the incoming test is given 4-6 weeks into high school, enough time for his students to pull ahead, he says.</p><p><strong>Lincoln Park High School: academically diverse, and de-tracking</strong></p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/big-sort--lincoln-park-HS.jpg" title="Students lead a discussion in a freshman English class at Lincoln Park High School. The incoming test scores we analyzed show Lincoln Park is the city’s most academically diverse school, enrolling a whole range of performers. It is an anomaly in a system where students are being sorted based on achievement level into separate high schools. And the school is de-tracking. This class included low- and high-achievers. Teacher Mark Whetstone says that made it hard to teach, but he said all students benefited. (WBEZ/Linda Lutton)" /></div></div></div><p>Lincoln Park High School is an anomaly in Chicago. It enrolls everyone. A 30-year-old International Baccalaureate program attracts elite students. Arts programs draw other kids. The attendance zone guarantees seats to students from both wealthy and poor families.</p><p>Principal Michael Boraz likes to say this is the most diverse high school in CPS, and maybe in the country.</p><p>&ldquo;Not just in terms of our racial and ethnic and neighborhood makeup,&rdquo; says Boraz, &ldquo;but also academically. We have kids from the 15<sup>th </sup>percentile rank in their standardized test scores, all the way up to the 99<sup>th</sup>. So it really is truly a diverse school in just about every sense.&rdquo;</p><p>School is about more than academics, says Boraz. It&rsquo;s where kids learn to live and work together. And now there&rsquo;s a big effort inside Lincoln Park to mix kids more.</p><p>IB classes once reserved for the elite were opened up to everyone last year. So many kids took the IB math final the school had to set up the test in the gym. Boraz <a href="https://twitter.com/mjboraz/status/466255132712505345">tweeted out a picture of 300 desks</a>.</p><p>One morning before school let out, students in a freshman English class at Lincoln Park took turns leading a class discussion on Richard Wright&rsquo;s <em>Black Boy</em>. The class included low performers and high achievers.</p><p>Teacher Mark Whetstone said it was hard to teach a class with such &ldquo;extreme&rdquo; diversity, but says he enjoyed it &ldquo;immensely.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;And I think more importantly the kids at all levels benefitted from the makeup of that class,&rdquo; says Whetstone. &ldquo;I feel like my lower performing students rose to the challenge. They had great examples from their peers around them at all times. And at the same time, for some of my higher performing students, it was good for them to work with someone generally not at their level. To be able to interact, and also to be able to take a lead in the classroom.&rdquo;</p><p>University of Chicago researchers are working on a report about the sorting that&rsquo;s happening among Chicago schools. One of the authors, Elaine Allensworth, says Chicago needs to decide what it wants&mdash;a system where we sort students, or a system where we mix them together more.</p><p>&ldquo;The solution is thinking about where we want to be as a society&mdash;what kind of system do we want&mdash;and how do we make that work for everyone,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>Allensworth says researchers already know one thing: whatever approach Chicago chooses, schools need to increase supports for the lowest performing students. If kids are mixed, lower achievers need help keeping up so they don&rsquo;t get frustrated and give up, and so they don&rsquo;t hold back their high-flying peers.</p><p>And if Chicago decides to keep sorting students by achievement, then the schools filled with the lowest performers are going to need a lot of extra resources.</p><p><em>This story was produced in partnership with <a href="http://hechingerreport.org" target="_blank">The Hechinger Report</a>, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news outlet at Teachers College, Columbia University.</em></p><p><em>Linda Lutton is a WBEZ education reporter. Follow her<a href="http://twitter.com/wbezeducation"> @WBEZeducation</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 16 Jul 2014 08:50:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/big-sort-110502 Passing through: Chicago's Union Station as Amish transit hub http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/passing-through-chicagos-union-station-amish-transit-hub-110453 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/157991456&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: In producing this story, producer Katie Klocksin quotes several people of Amish background. In a deviation from most journalistic practice, Klocksin and editor Shawn Allee chose not to publish the sources&rsquo; names out of respect for the Amish culture&#39;s longstanding premium on humility, as well as possible social consequences for participants. The decision was made in consideration of comments on the issue made by Dr. Steven Nolt, Professor of History at Goshen College and author of numerous books on the Amish.</em></p><p>Paul Vaccarello of LaGrange, Illinois, sees Amish people when he passes through downtown Chicago&rsquo;s Union Station &mdash; the nexus of several Amtrak and Metra commuter rail lines.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve just always been curious about where they&rsquo;re going, why they&rsquo;re here, if they&rsquo;re actually coming to Chicago or if this is a stop on their way to somewhere else,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>This led him to ask Curious City:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>Is Chicago a large transportation hub for Amish travelers?</em></p><p>Reporting an answer provided Paul an opportunity to hear from people that Chicagoans and suburbanites don&rsquo;t ordinarily cross paths with. Members of the religious group seek to maintain a close-knit rural lifestyle and, though there are Amish settlements sprinkled throughout the Midwest, the nearest one lies 90 miles from downtown Chicago. As we approached an answer &mdash; by checking in with experts and Amish travelers themselves &mdash; we couldn&rsquo;t help but feel we were meeting our regional neighbors for the first time.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">A separate pattern of life</span></p><p>Dr. Steven Nolt, Professor of History at Goshen College and author of numerous books on the Amish, reminded us that adherents belong to a Protestant religious community that is &ldquo;sometimes referred to as &lsquo;the old order Amish,&rsquo; which means they have tried to maintain what they consider the old patterns of life.&rdquo; Typically, they limit their use of modern technology and their communities tend to be in rural areas. These &ldquo;old patterns of life,&rdquo; Nolt said, &ldquo;would be things that encourage community and cooperation and collaboration.&rdquo;</p><p>Nolt noted, though, that there are few technologies that the Amish consider wholly bad. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s their attempt to try to control technology or engage technology on their own terms,&rdquo; he said. &nbsp;</p><p>Relevant to Paul&rsquo;s question, Amish people generally don&rsquo;t own or drive cars, although some will hire a vehicle and driver for transportation. It&rsquo;s common for the Amish to travel on trains or buses. &ldquo;The problem isn&rsquo;t the <em>thing</em>,&rdquo; Nolt said. &ldquo;The problem is when we own and control something, then, that heightens our sense of individual autonomy.&rdquo;</p><p>Nolt described an aspect of Amish life that posed a problem for reporting this story: &ldquo;Amish people, when speaking to members of the media, almost always decline to be identified by name or photographed in ways that would highlight them as an individual. Their concern there is one of humility, of not appearing to present oneself as a spokesperson for the whole group, not wanting to call attention to themselves.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Traveling by train<a name="map"></a></span></p><p>Paul and I made several trips to Union Station and found Amish people each time. Most were happy to talk with us, provided my large microphone was turned off. Most people, as predicted, declined to give their names. Everyone we talked to confirmed our theory: Chicago <em>is</em> a hub for transportation among the Amish. The people we interviewed at Union Station were all waiting to switch trains. One woman put it succinctly: &ldquo;A lot of Amish travel from one state to the other on Amtrak. &hellip;Every train comes into Chicago and leaves Chicago.&rdquo;</p><p>Our map can clarify this: There, you can see how Amtrak lines cross near or through midwestern Amish communities. Nolt added, too, that more than 60 percent of the Amish live in Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania: states with Amtrak lines. So Paul was onto something: Amish people, by avoiding cars, travel by train throughout the Midwest and the country. Many Amtrak trains converge in Chicago, thus Amish regularly wait for trains and transfers at Union Station.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe align="middle" frameborder="0" height="400" scrolling="no" src="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/amish/index.html" width="620"></iframe></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><em><strong>Map: U.S. counties with extant Amish settlements as of 2010, overlaid with unofficial map of Amtrak rail system lines.</strong> Amish population data: <a href="http://www.rcms2010.org/index.php" target="_blank">Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies</a>.&nbsp;Rough Amtrak line map: <a href="https://www.blogger.com/profile/17241478144408980328" target="_blank">Rakshith Krishnappa</a>.</em></span></p><p>Nolt points out that Amish people aren&rsquo;t likely to use the word &ldquo;vacation.&rdquo; Instead, he says, they talk about trips. &ldquo;I think on one level it&rsquo;s because &lsquo;vacation&rsquo; suggests leisure type activity that doesn&rsquo;t fit with their rural way of life,&rdquo; he said, adding, &ldquo;Their worlds are not as neatly divided as many of the rest of ours are between work and leisure, home and work. There&rsquo;s much more fluidity and overlap between the domains of their life.&rdquo;</p><p>Nolt says it is common for a long-distance trip to be centered around business travel. There are all-Amish trade shows, for example, which are similar to standard trade shows except they are hosted by a local community and attendees stay with local families. &quot;Most people bring their whole family and it kind of turns into a reunion of visiting,&quot; he said.</p><p>For the most part, though, Paul and I met people traveling to visit family members in other states. We met a large family returning home to Kansas from a wedding in Indiana. An Amish woman from Ohio was traveling with several of her grandchildren to visit her cousin and see the Grand Canyon.</p><p>A few Amish people we met were seeking medical care, including a man from Kentucky. &ldquo;We were in Mexico for medical purposes,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t like to see it, but medical expenses in the States anymore are so phenomenal that an ordinary person cannot afford it.&rdquo; He was returning from Tijuana after a successful operation.</p><p>Another medical traveler, an Amish man with a salt-and-pepper beard and a constant grin, cracked jokes with us for a while. After we parted ways with him, though, we ran into him throughout our stay at Union Station. It&rsquo;s not an exaggeration to say he seemed to know every Amish person there that day, which perhaps reveals a benefit of Union Station&rsquo;s being a hub: For the Amish, it provides a space to serendipitously meet far-flung neighbors.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Paul%20Vaccarello%20-%20courtesy%20of%20Paul%20FOR%20WEB.jpg" style="float: left; height: 254px; width: 190px;" title="Paul Vaccarello asked Curious City about the Amish at Union Station. (Photo courtesy Paul Vaccarello)" /><span style="font-size:24px;">Our question comes from: Paul Vaccarello</span></p><p>Paul Vaccarello told Curious City he visits Union Station about twice a month, adding that &ldquo;pretty much every time, I see groups of Amish people.&rdquo; While he was curious about whether the Amish travel by train, he also wondered if Chicago was ever the destination for Amish people on the road. &ldquo;It was interesting to hear they sometimes stop in Chicago to sightsee, go to the Sears Tower and John Hancock building,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Paul said he&rsquo;s not someone who would normally talk to strangers in the train station, and striking up a conversation with someone from a clearly different background can feel like crossing a barrier.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s cool to see they&rsquo;re so willing to talk, and that they don&rsquo;t even really see the barrier,&rdquo; he said.</p><p><em>Katie Klocksin is a freelance radio producer. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/KatieKlocksin" target="_blank">@KatieKlocksin</a>.</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 07 Jul 2014 15:51:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/passing-through-chicagos-union-station-amish-transit-hub-110453 Why are we still collecting taxes to prevent white flight in Chicago? http://www.wbez.org/news/why-are-we-still-collecting-taxes-prevent-white-flight-chicago-110325 <p><p>A controversial decades-old program to prevent white flight in Chicago is flush with cash and still collecting taxes from residents of the Southwest and Northwest sides &ndash; despite racial change and housing shifts.&nbsp;</p><p>The programs&rsquo; origins can be traced to the racial panic that gripped many white ethnic communities after voters elected Harold Washington as the city&rsquo;s first black mayor in 1983. Often that fear played out in the housing market with white bungalow belt families worried that blacks would move in and decrease their property values.</p><p>The money collected in the so-called home equity districts was used as a kind of insurance program &ndash; homeowners could file a cash claim if the value dropped upon selling.</p><p>The three little-known taxing districts are the <a href="http://www.nwhomeequity.org/" target="_blank">Northwest Home Equity Assurance Program</a>, the <a href="http://swghe.org/" target="_blank">Southwest Guaranteed Home Equity Program</a> and the <a href="https://www.swhomeequity.com/" target="_blank">Southwest Home Equity Assurance Program</a>.</p><blockquote><p><strong>MAP: <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/why-are-we-still-collecting-taxes-prevent-white-flight-chicago-110325#wheredistricts">Where are the home equity districts?</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>In the decades since they were created, most neighborhoods have experienced a racial transition on their own; they are no longer white enclaves. And yet the three home equity programs are still there, still collecting money from thousands of homeowners and not doing much else.</p><p>Collectively, these taxing districts sit on millions of dollars and some activists want that to change.</p><p><span style="font-size: 22px;">Save our neighborhood</span></p><p>The 1980s may seem a little late for <a href="http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/147.html" target="_blank">panic peddling and blockbusting</a> by unscrupulous realtors. After all, white flight had already happened decades earlier once blacks could legally buy homes wherever they wanted.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/home%20equity3_140611_nm.jpg" style="height: 349px; width: 620px; float: right;" title="A brochure explaining the home equity program on the Northwest Side. (WBEZ/Natalie Moore)" /></p><p>But segregation never really went away.</p><p>&ldquo;You had these bungalows near the stockyards, which to be blunt about it, wasn&rsquo;t exactly desirable real estate. These folks living in those bungalows &ndash; six rooms, a knotty pine basement, one bathroom and was there any racial acceptance? No!&rdquo; said Paul Green, Director of the Institute for Politics at Roosevelt University.</p><p>Historically, African Americans weren&rsquo;t a strong presence in the bungalow belt. And Green said longtime residents didn&rsquo;t exactly roll out the welcome wagon.</p><p>&ldquo;They were all basically white ethnic neighborhoods. The reality was is that the good people living there were afraid that they were going to lose the value of their homes, the only place they knew.&rdquo;</p><p>That fear gave birth to the white <a href="http://www.lib.niu.edu/1988/ii880524.html" target="_blank">Save Our Neighborhood/Save Our City coalition</a>.</p><p>&ldquo;You literally had racial change taking place mile by mile going west on 55th, 63rd, 71st. And those people didn&rsquo;t have anyplace to go,&rdquo; Green said. &ldquo;At that time there was very little reintegration after you had segregation. In other words, you look at the South Side of Chicago, you did not have neighborhoods that went from white to black to mixed.&rdquo;</p><p>The coalition pushed for an equity program to protect them from falling property values. Mayor Harold Washington, who understood white ethnic fear, got behind it. City Council considered an ordinance to implement the program. But black aldermen found the notion that whites needed home equity insurance racist. Washington publicly withdrew his support.</p><blockquote><p><strong>MAP: <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/why-are-we-still-collecting-taxes-prevent-white-flight-chicago-110325#racemap">How the racial makeup of Chicago neighborhoods has changed</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>Then in 1988 Southwest Side politician Michael Madigan stepped in. The powerful speaker of the Illinois House helped pass a state law that created three home equity taxing districts &ndash;&nbsp;including two on the southwest side. Another district was created on the northwest side.</p><p>Madigan declined an interview request.</p><p>&ldquo;The premise of the program was I think much more psychological. The psychology was people fear change and when you put into place this institutional mechanism, you create a way of responding to that fear,&rdquo; said Phil Ashton, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, who&rsquo;s studied home equity districts.</p><p><span style="font-size: 22px;">How home equity districts work</span></p><p>All homeowners in a designated district pay a small tax, sometimes as little as a dollar and fifty cents a year. That money goes into a fund and homeowners voluntarily enroll in the equity program. If the appraisal is less than the original purchase price when they decide to sell, homeowners receive a cash claim for the difference.</p><p>It&rsquo;s worth noting that Oak Park started a similar program in the late 1970s to manage racial integration. No claims were ever paid out and the program ceased.</p><p>But liberal Oak Park is much different from blue collar Marquette Park, where angry whites jeered at and stoned Martin Luther King in 1966 when he marched for racially open housing laws.</p><p>A horrified 16 year old Jim Capraro witnessed that incident a block away from his home. And he carried it with him as a young man.</p><p>&ldquo;I remember seeing Stokely Carmichael speak in Chicago, a civil rights leader. When he was done speaking, a white kid kind of raised his hand and said &lsquo;what should white kids do to change this?&rsquo; And Stokely said &lsquo;white kids should go back to where they came from and change it there,&rsquo;&rdquo; Capraro said.</p><p>He returned home to the Southwest Side and led the Greater Southwest Community Development Corporation for decades in Chicago Lawn.</p><p>Capraro served on the board of the Southwest Home Equity Assurance Program until 2010. He wasn&rsquo;t active in getting it started but has thought a lot about its effect.</p><p>&ldquo;Does a program like this support racism or thwart racism? Even the people who aren&rsquo;t racist might end up getting hurt because the very act of a large number of people fleeing puts more supply on the housing market than would normally be,&rdquo; Capraro said.</p><p>Whatever the intent, none of the 20-odd neighborhoods in the three home equity districts experienced white flight. Take Chicago Lawn for example. Decades after the ugly backlash against Dr. King, it experienced a smooth racial transition during the 1990s. Today 63rd Street is a bustling strip with mosques, a Harold&rsquo;s fried chicken, and a Belizean restaurant.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/home%20equity2_140611_nm.jpg" style="height: 349px; width: 620px; float: left;" title="A boarded up building in Chicago Lawn. Neighborhood activists say fixing vacancies should be a priority of the home equity districts. (WBEZ/Natalie Moore)" />Meanwhile, farther west, union signs hang on the front porches of blondish brick homes. Here, in the Clearing neighborhood, the area is still mostly white.</p><p>Many other neighborhoods in the home equity districts are largely Latino now.</p><p><span style="font-size: 22px;">&#39;Why should that money be sitting there?&#39;</span></p><p>At the Northwest Side Housing Center on west Addison Street, Polish signs hang inside the storefront. The office is crowded with people seeking help to keep their homes. The surrounding bungalow communities of Dunning, Portage Park and Irving Park used to house the largest concentration of Polish families in the city. Families like Ernie Luconsik&rsquo;s, a housing volunteer.</p><p>&ldquo;One of the reasons I moved to my area was because it was integrated. I found it fascinating that people got along and didn&rsquo;t look at people as any kind of color,&rdquo; Luconsik said.</p><p>These days there are nearly as many Latinos and Asians living in the neighborhoods.</p><blockquote><p><strong>CHART: <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/why-are-we-still-collecting-taxes-prevent-white-flight-chicago-110325#districtchange">How the racial makeup of the home equity districts has changed</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>&ldquo;As a community-based organization and community residents who are supposed to be benefiting, where is the accountability about the funds and how they are being used?&rdquo; said James Rudyk, executive director of the Northwest Side Housing Center.</p><p>The Northwest Home Equity Assurance Program taxes approximately 48,000 homeowners. Fewer than 10 percent of homeowners in the Northwest Side district are enrolled in the program &ndash;&nbsp;even though all of them pay the tax.</p><p>The fund has $9.6 million.</p><p>&ldquo;Why should that money be sitting there? And if it&rsquo;s something that&rsquo;s not going to produce back, then stop it overall. Because it&rsquo;s something that&rsquo;s not being a benefit for the people or the community,&rdquo; community organizer Vanessa Valentin said. She said families could use that money for something other than claims: home repairs, small loans to prevent foreclosure.</p><p>Rudyk said they tried to organize around this issue several years ago, but got nowhere.</p><p>&ldquo;They have not returned our calls either or our request for a meeting. We were told why are we here, why are we questioning? This isn&rsquo;t our business,&rdquo; Rudyk said.</p><p>I know the feeling.</p><p>When I tried to talk to somebody from the three equity programs, no one agreed to a recorded interview. One of the programs wouldn&rsquo;t even give me their financials until the state attorney general got involved.</p><p>Judging the success or failure of the equity programs is hard. Did the psychology of having insurance keep white families from fleeing?</p><p>We may never know. While blacks never did buy many homes in the bungalow belt, today the northwest and southwest sides are no longer exclusive white enclaves.</p><p>UIC&rsquo;s Ashton said immigrants helped stabilize changing communities where the taxing districts exist.</p><p>&ldquo;Absent Latino homebuyers, white homeowners would&rsquo;ve struggled to find replacements for themselves when they were trying to move out through course of the 1990s. And they didn&rsquo;t move out because, I don&rsquo;t think, they encountered more minorities moving in,&rdquo; Ashton said. &ldquo;They moved out because they were getting old and their home was their major source of wealth and they wanted to retire or they were passing away and the family wanted to resolve the estate by selling the home.&rdquo;</p><p>Now those same immigrant families are facing a fresh set of challenges related to the housing downturn.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Residents want money invested in neighborhoods</span></p><p>Veronica Villasenor is a counselor for the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, which serves a low-income and working class Latino area.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m a Hispanic, I&rsquo;m a Latina. I know how my parents think. I know how my parents were victims of getting a mortgage that wasn&rsquo;t sustainable,&rdquo; Villasenor said. &ldquo;Just in general the community is not educated. I think the state should assign money to develop education programs for these families &ndash; financial literacy, for mortgages.</p><p>Where would that money come from? Villasenor has her eye on the $1 million cash reserve in the Southwest Home Equity Assurance Program.</p><p>That&rsquo;s the board Capraro used to sit on the board of that program. He said he can count the number of claims that went out. Usually because of an inaccurate appraisal, not because of a drop in home values.</p><p>Realizing the program was flush with cash, Capraro says the board took action.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;We appealed to the legislature and actually got permission to do this: we were lending people money at interest rates that were much less expensive than a normal home improvement loan or home equity line of credit,&rdquo; Capraro said.</p><p>It was a popular program until the housing market crashed. Suddenly, a roof repair wasn&rsquo;t as important as hanging on to one&rsquo;s home.</p><p>Separately, the Southwest Guaranteed Home Equity Program has more than $53 thousand dollars in the bank. Last year it collected $185,000 but it hasn&rsquo;t had any recent payouts.</p><p>The Northwest Home Equity Assurance Program last paid out a claim more than 15 years ago.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;Let them explain to community residents what&rsquo;s being done with these funds and how we can work together it&rsquo;s not work against each other it&rsquo;s work together for the benefit of the community,&rdquo; Valentin said.</p><p>In 2011, the <em><a href="http://www.suntimes.com/news/watchdogs/8177235-452/taxpayer-money-set-aside-to-curb-white-flight-helped-some-flee-city.html#.U5XsW1fvn_Y" target="_blank">Chicago Sun-Times</a></em> investigated how families were cashing out of the program due to the housing economic slump, which is not what the taxing districts were designed for.</p><p>Put aside, for a moment, the reason these three taxing districts exist and focus just on the dollars.</p><p>Any community area would envy a pot of money that could potentially be reinvested back in the neighborhood &ndash;&nbsp;no matter what race benefits.</p><p><span style="font-size: 22px;">Map: Where are the home equity districts?<a name="wheredistricts"></a></span></p><p><span style="font-size:14px;">(click on the districts for financial info)</span></p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="300" scrolling="no" src="https://www.google.com/fusiontables/embedviz?q=select+col2%3E%3E0+from+1OVxIg4ZMZyPSe4FvVqVzWQasXgkF9WbsSNyMnsF4&amp;viz=MAP&amp;h=false&amp;lat=41.87606330248448&amp;lng=-87.73913351843261&amp;t=1&amp;z=10&amp;l=col2%3E%3E0&amp;y=2&amp;tmplt=2&amp;hml=KML" width="620"></iframe></p><p><span style="font-size: 22px;">Chart: How the racial makeup of home equity districts has changed<a name="districtchange"></a></span></p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/district%20change%20chart.PNG" style="height: 297px; width: 620px;" title="(WBEZ/Chris Hagan)" /></div><p>Chicago&#39;s three home equity districts cover 18 community areas. Those neighborhoods saw major demographic shifts from 1990 to 2010. For example, in Archer Heights White residents made up 90 percent of the population in 1990 but only 21 in 2010, a drop of 69 percentage points. In the same time Latino residents increased from 9 to 76 percent.</p><p><span style="font-size: 22px;">Map: How the racial makeup of Chicago has changed<a name="racemap"></a></span></p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/maps.PNG" style="height: 381px; width: 620px;" title="Dot density map showing census numbers. (WBEZ/Chris Hagan)" /></div><blockquote><div>&nbsp;</div></blockquote><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/nmoore-0" rel="author">Natalie Moore</a> is WBEZ&rsquo;s South Side Bureau reporter. <a href="mailto:nmoore@wbez.org">nmoore@wbez.org</a>&nbsp;</em><em>Follow Natalie on <a href="https://plus.google.com//104033432051539426343" rel="me">Google+</a>, &nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/natalieymoore">Twitter</a></em></p></p> Wed, 11 Jun 2014 14:10:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/why-are-we-still-collecting-taxes-prevent-white-flight-chicago-110325 Chicago's red "X": Meaning, myths and limitations http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicagos-red-x-meaning-myths-and-limitations-110315 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/153918243&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_artwork=true&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: We have an <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago-quietly-phasing-out-red-x-program-110924" target="_blank">update to this story</a>, which expands on the red &quot;X&quot; program&#39;s lack of funding.</em></p><p>While walking around her Logan Square neighborhood Chicagoan Poppy Coleman noticed something peculiar about two rundown buildings: They bore metal signs emblazoned with a large red &quot;X.&quot;</p><p>Poppy says she wanted to know more, including: &ldquo;Who they were for, maybe what department put them up, and if it was something that I should know about.&rdquo; So, she sent Curious City this question:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>What do those red &quot;X&quot; signs mean on buildings?</em></p><p>She&rsquo;s not the only one who&rsquo;s confused. Since 2012, red &quot;X&quot; signs have popped up on nearly 2,000 properties around Chicago. It&rsquo;s not hard to find <a href="http://www.trulia.com/voices/Home_Buying/Are_the_red_X_buildings_for_sale_-613697" target="_blank">people posting in online forums</a>, wondering aloud whether the red &quot;X&quot; means a building&rsquo;s condemned, vacant or for sale.</p><p>But in the course of reporting an answer for Poppy, we encountered hard questions about the program that supports red &ldquo;X&rdquo; signage, including whether the city&rsquo;s doing enough to communicate its intentions. We also turned up some surprising news: This program, meant to save the lives of first responders and others, has <a href="#money">run out of money</a>.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">The sign&rsquo;s origins: A mayday call</span></p><p>On Dec. 22, 2010, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCPw1aiQDO8" target="_blank">firefighters were searching for squatters inside a burning, long-vacant laundromat </a>on the 1700 block of East 75th Street, in Chicago&rsquo;s South Shore neighborhood. As firefighters continued their sweep of the building, a wall fell and then the roof collapsed, killing firefighters Edward Stringer and Corey Ankum. Nineteen others were injured.</p><p>&ldquo;When I first became alderman, one of the first visits that I paid was to Fire Chief Mark Neilsen,&rdquo; said 50th Ward Ald. Debra Silverstein, who sponsored two city ordinances in response. The first ordinance, passed in 2011, required the department to catalogue buildings with bowstring truss construction, a <a href="http://www.firefighternation.com/article/firefighter-safety/bowstring-truss-roof-construction-hazards" target="_blank">variety that&rsquo;s prone to collapse during fires</a>.</p><p>Silverstein&rsquo;s second ordinance sought to find and mark all of Chicago&rsquo;s dangerous buildings. For that program they decided on rectangular metal signs displaying a big red &quot;X&quot;, a symbol used by fire departments in New York City and other some other cities. <a href="http://dart.arc.nasa.gov/Recon/BUILDI~1Rev1.pdf" target="_blank">That iconography comes from a federal program for marking vacant structures</a>.</p><p>Chicago doesn&rsquo;t assign red &quot;X&quot; signs to just any vacant or abandoned building; a sign is a visual cue that a structure is structurally unsound and that firefighters and other first responders should take precautions when responding to emergencies there. It&rsquo;s also an extra reminder for anyone who might wander into a vacant building &mdash; which is illegal already &mdash; that they should stay out.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><span style="font-size: 22px;">Making a list</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Trip.jpg" style="width: 350px; float: right; height: 700px;" title="All three vacant buildings are marked with the red X, but display varying levels of disrepair. No signage indicates dangerous, structural disrepair. (WBEZ/Shawn Allee - Kathy Chaney)" /></p><p>Since Silverstein&rsquo;s <a href="http://chicagocouncilmatic.org/legislation/1135934" target="_blank">ordinance</a> passed in June 2012, the Chicago Fire Department has placed red &quot;X&quot; signs on 1,804 buildings. That&rsquo;s less than half of the more than 5,000 vacant properties registered in the city &mdash; itself a fraction of the estimated total of <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/bldgs/dataset/vacant_and_abandonedbuildingsservicerequests.html" target="_blank">vacant and abandoned buildings in Chicago</a> &mdash; but CFD Spokesman Larry Langford says it&rsquo;s a start.</p><p>&ldquo;We picked 1,800 that we wanted to get marked right away,&rdquo; he says. When the program started, Chicago&rsquo;s Department of Buildings sent over a list of structurally unsound properties for CFD to add to as they saw fit. The list from the Department of Buildings included a few hundred properties deemed more than 35 percent deteriorated.</p><p>Langford says &ldquo;It&rsquo;s based on structural damage rotting in some cases, vandalism, previous fire, the overall integrity of the building, what&rsquo;s missing from the building, if there are holes in the floor, porch in bad condition, roof about to go &mdash; things that might make it difficult for a fireman to work the fire, or for the building to come down quickly during a fire.&rdquo;</p><p>That list quickly grew to 1,800. Firemen took note of vacant buildings as they did their rounds, checking out potentially unsafe structures and adding to the initial list of red &quot;X&quot; candidates.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">&lsquo;They&rsquo;re everywhere&rsquo;</span></p><p>Records obtained by WBEZ show the city often put up dozens of signs at a time in parts of the city with a lot of vacant and structurally unsound buildings.</p><p>Poppy Coleman joined Curious City Editor Shawn Allee and reporter Chris Bentley for a short canvas of the South Side&rsquo;s Englewood neighborhood, which has hundreds of buildings sporting the signs.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe align="middle" frameborder="0" height="620" scrolling="no" src="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/redx/embed.html#/?address=7000%20S%20Normal%20Ave%2C%20Chicago%2C%20IL%2C%20United%20States&amp;radius=805interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/redx/embed.html" width="620"></iframe></p><blockquote><p><em>(Curious City canvassed portions of the Englewood neighborhood near the intersection of 70th and Normal. There are 55 red &quot;X&quot; signs posted within a half-mile of the intersection. Map: <a href="http://wbez.is/1hMvplH" target="_blank">See the signs across the city and search by address</a>)</em></p></blockquote><p>Most of the residents we talked to around the intersection of 70th and South Normal Avenue described waking up to find several houses on their block marked with red &quot;X&quot; signs. The signs never go unnoticed, but neighbors are often confused about what they mean.</p><p>&ldquo;For some reason the red &lsquo;X&rsquo; became something totally different than what we intended it to be,&rdquo; said Langford. &rdquo;I thought they were kidding me when they said it, but some people thought that those were the buildings that were being targeted by the drones when the next war started, and that the red &lsquo;X&rsquo; is a drone target.&rdquo;</p><p>The department has largely left it up to aldermen and their offices to publicize the signs&rsquo; purpose. Langford says people have called to ask the fire department if red &ldquo;X&rdquo; buildings are part of a program by the city to sell distressed property at a discount, or to pillory property owners whose taxes are in arrears.</p><p>&ldquo;It has nothing to do with ownership, it&rsquo;s not a part of any kind of program to do anything with the buildings. For the most part they&rsquo;re privately owned,&rdquo; Langford says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s just a marking for danger. It&rsquo;s really just that simple.&rdquo;</p><p>Simple, perhaps, but there&rsquo;s a lot of confusion in areas where red &quot;X&quot;s are common. If these signs are here to save lives &mdash; both those of firefighters and anyone who might think of trespassing on potentially dangerous abandoned properties &mdash; is everyone on the same page?</p><p>There are several red &quot;X&quot; buildings on the 6900 block of S. Normal, where Maria Johnson lives. But her next door neighbor is an abandoned building that doesn&rsquo;t have a red &quot;X&quot;. She says just because a building&rsquo;s deemed vacant doesn&rsquo;t mean it&rsquo;s unoccupied.</p><p>&ldquo;Homeless people, people with nowhere to stay,&rdquo; said Johnson, who has lived on this block for three years. &ldquo;I know they went into the &nbsp;building next to me and someone set it on fire, it caught onto my crib. So I don&rsquo;t know if they were living in there, or getting high, or whatever, but I know there were some homeless people going through the back door.&rdquo;</p><p>There&rsquo;s so signage explaining the red &quot;X&quot; &mdash; just the &ldquo;X&rdquo; itself &mdash; so if you want answers, you have to find them yourself. Most of the people we asked in Englewood thought the red &ldquo;X&rdquo; marked buildings for demolition. Earl Liggins was one of the few people who knew what the signs&rsquo; real meaning, but that&rsquo;s only because he took matters into his own hands.</p><p>&ldquo;I called the alderman&rsquo;s office and I heard it from the alderman people themselves,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;I was just concerned because there are so many of them. I was just wondering what does it mean, are they going to tear this many buildings down? I just wanted to know straight from them, what the situation was.&rdquo;</p><p>Liggins lives in a formerly vacant building on the 7000 block of S. Normal that he fixed up a few years ago. But he says whether they have a red &quot;X&quot; or not, most vacant buildings in his neighborhood stay that way.</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/untitled-3.jpg" style="height: 414px; width: 620px;" title="Earl Liggins, right, lives in a formerly vacant building on the 7000 block of S. Normal. Fifty-five red ‘X’ buildings lie within half a mile. (WBEZ/Shawn Allee) " /></p><p>&ldquo;For the most part they stay vacant forever,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;The condition of the building gets worse and worse. That building across the street &mdash; I&rsquo;ve been here 10 years and that building has been vacant for about ten years.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Removing the red &lsquo;X&rsquo;</span></p><p>There is a process to rehabilitate vacant and abandoned properties, but the city requires owners to obtain special permission before performing work on red x structures. Two years after the program began, however, <a href="https://www.chicagoreporter.com/reclaiming-avenue" target="_blank">only one building has successfully been repaired and had its red &quot;X&quot; legally removed</a>.</p><p>The next red &quot;X&quot; property to move off the list might be one of the buildings that originally sparked question asker Poppy Coleman&rsquo;s curiosity: 2800 W. Logan Blvd. A fire ravaged the three-story building last summer, but owner Darko Tesanovic <a href="http://webapps.cityofchicago.org/buildingpermit/search/extendedapplicationstatus.htm?permitNumber=100480840" target="_blank">got a city permit</a> earlier this year to repair the damages and turn a ground-floor dwelling unit into retail space. If he finishes the repairs, Tesanovic could be only the second landlord in Chicago to legally remove a red &quot;X&quot; from his building. In the meantime he says the X isn&rsquo;t impeding his redevelopment efforts, but it might be adding to neighborhood anxieties about the vacant property.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m not bothered by it,&rdquo; Tesanovic says. &ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s creating more confusion for the neighborhood than myself, because people in the neighborhood don&rsquo;t know what it means.&rdquo;</p><p>Our question asker was glad to learn what the red &quot;X&quot; means, but she still wonders about its impact. Many of the <a href="http://wbez.is/1hMvplH" target="_blank">neighborhoods with high concentrations of red &quot;X&quot; signs</a> are already reeling from a downward spiral of disinvestment, blight and declining property values. She&rsquo;s worried red &quot;X&quot;s are like scarlet letters &mdash; just another obstacle in a rough neighborhood&rsquo;s struggle to improve its station.</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/untitled-4.jpg" style="height: 414px; width: 620px;" title="Chicagoan Poppy Coleman, left, asked Curious City about the meaning behind more than 1,800 red ‘X’ signs posted on buildings across Chicago. (WBEZ/Curious City) " /></p><p>&ldquo;My disappointment is that once the &lsquo;X&rsquo; is up, it doesn&rsquo;t sound like there&rsquo;s any support to help move that building to a next phase, either to get it sold, get it taken care of, get it torn down,&rdquo; Coleman says in the shade beside a boarded-up red &quot;X&quot; building on the 7000 block of South Eggleston Avenue. &ldquo;Putting the &lsquo;X&rsquo; on it seems to be where the program stops.&rdquo;</p><p>Ald. Debra Silverstein, who sponsored the original red &quot;X&quot; ordinance, says she&rsquo;d be open to the city forming a task force charged with helping city agencies work together to resuscitate ailing properties after the fire department marks them.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m not aware of any talk about the different departments working together specifically on the red &quot;X&quot;, but I highly encourage that,&rdquo; Silverstein says. &ldquo;I think we&rsquo;re all better off if all the different departments work together and form a task force to solve some of these issues. That&rsquo;s really important to get things taken care of.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;"><a name="money"></a>Out of money</span></p><p>While in Englewood, we ask the CFD&#39;s Larry Langford whether it makes sense to let the public know more about the meaning behind the &quot;X&quot; &mdash;maybe by putting up a smaller, less permanent sign explaining it&#39;s dangerous to enter such buildings.</p><p>&ldquo;If we expand the program, that&rsquo;s a suggestion that will be made,&quot; he says. &quot;It might cut some of the confusion down. Put a permanent sign up, put an adhesive sign up &mdash; could be.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>Whether they&rsquo;ll get a chance to do that is an open question, because this program that was meant to save lives has run out of money. The city received $675,000 from <a href="http://www.fema.gov/welcome-assistance-firefighters-grant-program" target="_blank">the Federal Emergency Management Agency&rsquo;s Assistance to Firefighters grant program</a> to fund the red &quot;X&quot; program. Most of that federal grant money went to two local contractors: AGAE Contractors and M-K Signs.</p><p>Data obtained by WBEZ show the city spent all of that money over thirteen months starting in June of 2012, and <a href="http://wbez.is/1uNLXMp" target="_blank">hasn&rsquo;t put up any new red &quot;X&quot; signs since July 2013</a>.</p><p>Ald. Debra Silverstein, who sponsored the original red &ldquo;X&rdquo; ordinance, says she&rsquo;s eager to find more money for the program. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s office did not return requests for comment. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;We wish it would be funded for a longer period of time, but yes we think it was a success,&rdquo; says the CFD&rsquo;s Larry Langford. &ldquo;Are there more than 1,800 that could be marked? Absolutely. But we&rsquo;re not doing anything until we get more funding.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="http://cabentley.com/" target="_blank">Chris Bentley</a> is a reporter for Curious City and a freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley" target="_blank">@Cementley</a>. <a href="https://twitter.com/shawnallee" target="_blank">Shawn Allee</a> is Curious City&#39;s editor. <a href="https://twitter.com/chrishagan" target="_blank">Chris Hagan</a> is a WBEZ web producer and data expert, and&nbsp;</em><em><a href="https://twitter.com/kathychaney" target="_blank">Kathy Chaney</a>&nbsp;is a WBEZ producer.</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Tue, 10 Jun 2014 16:33:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicagos-red-x-meaning-myths-and-limitations-110315