Open Government Ex Ante: My talk to Open Government Chicago

25 04 2013

Good discussion at the end of the video too. Thanks to Joe Germuska and Dan O’Neil for the invite.

Entrepreneur-in-Chief: The New Model City

4 01 2013

Jamelle Bouie, a moderate liberal writer for The American Prospect, tweeted this:

around the same time that Mick Dumke, a left-leaning Chicago Reader reporter, wrote this:
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The Chicago Model Fallout Revisited: Catharsis, Context and Circumstance

15 09 2012

The Chicago Teachers’ Union strike was not unpredictable, nor was it sudden, nor was it over merely details, free of context, that are the subjects of the collective bargaining negotiations.

Since at least 1995, but particularly since 2004, Chicago’s students and teachers have borne the pain of experimentation, like lab mice in an education policy laboratory. That context is important, and it is inextricably linked to the nature of the strike and the source of its support among teachers, parents, students, the public–most everyone it seems, except journalists and powerful politicians.
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Life in the Neoliberal City: Post-Partisanship Wins!

29 06 2012

America’s big cities (and major metropolitan areas) are the laboratories of policy, if states are the laboratories of democracy. In metro areas and cities, universities, professional organizations, and trade associations and economic alliances are capable of exerting outsize influence and try to implement to approaches to social and economic problems that, again, are more easily identified and addressed because of high population concentrations in relatively small geographic areas.

Tell the nation! Draw near all ye with David Brooks columns bookmarked for other than hate reading purposes: Chicago and America’s big cities have achieved post-partisanship! The very post-partisanship our President talked about on the campaign trail. As the post-partisanship machine takes firmer hold of our cities, it will move upward, capillary-attraction speed, to the states, until finally–finally!–we achieve the post-partisanship paradise pundits prattle on and on about.

What does that post-partisanship look like? Let Mick Dumke and Ben Joravsky tell you:

Welcome to part two in our ongoing series on the mayor’s millionaire’s club, in which we pore over the mayor’s daily appointment schedule with the aim of shedding light on how the mayor prioritizes his time–and his far-reaching connections…

[O]nce again, we found that his days were loaded with rich guys, campaign donors, powerful contractors, union busters, charter-school supporters, City Hall insiders, aldermanic brownnosers, and other favor seekers.

But during these three months Emanuel found time for another type of visitor: major funders of conservative attacks on President Obama. As such, the mayor’s calendar offers a glimpse of what passes for bipartisanship in Chicago–and shows the ways in which wealth and access, at least as much as party identity or ideology, have come to command the attention of politicians, leaving everyday people out of the conversation.


As a whole, appointments with neighborhood groups or community leaders were largely missing from the mayor’s schedule. [Amisha] Patel says her group’s requests for a meeting with the mayor have been ignored. She notes that Emanuel continues to find job subsidies for profitable corporations and developers at the same time he’s cutting library hours, neighborhood services, and public-sector positions. “Let’s talk about job creation but let’s do it in a full way.”

In fact, like many up-and-coming Republican stars, the mayor has shown a willingness–some would say an eagerness–to take on organized labor, especially the teachers union. He’s also an avowed supporter of charter schools, paying them about as many visits, and arguably more attention, as he does regular public schools.

Post-partisanship means staying away from the organized (and thus cantankerous) disaffected and powerless, and hew to the already powerful and wealthy who must know what’s best.

If this were just a Chicago phenomenon, it may be dismissed as yet another quirk of Chicago’s sui generis politics.

It’s not though! Phew, right? Post-partisanship lives to fight another day! In the form of…
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A Long Time Comin’: Chicago Teachers Strike Authorization Vote Begins Today

6 06 2012

cross-posted from Gapers Block

Beginning today, over 20,000 Chicago teachers will vote on whether or not to authorize their bargaining committee to call for a strike should negotiations with the Board of Education over new contract terms fail. For authorization, 75% of non-retiree union members would need to approve. This high threshold is the result of legislation passed last year. As state public employees, teachers’ collective bargaining rights and terms are governed by state, rather than federal, law.

The legislation in question, known as SB7, was passed after intense and stealth lobbying efforts by Stand for Children, a well-funded non-profit that operates at the state level to encourage entrepreneurial changes to public education that incrementally privatize school systems. Stand for Children co-founder Jonah Edelman famously bragged at a conference that they used access to important and influential political figures like Rahm Emanuel and Michael Madigan, and insiders like Jo Anderson to tighten restrictions on the Chicago Teachers Union. Part of the strategy was to take away one of the union’s more potent tools, the strike threat. Unable to take away the right to a work stoppage, Stand settled for a 75% approval threshold.

Now, it is looking like Stand’s strategy might backfire, if teachers ultimately vote to authorize a strike. After all, the question teachers will vote on is whether to authorize a strike, not whether to go on strike. Arguably, winning an authorization vote by 50%+1 would not be a real show of strength. A significant portion of teachers would have expressed their opposition to a strike, and maintaining the strike, once called, would be exceedingly difficult. The organizational capacity teachers build by being forced to get over 75% means a resilient strike, should things come to that, and a battle-tempered organization prepared to push hard during negotiations.

Besides the mechanics of it, there are the underlying social conditions that are bringing this to a head.
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Protests: Merging Means and Ends

21 05 2012

Ugh. There’s no good way to go about this, particularly so soon after the protests have settled and the fact and myth detritus is yet to be sifted through. Forensics at this stage are dicey.

I’ve never been keen on protests as purely symbolic gestures, though I generally don’t criticize them, as speech acts have an (admittedly de minimis) inherent value in a republic. Protests qua protests typically serve as an internal act of organizing–honing organizational processes, identifying activists and leaders, developing messages, and serving the omnipresent need for “consciousness raising.” But protests as pure speech acts are ephemera–or, maybe better, phenomena–that should express organizational acumen and announce a program to the public, rather than being the program itself. In other words, an organization’s strength won’t come from protests; protests should be an expression of strength built as a result of direct action contending with the status quo.

The protests that unfolded over the weekend, particularly over the last twenty-four hours, reflect the lack of a means-ends connection. Their listing from an identifiable objective, perceived lack of focus, and disparate employment of means are a function of not having an objective–even a grand one, like Gandhi’s all-encompassing goal of an independent nation void of all forms of social violence–and thus being unable to calibrate their activities to that vision.

That said, the movement is nascent; it may well be that only through large-group action, even an amorphous action, can it begin to develop a vision through group consensus. That process will be a slow and meandering one, but its product may for that reason be a particularly adamantine one. What’s more, considered as speech acts, protests warrants evaluation on the content of the speech; insofar as the messages communicated to the public were of perverse public priorities, the immorality of endless foreign and domestic war, and the insularity of global leadership, the speech is at least reasonable, at best commendable.

Means and ends in movement building are inextricably linked. This is by no means settled, and it was a point of contention between Gandhi and his critics, between Bayard Rustin and Malcolm X.

The issue is this: is there a disconnect between means and ends, such that a movement’s tactics are only important inasmuch as they create conditions for implementing organizational goals? Or is the connection a necessary one–where the conditions arrived at will inextricably look like the tactics adopted?

This was Gandhi’s key assertion for the 40+ years he spent helping build the swaraj movement in India in the face of critics from both his flanks who argued respectively for cooperation with the British for gradual independence, and armed resistance to the institutions of British repression to force independence. Gandhi consistently and passionately argued for decades that whatever independence India achieved would look like the struggle that achieved it. For a stable state where all classes could truly participate in their own governance, where British inhumanity would not merely be replaced by high-caste or military inhumanity, only firm and unwavering participatory and strategic nonviolence could be employed as a tactic.
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My Birthday Wish for Chicago: Desegregation

5 03 2012

Chicago is huge. Geographically, very, very big for an old city. At 225 or so square miles, it could fit four Bostons inside it. New York is only 75 square miles larger, despite being almost three times as populous. Excepting Alaska, there are only three cities north of the Mason-Dixon line that are larger. I don’t take seriously critiques of Chicagoans’ parochialism; we live in a city of neighborhoods and Chicago’s sheer scale makes comprehensive circulation throughout the city prohibitive. Besides; New Yorkers tend to stick to their boroughs.

But the city turned 175 this past week, and there is one wish I’d make as we blow out the candles: to make a serious commitment to desegregating the city.

chicago-segregation-map.jpgChicago’s desegregation is stubborn. It persists for a variety of reasons, as many invisible as visible, and not all attributable to official political policy or market pressures. But the fact is somewhat inescapable that 44 years since the passage of the Fair Housing Act, almost 50 years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, there is an easily identifiable white Chicago, Latino Chicago, and Black Chicago.

Polls show that Black Chicagoans in particular are willing and in fact desirous of living in more integrated communities. The lip service our politicians pay to diversity suggests there is at least superficial political support for diverse neighborhoods. But the segregation problem seems intractable. Why?

For one thing, it may be because in our public rhetoric segregation is not seen as a problem. This was particularly conspicuous during the ward remapping debate; the fact that it is still so easy to draw lines around massive areas of the city with homogeneous racial populations didn’t seem to raise any questions about our supposedly progressive city.

My little enclave of Noble Square is somewhat integrated. There are still “white ethnic” families, and Mexican and black families despite the strong lacing of white professionals and college students that usually augurs turbo gentrification. Taking my inexhaustible puppy for a long walk around our neighborhood this weekend, one reason for this island of diversity occurred to me: at either end of the neighborhood are large low-income housing developments, with a senior public housing high rise smack in the middle. In between are two high schools and at least two elementary schools, a park, and two- and three-flats with only a smattering of single-family homes and condo blocks.

Could it be that Chicago’s segregation problem is a zoning problem?

The problem of segregation is two-way. Not only are black and brown residents unable and/or unwilling to move into white neighborhoods, white residents are similarly unable, or perhaps more likely unwilling, to move into black and brown neighborhoods. If we assume that there needs to be an internal migration–that the city’s extant population needs to move in order to integrate it, rather than relying on an influx from outside the city–then we can start to see the problem a little more clearly.

This is part of the uncomfortable problem of even talking about desegregation. Once we start talking about the mechanics of encouraging integration, we’re talking about policies that encourage people of different races to move in predictable ways which is a little creepy.

Chicago’s minority neighborhoods are, in the median, lower income than white neighborhoods. Any integrative migration can’t be merely unidirectional–people moving from minority neighborhoods into white neighborhoods–because the resulting market pressure would be to significantly increase housing prices that are already by definition too high. That is, unless housing density significantly increased in white neighborhoods on the North and Northwest Sides, increasing the supply of housing, influxes of new buyers and renters would just drive up prices. But even an increase in housing supply would be problematic, since it would mean that median to above-median income families from minority neighborhoods would be leaving neighborhoods, contributing to population and wealth loss from neighborhoods that are already struggling.

So a policy of inclusionary, large-scale zoning changes would need to start in border neighborhoods that are already somewhat mixed racially, accompanied by secure amenities and integrative social services (parks and libraries, community health clinics, and legal aid clinics, and so forth). Neighborhoods like East Garfield Park, Kenwood, Washington Park, Chicago Lawn, Cragin, and Ashburn are immediately obvious sites. The idea would be that as borders bleed, capillary attraction would pull people in opposite directions, eventually easing price pressure in exclusive white neighborhoods while introducing capital and services into neighborhoods that badly need them. The inherent value of exclusion in white neighborhoods would drop precipitously.

Inclusionary zoning would be comprehensive zoning changes and incentives that require not just “low-income set-asides” but density bonuses, elimination of exclusionary lot size and floor area ratio requirements, and land use planning that discourages congestion by clearing roads for buses.

Obviously, this would require a serious investment of capital–and the capital of the political kind might be even more difficult. Why should politicians bother sticking a thumb into the still tender wound of racial animus when the present set-up, allowing for the easy manipulation of voter blocs, is so beneficial? In the neoliberal city, the best answer would be an economic one; some mumbo-jumbo magical words about job creation, spontaneous order, or the like. But that can’t be the first step for such a major change in focus. It’s a moral question and we need, first, a moral argument. Segregation is Wrong, capital-w-wrong. It is bad in the abstract and the concrete. It undergirds political manipulation, social animus, it makes service imbalances more palatable for the powerful, severs natural communities of interest among the working classes, and robs future generations of the inherent value of diversity.

I’m heartened by the fact that social attitudes can change so quickly, as evidenced by the rapid turnaround of public attitudes towards gay marriage. The next generation are not zombified stooges fiddling on their phones; they’re nimble minds uniquely–because they’re all brand new–unburdened by the bigotries of past generations. If the older generation makes it a priority to articulate the moral argument, maybe the next generation of Chicagoans, celebrating the 200th birthday of their city, will be able to look back at us the way we look back at the redlining, blockbusting, white flight days today. And if I hear that comparison made on the nightly space news while drinking iced tea in my hover-recliner, I promise not to take offense.

Map source