mm205: Let them eat: Green Alleys?

November 26, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Call me an environmentally shallow and sloppy reader, but somehow I’ve missed until now Chicago’s Green Alley initiative. Sloppy because I had to read about Chicago, MUDGE‘s home town after all, in the NYTimes!



CHICAGO, Nov. 25 — If this were any other city, perhaps it would not matter what kind of roadway was underfoot in the back alleys around town. But with nearly 2,000 miles of small service streets bisecting blocks from the North Side to the South Side, Chicago is the alley capital of America. In its alleys, city officials say, it has the paved equivalent of five midsize airports.

Part of the landscape since the city began, the alleys, mostly home to garbage bins and garages, make for cleaner and less congested main streets. But Chicago’s distinction is not without disadvantages: Imagine having a duplicate set of streets, in miniature, to maintain that are prone to flooding and to dumping runoff into a strained sewer system.

What is an old, alley-laden city to do?

Chicago has decided to retrofit its alleys with environmentally sustainable road-building materials under its Green Alley initiative, something experts say is among the most ambitious public street makeover plans in the country. In a larger sense, the city is rethinking the way it paves things.

In a green alley, water is allowed to penetrate the soil through the pavement itself, which consists of the relatively new but little-used technology of permeable concrete or porous asphalt. Then the water, filtered through stone beds under the permeable surface layer, recharges the underground water table instead of ending up as polluted runoff in rivers and streams.

Some of that water may even end up back in Lake Michigan, from which Chicago takes a billion gallons a year.

“The question is, if you’ve got to resurface an alley anyway, can you make it do more for you?” said Janet Attarian, the project’s director.

Once upon a time, Chicago proudly characterized itself as “the city that works.” Haven’t seen that self-congratulatory slogan lately.

Why? A public school system, that despite some pockets of (mainly charter school) competency, leaves far too many of its students, yes, behind.

Why? A police department that, after years of rebuilding a professional reputation, has recently displayed some alarmingly “Dirty Harry” characteristics.

Why? A public transportation system forced to go begging annually to the state government to bail it out; this year, the state bucket has been missing in action. Draconian service cuts have been narrowly avoided, but the political machinations continue, and the needs of the public for affordable means to get to and from their jobs, is, as always, well down on the pols’ lists of  priorities.

Why? A surface street system whose signaling has seldom been updated since its installation in the 1950s; facilities that are routine in suburban systems such as traffic sensitive left-turn arrows for high volume intersections are the exception.

Why? A trash collection recycling program that was a joke from start to finish, and even the emperor finally had to acknowledge his “blue bag” nudity, and begin two decades late to put in place a realistic program.

Why? A steady stream of city officials and elected ones populating the state and federal prison systems, as “the city that works” basically worked for the politically connected, with kickbacks, sweetheart contracts and the like.

Why? A perfectly useful and manifestly convenient lakeside downtown airport that served corporate and private traffic for more than 50 years until, without input from the City Council or anyone else, construction equipment delivered stealthily destroyed its runway in favor of a park no one knew we needed, late one night!

But, thanks to Mrs. Mayor, we’ve got some grassy roofs, a zillion miles of decorative (if politically sourced) wrought iron fencing around public parks, including the late, lamented downtown airport, and a superficial green sensibility.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

In Miles of Alleys, Chicago Finds Its Next Environmental Frontier – New York Times

This curmudgeon is guessing that, at a minimum, the more than likely politically connected Green Alley contractor is charging the city a considerable premium over the proper rate for its more than likely monopoly status, and somebody deep in the administration is quietly supplementing his grandchildren’s college fund, or supporting his Gold Coast mistress. Green business is Chicago business as usual.

Hey, keep those trains and buses running, Chicago, or your Green Alleys will be serving miles of foreclosed, abandoned bungalows, as homeowners, unable to cheaply commute to their jobs, lose those jobs.

Talk about fiddling while Chicago burns!

It’s it for now. Thanks,