Chicago Graffiti and 7 other issues on the brain

Dear King Daley,

1) Repeal the spray paint ban.
Please repeal the idiotic ban against selling spray paint in Chicago. It does nothing to deter graffiti and makes it incredibly difficult to obtain for non-graffiti purposes.

Now I'm a big fan of graffiti. I love the idea of a city full of walls that are exploding with colors, letters, and crazy characters. It creates a richness and liveliness that is otherwise lacking in an urban environment dominated by dull, lifeless, muted colors. But I do hate gang tags, and I do think that a citizen's personal property should be respected. So I can understand that for some people graffiti is a problem that needs to be solved. And for those people I think the city has a great graffiti removal service - just dial 311 and within a day or two city workers will come and remove it. But by no means does banning spray paint reduce graffiti in Chicago. Graffiti artists will simply find an outside source for spray paint (thus making it harder to track), or they will choose to tag with acid markers, stickers, sharpies, or scratching implements (arguably more damaging and harder to remove than paint).

2) Stop selling out the city's infrastructure.
*Sigh* Apparently Chicago has just privatized it's parking meters, allowing Morgan Stanley to take control over the parking meters for $1.16 billion. Supposedly the rates for the meters will now quadruple to $1.00 an hour. The leasing of public infrastructure appears to be a trend in Chicago - recently Midway airport was leased to a private company for 99 years. This is some serious bull. We pay some of the highest taxes in the nation, only for our infrastructure to be sold to the highest bidder, yet we still have a major budget crisis and crappy roads. Could someone please explain to me how this is possible?

3) Stop trying to get the Olympics here.
Yes, we know you like to make yourself look good. But trust me, having the Olympics come to Chicago will NOT be good publicity for you. Just imagine athletes missing their events while waiting for their CTA bus, or by having their flight delayed to O'Hare, or by their taxi breaking down after hitting a 4 foot deep pothole. Kiiiinda embarrassing, no? In the meantime, you are wasting a lot of time, energy, and (thanks to Blagojevich) committing more taxpayer money to this endeavor while your city's infrastructure is crumbling.

4) Stop hating on street musicians and street vendors, and culture in general.
What is the point of banning hot dog vendors from downtown Chicago? Why can't musicians busk on the sidewalks of Michigan Avenue? Why are there so many restrictions for small venues? Almost every major city in the world benefits from street performers and street vendors filling their streets. It creates a sense of communal space and makes the public way something more than a transitory element. The sidewalk goes from being a slab of concrete that gets someone from Starbucks to Dunkin' Donuts and becomes something living and breathing on its own. This seems like such an easy and harmless thing to do. I really don't know why Daley wants to run this town like a police state...

5) Term limits.
Daley, you've been mayor for almost 20 years now, and your father was mayor for 21 years. Combined, the Daley empire has ruled Chicago for almost half a century. As the saying goes, absolute power corrupts absolutely. With term limits, Chicago taxpayers could avoid the stranglehold of two decade mayors, forcing fresh blood in periodically and flushing out corruption.

6) Get rid of Lake Shore Drive.
The city has done an amazing job of preserving a lot of prime downtown lake shore real estate for public parks. Yet it completely ruins the lakefront for pedestrians by running a giant highway between the park and the lakefront.

7) Corruption.
Yeah, a no brainer, I know. But this city is way too tolerant of corruption. Part of me thinks that Midwesterners take a certain kid-like pride in Chicago's organized crime roots - as if it makes us tougher. The other part of me thinks that there is just a high tolerance for corruption because there has been so much of it, meaning Chicagoans will continue to support corrupt politicians, despite their scandals. If it isn't the police or the politicians, it's the building and zoning departments or the city inspectors. I think the first step in fixing corruption is to simplify and streamline bureaucratic processes (tangled and convoluted red tape means greater opportunities for corruption).

8) Segregation, Classism, and Gentrification.
Certainly these issues are a problem in any city, but in my opinion Chicago simply ignores these issues all together (or are so tolerant that change is very slow). The city focuses on improving downtown shopping and tourist districts while sweeping the voiceless away by bulldozing public housing and conducting arbitrary raids on illegal immigrant workers. There is certainly a lack of prioritization and focus going on.

I started this out as just a small rant about spray paint but realized I had more on my mind. Chicago is a great town, but it keeps shooting itself in the foot. What kills me is that a lot of improvements could be made to this city and it wouldn't cost a dime! They might actually generate more jobs and revenue. Let the street musicians play wherever, let street vendors sell hot dogs downtown, remove beaurocratic red tape to reduce bribery, let me buy spray paint in the store, reduce spending on cosmetic architecture improvements and focus on infrastructure development (but don't sell it), put term limits on the mayor, connect the park to the lake, and reduce the police-state of downtown Chicago.

I think the biggest obstacle in the way of any change is of course Daley. Being a corrupt Democratic incumbent mayor in a heavily Democratic town means that he will continue to win a re-election as long as he runs as the Democratic candidate. The only way it will change is if he leaves voluntarily, or if he makes such a big political blunder that he ruins any chance of re-election.

Here's to hoping things can get better for Chicago in 2009.

Happy new year ya'll!

xbeethovenx (not verified) says:

Sorry, not much to say here other than, great post and great food for thought!

3_leet (not verified) says:

You should send him this letter. Follow up with a phone call and repeat everything you said.

Also Vote for the Republican next time, change takes time, so it may mean living for 4 years under someone from the other party in order to break the monarchy. However, the solutions you have for problems 1, 3, 4 and 7 espouse traditional conservative principles of free markets and limited government, so perhaps it wouldn't be such a bad 4 years after all.

lost in the parking lot (not verified) says:

leave america, but bring the blue light just in case.

zirafa says:

Yea. I never thought I'd be one for "conservative principles" but I think in this case the regulations imposed by Daley are pretty oppressive and unfairly favor big businesses. On the other hand, Republicans wouldn't do much for 2, 6, 8, and might even make them worse. I wouldn't describe my position as classic conservatism but just one of increased efficiency, progressive action, and decentralization.

It would be quite an upset for a Republican to win Chicago, with the last Republican mayor elected in 1927.

A really fantastic turn of events would be if the Green party could take an outsider position and take advantage of the corruption surrounding Daley and the Democrats. They would have a chance with Chicago if they could show that they are more left-leaning and progressive than the Democrats, as well as less corrupt and could bring fresh blood into what feels like a back-scratching club of thieves.

kvee (not verified) says:

this article on obama/urbanism is kinda interesting and semi-related:

i wonder what obama's presidency might mean for the future of chicago and our other cities.

Visitor (not verified) says:

I can go to war, I can buy my own house, I can open my own business, I can have a child, I can go to college, I can buy my own car, BUT i can't buy a can of spray paint?!?!?! So my question is how is this ban going to prevent the people who are using it for graffiti from getting their hands on it? Because if they really want it they will get it anyway. So what are you actually accomplishing?? And what about the peolpe who are artsists they aren't using it illegaly but if they are caught with it they will get repremanded i don't think that it is fair at all.

Terrance (not verified) says:

Well, we all know what you'd do if you were Sovereign of Chicago for a day! Good job. Aren't monies from parking tickets and parking meters supposed to go toward road maintenance? And if so, it's no wonder the roads are somewhat lacking (almost literally speaking) if a private company owns the meters. If they just allowed the street musicians and hot dog folk back, it'd be a great way to cover up the condition of the pavement.

lost in the parking lot (not verified) says:

If these kids wanna spray all the walls with their drawings, they'll get the spray through the mail. If someone needs to paint something around the house, there's not even a chance they'll get what they need. So lift the ban!

chicago moving companies (not verified) says:

Running a world class city involves making difficult decisions - you can't make everybody happy. Decisions have to be made for the greater good. The main areas of Chicago will always be used for tourism and generating revenue. If you want free expression and a greater sense of community - move out of the loop area into the northern neighborhoods.