Archive for the ‘Reflection’ category

Eric Zorn’s “Change of Subject” Chicago Tribune Blog…

September 18, 2012

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Rhubarb Patch: A tough discussion about ‘hard truths’ in the presidential race

Lots of fun over at the Trbune going back-and-forth with friend Eric Zorn.  Please click through…

Big Olmsted Panel @ FRED, Saturday, August 18, 1:30pm…

August 7, 2012

Please come if this is your kind of thing:

Frederick Law Olmsted Society


“Olmsted’s Design Lessons for Today”

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Riverside Town Hall

1:30 to 2:30 pm

Randy Blankenhorn, Executive Director, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning

Ed Uhlir, FAIA, Executive Director, Millennium Park Inc.

Beth White, Chicago Area Office Director, The Trust for Public Lands

Ferhat Zarin AICP, Ginkgo Planning and Design Inc.

This lively forum will discuss how Olmsted’s naturalistic and community-focused designs are relevant for today’s communities.

“These panelists bring an extraordinary depth of experience in today’s issues of sustainability, population growth, land use and historic preservation,” says Cathy Maloney, FRED Co-Chair and author of Chicago Gardens: The Early History.

“Having their knowledge of Olmsted’s lessons and Chicago’s challenges promises an insightful and informative discussion.”

Questions from the audience encouraged.  Please register for the panel discussion — and any other FRED activities — by visiting:

The Best Obamacare Conversation You Will Ever See

July 16, 2012

From the Union League Club of Chicago, July 11, 2012: Two leading attorneys debate Obamacare’s constitutionality and the Supreme Court’s ruling. You will hear from David B. Rivkin, Jr. who represented the 26 states that sued the federal government and Edward Levi Distinguished Service Professor Geoffrey Stone, the former Dean of the University of Chicago’s Law School and provost of the University, argues the law is constitutional.

Progress in 20th c.? — 2/19/2012

May 7, 2012


One more thing:

“why data will help us now after a century in which people like me promised it would, but instead we ended up seeing some 100 million die from totalitarianism, much of which was predicated on data…”

I would really like to find out if we agree on this one: is there more democarcy in today’s world than 100 years ago? On average, is today’s world better than it was 100 years ago? Is today’s world, on average, more fair than it was 100 years ago? I believe so. Do you?

POSTED SUNDAY FEB 19, 2012 15:50 #

“…inevitably gives weight to a status quo that i believe deserves contempt and suspicion.”

i think we have improved, but with unacceptable costs? communism’s black book, from yale university press, tallies a high cost indeed. add victims of the axis powers and you are in the more than 130 million realm. with 25,000 dying from hunger daily, how fair are we? how far have we really come?

i had a seminar with nobel laureate oliver williamson — who teaches at berkeley that the failure of bureaucracy is the biggest story of the 20th century. i agree.

as to me and science — i ask for a bit of accuracy. i have never denied the conclusion of what you call the “98 percent.” i have said i know there are two sides to that and all other stories, and that i don’t know which side is right. the agreement of experts should be viewed with as much skepticism as the claims of politicians.

POSTED SUNDAY FEB 19, 2012 20:01 #

Report on “An Evening of Olmsted” — 4/3/2007

May 3, 2012

dear all,

we had about 60 attendees, got underway at about 6:40, and adjourned a little after 8:30.

program was opened by jack wiaduck. charlie pipal spoke briefly and had to leave soon after. i think the presentations by david bahlman, vicki ranney and concluding with susan west-montgomery were truly first-rate.

network 6 / cable commission broadcast live and i was told it will be rebroadcast for a while. presumably their schedule is on the village web site.

questions went about an hour. there must have been about 20. i think it was a lively discussion.

in a very pleasant pre-event reception, the speakers, charlie, diane, jim, members of the flos board, jack and several trustees, katy and some of our village staff got together in the village offices for some relaxed conversation.

for anyone interested in naop, there are brochures at the village office and all are welcome

this is naop’s second riverside visit in less than a year. we dedicated a tree in honor of ed straka with jack, joan, ted and connie at dean and ella mae’s last may. all of us are looking forward to our next event here, whenever that might be.

thanks and best,

POSTED TUESDAY APR 3, 2007 16:14 #

dear david / all, here is the first, will post the more up-beat closing quote later:

”I have done a good deal of good work in my way, but it is constantly
and everywhere arrested, wrecked, mangled and misused.”

Frederick Law Olmsted, approx 1870s.

POSTED TUESDAY APR 3, 2007 16:51 #

What artist so noble, as he, who,
with far-reaching conception of beauty and designing-power,
sketches the outlines, writes the colors, and directs the shadows,
of a picture so great that Nature shall be employed on it for generations,
before the work he has arranged for her shall realize his intentions.

Frederick Law Olmsted
The Spoils of the Park

POSTED TUESDAY APR 3, 2007 19:29 #

An Evening of Olmsted — 3/10/2007

May 3, 2012

An Evening of Olmsted:
Dealing with Contemporary Needs while Maintaining and Preserving Olmsted Sites
The Reflections of Three Experts

Susan West Montgomery, Trustee, National Association for Olmsted Parks

Vicki Ranney, Associate Editor, Frederick Law Olmsted Papers

David Bahlman, President, Landmarks Illinois

Township Hall
Monday, April 2, 6:30 pm


POSTED SATURDAY MAR 10, 2007 18:09 #

dear all,

as those of you who participated in the workshops know, the national association for olmsted parks, of which i am a trustee, has promised a substantive program on the topic captioned above. we are delighted that vicki, susan and david have found the time to come and speak, and that schedules allow them to do so before the referendum, and further consideration of the tif idea.

vicki, as i am sure most of you know, is a noted scholar of olmsted, with numerous publications to her credit. susan west montgomery, from washington, d.c., has been one of NAOP’s key people on the post 9-11 u.s. capitol grounds rebuilding (the grounds are yet another olmsted work). david is well-known to illinois preservationists as one of the standout state preservation leaders in the entire country. he has numerous successes to date, but perhaps none as globally renowned as the then-LPCI (the name was shortened last year) shared success in saving farnsworth house.

each is aware of the tif proposal and the workshops. each is aware of analogous circumstances and precedents. i frankly do not know what any of them will say on the second, but i know each will speak from the heart, about a subject they know extraordinarily well and care about deeply.

i understand that the village is taking steps to secure digital video recording and broadcast the event on ch 6. unfortunately, monday the 2nd is the night of a village board meeting, at 7:30, so the trustees will be taking their leave then, after hearing the first hour of the program.

this is not a panel. rather, i think of it as a joint appearance, with three separate addresses. questions and answers will follow.

NAOP has expressed concern over the current tif plan and the possibility that untoward density could impair riverside’s character. we have also advocated comprehensive planning.

if you want to learn more about olmsted, and hear how these nationally known experts treat the issues with which we have been grappling since last summer, then i think this event will be of interest. i can say unequivocally that each is a stirring speaker with a lot to say.

for more info: [phone number]



POSTED SATURDAY MAR 10, 2007 18:27 #

Agency Capture — 5/1/2009

May 3, 2012

Agency Capture

This thread arises from my hope that we as a community supporting three very important governments, the village and Districts 96 and 208, can find ways to encourage reconciliation after the election and progress toward shared goals. This is the fifth post in this series. Some 75+ other posts have been made, all of which are significant and helpful, because more public involvement solves most public problems.

As has been said often, this Forum is a fantastic vessel for our involvement, so — please join in.

My prior posts suggest a mechanism for ongoing public dialogue on major issues, a virtual trusteeship (or school board membership), pushing out public agendas via RSS, etc. and an expansion of “public comment” to include recorded comments.

Each of these ideas relies on community use of technology to equalize information between officials and the public and create points of access for information going both from officials to us and from us to officials.

In this post I will suggest a step officials can take, and I hope they will take, to more fully represent us in their work. It is not about technology, but here as well there is need for community action to support our officials and institutions.

The original concern referred to by the term “agency capture” arose from a realization that regulators and their regulated tend to share information. Government regulators tended to depend on their private sector counterparts for a good deal of the information they needed to do their regulating.

After initial steps to regulate the railroads, and then later in finance and commerce generally, up to today’s SEC, FTC or EPA, to name a few, the concern has most basically been formulated as, “will the regulated capture their regulators, and thus divert the regulators from performing their assigned task?”

This question fills miles of law library shelves (now towers of data storage) for the benefit of students, professors, judges, government attorneys, big law firms, etc. With the Wall Street meltdown and the failures of Fannie and Freddie, it is a very hot topic.

But over time it has also become evident that “capture” through shared expertise was only one form of the phenomena.

Capture by other constituencies, such as appointing authorities, legislative overseers and vendors is quite possible, since each has a comparative advantage over the nominal agency heads in terms of accumulated information and resulting power.

Personally, I do not think any of these is an ongoing concern here in Olmstedia. Rather, the variant we need to avoid is staff capture.

Staff — the employees — almost always know more about their agency than the officials they serve.

Ask yourself: Who knows more about a school or a village office, someone who is there 40+ hours a week, or the officials who are there typically in the evenings, two or three times month?

I am not suggesting that our officials should work harder or longer, nor am I suggesting that our various staffs are anything but loyal and dedicated.

What I do suggest is that our agencies themselves, like all such agencies everywhere –in themselves, apart from us — take on lives of their own in their day-to-day operations. These lives, in turn, inevitably draw the attention of our officials. At a certain point our officials may use more of their time and effort explaining to us why the agency must do things its way, than telling the agency that it must do things our way.

If that happens, then they are captured.

This day-to-day activity has its own impetus. The urgent, it is frequently said, can overtake the important. Further, the mundane has its own importance. (Bills, for instance, must get paid.) All of such items tend to accrete and color the agency staff chief’s (a village manager or superintendent, for instance) view of “next most important item.”

When that happens, the agency is captured.

The agencies subsist in state and federal statutes, regulations, rules, practices and customs that go far beyond our elected representatives’ ability to influence. For instance, a village president will most likely be able to have a working meeting with a Congressman, but a village president cannot change administrative EPA rules that determine how waste is dealt with at a municipal garage.

The webs of law within which the agencies operate are hugely significant. They cannot be ignored. But at times — and I think we saw allusions to such circumstances in the recent campaigns — the web of law of a given agency gives its staff chief a momentum to move an agency in a particular direction. Part-time volunteer elected officials may — or may not — have the time and background to discern the subtle difference between activity that is “mandated” and that which is “voluntary.”

Crossing the threshold to “voluntary” activity grounded on legal mandates — instead of official policy — by definition depletes the agency’s ability to respond to its elected representatives when they seek to guide it in their direction, presumably based on their understanding of what their voters (us) want.

If this happens, the agency is captured.

Without replaying any of the campaigns and candidate statements one way or another, I personally have experienced over the last several years incidents at each of the institutions mentioned in which I concluded, “this is happening because staff has set it up to happen, not because our officials chose it to happen.”

And I was wrong. Why? Because, if the elected officials cede to hired staff an authority beyond execution according to law and policy established by our elected representatives, it is not the staff’s fault — it is the officials’.

This is where we as residents, taxpayers, voters and activists come in.

The quickest way to help officials be swallowed by staff is to not show up at meetings.

Several posts ago I argued for video public comment to help those who either cannot or do not want to appear at a public meeting, like single parents with precious little time. I am not arguing against that idea now. Rather, I think if we can make a meeting — we should go. We need to keep our links with our elected officials to remind them they are there for us and we are not here for them or their agency.

If along the way we have balanced the information supply, we have more to say to them. If we are actively contributing to solving their issues through a “community of practice,” mentioned above, better still. If we know the agenda, and have read the board packet, even more so. If we taped our comment so time can be spent on the agenda instead of desultory exchanges, we have paid respect to their time — and ours.

But, if instead, we abandon our officials, then their reliance on senior staff — and vendors, and employees, and other units of government, etc. skyrockets.

Our officials are there to represent us. Staff is there to execute. That means our officials tell the agency it must perform according to law and our policy — as expressed by them, our representatives.

If this does not happen, then the agency is captured.

POSTED FRIDAY MAY 1, 2009 15:26 #