CNT in the News

Urban Flooding by the Numbers: Chicago has an Urban Flooding Problem, and Chatham Sits at its Heart

South Side Weekly | April 18, 2019

Chicago has an urban flooding problem. The latest report on this issue, released by the Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in March, found that climate change in the Great Lakes will result in an increase in “extreme precipitation,” heavy rainfalls that are more likely to lead to flooding. This report is only the latest in a series that have sought to quantify the problem of urban flooding in Chicago, and its disproportionate impact on the South Side. In the wake of this report’s release, the Weekly went through literature on urban flooding, and pulled out the most important numbers that describe the problem.

Across the country, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates that twenty to twenty-five percent of all economic losses from flooding occur in areas that are not designated as a floodplain—instead, these losses are the result of urban flooding. In Illinois, that number is much larger, with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) finding that over ninety percent of urban flooding claims in the state between 2007 and 2014 occurred outside the mapped floodplain. In Illinois, in other words, the vast majority of flooding damage doesn’t come from rivers overflowing; instead, it comes from urban landscapes and sewer systems unable to cope with rainfall, causing water to back up into streets and basements. In Cook County specifically, the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) found zero correlation between whether a ZIP code is located in a FEMA-designated floodplain and the amount of flooding in that ZIP code.

New Chicago Task Force Report Has Guidelines for Shared Mobility and AV Policy

Streetsblog Chicago | March 15, 2019

Many Chicagoans would argue that Rahm Emanuel has been pushing hard for the approval of some dubious projects before leaving office, including the $6 billion Lincoln Yards development, the $95 million West Side police and fire academy, and Elon Musk’s (supposedly) $1 billion O’Hare Express scheme. But Emanuel did a solid for the next administration by being proactive about policy challenges that will likely arise in a future where shared mobility and autonomous vehicle technology become increasing dominant forces in society. In September, the mayor announced the creation of a new transportation and mobility task force headed by Ray LaHood, Barack Obama’s former U.S. Department of Transportation secretary.  CNT's Jacky Grimshaw and CNT Board member Stefan Gspurning are a part of this task force, which seeks to set the city on the right path towards seriously analyzing shared-mobility and autonomous vehicle issues that promise to become critical in the coming years.

Too Much Parking Makes Neighborhoods Less Equitable, but eTOD Can Help

Streetsblog Chicago | March 11, 2019

Over the next few months, the Center for Neighborhood Technology will be hosting workshops and webinars on equitable transit-oriented development (eTOD). These include topics such as new technology and eTOD and social service delivery in eTOD.

Earlier this week, CNT hosted a workshop exploring the impact of parking requirements on eTOD. Peter Haas, chief research scientist at CNT, was the first presenter of the workshop.

Some benefits of eTOD outlined in the presentation include reduced transit commute times, public health benefits, and the creation of more affordable housing. However, some of the benefits of eTOD have been overshadowed and undermined by the growing correlation between upscale TOD and the displacement displacement of longtime residents. For example, within a half mile of the California Blue Line station in Logan Square, 39 percent of units with rents under $1,000 have disappeared since 2000, according to CNT. When TOD doesn’t serve residents of all income levels, it doesn’t help to make our communities more equitable.

$15M Equitable Transit-Oriented Development Launched

Building Indiana | February 7, 2019

While Indianapolis’ low cost of living relative to larger cities is often touted as a competitive advantage, more than 28 percent of all households – approximately 106,000 families – in Marion County are housing cost-burdened, meaning that a family is spending more than 30 percent of its income on housing, according to Indianapolis-based Greenstreet Ltd. And if median wages in the region continue to stagnate or decline, as they have since 2010, we expect that number will increase.

One critical piece of the inclusive growth puzzle is affordable, transit-accessible housing. Thus, to promote inclusive growth in Indianapolis, our organizations – the Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership® (INHP), Cinnaire, and JPMorgan Chase – are partnering with the City of Indianapolis and other financial institutions, to launch the city’s first $15 million equitable transit-oriented development (ETOD) fund.

[...] Families that are housing cost-burdened often face difficult choices between housing affordability, quality and location. In places where affordable housing is not situated near jobs or transit, families often face higher transportation costs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, after housing, transportation is the second largest expense for the average American household. In Indianapolis, the Center for Neighborhood Technology found Indianapolis households spend 46 percent of their income on housing and transportation combined, compared to Cincinnati, Ohio, where households spend 42 percent and Buffalo, N.Y. residents who spend 39 percent.

Chicago's Deep Tunnel: Is it the solution to urban flooding or a cautionary tale?

Slate | January 2, 2019

That the Chicago River is reborn, that its tree-shaded promenades are thronged with strolling families, that new buildings turn toward the water and old buildings have opened new windows to face it, that people kayak in what was once an open cesspool in the middle of downtown—all of this is a point of pride here. People laughed when then-Mayor Richard J. Daley said in the ’70s that he’d one day like to see people grilling freshly caught fish on the river’s banks. Though it would have seemed insane in 1980 (or 1880), people do fish in the Chicago River today, and the number of species to be found here has multiplied tenfold in the past four decades.

That’s because Chicago built a second river, an infernal reflection of the first, tracing its course hundreds of feet below ground. On rainy days, this subterranean passage, a conduit that can hold more than 1 billion gallons of wastewater, welcomes a roaring torrent of shit, piss, and oily runoff from the downtown streets. This megasewer, a filthy hidden portrait to the Chicago River’s Dorian Gray, is dynamic enough to create its own wave action if not properly supervised. That’s what happened on Oct. 3, 1986, when a geyser blasted through a downtown street, lifting a 61-year-old woman’s Pontiac Bonneville into the air like a toy, nearly drowning the driver in dirty water. [...]

Chicago is vulnerable. Of the 15 largest metros in the United States, only Houston and Miami have higher rates of flood-insurance adoption. There were more than 181,000 flood-insurance claims in Chicago between 2007 and 2011 amounting to $773 million in damage, according to a 2014 report by the Center for Neighborhood Technology, a Chicago think tank. The figures almost certainly underestimate the problem, because not all insurance companies release flood-claim data, and many homeowners don’t have policies that cover street flooding or sewer back-ups. A separate study by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources recorded $2.3 billion in damage between 2007 and 2014, with more than 85 percent of payouts occurring in the Chicago metro area. What happens in Chicago is paradigmatic urban flooding: There is no correlation between FEMA flood plains and flooding damage. The dimensions of the crisis are human-made.

Climate Change Could Cause More Sewage Backups

Yale Climate Connections | November 20, 2018

Like many other cities, Chicago has a combined sewer system that moves rainwater and wastewater in the same pipes. So heavy rains can overwhelm the system, flooding residents’ basements with untreated sewage.  

Burns: “It’s just horrifying.”

Lori Burns is a lifelong resident of the city’s South Side.

Burns: “There’s a drain in the shower and water would be bubbling up from there, and then when the storms are really bad, the toilet would back up. So instead of the water going down and out of your house, it’s coming back through the toilet.”

As the climate changes and the Midwest gets more heavy rains, improving city infrastructure will be critical. But homeowners can also take action.

The nonprofit Center for Neighborhood Technology helped Burns plant a rain garden in her yard.

Burns: “We planted native species that have very, very deep roots so they are able to take up all of that rainwater that’s coming off the roof, and then you’ve got a beautiful garden that you and other critters of nature can enjoy.”

She also installed a backwater valve between her sewer line and the city’s. When the sewers are full of water during a storm, the valve shuts.

Burns: “It’s kept my basement dry ever since.”