Author Archives: Carl Zimring

About Carl Zimring

I study junk and talk trash. Author of Cash for Your Trash: Scrap Recycling in America and general editor of The Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage.

Remembering Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Sustainability Promises Ahead of the 2015 Election

With this week’s news that Chicago Alderman Robert Fioretti is challenging incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the 2015 mayoral election is officially under way. It is a good time to take stock of the promises Candidate Emanuel made when he ran for mayor in 2011.

During that campaign, the Environmental Law & Policy Center sent a questionnaire to the candidates about several environmental concerns facing Chicagoans. You can read the complete questionnaire and responses from Emanuel (and his opponents Carol Mosley Braun, Gerry Chico, Miguel Del Valle, William Walls II, and Patricia Van Pelt Watkins) on the ELPC website. My post quotes Emanuel’s stances only and compares them to his administration’s actions since 2011.

ELPC Question 1. Will you strongly advocate for the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance and take other actions to require the clean up of all pollutants or the shut down of the highly-polluting Fisk and Crawford coal plants by 2015?

Emanuel did not answer yes or no, but made the following statement: “Midwest Generation must clean up these two plants, either by installing the necessary infrastructure to dramatically reduce the pollution they emit, or by converting to natural gas or another clean fuel. I will work closely with State and Federal regulators and the City Council to make sure it happens.”

Goal Met? Yes. Emanuel’s statement reflected his knowledge of what the Obama administration and EPA were doing on the federal level to regulate coal powers plants. EPA regulations of mercury emissions enacted in late 2011 effectively made it impossible for aging coal-fired power plants to stay in operation. In 2012, Fisk and Crawford shut down, as did the larger State Lane Power Plant just across the border in Indiana and dozens of other plants across the nation.

ELPC Question 2. Do you support the Chicago Climate Action Plan goal to reduce greenhouse gas pollution by 25% by 2020 and commit to take the necessary actions to achieve these results? ELPC Question 3. Do you support investment in auditing and retrofitting all City-owned and City-leased buildings in the next five years with energy efficiency measures that have paybacks of about ten years or less?

Emanuel responded yes to both questions, with the following statements: “The City of Chicago is facing a budget crisis, and cutting energy use in City buildings is an important way to both save money and improve the environment. Chicago city government has to be a leader in demonstrating that environmentally smart choices make economic sense, and I will dramatically improve energy efficiency in City facilities and assist sister agencies in doing the same thing.

But we can’t just stop at City operations, I have outlined a proposal to triple the number of homes and businesses – from the current 7000 to 21,000 annually – that are retrofitted each year in Chicago by creating a $10 million fund that allows current programs to be significantly scaled and expanded. The city’s investment is projected to leverage an additional $100 million in outside resources from ComEd, People’s Gas, and various governmental and lending institutions. The plan is estimated to create more than 400 good-paying jobs and reduce harmful carbon emissions by more than 5,000 tons – the equivalent of cutting our gas consumption by 618,000 gallons annually.

My plan begins by designating a dozen Energy Efficiency Target Zones in areas that are shown to be least energy efficient, and select an anchor organization in each area to act as a one-stop-shop to significantly increase efficiency projects. I would then create a $10 million fund to support efforts in each zone so that local building owners can leverage an additional $100 million in private and public funds. Finally, my plan sets a firm deadline to complete an online one-stop-shop so that every Chicagoan can easily navigate the funding options to make efficiency improvements in their own homes and businesses.

My proposal, which is attached, is fully paid for through savings in other programs.”

“The City of Chicago is facing a budget crisis, and cutting energy use in City buildings is an important way to both save money and improve the environment. Chicago city government has to be a leader in demonstrating that environmentally smart choices make economic sense, and I will dramatically improve energy efficiency in City facilities and assist sister agencies in doing the same thing.

But we can’t just stop at City operations, I have outlined a proposal to triple the number of homes and businesses – from the current 7000 to 21,000 annually – that are retrofitted each year in Chicago by creating a $10 million fund that allows current programs to be significantly scaled and expanded. The city’s investment is projected to leverage an additional $100 million in outside resources from ComEd, People’s Gas, and various governmental and lending institutions. The plan is estimated to create more than 400 good-paying jobs and reduce harmful carbon emissions by more than 5,000 tons – the equivalent of cutting our gas consumption by 618,000 gallons annually.

My plan begins by designating a dozen Energy Efficiency Target Zones in areas that are shown to be least energy efficient, and select an anchor organization in each area to act as a one-stop-shop to significantly increase efficiency projects. I would then create a $10 million fund to support efforts in each zone so that local building owners can leverage an additional $100 million in private and public funds. Finally, my plan sets a firm deadline to complete an online one-stop-shop so that every Chicagoan can easily navigate the funding options to make efficiency improvements in their own homes and businesses.

My proposal, which is attached, is fully paid for through savings in other programs.”

Goals Met? Not Yet. Emanuel’s major initiative on this point was creation of the Chicago Infrastructure Trust to make downtown buildings more energy-efficient. It is too early to tell the results. The Trust approved its first project in November 2013 to make improvements in 75 city buildings, and this spring the Associated Press concluded that the Trust has “started slowly.”

When first talking about the trust in 2012, Emanuel spoke of including more than 1,000 city buildings, $225 million in investment and $20 million in energy savings. The ultimate $12.2 million deal is even smaller than what went into Chicago’s bike-sharing program: about $22 million. Instead of 2,000 construction jobs, it’s around 100.
The retrofit shrank in part because some buildings couldn’t generate enough of a payback over the 15-year term; others had liens.
The trust’s CEO, Stephen Beitler, says the initiative might later include some of those sites in separate deals. He said he envisions “greater and greater investor interest” as the project gets “better and better.”
Emanuel, in an interview, said he’s not disappointed. He said with a framework now in place the city is ready for projects targeting energy-sucking city swimming pools and a quarter-million streetlights.
“We’re going to do it in steps — since it’s something new,” he said.

In the City of Chicago’s “Sustainable Chicago 2015″ report (DDF), the administration announced a goal to improve citywide energy efficiency by 5% through a variety of incentives. Data on how successful the initiatives have been is not public as of this writing.

EPLC Question 4. Do you support requiring all newly constructed and substantially-rehabilitated buildings in Chicago to include wiring to accommodate an on-site renewable energy generation system, starting in 2014?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “I will work with the City Council to establish these requirements for new buildings of a certain size. Further, I will conduct a detailed review of City code and permit requirements to identify and eliminate barriers to the expansion of renewable energy installations throughout the City and make sure that the City Energy code is fully and effectively implemented.”

Goal Met? No. Perhaps the City has not updated its website on the Energy code yet.

ELPC Question: 5. Will you commit the City of Chicago and its affiliated agencies to purchasing at least 20% of their electricity supply from locally or in-state generated renewable energy resources by 2014?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Renewable energy has to be a critical part of the City’s energy mix and integrated into an overall strategy that dramatically expands efficiency and reduces our dependence on fossil fuels. Given the dire financial situation of the City, we need to get the most out of every dollar spent, and I will emphasize local renewable energy sources that support jobs and renewable energy development in Chicago. Further, the State’s renewable energy portfolio standard should be enhanced to support affordable, distributed renewable energy sources in urban areas.”

Goal Met? No. The Sustainable Chicago 2015 report (PDF) now offers a goal of 2 MW of solar panels on public buildings and 20 MW of solar panels on private buildings by 2015. No public data supports the achievement of either those goals or the 20% renewable pledge made in 2011.

ELPC Question 6. Will you support an ordinance that would require cleaner diesel fuel and equipment to be used on City-funded construction projects?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “As part of my comprehensive strategy to reform the procurement process and green Chicago’s supply chain, I have made a commitment to review all City contracts, including construction contracts, to identify environmental impacts and modify specifications to ensure environmentally safe and affordable choices.”

Goal Met? Yes. The City Council passed such an ordinance in April 2011.

ELPC Question 7. Will you ensure that Chicago’s current solid waste recycling ordinance is enforced and that source-separated recycling is available to all homes and businesses by 2014?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “I will enforce the City’s solid waste recycling ordinance.

Improving and expanding curbside recycling is a top priority of mine. Picking up garbage in Chicago is too expensive and inefficient and must be reformed. Recycling has to be part of a comprehensive plan to overhaul the City’s garbage collection system, particularly in light of the massive deficits in the City’s budget. I am committed to making this a long-term project so that all Chicago residents have access to curbside recycling, but the time frame for implementing the expansion will have to be determined based upon the availability of revenue and in the context of the City’s budget crisis.”

Goal Met? No. Two months into his term, Mayor Emanuel unveiled the first step in attempting to provide all Chicago residents with access to curbside recycling, announcing an expansion of blue carts to 20,000 additional households by November of 2011, with further expansion to come. To offset costs, collection from the blue carts would come from dividing the city up into six collection areas, with the massive private vendor Waste Management (previously the city’s partner in the failed blue bag program) collecting from three areas, Midwest Metal Management (a division of Sims) collecting from two areas, and the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation collecting from one area.

The idea was that the three entities were participating in a “managed competition” program, and the goal of the program was to reduce the high costs of recycling. The competition would take place for six months (starting in November 2011), and the city would assess its results as it moved to expand recycling services.

In April of 2012, the city announced that the competition had reduced the costs of the recycling program. The city claimed that blue cart collection had cost the city $4.77 for every blue cart collected before the managed competition program, and those costs were lowered to $3.28 per bin in the area collected by the Department of Streets and Sanitation and to $2.70 a cart in the areas collected by the private vendors. Mayor Emanuel also promised to complete the rollout of blue bins to single-family dwellings by the end of 2014.

In October of 2013, Mayor Emanuel followed up on that promise, detailing plans to deliver 72,000 more blue bins, bringing the number of households served by the program to 600,000 citywide.  At the announcement he remarked, “With the final phase of the blue cart recycling expansion, Chicago is no longer the tale of two cities when it comes to recycling. “Recycling is now a reality for every neighborhood in every community, and we have made Chicago a greener, more environmentally friendly city.”

The mayor overstated his case.  Blue bins are going to houses throughout the city, but hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans do not live in houses.  As WLS-TV noted, “twice a week, the blue carts are collected at residences in single family homes and buildings with fewer than four units.”  Larger, multi-dwelling buildings have not received blue bins.  The Burke-Hansen ordinance, law in Chicago for more than twenty years, requires such buildings to hire private vendors to collect recyclables.  The ordinance, however, was never enforced during the Daley administration and thus far has not been enforced during the first term of the Emanuel administration. The administration has given no specifics how Chicago might improve recycling services in large buildings.

It also remains to be seen whether Chicago will comply with Illinois state law and collect yard waste, or how much of the collected material from the recycling program is actually recycled. That said, the expansion of blue bin services is an improvement.

ELPC Question 8. Will you change Chicago’s MeterSave program from a voluntary installation system to a mandatory one with a goal of reaching 50% of single-family homes and two-flats during your first term?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Yes. Too often, water is squandered as though it is limitless. As Mayor, I will direct the Department of Water Management to increase efforts to educate the public about the importance of water conservation, ensure proper water metering, and accelerate its water main replacement program to reduce leaks in the system. He will also task the Department of Water Management to study water rates in the city to determine the best way to adjust rates to encourage conservation and keep water rates affordable for all Chicagoans.

Goal Met? No. The MeterSave program remains voluntary, though the City announced in January 2014 that it “is progressing ahead of schedule.”

ELPC Question 9. Will you commit to requiring all City building, street, alley, sidewalk and parking lot projects to adhere to the City’s own stormwater ordinance in order to significantly reduce stormwater runoff, localized flooding and basement backups?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “I will direct the Departments of Water Management, Environment, Housing and Economic Development, Transportation and the Office of Budget and Management, to develop a multi-year plan to reduce overflows and basement flooding. The plan will set measurable targets for reductions in sewer overflows and basement flooding, identify the priority locations for sewer improvements and green infrastructure, like permeable alleys and planted parkways, coordinate projects to minimize costs and leverage state and federal dollars to make it happen.”

Goal Met? Yes. In October of 2013, the Metropolitan Planning Council praised the progress of the city and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District on this point. This progress included a plan the city unveiled that month.

EPLC Question 10. Will you publicly support disinfecting the sewage effluent that is pumped into the Chicago-area waterways?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Disinfection is a standard practice around the country and it is long overdue in Chicago.”

Goal Met? Yes. After longstanding pressure by Friends of the Chicago River and attention from the US EPA, Chicago is finally developing a system of disinfecting the sewage effluent that has polluted the river.

EPLC Question 11. Will you advocate for an accelerated timeline for the U.S. Army Corps’ Great Lakes-Mississippi River Interbasin Study that is examining watershed separation to permanently solve our invasive species problem?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Invasive species are a significant and immediate threat, and separation of the watersheds is an important opportunity to invest in and improve the environment, our infrastructure and our economy. We cannot go slow or take a wait and see approach. The study must be expedited.”

Goal Met? Yes. The Study was released in early 2014.

EPLC Question 12. Will you be a vocal advocate for increased capital and operating funds for the Chicago Transit Authority from all levels of government in order to maintain transit operations and provide for necessary service expansions?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Reliable and affordable public transit is critical to Chicago’s environmental and economic well being. I will push to expand state and federal funding, advocate for reform of the State funding formula to ensure adequate resources for critical services and demand better planning and coordination by CTA, Metra and Pace to enhance customer convenience and increase ridership.”

Goal Met? Mixed. The Civic Foundation praised the CTA’s 2014 budget for not relying as heavily on one-time revenue sources but also stated that the CTA’s funding precariously depended upon the state’s funding (which had not been reformed).

EPLC Question 13. Will you support ensuring that 100% of CTA’s diesel bus fleet is equipped with modern pollution controls within three years?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Public agencies need to be leaders in converting their fleets, and diesel improvements are a reasonable and affordable step.”

Goal Met? No. The last time the CTA’s website bragging about pollution reduction was updated was 2011, with the last statement about diesel coming from 2003.

ELPC Question 14. Will you be a strong advocate for the federal government’s increased investment in the Chicago-hubbed Midwest high-speed rail network and work to ensure that Chicago’s high-speed train station is designed to catalyze economic development and connect well with CTA, Metra and other transportation modes?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “High-Speed rail will create jobs and investment in Chicago and throughout the Midwest. To ensure that Chicago gets the maximum benefit, I will make sure that high-speed rail investments are closely coordinated with local transit and other transportation improvements. A high speed rail terminal, with easy access to other transit options, will be a tremendous anchor that will drive investment and economic development both around the terminal and for the communities linked to it.”

Goal Met? Too Early to Tell. As the question indicated, this is a complex issue in which federal activity is particularly important. That said, the HSR line to Saint Louis is progressing.

The Midwest High-Speed Rail website last had a post tagged with Emanuel’s name on May 30, 2012, when the city announced upgrades to Union Station.

ELPC Question 15. Will you commit to implementing strategies outlined in the 2015 Bike Plan, Chicago’s Pedestrian Plan and Chicago’s Complete Streets Policy to increase bicycle use and promote safe walkways?

Goal Met? Yes. As with other cities, including Boston and New York City, Chicago introduced a bike-share program in 2013 and has implemented protected bike lanes. The Active Transportation Alliance summarized the city’s progress on this front in July, concluding “since 2011 Chicago has built nearly twice as many miles of barrier-protected bike lanes than any American city including New York, Portland and San Francisco.

But 100 miles by 2015? Well, that’s proven to be a very ambitious goal the city won’t meet. The city is counting protected and buffered bike lanes towards meeting a 100 mile goal for “advanced” bike lanes, which will be a huge accomplishment and way ahead of other cities.

We love buffered lanes, too, but remain committed to at least 100 miles of protected lanes as part of a comprehensive network.”

ELPC Question 16. Will you support the adoption of policies to promote car sharing and electric vehicles, which can relieve congestion and reduce air pollution?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Car sharing and electric vehicles are important alternatives that need to be fully integrated into transportation planning. But we need to do more than plan; we need to invest in the infrastructure that will make those plans reality. As part of my green fleets strategy I have set specific targets for reducing trips and switching to transportation alternatives reducing City employee vehicle miles travelled by 10% and switching 10% of their work related trips to alternative transportation. Transportation alternatives will include car sharing, bicycling and transit. Chicago has received over $15 million dollars in Federal Stimulus grants to increase the conversion to alternative fuel vehicles and development of alternative fueling infrastructure. Chicago needs to make the most of the federal dollars that it has received by expediting the implementation of the fueling infrastructure and developing a concrete plan for continued expansion of that infrastructure network after the federal stimulus program has ended. Chicago, and other state and local governments have fallen behind in spending their energy related stimulus dollars. I will conduct a detailed review of the performance of stimulus energy dollars, set hard deadlines for meeting grant targets and reprogram money that isn’t effectively spent to important priorities like expanding the alternative fuelling infrastructure and tripling the rate of energy retrofits for Chicago homes and businesses.”

Goal Met? Yes. Chicago’s car-sharing services (as with other cities) have proven sufficiently successful that large rental agencies such as Enterprise and Avis have gotten into the business locally.

ELPC Question 17. Do you commit to adding neighborhood public park space in communities that have less than 2 acres of parks per 1,000 residents?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “I will work to expand parks and make sure that those parks are properly programmed to provide recreational opportunities, improve quality of life and support environmental education and stewardship.”

Goal Met? Partially. The answer to this question depends on how you count the progress of the new 606 and Chicago Riverwalk expansion developments. A July article of “the five most anticipated parks” in Chicago involved reuse of existing parkland in Grant Park. The last space allotted to parks on the South Side was Stearns Quarry Park in 2009, and neighborhoods such as Little Village have not seen new spaces devoted to public parks.

ELPC Question 18. Are you committed to transferring the approximately 1,500 acres of City- or Port District-owned land in the Calumet region to the Chicago Park District and/or Forest Preserve District as identified in the City’s Calumet Open Space Reserve Plan?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Despite a legacy of contamination and neglect, the Calumet region is home to nationally significant environmental assets that demonstrate the resilience of nature. Protecting the region’s natural resources is fully compatible with plans to create jobs and economic development, and celebrating and enhancing environmental assets must be a critical component of the sustainable development of the southeast side. I support the Open Space Reserve Plan including the transfer of property to the Park District and Forest Preserve.”

Goal Met? No property transfer reported yet. While I could find no news on a formal property transfer as stated in the Calumet Open Space Reserve Plan, Mayor Emanuel has appeared with Governor Quinn to announce redevelopments of the region, including Millennium Reserve.

ELPC Question 19. Do you commit to completing the south lakefront park system from 71st Street to the Indiana border by 2015?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Chicago’s lakefront is an incredible natural resource that helps define our City and drive our economy. Completing the park system to the Indiana border during my first term will be a priority of my administration. I will make sure that that connection, brings the wonders of the lakefront to Chicago neighborhoods that have been cut off from Lake Michigan, and I will implement park development strategies that improve water quality and enhance and celebrate natural resources.”

Goal Met? Not Yet. With three months to go before 2015, no news on “The Last Four Miles” becoming part of the park system yet.

ELPC Question 20. Will you support coordinated and flexible city policies and zoning ordinances that will remove barriers and provide incentives for growing, producing and selling locally grown foods in Chicago neighborhoods?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Local food and urban agriculture create jobs, improve healthy food opportunities, and provide access to fresh and affordable produce. The City shouldn’t create barriers to expansion through excessive setbacks and overly restrictive zoning requirements, and we need better models to promote urban agriculture as a transitional use in communities that want it – particularly those that are currently in a food desert. I will do a top to bottom review of all existing programs and requirements and will develop and implement common sense approaches that promote the growth, production and sale of locally grown food in Chicago neighborhoods.”

Goal Met? Yes. The Emanuel administration has worked with Growing Power to use vacant lots for agriculture and provided incentives for farmers market purchases with LINK cards. The city has yet to make progress on collecting compost to use as soil in local agriculture, but overall Mayor Emanuel has kept this campaign pledge.

Now that Mayor Emanuel and Alderman Fioretti are formally in the 2015 campaign (with other candidates, perhaps including Karen Lewis, to follow), it is my hope that questions about sustainable energy, waste reclamation, water, food, and public lands will inform the debate to come so that Chicago citizens may make an informed decision this winter.

Sustainability Courses Back in Session As Pratt Starts Fall Semester

How do humans live in concert with the environment?  Discuss this question in these two Fall 2013 courses.

How do humans live in concert with the environment? Discuss this question in these two Fall 2014 courses.

Fall term started Monday at Pratt, officially kicking off the second year of the Sustainability Studies minor. The Sustainable Core course is offering two sections. I am leading the Monday 2-4:50pm section and Jen Telesca is leading the Wednesday 5-7:50pm section. Each section includes participation by various Pratt instructors, giving students a sense of how sustainability is approached in design, architecture, the social sciences, the natural sciences, and humanities. This course is designed as our introduction to sustainability, and it is a required course for Pratt’s Sustainability Studies minor.

We deliberately have larger enrollment caps on the core course, so interested students can still sign up for either section. In addition, we have added more elective courses that count toward completion of the minorIf you are a Pratt student and have any questions for me about either of these courses, please feel free to contact me at czimring@pratt.edu.

Is the Polluted Past Prologue to a Sustainable Future? Society for the History of Technology Presentation November 7

A man stands upon waste on Bubbly Creek, 1911.  Chicago Daily News.

A man stands upon waste on Bubbly Creek, 1911. Chicago Daily News.

November brings the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) meeting to Dearborn, Michigan. The Envirotech Special Interest Group (SIG) always has a presence at SHOT, and as part of it, I will present a talk about the use of environmental history to develop sustainability studies education at 2pm on November 7. Although this talk is right after lunch, it will probably include the image of a man standing atop slaughterhouse waste on Chicago’s Bubbly Creek. Audience members are advised to eat Coney Island hot dogs for lunch at their peril. Here’s the panel information.

Technology Natures Communication (Friday, 2-3:30pm)

Carl Zimring (Pratt Institute): Is the Polluted Past Prologue to a Sustainable Future? Uses of the Environmental History of Waterways as Pedagogy for Sustainability Education

Ann N. Greene (University of Pennsylvania): Engineering the Erie: The Technopolitics of Water in 19th Century America

Michael Winslow (University of Iowa): The Culture of Turfgrass: Golf Tourism, Progressive Agriculture, and Technologies of Landscape in North Carolina, 1895–1935

“Paths to Sustainability: Contested Spaces in American Urban Environments” at the Urban History Association, October 9-12

SUST405GowanusFromMTAAs the coordinator of Pratt’s Sustainability Studies minor, I try to use my discipline of environmental history to spur discussion of how we may learn from the past to develop better practices in the future.

At this October’s Urban History Conference in Philadelphia, Steve Corey of Columbia College, Jim Longhurst of the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, and I will discuss some historical paths to sustainability, specifically on solid waste management, urban cycling, and urban waterway stewardship. I look forward to the discussion, even if Professor Longhurst does not put his money where his mouth is and take a round-trip bicycle journey between LaCrosse and Philadelphia. (I certainly will not swim down there from the Gowanus Canal, so I suppose that’s fair.)

Whose Waste? Whose Problem? Munich Conference, October 23-25

PlasticBagsChicagoNothing like talking about waste with like-minded people, so I’m looking forward to this workshop at the Rachel Carson Center this October:

Conveners: Eveline Dürr (LMU), Soraya Heuss (LMU), Roman Koster (LMU), and Christof Mauch (LMU/RCC)

Waste has until now mainly been a technical problem, matched by technical solutions in waste disposal, waste management, and recycling. But waste is a complex phenomenon that can only be fully understood by exploring cultural perceptions and social practices alongside the technical strategies for dealing with waste. A broader view helps us to focus more clearly on the political topicality of waste, for instance in the context of the fast-growing megacities. It is all the more surprising, therefore, that there has not yet been any systematic research into the social, legal, and political discussions about waste in the light of modern developments.

This three-day workshop, as part of the LMU Center for Advanced Studies research focus ‘Waste in Environment and Society,’ features presentations by leading scholars on ‘waste-scapes,’ how waste travels, and the possibility of a future without waste.

Presenters include:

  • Catherine Alexander (Anthropologist, University of Durham)
  • Amanda Boetzkes (Art Historian, Ohio State University)
  • Kate Brown (Historian, University of Maryland, Baltimore)
  • Christian Felske (City of Edmonton, Waste Management Services)
  • Stefania Gallini (Historian, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá)
  • Zsuzsa Gille (Sociologist, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
  • Jutta Gutberlet (Geographer, University of Victoria)
  • Sarah Hill (Anthropologist, Western Michigan University)
  • Herbert Köpnik (Formerly from Bavarian Ministry for Environment and Health)
  • Martin Melosi (Historian, University of Houston)
  • Jorge Fernández Niello (Environmental Engineer, Universidad Nacional de San Martín)
  • Gerhard Rettenberger (Engineer, Hochschule Trier)
  • Vera Susanne Rottner (Engineer, Waste Management)
  • Djahane Salehabadi (Sociologist)
  • John Scanlan (Sociologist, Manchester Metropolitan University)
  • Tian Song (Philosophy/Sociology, Beijing Normal University)
  • Carl Zimring (Environmental Historian, Pratt Institute)

An Appreciation of Bottomless Pit

bottomlesspitKEXP2014This week brought word that the Chicago-based quartet Bottomless Pit is on indefinite hiatus, so now is a good time for an appreciation of the band. Bottomless Pit began after the tragic death of Michael Dahlquist in 2005 ended the brilliant Silkworm. I could spend several paragraphs extolling what that band accomplished in its almost two decades, but you are better served by simply watching the documentary Couldn’t You Wait? if you are unfamiliar with the band and the men who made up the band. Without Michael, there could be no Silkworm.

Bottomless Pit continued the partnership of Silkworm songwriters Andy Cohen and Tim Midyett, who brought in Brian Orchard of .22 and Chris Manfrin of Seam for the new band. Tim had primarily played a Travis Bean bass in Silkworm; for the new band he shifted to an Electrical Guitar Company baritone guitar, leaving bass duties to Brian. This lineup produced a distinctive and wonderful sound, in which the low end of the bass and baritone provided some of the textures of early New Order while Andy (who had earned the nickname “the Hebrew Hendrix” years before) provided the high end. Bottomless Pit immediately found its own identity.

Over three albums and one EP, this lineup made uniformly excellent music. In particular, Tim’s writing reached a new level of excellence with the debut album Hammer of the Gods, eulogizing Michael with the gorgeous “Human Out of Me” and Tim’s writing continued to grow right through the epic “Felt a Little Left” (the closing song from 2013’s Shade Perennial). Andy alternately used the lineup for intricate textures (“Null Set,” “Dogtags”) or muscular, thunderous cacophony (“38 Souls,” “Fish Eyes”), continuing the impressionistic lyrical concerns he had developed in Silkworm. (A particular favorite of mine was 2013’s “Sacred Trench,” a rumination on the emotional fallout of a flood from one of the affected people.) I was fortunate enough to live in the Chicago area for much of Bottomless Pit’s career, and so I managed to see about ten shows over the years. Two constants informed those shows. First, the sets were always over too quickly (meaning some great songs were omitted). Second, it always seemed like they played one or two fantastic songs that had not yet shown up on a record. I learned to go into shows both anticipating great performances of songs I knew and also anticipate the unexpected.

The links below give good representations of Bottomless Pit. The first is a full set in a Memphis parking lot from 2012, and the second is a performance of four songs in the KEXP-FM Seattle studios from earlier this year. The complete discography is available from the band’s website, and not only do all of the records include brilliantly written and played songs, but the production is immaculate.

People interested in hearing Tim and Andy play live can attend either the Pittsburgh or Columbus Karl Hendricks benefits this August for solo sets.  I imagine both men will produce more great music in the future, and I hold out hope for a Wilma Pool triple album.

Thanks, guys.

Karl Hendricks Benefits to Defray Medical Expenses

Readers of this blog may be familiar with Karl Hendricks from a post I wrote about his music relating to the emotional pull to hoard (among other things) as well as having his most recent album The Adult Section firmly atop my list of favorite records from 2012.  In addition to owning Sound Cat Records in Pittsburgh, Karl is one of the more thoughtful writers and vocalists I know. This makes his diagnosis of oral cancer earlier this year particularly cruel.

Jon Solomon has set up a fundraising page to help meet Karl’s medical expenses.  You can donate here, and please see Jon’s message below to see some amazing fundraising events later this summer with music and readings from many of Karl’s friends (including my fellow onetime WRCT old, weird Americana DJ Jason Baldinger and some of the best musicians in the world).

For over 20 years Pittsburgh’s Karl Hendricks has been not only a good friend, but one of my favorite musicians. I’m not alone in either of these regards.

Karl has personally served as an inspiration to me as a dad, a writer and a small business owner as Karl’s the individual who keeps the excellent Sound Cat Records running smoothly.

He’s a quiet guy, not one to draw attention to himself and certainly not a person who is comfortable asking for help in this fashion.

His friends however aren’t as reserved. That’s why I am writing these words today.

In short: Karl Hendricks has oral cancer. He is working to get better, but it is going to be a long road to recovery.

If you would like to make a financial contribution to Team Hendricks, you can do so using this site. This fundraiser is being done with his consent.

With Karl unable to work this summer as he mends, times are tight in his household and if you’ve ever appreciated what Karl has done to better your own life, please consider passing some money his way.

There will be at least three benefit shows for Karl and his family you are encouraged to attend and spread the word about.

A series of rare items will also be auctioned off to benefit Karl around this time.

Friday, August 22
Brillobox (21+)
Pittsburgh, PA
8:00 pm ET
$10/door – if you wish to donate more you will be able to.
———————–
Line Forms
Tim Midyett (Bottomless Pit/Silkworm)
DAMA/LIBRA
Andy Cohen (Bottomless Pit/Silkworm)
The Gotobeds
Carousel

Saturday, August 23
2950 N High Street (21+) Update: Show moved to Little Rock Bar (944 N. 4th Street)
Columbus, OH
8:00 pm ET door : 9:00 pm ET show
$7
———————–
Marcy Mays (Scrawl)
Sue Harshe (Scrawl/Ft Shame)
Andy Cohen (Bottomless Pit/Silkworm)
Tim Midyett (Bottomless Pit/Silkworm)
Kyle Sowash
Lizard McGee (Earwig)
+ more to be announced.

Saturday September 27
Modern Formations
Pittsburgh, PA
8:00 pm ET
$7/sliding scale
———————–
Readings by:
Jason Baldinger
Kris Collins
Jerome Crooks
Lori Jakiela
Jeff Martin
Dave Newman
Bobby Pajich
Scott Silsbe
Hosted by Red Bob

Karl’s short story chapbook “Stan Getz Isn’t Coming Back” will be repressed in an edition of 100 copies for this reading.

Thank you very much.

Jon Solomon
July 2014

Again, the link to make a contribution is here. Karl should have the last word on this post, so here he is performing solo at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum from 2011.