Chicago to build combined mixed-income housing and libraries

By Matthew Messner

The Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) and the Chicago Public Library (CPL) have announced their intention to build three new mixed-income housing developments with co-located libraries. In an announcement made with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the two agencies will ask architectural firms to design a new combined building type for the projects.

“Chicago will be one of the first cities using this type of partnership between housing and libraries to benefit and beautify our neighborhoods,” said Mayor Emanuel. “This model will create spaces everyone can enjoy, and I hope will be the next great civic projects here in Chicago.”

The three new developments will be built in the far north and near west side communities, one of which will be a senior housing project. Each of the projects will be designed through a two-stage design competition. The city will first issue a request for qualifications (RFQ), from which it will choose three offices to submit proposals, budgets, and schedules. Once the architects are chosen for the individual projects, the CHA, CPL, and the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development will hold design workshops in each of the proposed communities. This process is expected to take 10 weeks, starting by the end of this year.

The new combined libraries will include programs for both the CHA residents and residents from the surrounding community. Each will also include an Early Childhood space, space for the Teachers in the Library Program, as well as integrated YOUmedia program for teams. Another important aspect of the new libraries will be the integration of adult workforce programs. The libraries will provide computer classes and coaching to build digital literacy and technology skills for adults and seniors. Library staff will be trained in connected jobseekers with agencies and resources for finding jobs.

“Libraries play a vital role in making knowledge and learning accessible, as well as offer a common space where the community comes together,” explained CPL Commissioner Brian Bannon. “Partnering with CHA is an innovative approach that better positions both of us to build a stronger foundation for our communities.”

Smart Electric Meters Coming Soon to Your Building or Business: How Will You Be Affected?

By Marty Cohen, Energy Policy Consultant and Former Executive Director Citizens’ Utility Board

In 2012 ComEd began to install 4 million “smart” meters across its service territory. By the end of 2018 every customer will have one – all part of the $2 billion “smart grid” deployment approved by the Illinois legislature. It’s no small investment, but there’s good reason to expect it to pay off for consumers.

The smart grid is an overlay of digital information and control over the old wires network that has remained pretty much the same since Thomas Edison invented it 130 years ago (although of course it is a whole lot bigger now!). The old hub-and-spoke one-way distribution network has worked reasonably well but was not designed to accommodate new technologies like solar rooftops, energy storage, electric vehicles, demand reduction programs and competitive electricity markets. And it doesn’t provide the kind of power quality, reliability and resilience needed for the 21st century.

What makes a smart grid smart? It starts with real-time information. One example:  today, if your power goes out, the utility company doesn’t necessarily know about it until somebody calls them to report it. But a smart meter is continually connected to the central office and transmits usage information every few minutes. When a tree falls on the line with a smart meter, not only does ComEd know about it and its exact location immediately, but computerized network controllers automatically try to find a different  route for the power to get to the neighborhood, often preventing a lengthy outage.  Smart meters also measures voltage, which will allow the utility to fine tune its power output to more exact specifications.  And network sensors can detect equipment malfunctions and get them repaired before they cause problems.

The result is that a smarter grid makes electric service more reliable – ComEd estimates there will be 700,000 fewer power outages each year after the new system is in place. While you are not aware of a power outage that did not occur, over time there should be measurable improvement in overall electricity reliability, and under the Illinois law, if reliability doesn’t improve, ComEd will pay financial penalties.

Smart meters also mean no more meter readers, far fewer estimated bills, no more truck rolls to connect and disconnect service, and much less theft of electricity (which all customers end up paying for). The net operational savings should come close to covering the cost of smart meter deployment.  The cost equation looks like a big net plus for customers after you add in the opportunities for individual homes and businesses to save money by using real-time electricity usage information to become more efficient.  More on those emerging “customer-facing” applications in the next installment.


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