1. Speaking of elitist urbanism: This article from DNAInfo fairly dumbfounded me when I first read it. An independent grocery store in Ukrainian Village – Ashland just south of Division – wants to start selling liquor. The local neighborhood association is concerned, however, that alcohol might bring around unsavory characters. Or, well, not all alcohol:

A local grocer has been offered a liquor license with a twist: no mass market beers like Bud or Old Style and no cheap wines, either. [T]he deal that would allow him to sell only craft beers and higher-end wines….The restrictions are designed to ease fears by neighbors that the market could create alcohol-related problems.

so the government is mandating that the store only sell products that are too expensive for “problem” customers. I.e., poor people.

If this doesn’t strike you as obviously ridiculous, imagine if the shoe were on the other foot: if some community organization somewhere, like Uptown or UKRAINIAN VILLAGE TEN YEARS AGO, decided to fight gentrification by telling a liquor store that they could only sell cheap, mass-produced beer – no crafts, no local stuff, nothing small-batch or artisanal. (Of course, there would also have to be a ban on PBR.) If that happened, we would all shake our heads and say something like, “No, that’s just not how it works.” But when it comes to government-mandated class exclusivity, I guess it is!

More broadly, this is also an example of “local control” favoring a small set of provincial interests rather than a wider constituency of everyone who is affected by the decision. Let’s imagine, for a moment, that a majority of residents of this area are in favor of this policy, which I doubt. (The impetus for the special license was the East Village Association, which, if it is anything like every other neighborhood association ever, is not a representative sample of the people they ostensibly represent.) What about the people who work in the many service-sector jobs in Ukrainian Village, who may want to pick up a six pack of beer on their way home for $6.99 instead of $12.99? Or people whose commutes take them through the area? Or potential future residents? Why do none of them get a say? I’m a reasonably community-minded person, who believes that collective attachment to a place, and a collective culture, should matter in policy. But what deep spiritual attachment do the residents of the East Village have to craft beer and expensive wines that would justify this? Or – if we want to be credulous and take the crime angle seriously – exactly how much crime do the local police officials expect to be produced from a single liquor store at Ashland and Division? Have they walked around Division recently? Are they expecting drunk yuppies to start attacking innocent bystanders with their strollers?

It is certainly the EVA’s right to make requests of a neighborhood business, or to ask that there not be any liquor licenses in their area at all. It is also, of course, a business’ right to target their products to whatever slice of the income ladder they choose. But a compromise that involves making it illegal to sell products that are affordable to low-income people is pretty awful.

2. Yay suburban express buses! This article about the success of Pace’s BRT-ish highway-shoulder-riding express buses to downtown Chicago is pretty cool. The ridership is still pretty low – it’s quoted at 550 for the two routes – but they’re doubling the number of runs, so it sounds like it’ll probably keep rising. Plus, what a great way to give people who don’t live near Metra transit access to downtown! No wasting years in studies and trying to find hundreds of millions of dollars to construct new rail lines – just send those buses down the highway! Now the question is – or my question is – whether this (or BRT more broadly) could be a model for suburb-to-suburb transit as well. Cheap, easily changeable to meet new job clusters/transit demand, relatively fast. Might this be a pilot/replacement idea for Metra’s proposed suburb-to-suburb STAR line? Do other cities do this?