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Buffalo's Delaware Park. Credit: flickr user efoxsolomon

As populations shrink and our cities reassess themselves, many people are looking at the damage that freeways did to urban life.

Our Dan Bobkoff looked at that discussion in Cleveland a year ago, and now Buffalo is considering the same kind of move for the Kensington Expressway.

According to the Buffalo News, a coalition of businesses, civic institutions, block clubs and neighbors, including the Buffalo Museum of Science, the Wendt Foundation and the Olmsted Parks Conservancy, wants to re-connect the neighborhood to what was once the Humboldt Parkway.

The Parkway was designed by Frederick Law Omstead, the architect of Central Park in New York City and Belle Isle park in Detroit. It connected what was then called The Parade – now called Martin Luther King Park – with The Park, now called Delaware Park.

But the construction of the Kensington in the 1960s caused the destruction of a canopy of tall shade trees that lined the parkway, and sliced through the neighborhood, creating a concrete canyon.

Now, the Reclaiming Our Community Coalition envisions putting a cover over 1.2 miles of the expressway from Best Street to East Ferry Street and then planting a promenade of trees, shrubs and greenery. The tab would be around $465 million.

Members of the group met Thursday to finalize their response to a state Department of Transportation draft design study for the project.

The state study proposes five alternatives for the expressway, including doing nothing, adding new guardrails and paint costing about $2 million, filling in the expressway and creating a boulevard, which would cost $35 million, a partial deck, which would cost about $170 million, or the group’s plan.

What’s going on in your community? Are there any moves afoot to close or replace aging freeways?


Chicago suburbs, by flikr user Scorpions and Centaurs

American student loan debt totals nearly one trillion dollars. These loans break down to about $23,300 owed by each borrower. Changing Gears has been reporting on the effects of that debt and what it takes to pay it off.

We want to know how student debt affects big purchasing decisions. Are you ready to buy a house? And if so, can you get a mortgage?

Tell us how student debt affects your housing plans.

Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, says a Right to Work law is not a priority for his administration, and a number of Midwest governors agree. But the Michigan legislature has taken aim at a tenet of collective bargaining for the state’s teachers. 

On Wednesday, the Republican controlled legislature sent Snyder a bill that that prohibits public schools from automatically collecting dues from teachers and other school employees’ paychecks. The step affects teachers and employees from kindergarten through high school.

Supporters say the legislation will free up schools from doing the bookkeeping for unions, and require union members to write separate checks, or arrange for the money to be withdrawn from their accounts.

The ability to pay union dues via deduction has long been a method used by organized labor to encourage people to sign up. Labor leaders often have worried that if it’s difficult to pay dues, many people won’t bother.

“It could not have been a worse day,” David Hecker, the president of the Michigan branch of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a email to his members. (Read and listen to Changing Gears’ coverage of the issues facing teachers.)

Hecker said he believed the step was in retaliation for a petition drive that labor groups have launched to keep the state from enacting a Right to Work law.

These laws, like the one that recently took effect in Indiana, prohibit unions from automatically collecting dues from employees, even when the union represents their workplace.

Michigan unions want voters to consider a proposal this fall that would keep the state’s current closed shop status intact. In Michigan and many other Great Lakes states, employees must pay union dues when their work place is organized, whether or not they join the union.

Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., says he expects to see Republican-controlled legislatures try the same tactic as Michigan lawmakers, in the battle over union rights.

Such specific campaigns are easier than trying to strip public employees of all their collective bargaining rights, which worked for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker last year, but which backfired in Ohio. Voters there repealed a law signed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich that took collective bargaining rights away from public employees.

The broad efforts “aren’t worth the bother,” Chaison said.





Spring training is underway, and avid Detroit Tiger fans are counting the days until April 5, when it will be Opening Day at Comerica Park.

Comerica Park, by Micki Maynard

This year, there’s a lot of attention surrounding the team, which stunned baseball when it snapped up slugger Prince Fielder. Opening Day tickets sold out in 45 minutes last Saturday, and demand for regular season games is soaring, which will bring a lot of people downtown.

And the impact will be even greater if Tigers’ owner Mike Ilitch get his dream of a World Series.

We want to know what the Tigers mean to you. Are you a lifelong fan, or did you only catch Tiger Fever last year? What are your memories of Comerica Park (or as some of us won’t stop calling it, Tiger Stadium)? How do you think the interest in the Tigers will affect Detroit?

Take our survey. Send us your thoughts, memories, photos. We’ll feature them every day during Opening Day week.

Then re-live last year’s Opening Day. See you at the ballpark!

Victor Gregory teaches high schoolers about cars. He worries when they take on debt after graduation.

Americans owe close to a trillion dollars in student loan debt.  Changing Gears has been reporting on that debt, a lot of which comes from attending private, for-profit schools.  They’re the fastest growing part of higher education, popular for non-degree technical training.  Call them career colleges, technical schools or trade schools … just don’t call them cheap.

Fact: For-profit schools cost more than community colleges.  Fact: For-profit students borrow more, then default more than students from public colleges.  Fact:  All this explains why I ended up at the strip club in Detroit.

So I’m at Cobra’s the Grind, eyes-avoiding-buttocks, walking up dimly lit stairs to meet the manager. Steve is a big guy; he started here as a bouncer. He lays his gun down next to us as we talk.  He had different life plans after graduating high school in 2006.

“Not this,” he says.  “I mean, I don’t mind it now but I didn’t think I’d be here.  I thought I would’ve been in a shop, turning a wrench.”

He wanted to work on cars.  So he got a diploma in automotive technology at Lincoln College of Technology in Indianapolis.  It’s part of a big for-profit chain.  The program was about a year and roughly $25,000, not including housing.  An associate’s degree from community college would’ve cost less than ten grand.

“My mom was actually talking to me about it, but I wouldn’t listen, I was stubborn,” he says.  “Whoever takes their mom’s advice, until you f*** up?  I regret it.”

He didn’t find a car job, but he says he did rack up about 30 thousand dollars in debt.

Victor Gregory taught Steve’s auto class back at Dearborn High School.  He also  teaches at the local community college.  That’s partly why the cost of for-profit training worries him.  He’s actually barred some schools’ recruiters from his classroom if they can’t demonstrate good student results.

“I do not want my students going out in the field and becoming balled and chained to a bank.  And having to park the whole idea of having a better life, just so they can pay their debts,” he says.

Victor Gregory doesn't want his students "becoming balled and chained to a bank."

The big question is return on investment: What do students get for the cost?  The private, for-profit sector of higher education is so broad, it can be hard to generalize.

But take the big, publicly traded company Universal Technical Institute Inc., or UTI.  It has a campus outside Chicago.  The median cost of its 15 month auto tech certificate program is $30,000.  According to the school, the median federal loan debt for that program is about $14,000.

Tom Riggs is Senior Vice President of Operations for UTI.  He says its graduation rates are drastically better than at many community colleges.

“We graduate in the high 60%, sometimes 70% of our students who start, graduate,” he says.  “If you look at community college programs and certificate programs, a lot of their numbers are in the low 20s.”

Some students are drawn to short intense training.  They get hands their hands on metal, and then they can start earning money.  Riggs says employment rates coming out of school are also high.

“There are students out there who four year university isn’t the right thing for them,” he says.  “And they have tremendous talent and passion around the things that we do, and we are the right place for them.”

One reason yearly tuition is lower at public schools is they get public support.  But David Deming of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education says for-profits get a different kind of public support.  Their revenues come overwhelmingly from federal financial aid dollars.  In other words, from student grants and loans.

“For-profit schools are not allowed to take any more than 90% of their total revenue from federal financial aid.  That’s the maximum and quite a few schools are relatively close to the maximum,” he says.

For-profit students later default on their federal loans more often than those who attended public schools or private schools that are not-for-profit.

Still, it’s not hard to find technical school graduates who are employed and paying back those taxpayer dollars.  I just went down the street to Suburban Chevrolet of Ann Arbor, where Andrew Marihugh works.  He recently graduated from UTI.

“I was told it was one of the best in the country,” he says.

He’s repaying $25,000 in loan debt from his training there.

“It was worth it,” he says.  “I think it was worth it.  There’s a lot of people that went to school there and there’s a lot of them that didn’t know how to even change oil.”

Marihugh is now an oil change technician, also called a lube tech.  That’s the most entry level position here.  He’ll work his way up.  And in ten years, he’ll have worked off his debt.

*This story was informed by the Public Insight Network. Add your story here.










When we asked what cultural traditions people have kept or lost, many wrote about the difficulty of fitting into American culture while staying connected to their own roots.

Yen Azzaro tried to learn her mother’s native Mandarin Chinese in college, but never mastered it. “I never learned how to read or write Chinese. Sometimes I feel inadequate or guilty about this,” said Azzaro. “But most of the time I just feel relieved that I understand some Chinese. Many people my age worked so hard to assimilate; they lost all knowledge of their native tongue,” she said.

Those who hold on to traditions often have a way of adapting and updating them to reflect new cultural experiences.

Sausage making in Anette Kingsbury's family. Credit: Annette Kingsbury

One way to track those changes and adaptations is through the way people cook and share food. We heard from a Sicilian family that once made 700 cannolis and another that (enthusiastically) honors their Sicilian roots by making hundreds of sausages.

Our culture project incorporated many stories from people who keep up a family food tradition and put their own spin on it.

Sharlene Innes writes: “The most important Polish tradition for my family and for me is Wigilia, the Christmas Eve celebration. We come together to share a meal which now includes items like a large nacho prepared by my Mexican-American brother-in-law.”

An updated tradition can help to make culture more meaningful for younger generations. Rosalyn Park hated stuffing mandu as a child. Eventually, though, making mandu became a special, Christmastime tradition that Park looks forward to. It’s now a way for Park’s family to come together once a year.

“Over the years, our Christmas making mandu tradition has expanded, and we now invite close friends to participate in the event, open a bottle or two of wine, and make merry. The big bowl would come out, the mandu skins laid forth, and we’d sit down for another several hours of mandu-making,” said Park

Park’s mother added a twist to keep everyone in the mandu-stuffing spirit. “My Buddhist-born, now Catholic mother forced us to wear Santa hats. Never mind that our foreheads itched under the synthetic white fur, we were her “elves” and this was how we now did it.”

Stuffing mandu with the Park family. Credit: Roaslyn Park

Some culinary traditions are difficult to keep, no matter how hard you try. Like a foreign language, complex recipes can become easier with total cultural immersion. We heard from many children of immigrants who never learned these skills as they grew up in the U.S. Most regret it.

Brigitte Kirchgatterer has found her mother’s German recipes challenging to master. “My Mom passed in 2005 and she really was active in trying to retain a lot of the Germanic Cooking,” said Kirchgatterer. “I find I just do not have the time to prepare the same labor intense or process laden dishes even though I miss them. It makes me very sad.”

You can read more about food, traditions, and cultural adaptation from our collection of family stories. Or, you can share your family traditions with us.

Chicago skyline, by flickr user bryce_edwards

President Obama shook up his home town yesterday when the White House announced it’s moving the G-8 summit from Chicago to Camp David instead.

Today, the President tried to soothe some ruffled feathers. His decision to shift the summit wasn’t a slap at Chicago’s preparations, he told an afternoon news conference. Rather, he’s never had world leaders come to Camp David, and wanted the opportunity to talk in a relaxed setting.

“We’re still going to be showing up with a whole bunch of world leaders,” Obama said, referring to the NATO summit that will still be held there. “I always have confidence in Chicago ability to handle security, whether it’s Taste of Chicago or Lapalooza or most championships.”

(The president was referring to Lollapalooza, the annual alt-music festival that’s held in Grant Park. Chicagoans on Twitter immediately took notice. Tweeted Peter Sagal: “Lapalooza? LAPALOOZA?”)

From the beginning, scheduling both the G-8 and NATO summits in Chicago back-to-back was all about putting the city on a global stage. No city had hosted both since London in 1977. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff, lobbied his old boss to get the summits.

But now that the President has decided to move the G-8 summit, and leave Chicago with the less-prestigious and less-contentious NATO summit, what does it mean for the city? Since it was all about the city’s image anyway, it means whatever people say it means.

Here’s our guide to how people have reacted:

There’s no question that Toledo Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur is a champion of the auto industry, as befits a veteran Democrat with a big Jeep plant in her backyard — the one that President Obama visited last year.

President Obama speaks at an assembly plant in Toledo in June, one of seven trips to Ohio during his presidency.

And people far outside Ohio know Dennis Kucinich for the presidential campaign that made him a character on Saturday Night Live, as well as his tenure as the “boy mayor” of Cleveland.

Tomorrow, one of them won’t be running for another term in Congress. Kaptur and Kucinich are among 11 sets of Congressional representatives who are facing off against each other in primary races this year. Seven involve Democrats; four involve Republicans, according to Roll Call.

The reason is redistricting. Ohio lost two congressional seats because its population dropped in the last U.S. Census, one of them Kucinich’s 10th district, which was primarily Cleveland.

Kaptur’s 9th district, which encompassed mainly Toledo, was re-drawn to include an eastern slice of Kucinich’s old district.

The 9th district is now a strip along Lake Erie that runs from Lucas County on the western end to Lorain County to the east.

If he hoped to stay in office, Kucinich had to head west to campaign in what is primarily Kaptur’s district.

Despite his national fame, the 9th district is unfamiliar territory for Kucinich, while Kaptur has thrived there in her nearly 30 years in the House.  A number of pundits are predicting he will lose in today’s contest.

The situation creates unease among Democratic party loyalists, who have to choose between two members of Congress who are well-known in Ohio.

To be sure, their personalities are different. ““Dennis is John Belushi in ‘Animal House,’ ” Dennis Eckart, a former Democratic congressman from Cleveland, told The New York Times. “Marcy is the librarian who tells folks to be quiet and get their homework done.”

The pair have stretched in their debates to describe the differences between them. According to Roll Call, Kucinich accused Kaptur’s campaign of stealing his yard signs. Kaptur accused Kucinich of belittling Toledo, because of a radio advertisement that proclaimed “maybe in Toledo politics, facts don’t matter.”



The goal of Changing Gears is to talk about the transformation of our economy in the Midwest, and to prepare ourselves for a brighter future. The time scale we’re usually talking about is in range of decades, maybe a century or two.

But, this morning, we found ourselves thinking about what life could be like in the Midwest 100,000 years from now. The inspiration came from the animation created above by New Scientist.

We’re not scientists around here, but it seems there are some good reasons to be bullish about how the Midwest could fare over the long, long term. We’ve got all this water around us. We do pretty well at growing our own food. And, even though our manufacturing economy has taken a beating in the last few decades, our culture of making things has to be worth something in the grander scheme.

Just for a moment, forget what the next 10 years will look like in the Midwest. Forget about what will happen in your lifetime. Tell us what you think the Midwest will look like a thousand years from now. Then 10,000 years. Then 100,000.

Then, think about what things we can do now to make a difference.

The Jetsons

In more than 100 years of manufacturing ingenuity in the Midwest, there have been very few limits. From steamships, to motor cars, to solar panels, people in the industrial Midwest can make almost anything.

So, where is my flying car? Seriously. I’ve been waiting for, like, ever.

Flying cars have been a fantasy for almost as long as there have been cars. Henry Ford reportedly tinkered on a plan. The first car to get regulatory approval for both air and land in the U.S. was in 1956.

Now, here comes news of the Terrafugia Transition, which will have its public debut at the New York Auto Show next month.

The Transition is built in Massachusetts, and the first one is scheduled to be delivered later this year. If you want to buy one, all you need is $279,000.

The Economist says the Transition is one of at least a dozen flying cars in development right now. The magazine says the new designs are all trying to take advantage of the “Lite-Sport” aircraft designation that was created by the Federal Aviation Administration several years ago.

But we’ve heard these promises before.

I, for one, wont’ believe in flying cars until I see one – parked in my driveway. Here in the Midwest.