I've been trying to figure out a little Chicago mystery.
It involves development plans at Harold Ickes homes, a public housing development on the near South Side. It's just sitting there, basically rotting, and while the Chicago Housing Authority says they don't have any real plans for Ickes yet, it's possible they just might have something up their sleeve.
All of this led to me poking around on the city's zoning map and noticing that a little square of land in the corner was zoned commercial. Huh...
And then when I looked it up, I read that the zoning classification - C2-3 - is for big-box commercial - community destination sites that take up a lot of land and draw people in from all over. Target, anyone?
I wanted to know what they were doing there, so I headed down to the city department of zoning to find out. They made me fill out a Freedom of Information Request to pull the zoning change requests, and I did, leaving awaiting my info in seven days.
But about seven minutes later, I got a call from their FOIA officer, Karen, who told me my request wasn't really valid. You see, I had asked for the initial zoning change request, any complaints, any resolutions and any subsequent documents.
You can't ask for "subsequent documents," said Karen. FOIA means you ask for specific information, she said, and I give you only what you ask for.
Sadly, I'm not a person who comes back right away with witty retorts. But what I said to Karen in my head as I rode the Blue line back to the office was, "Karen, I can ask for all the city's records of tooth fairy visits in Chicago proper if I'm so inclined! That's what freedom of information means!"
She went on to badger me further about why I wanted the information (none of her beeswax) and how I knew the zoning had been changed. Since Ickes was built in the 1950s, and I haven't been alive that long, nor have I been scanning Chicago's zoning maps at that intersection for 50 + years, I don't really know, but is it a crime to ask?
Why all the trouble, lady? Just give me what I want. If it doesn't exist, tell me. But why call and hassle me on the phone?
Unfortunately, in my experience, it's just par for the course when you're dealing with city officials. They act like you have no right to any information about anything and asking for it is a ridiculous imposition on their time.
You probably don't care about this if you're not a journalist, but you should. Whenever journalists are denied information about the government you pay for, it means they can get away with pretty much anything, and no one can hold them accountable. Is it just a coincidence that Illinois' FOIA laws are incredibly weak, and we're still trying to recover from a former governor who hangs with Mickey Mouse while he's being indicted for bribery?
Anyway... since I can't get any info yet out of the zoning department, what do you think might be going on at Ickes? Anyone have an idea of what might lie in store for the land there?