Chicago Heat Wave 1995
September 9, 2005 6:25 AM   Subscribe

In the summer of 1995 there was a week-long heat wave in Chicago. Over 700 people died. Most of them were the elderly, poor, and African-Americans. Link above is a Slate article by Eric Klinberg who wrote the definitive Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago (2003) in which he concludes that "a city, in its decision to operate like a corporation, experienced the breakdown of massive social services" and the resulting "widening cracks in the social foundations of America's cities".
posted by stbalbach (20 comments total)

 
Seems like the inevitable result of any effort to run government like a corporation: Short-term, profit driven (or in the case of government, pork or cut driven) ideals are praised and long-term, preventative, sustainable ideals are scorned.
posted by shawnj at 6:31 AM on September 9, 2005


Of possible interest: Malcolm Gladwell did a piece about the Chicago heat wave several years ago.
posted by gwint at 6:41 AM on September 9, 2005


See also the European heat wave of 2003, that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths. In France, the conservatives in power blamed the previous government for the 35-hour workweek while the opposition blamed the government for its lack of planning and reactivity. The only comfort is that, at least, nobody blamed the victims for staying there.
posted by elgilito at 7:01 AM on September 9, 2005


Seems like the inevitable result of any effort to run government like a corporation

Seriously, why or how could anyone ever think that this was a good idea? A corporation and a government have two entirely different and fundamentally divergent goals.

Corporation: Maximize shareholder value, ensure for its own survival.
Government: Balance providing the greatest good to the greatest number with maintaining a productive operating environment for its benefactors (i.e.: taxpayers).
posted by psmealey at 7:10 AM on September 9, 2005


Yep, and here's exactly where this ghastly "model" intersects with the tragedy in NO. The inhumane and self-serving priority given by the local authorities to grabbing a federal cheque (Blanco's well-documented first move).
I see Bush/FEMA as the parents out at a restaurant, the local authorities as the broke teenage babysitter refusing to pay for a crucial cab to the hospital for the kids without cash-in-hand from the parents, and wretched NO residents as the desperate kids.
And this money-first attitude also explains the Red Cross ban. The only explanation for the Red Cross not being permitted to help is fear of a whacking short-term expense for the loitering refugees.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 7:16 AM on September 9, 2005


Jody: I guess your analogy sorta works, that is, if the story ends with the parents, after hearing that their children are sick but still at home, wait several days before leaving the restaurant to drive the kids to the hosptial. And then lay all of the blame on the babysitter. And then the Dad says to the Mom, "You did a heck of a job." etc. etc. etc.
posted by gwint at 7:37 AM on September 9, 2005


I don't seen anything in the linked article detailing how it was the effect of trying to run the city like a corporation. It might be in the author's book, by linking to that is not so helpful.

What I know of the Chicago heat wave would suggest that the real problem was a failure of infrastructure and leadership. The power system was unable to handle the increased use of air conditioners and the number of people opening fire hydrants to cool off reduced the pressure in the system causing many to be without water. The city was slow to declare an official disaster and to utilize the procedures in place.

Still this sounds like a system that was overwhelmed physically coupled with a slow and inept response, but I'm not seeing the corporate bit.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:39 AM on September 9, 2005


Gwint,
Yes, I agree that's pretty much how my daft analogy plays out..and I think that's hugely part of the problem too. (Not exactly a FEMA/Bush booster here..)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 7:44 AM on September 9, 2005


I lived through the heat wave. My neighborhood (St. Bens) was one of the ones wothout power. The main reason many of those people died was when you called the power company a representative would tell you the power would be restored in a few hours. This went on for days. The elderly in the neighborhood would keep calling and kept being reassured that the power was soon to return.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 7:51 AM on September 9, 2005


Seriously, why or how could anyone ever think that this was a good idea? A corporation and a government have two entirely different and fundamentally divergent goals

Not when the government is bought and paid for by corporate weasels.
posted by Yer-Ol-Pal at 7:59 AM on September 9, 2005


No, see Bush/FEMA is the doctor who got his medical education in a one-month crash course in south america, and the mayor is the parent of a sick child, and Bush/FEMA says, "I'll cure your child as long as you give me partial custody and let me pimp him out to all my friends."

silly rabbits, what do the 'social foundations' have to do with anything? it's all about family values!
posted by troybob at 8:35 AM on September 9, 2005


In France, the conservatives in power blamed the previous government for the 35-hour workweek while the opposition blamed the government for its lack of planning and reactivity.

Those Frenchies just lacked a strong and wise leader to direct them not to play the Blame Game.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 8:42 AM on September 9, 2005


An interview with Klinenberg:
But the city did learn from its mistakes. In 1999, when Chicago experienced another severe heat wave, the city issued strongly worded warnings and press releases to the media, opened cooling centers and provided free bus transportation to them, phoned elderly residents, and sent police officers and city workers door-to-door to check up on seniors who lived alone. That aggressive response drastically reduced the death toll of the 1999 heat wave: 110 residents died, a fraction of the 1995 level but still catastrophic. The policy lesson is that there are limits to what any emergency plan can accomplish.

Today, the City of Chicago knows where any elderly or infirm person lives, and has a variety of city officials with responsibility to check on them. If New Orleans had had the same, it would have been impossible for them to be left out of any evacuation plan.
posted by dhartung at 10:05 AM on September 9, 2005


Klinenberg's book is a must-read. It was before the hurricane and is even moreso now.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 10:36 AM on September 9, 2005


I lived through this as well. I had a lot more anger at Commonwealth Edison than I did at the city. In fact, in all my years living in Chicago, I can't think of one in which I did not feel some anger towards ComEd's ineptitude.
posted by kat at 12:48 PM on September 9, 2005


i saw this guy speak on c-span. i ran out and bought his book. he paints a grim picture. my question then, as it is now, is where the fuck was government when you need them most?
posted by brandz at 8:48 PM on September 9, 2005


Today, the City of Chicago knows where any elderly or infirm person lives

That community-based response is very similar to what Cuba has in place for hurricane evacuations. It's not hard to create that kind of social support structure if you have the political will.
posted by mediareport at 10:25 PM on September 9, 2005


I was out of the country at the time. But I followed the stories. Boy they know the value of paying attention to the political impact of weather.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:09 AM on September 10, 2005


I know Eric Klinenberg personally and knew about Heat Wave when it was still a Ph.D. thesis at Berkeley. However, the chapter of Heat Wave that I find most applicable to the current situation is "Governing By Public Relations." Daley was guilty of that political sin, but Bush & co. has raised to a whole new level of venality.
posted by jonp72 at 9:00 PM on September 10, 2005


I finished the book recently and I found quite a bit that mirrors the Katrina response, but I do agree that the chapter on the PR response is loaded with them. We'll have to see if they go to the length that Daley went when he named the city study so vaguely as "Final Report: Mayor's Commission on Extreme Weather Conditions."

I'm working on writing up a detailed look at the two events and Klinenberg's book works wonderfully as the primary source for everything about the heat wave.
posted by john at 10:36 PM on September 10, 2005


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