For many decades most municipalities and their residents knew very little about ‘the grid’, besides the 800 number to call when the power went out. Few knew how or where their electricity was generated, let alone what impacts to the environment their thirst for electricity was having. Electricity 101 is a brief history of the US power industry.
But “the times they are a changin”. Increasing energy demands around the globe suggest that citizens and communities everywhere need to put a ‘lid on the grid’, or at least work toward being energy efficient and less polluting.
A new era has arrived as local officials throughout the country are beginning to become conversant about Electrons, MegaWatts, Sub-Stations, Transformers, Re-circulators, Renewable Energy, Hydro, Solar, Wind, Climate Change, EV Charging Stations, Micro-grids, Renewable Energy Credits (REC’s) and everything energy.
Two trends have come together here in Illinois to create a stunning new opportunity for Oak Park. Energy re-regulation and concerns over climate change resulted in a 2007 Illinois law, Community Choice Aggregation PA#96-0176. This law allows Illinois municipalities, beginning in 2009, to pool or “Aggregate” their residential and small commercial energy accounts for bidding in the energy market place.
On April 5, 2011, 66% of Oak Park voters authorized Village Hall to create the Village of Oak Park Electric Aggregation Plan of Operation and Governance.
The Plan was used to bid out Oak Park’s future energy needs. Under the leadership of our Sustainability Manager, KC Poulos, public input guided the development of the plan. Oak Park’s plan called for two-year bids with pricing for:
The current power rates, established by the Illinois Power Agency, apply to about 95% of our residents. The current rate is 7.753 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). This includes regional power transmission charges. A kWh is a unit by which residential, and most business customers, are billed for monthly electricity use. It represents the use of one kilowatt of electricity for one hour.
The bid results for Oak Parks power supply for our 52,000 residents, and 2,000 businesses, (20,000 accounts) came back even better than we expected:
Current Rate Lowest Rate 100% Renewable
Brown Power Brown Power-% Savings Green Power - % Savings
7.77 5.73 26.25% 5.79 25.7%
Power Mix Power Mix Power Mix
Nuclear 50% Nuclear 92% - 94% Wind
Coal 38% Coal 6% - 8% other non-carbon
The plan, along with market conditions, provided the Village the opportunity to save residents considerable dollars on the supply portion of their energy bills. More importantly, Oak Park’s plan created the option to have Oak Park’s electricity needs to be met by competitively priced, clean, renewable energy over the next two years.
Based on an average bill of $100 per month, the 25% savings on the energy portion of the bill will result in about a 15% reduction in the average resident and small commercial business overall electricity bills over the next two years. All bills will continue to flow through ComEd.
With the pricing bids in, the Village Board after analysis and debate, in a bold decision, decided Oak Park will be powered by renewable energy (via the REC’s process) over the next two years beginning in January, 2012.
The winning bid was provided by Integrys Energy. They will supply 92% to 94% of Oak Park’s power needs through REC’s wind power. The remaining 6% to 8% will come from other renewable, non-carbon sources. Our contract with Integrys will allow us to monitor our power sources.
I would like to thank the voters of Oak Park who trusted Village Hall enough to empower the Village government to pursue municipal aggregation, and everyone else who helped in this effort including but not limited to:
To enjoy the savings and support clean and renewable wind energy residents do not have to do anything. The transition should be seamless.
Bottom line, the plan, process, and the board’s decision will save Oak Parkers $4.5 million off of their collective energy bills over the next two years. Simultaneously we will be promoting the renewable energy industry, helping move energy markets in the right direction, while removing tons of harmful CO2 emissions from the atmosphere. Our great, great grandchildren just might appreciate the effort!
Good job by all!
Main Street Communities can lead Prosumer energy revolution
Photo courtesy of John Schalk
Municipal Leaders Tour ComEd Oak Park Intelligent Sub-Station
Would you like to reduce the amount of electricity you use to save on your utility bill? Would you like to see our economy improve? Are you up for helping to reduce the threat of climate change, or experience fewer power outages of shorter duration? Please raise your hand if you would like to someday earn money by safely producing electricity at your home or business?
If you answered yes to one or more of the above questions, you need to support the effort to dramatically upgrade our electricity grid in Oak Park, Chicagoland, and throughout the USA.
We have seen how digital technology has revolutionized the world’s communications infrastructure over the past three decades; creating millions of jobs in doing so. It is now time to apply new digital and energy technologies to the energy grid in order to unleash another wave of innovation that will also improve the economy.
Improving the economy is worth doing for its own sake, but get this, building the smart grid will also help us slow climate change, and lay the groundwork for energy consumers (you and I) to someday soon contemplate producing our own energy, storing it, or selling it back to the grid.
Futurist Alvin Toffler has coined the upcoming energy transformation as the era of the pro-sumer, when citizens can both produce as well as consume electricity – a commodity nearly as vital as air and water to our daily economic lives.
Because of local passion in support of this vital initiative, Oak Park is one of the first communities in Chicagoland to have smart electric meters installed in every home and business in Oak Park. Oak Park is now also home to ComEd’s first intelligent sub-station. Although ComEd has 240 more sub-stations to upgrade, (at $ 5 million + each) intelligent grid sub-stations monitor the grid digitally to help prevent power outages and play a vital role in re-routing power quickly when outages occur, thereby reducing both the number and duration of power outages.
From Mainstreet to the moon, building out the smart grid with a sense or urgency should perhaps be our highest public policy infrastructure priority.
We in Oak Park see and understand the consumer, environmental, and powerful economic benefits of building the smart grid. Governor Quinn, the legislature and ComEd need to work out a compromise and approve a way to finance and move forward with building out the smart grid in Chicagoland.
It appears for this to happen the media and public needs to start understanding the strategic importance of this issue and sort out fact from fiction.
Senate Bill 1652 Smart Grid Legislation
Governor Quinn’s Veto Letter of SB1652
Policy makers need to get beyond rhetoric and begin to understand this issue and cut through the fog and politics on this vitally important issue. Let’s start thinking and acting as if we really care about the future and lead the revolution.
you-tube video when it is ready
Labor Day 2011 at Lake Michigan
The Cucumbers have arrived
the Sweet Corn is in,
the Tomatoes – blood red
oh, to be garden fed,
tee up the football
and back to school,
autumn is best
in America’s mid-west
but you say,
its jobs, jobs, jobs we need,
maybe next year,
‘cause unfortunately, it’s also the season of big-time greed
On Sunday August 14, I completed my fifth year working for the good people of Oak Park.
I wanted to put up a short note thanking everyone with whom I have had the great pleasure to work with, from all walks of life, in Oak Park and Chicagoland. Despite the challenges of the Great Recession much has been accomplished. The community has been every bit as impressive and unique as I had expected when I was recruited here five years ago.
With a top flight, high caliber staff in place, dedicated elected officials, and an engaged and engaging civic infrastructure, the future promises to be as special as the past. Elected officials and staff are well aware of Oak Park’s courageous, can-do history.
So after five years, deep in the trenches, I am pleased to report that from everything I have seen the community and its local governments’ commitment to service, diversity, innovation, compassion, and excellence remains strong and vibrant. In fact, it appears to be in the collective DNA!
Your help and support has been deeply appreciated!
EAST MEETS WEST in the VILLAGE of OAK PARK
When I was a preschooler, digging holes in our backyard sand box in Michigan, my dad used to tell me that if I dug deep enough I could dig all the way to the other side of the world and come out in China. I knew of the mysterious land called China before I knew of Canada, only 15 miles away from our sandbox.
Last week we enjoyed a good laugh over TGIF beverages when we learned from our visitors from Beijing, that Chinese parents have similarly challenged their children by telling them that “if you dig deep enough you will come out on the other side of the world in America”.
Visitors from Beijing attend our Tuesday morning Staff Meeting
Chinese and Americans live on opposite sides of the world in more than just geogrpahic terms. For many decades, by distance and politics, our peoples were isolated from each other. Of course their ancient history is much longer than our fairly short history, hence our cultures and perspectives are also much different. The Chinese strive for collective harmony. Our society continues to emphasize individual freedoms. Each country’s approach to governance is different. Yet our economies and the world’s are converging at an ever increasing speed. We have much to learn from each other.
Police and Fire
With its world leading 1.4 billion people, and with with our population at 311 million people (third behind India’s 1.1 billion) our country’s have major populations to manage in an increasingly complex world. We at the city level focus on the vital basics like public safety, traffic, EMS response, housing, water/sewer, forestry, education, public health, as energy and jobs are increasingly a challenge for everyone!
Wednesday Journal Editorial Board Meeting
And with the first and second largest economies on earth, for good or evil, our two country’s will likely have a greater influence on our planets environment, than any two other counties, throughout the 21st century.
Although they didn’t have to dig through the earth to visit us, it was a true pleasure last week for Oak Park to host these wonderful visitors from the City Of Beijing, population 24 million:
Mr. Yin Li (Frank), Director General at Fengtai branch of Beijing Administration for Industry & Commerce
Mr. Jianhua Yu (James), Division Chief at Monitoring Division of Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau
Mr. Qingzhi Zhang (Allen), Deputy Director-General at Beijing Municipal Social Development Office
Mr. Guo Wei (Victor), Executive Vice Chairman at Beijing Municipal Financial Industry Trade Unions
Mr. Jianxin Wu (Alex), Director at Biochemistry Lab of Capital Institute of Pediatrics
Ms. Tong Wu (Jean), Director at Workshop of Beijing People’s Art Theater
Their visit was a follow up to my visit to Beijing last May. Both visits were facilitated by the Oak Brook based 21st Century Institute.
We learned a lot from each other but the main thing I believe we all learned is that we who serve our local communities at the grass roots level simply want to serve our citizens the best we can. We are looking to each other to learn new ideas and best practices as we continue to evolve.
Fire Command Vehicle
Like many, I also hope that with all of the travel, communication, and citizen to citizen relationships that are increasingly underway throughout the world these days, that the common people’s dream, to live in a sustainable and just world, free from the costs and violence of war, is within our grasp. It’s cliché, but so true, we are all much more alike, than we are different.
Let’s dig in the sandbox of peace, goodwill and quality of life for awhile and many good things will happen. Best wishes to our colleagues in Beijing.
PS. - A special thanks to Deputy Village Manager Lisa Shelly, Administrative Assistant, Sue Kornatowski, and Secretary, Jackie Durr for organizing our sessions, and all the staff who shared their experiences with our good new friends from Beijing.
From: wu jianxin
Sent: Monday, August 08, 2011 10:39 AM
To: Barwin, Thomas
Subject: Letter of Thanks
Dear Mr. Barwin:
On behalf our Beijing Group, I am writing this letter to thank you for you warm hospitality accorded to me and my delegation during our visit to your beautiful village. I would also like to thank you for your kindness and excellent arrangement which I have found very useful for us to future understanding the community management in America.
During the entire visit, my delegation and I were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm introductions and explanations by your management team. We learned a lot and certainly will help us for future work greatly. I sincerely hope we could have more exchanges like this one when we would be able to continue build our cooperation and bring our people together.
I am looking forward to your and your team visit to China when we will be able to pay back some of the hospitality I received during my memorable stay in your very unique village.
Thank you and your team. Please give our special thanks to Ms. Shelley for her great help .
Member of Beijing Delegation
Professor and Director of Biochemistry Department
Capital Institute of Pediatrics,Beijing,P.R.China
DPW Superintendent John Wielebnicki planning clean up of the damage left by the storm this morning. The storm brought down, or severely damaged, approximately 40 trees.
The storm, which hit Oak Park about 8 am this morning, came and went within an hour, but not before high winds seriously damaged approximately 40 Oak Park trees and knocked down 12 power lines. Some Oak Park neighborhoods remain without power at mid-day.
This morning’s storm also dropped over a half of inch of rain in our south Oak Park rain gauge, which our gardens no doubt appreciated.
Inspecting a large, fallen tree branch at a south Oak Park home.
Fortunately no injuries occurred as a result of this mornings storm.
However, with several big branches grazing homes and landing on streets and sidewalks, we will use this opportunity as a reminder for citizens to continue to take storm warning messages, and ominous clouds, seriously.
ComEd has advised us that of this Monday afternoon (7-11-11) writing at 3 pm, over 500,000 accounts in the Chicagoland area remain without power. ComEd has called in extra contractors to assist with repairs.
With the ever increasing number of quick, volatile storms we find ourselves paying to clean up after, I’m increasingly convinced climate change is having a steroid type of effect on our weather and juicing up the number and volatility of our storms even faster than the experts are suggesting. Surely somebody must be checking on this.
The US Weather services were spot on with this mornings storm predictions and warning systems. Good job weather people and media for spreading the word.
As of 6:00 pm on July 11 there are 3000 Oak Parker’s without power.
The weather could not have been more perfect for the 2011 Oak Park 4th of July Parade.
Thank You to Oak Park resident Rich Brey, on the right, for giving me my first ever photography lesson.
Rich and I put together the following parade pictures for those who couldn’t make it. The really good pictures are Rich’s!
A special thanks to the 40+ parade entrants and the hundreds who lined the parade route cheering everyone on.
There’s nothing like a gorgeous day and spending time with friends and family.
Roger is always a bit sad when the parade is over.
The first Sunday of June is always one of the best days of the year for new, old, and potential Oak Parkers. This years 38th annual “Day In Our Village” was the best attended in the five years I have served as Oak Park’s Village Manager.
For those who did not have the opportunity to attend, 156 Oak Park Civic Organizations and Businesses set up booths to share what they are about. From bicycling to rescuing abandoned animals, from gardening tips to renting a Segway, from raising funds for solar ovens to adopting a child, you name it, somebody here is doing it and had free information to share.
I am always inspired by the event and all the good things Oak Parkers are up to and the great down to earth, grass roots, real people community vibe. A Day in our Village is a great way for newcomers to meet new people, learn where you might want to get involved in the community, or for those of us who have been around awhile now, to just bump into old friends or enjoy the fresh air and entertainment.
The event is pulled together by a group of hard working and focused volunteers, coordinated by the one and only Cedric Melton, Oak Park’s Director of Community Relations. The short youtube video above will give those of who couldn’t attend this years “Day” a flavor of what they missed and what Oak Park is like.
Enjoying the free music
So thanks to Cedric for another exceptional event, the Parks District for the use of Scoville Park, the Library for the use of their patio, and all the restaurants for cooking up some great eats, and of course all the participants, event attendee’s and Scott Brinkman and his crew for keeping things clean and tidy.
And a special thanks to this years volunteer committee:
Rod Chambers (CRC Commissioner)
Hope everybody comes back next year!
After ten days of meetings and tours with municipal leaders and educators in China’s big three cities Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou, we had a free day in Hong Kong. We hit the subway early, then crisscrossed Hong Kong on a 100+ year-old double-decker tram to help us decide which neighborhoods to explore on foot.
By the time the day ended we had gotten to the top of Hong Kong’s “Great Peak” and walked the free Botanical Garden and Zoo. We strolled the worlds longest escalator neighborhood, walking down from the top of Hong Kong’s highest residential-commerce hills. The escalator takes people down the hill in the morning to their job and back up in the evening to their residence. We passed thur dozens of commerce districts and checked out an ultra modern mall.
To get your subway ticket all you have to do is touch your destination stop on the map and the cost of your ticket will pop up, you pay in Hong Kong dollars (7.5 HKD’s to $1 US) and your ticket is quickly dispensed.
The Chinese trains to airports, and intra-city subways we experienced in these four mega-cities were clean, high tech, smooth running, state of the art, and a pleasure to ride. They all also happened to be fairly new. A ride on the Hong Kong subway cost less than $2.00. There is a 24 hour unlimited-use pass called an “Octapus Card” available for $14.00. It would have been worth it as it is good on most forms of public transit, bus, subway, and trams, which the city is loaded with.
It’s a bit shocking how far behind we lag when it comes to mass transit. Of course need is the mother of invention and the Chinese have lots of people to move. The Chinese political and economic system is also much different than ours and continues to emphasize community and “common good” investments.
If I were city manager of the USA, I would identify five American cities to develop into pioneering North American mega cities by 2025. Mega cities offering high tech, modern mass transit, high quality universities, which welcome immigrants, integrating public art, would lead the nation in urban living design and sustainability.
Of course this would require substantial Federal investment, but the urban innovation, technology, and synergy created would provide a return on the investment, which would be worth it on multiple levels.
We really need more programs to fund students, architects, civil engineers, planners, landscape architects, and public officials to study abroad to update our thinking on urban development. This trip has provided further evidence that our economic health, hence quality of life, will increasingly require that we act regionally and collaborate internationally. How to do that remains the big challenge.
A slogan the Chinese seem to live by.
Crowded streets in the heart of Hong Kong, filled with buses and trams, create the need to send pedestrians to crossing corridors above the streets. This has not diminished the vibrancy of the streets.
Basketball is very popular in China. We saw it being played in many urban parks and most school yards.
Must be why LeBron James has a marketing gig going half way around the world. We were told Nike employees 100,000 people in South China.
The true art of urban planning is blending the quality old with the quality new.
People are drawn to people, and good people-places are essential, whether it be the market, the park, the plaza. The synergy is fun and spurs friendships and creativity.
We met the local recycling crew and they were thrilled to discuss their project with us and take a picture. They want to save the planet too!
Districts looked crowded, but on this day there were very few lines.
This was probably because there seemed to be so many choices for fresh food, merchandise, and dinning. Small store fronts and street stalls dominate old Hong Kong.
Looked like a candy store from the upper deck of the tram.
Ladies waiting for the tram. I don’t know what they were looking at, but we heard very few sirens over our entire visit in urban China.
The high fashion district.
Central Hong Kong abounds in fresh food outlets with veggies, fish, meat, and fresh flowers. The fish was often so fresh they were still jumping in the water or on the butcher’s table.
It’s no wonder virtually everyone who lives here is on the thin side … walking, lots of it, is a fundamental part of everyday life.
More walking, this time along side one of the world’s longest escalators taking people up the hill after a long day at work. It runs up hill in the afternoon and down hill in the morning. The escalator stops at each street and resumes on the other side of the street. The system goes on and on, at least ten blocks up the hill, with mini-commerce districts at each street break.
All this walking makes one hungry … for healthy stuff, it’s harder to walk with extra weight. With that said it appears Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds, 7-11, and Starbucks are the American fast food businesses that have managed to integrate into the Chinese urban economy.
Happy Hour at one of the escalator street breaks… I suspect they were debating where to go for a drink.
There is something alluring about these old people oriented narrow streets.
For the record, Hong Kong gas prices per liter. There are 3.78 liters per gallon, so Hong Kong’s premium at this gas station is $4.56 per gallon.
If you get to Hong Kong ride the double decker, electric tram street car. Keep your arms inside as the tram going the other way comes within inches. The tram has been around for over 100 years and is a good old fashion way to see the city. It has a nice pace, allowing you to see the city and hang with the locals.
Clothes drying and air conditioning units are a familiar scene on most residential buildings in the older parts of China’s cities.
Quality, interesting public spaces, and convenient local shopping in Hong Kong
This young fellow is heading home from school.
And so are we!
Over and out from Hong Kong. Thanks to those of you who have checked out Mission Main Street and our special USA-China municipal exchange reports.
See you soon.
Our mode of transportation this morning in Hong Kong, the double decker, electric streetcar, tram. They have been in service here for over 100 years.
Almost time for lunch here.
We have ARRIVED!
Getting into Hong Kong via bus requires getting off the bus with luggage, going through Chinese immigration, getting back on the bus with luggage, driving a very short distance, getting off the bus again with luggage and waiting in line to get through Hon Kong-China immigration. The lines each took about 30 minutes to get through. We then got back on the bus and headed downtown.
With seven million residents living in relatively close proximity, 16,000+ per square mile, we are noticing frequent health and public service announcements already in Hong Kong.
We have had plenty of time to read the messages as we await our second immigration check within a half mile. Although the Brit’s turned over Hong Kong to China in 1997, Hong Kong is a mostly autonomous “Special Administrative Region” of the People’s Republic of China.
As such, the agreement calls for Hong Kong to remain autonomous for at least 50 years, while maintaining their capitalistic economic system. Hence, the two immigration checks to get in. We are in the land of one country, but two systems. Flexibility is good, even if it meant we had to spend an extra 30 minutes navigating through the bureaucracy to get TWO nice new stamps in our passports.
We made it!
Two of the things Hong Kong is known for are it deep ports off of the South China Sea and its financial district / capitalistic economic system.
Can’t wait to walk these streets.
The evening view from our hotel near Austin Street and the Kowloon train station.
We are just outside the central business district with a view of the Victoria Harbour and the financial district.
Time for a good nights sleep. We have one full day and night left here.
First impression, more amazing architecture and street life against an incredible natural backdrop of water and green hills. I’m not going to worry about being in one of the 300 landslides that occur each year according to the public service announcement I just heard on the radio cautioning people to stay away from the hills.
With a solid four hours of sleep in it was time to exchange our Chinese Yuen back to American dollars to head to Hong Kong.
……from the bus……a few images from the two and a half hour bus ride from Guangzhou to Hong Kong
Stones are favored by Chinese landscape architects for parks and street design.
The Chinese appear to be using cement just as fast as they can make it. Construction cranes dot the skylines.
Lots of rivers and irrigation streams between Guangzhou and Hong Kong.
A concrete beam construction plant, which is adjacent to a steel beam yard. Both are adjacent to the river. The rivers and ports here are very, very busy.
More local agriculture
I’m thinking rice……so many to feed
A big gas station……I was told gas is about $5:00 per gallon here, working on verifying that.
A few hills on our route to Hong Kong.
Acres of used construction equipment
We are getting close to Hong Kong!
Toll roads are routine in the three big city regions we visited in China. More tall buildings as we approach Hong Kong.
Monday morning in Guangzhou is a lot like Monday morning in Chicago. Dealing with traffic as we go back to work. Our morning allowed us to tour the city before our lunch and dinner appointments with Guangzhou municipal officials.
Like most mornings on this trip it was easy to spot people gathered in the park exercising and socializing. Most of the workouts are what you might call soft aerobics or stretching. Some of the folks showed me how to do what they were doing. The pace and speed of the exercise was easy but felt effective.
As some of us struggle to keep our public places up in some parts of America, it is refreshing to see what a priority it is over here, at least in the big cities.
Not all people in the parks in the morning are seniors. This young man was giving a bamboo pole exercising display to a half dozen others. Our guide told us it is not unusual for someone to invent a new exercise or exercise product and than organize people to train them or use the product. He says throughout the city many different routines go on each morning.
This game is harder than it looks.
The nice gentleman who organizes the group agreed to sell me two of these paddles and balls to show the folks back home how it works.
Next to the park, where people were working out, the Guangdong Folk Art Museum featured a room full of eye popping silk embroidery.
There were galleries of highly detailed clay art, ancient furniture, and porcelain pottery in a recently restored historic building that had been severely damaged by the Red Guard in the cultural wars.
A Buddhist Temple where you can pray for luck.
Although perhaps only 25% or so of Chinese in Guangzhou actively practice a religion, we visited a Buddhist temple where many visit to pray for luck.
The Mausoleum of the Nanyue King
With the wind of luck hopefully at our backs we checked out the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King, which was discovered deep under ground during a construction project in the early 1980’s. The government sent in a team of archaeologists who dug up a treasure of over 11,000 authentic relics from thousands of years ago. The King who died at age 48, was buried with his favorite musical instruments, his guards and four of his concubines. The city has done an outstanding job of preserving the site and displaying the many relics found in the museum.
While touring the museum we noticed an inordinate number of Caucasians carrying around babies. Many babies are still adopted out of China by parents who can not afford them, often from rural areas. There is a waiting period before people who adopt babies can leave with them, and some of what they do is tour museums to learn more about the China’s history and culture.
A group photo before lunch with leaders from the city of Guangzhou
At today’s luncheon we met with city leaders from a variety of areas including Social Security, Forestry and Gardening, and Talent Development. Mr. Lee is the Director of HR for the entire city and works directly on the Mayor’s staff. He told me his biggest challenge is getting the public service sector of the city to become more effective as citizens expectations rise. Sound familiar?
The Department I was hoping to meet finally showed up for one of our “USA-China Municipal Dialogues”. It was nice to meet Cui Jie, Division Director for the Administration of Forestry and Gardening. He has about 1,000 employees to maintain the public forests and gardens in one of Guangzhous’s ten municipal administration districts. Every street is heavily lined with trees, many with flowers, and gardens are interspersed throughout the City. Mr. Cui is expecting to visit Chicago soon and I hope to have him to Oak Park to get his thoughts and reactions based on his experiences in Guangzhou.
The two year old subway in Guangzhou sparkled.
We could not have left Guangzhou before riding on the subway. The line we rode opened two years ago and is one of eight build over the past decade. For 35 cents we rode half way across town. The trains come every three minutes, are clean, seemed fast, high tech, and heavily used.
Once again, how could we not be impressed.
Our afternoon interpreter Cathy, points out where we would be coming out from the underground.
We emerged to the financial district to a number of relatively new, modern, eclectic buildings; including many very high sky scrapers.
Notice the open windows on this reflective glass skinned tower.
One of our guides told us the locals like to have the option for fresh air even in this warm climate.
We would return to the Guangzhou TV tower later in the evening.
From the financial district it was a short ride to one of the towns favorite shopping districts where we had 90 minutes to browse before another dinner conference.
There are dozens of these sculptures spread out throughout the district and people love being photographed with them. One local resident said they were installed as a reminder of the activity which used to go on in the area before it was redeveloped.
I couldn’t resist either.
Shopping, Shopping, Shopping …
Chairman Mao Tse-tung and President Nixon in 1972
At the end of our shopping trip, in the public plaza, we came across this billboard of Chairman Mao and President Nixon, commemorating his visit to China in 1972. The Chinese still have a warm spot in their heart for President Nixon.
It was time to head to dinner and say our final good byes to the mainland.
I have blogged about all that is new in China’s big three cities, but there remains lots of old, There are lots of older apartments like this one that will continue to have to be repaired and replaced in the years ahead.
Our last dinner in the mainland was again filled with city officials whit have contacts with Chicago, mostly through training programs. The government sponsors high performers, with promising English language skills, to training overseas on special programs ranging from one to four months. I felt a little sheepish when they asked me about municipal training programs in our cities.
Tonight’s dinner included some economic developers, asset managers, and folks with insight into which and how state owned enterprises are migrated by Chinese law into private businesses.
Our hosts insisted we needed one last field trip and I’m glad they did.
Located adjacent to the Pearl River, the Canton Tower was opened in time for the Asian Games in the fall of 2010. The 108 floor Canton Tower has become another architectural and engineering marvel, a major tourist attraction, and rightfully, another source of pride and confidence for the good people of Guangzhou.
These are the low energy LED lights that give the tower its various night glows. There are 6,000 of these light pods located on the curving columns of the tower. The city is specializing in the use of energy saving LED lights.
Looking up from the base of the Canton Tower. The changing lights can be seen from quite a distance.
The Tower features offices for the local TV station, two rotating restaurants, a bungee jumping attraction, an inside exercise spider walk, an outdoor observation deck on the roof, bubble cars on the roof, and of course seven color changing LED light displays for night appreciation of the towers architecture and symmetry.
A view of a Pearl River bridge from atop the Canton Tower.
The elevator ride up to the 108th floor was very quiet and very fast. The views are spectacular.
As they say, all good things must come to an end. After our ride down from the top of the tower and river walk along the plaza it was time to say good bye until next time. Our delegation wants to give a special thanks to this evening’s host Mr. Chen Min who organized our dinner, our guest list, and the tour of the Canton Tower.
Lombard, IL Village Manager Dave Hulesberg, Lombard School District Superintendent Jim Blanche, and I all feel very fortunate to have had this unique opportunity to have been here to see the exciting things underway in China’s big three cities.
A special thanks must also go out to Ms. Sharon Tan, and the staff of the 21st Century Institute here in China and back in Oak Brook, IL. Your networks, contacts and knowledge of Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou made this whirlwind trip a learning adventure we will never forget. We only hope our colleagues here in China will continue to have equally beneficial experiences as they continue to visit Chicagoland and Oak Park.
Time for a few winks and an early morning bus ride to Hong Kong.
Local leaders presented us with banners with our names in Chinese
The rainy season is just beginning and we woke up to a good old Chicago-style thunderstorm this Sunday morning, our first morning in south China’s city of Guangzhou, population 14 million.
We began the day with a visit to the community of Panyu, population 200,000. They call it a community, but it is more like a ward in the city. A city with population densities that seem to me to be well over 50,000 per square mile. We visited their community center and a new 10,000 person residents complex. The local leaders presented our delegation with banners with our names printed on them in Chinese.
Guangzhou has a much different feel than Shanghai or Beijing. They were the first city in China to be permitted to open their economy back in 1979 and have been a good economic pioneer city for the rest of the nation. Most think they were chosen for learning “how to make money” because of their proximity to Hong Kong.
A rainy morning in Panyu District, City of Guangzhou, China
Training for a Dragon Canoe Boat Race on the Pearl River
While touring Panyu on this Sunday morning we saw a team training on the Pearl River for a Dragon Canoe Boat Race. The canoe races could be considered their version of our softball leagues. Up to 50 paddlers can participate on a boat in a race which is usually two kilometers. Dragon Canoe teams are fairly popular here we are told. This team was really moving and getting a great workout. They paddle in rhythm with a drummer beating a drum, which we could hear from the shore.
Vtrek Electronics conference room
Our second visit of the morning was to Vtrek Electronics. Vtrek manufactures home and car audio and flat screen TVs for several of the major brands around the world, including Sharp, Hitachi, LG, JVC, and Sanyo. Vtrek built products are exported to 80 different countries. Vtrek’s top management came in on a Sunday morning to tell us what they do and how they do it. The company has 3,500 employees, with 250 in research and development. The company has been around less than 20 years and has 14 assembly and quality control inspection lines. The company will make what their customer wants or invent something the company may wish to have the manufacturing rights to. I suspect many Oak Parker’s have some of the products in their homes. We were very impressed with how this company operates.
Guangzhou has grown as a manufacturing center beginning in 1979 when the doors to China began to be opened. Today 2 ,000 of the companies here achieve sales of over $5 million per year. They are doing so well that residents who have lived here before 2006 are eligible for a payment of about $1,500 per year from the government. Kind of like the Alaska fund, except Guangzhou struck manufacturing gold instead of oil.
Despite Guangzhou’s success, manufacturing is being dispersed around China and globally. So Guangzhou officials, several of whom we met, are working on diversifying its economy to include the service sector and high tech.
At Vtrek, like at many companies here, employees are paid the required wage of $180 per month for a regular work week. Dormitory style housing is available on or near Vtrek’s campus for those employee who would like or need to take advantage of it. Private sector business people we spoke with are realizing that a labor shortage has companies in the area facing increasing competition for good employees, which will probably spur an increase in wages. One of our translators told me that the overall average wage in Guangzhou has risen to about $500 per month.
If you have an audio or video product in mind these guys can help invent, build, and even help patent it with you. That’s their core business, the sales and marketing is all yours.
Vtrek let us try out their new 3D flat screen TV model. Pretty cool stuff.
Zhixin Medicine, an herbal medicine business
The Chinese electronics and manufacturing business is something, but the next stop of the morning was truly mind blowing. We had spoken to local leaders earlier about Guangzhou working to diversify its economy but little did we know we would see a thriving example just down the block. Zhixin Medicine is an herbal medicine business. They bought a former manufacturing building about ten years ago and they now employ over 1,000 people making herbal medicines and developing healthy ingredients for foods and drink.
The moment we walked in the door at Zhixin Medicine we knew this place would be interesting. It smelled good, was clean and fresh, well designed, and wow, we had guessed right. The corridors and test labs were spotless. There was an amazing, entire floor of preserved plants, insects, and animals from which some of the companies’ remedies or ancient wisdom comes from.
A wall of preserved plants, insects, and animals.
One of the most deadly snakes displayed will cause collapse within five steps after being bit. We were told by one of our guides that medicines which require an ingredient from one of the most poisonous snakes brings the highest returns.
Preserved snakes on exhibit through a display in the floor at Zhixin Medicine.
The inner sanctum, probably used as much for marketing as anything else.
The displays in the room included three stuffed deer as well as plants and powders.
A plant on display at Zhixin Medicine.
A pristine lab at Zhixin Medicine.
More display cabinets at the herbal medicine company.
The company is expanding and adding healthy herbal ingredients to alcohol drinks.
The young company is doing so well that they are diversifying and have opened a hotel and restaurant next door. We had lunch there this afternoon, this time featuring extra high quality health foods including soups, vegetables, tofu, fish, and fruit.
Herbal teas like you’ve never seen
Along with an amazing lunch of extra healthy food we were served delicious herbal teas. Probably why I am able to stay up and write this blog at 3:00 am in the morning!
In the lobby of Zhixin Medicine’s hotel and restaurant giving thanks for another wonderfully healthy meal and lots of lively conversation with local leaders, including Bin Tan, Director of Panyu, i.e. Village Manager.
A street in the Guangzhou Manufacturing area where individual shopkeepers make parts. The city used to have many of these small stalls as they entered into the manufacturing world. They are slowly disappearing as bigger shops and redevelopment occurs.
I am especially enjoying Guangzhou because it seems a bit more real, like where I grew up in Detroit during Detroit’s boom times. True Guangzho’s free market economy just began 33 years ago, but unlike Detroit, they have had the good sense to diversify their economy, not relying entirely on manufacturing. They plan here in China, maybe the legacy of the old communist “five year plan”. But they do plan and follow their plans, which most recently have included building 8 modern subway transit lines, high speed rail, and most recently (last year) hosting the Asian Games. Many Chinese have lived with hardship and poverty for long periods. But life has been getting better for most here as they strive to keep what is best from the past while embracing a unique socialist-capitalist-hybrid vision for the future.
Guangzhou is also striving to maintain its agricultural base, a part of which we saw adjacent to a manufacturing district. The warm, nearly tropical climate allows them to be a major exporter of some fruits including bananas.
After lunch we drove past the new high speed train station that recently opened. The train takes folks 600 miles inland in three hours by sustaining speeds of up to 300 miles per hour.
Our afternoon was spent on a guided tour of the recently restored Baomo Garden, yet another big municipal government project. The garden is full of acres of ponds, ancient sculptures, jewelry, calligraphy, pottery, bronze, and beautiful trees and gardens.
This is an example of just one of the majestic trees found at Baomo Garden.
This statue of the turtle and the snake particularly caught my eye. If your not familiar with the story behind it, here it is.
Mr. Snake approaches Mr. Turtle on a river bank and asks Mr. Turtle for a ride across the water since he can’t swim the river himself. Mr. Turtle politely refuses to oblige, reasoning that if he were to give Mr. Snake a ride across the river, he would surely be bitten. Mr. Snake protests saying that it would be foolish for him to bite the one carrying him, since it would result in him perishing also. Mr. Turtle considers the argument, then agrees to ferry Mr. Snake over the broad river. When they are half-way across the river Mr. Turtle feels a sharp pain and realizes he has been bitten by Mr. Snake. As the venom is beginning to take effect, Mr. Turtle sadly and resolutely asks Mr. Snake why he bit him, since the biting will also result in Mr. Snake’s demise. A wry smile came upon Mr. Snake’s face. “I bit you because I am a snake Mr. Turtle; that is my nature.” Despite this turtle’s bad luck, the turtle symbolizes longevity in Chinese culture.
A clowning Buddha indoors at the Baomo Garden.
We wrapped up our time at Baomo Garden with a midday tea and mini Chinese opera performance before leaving the truly magnificent gardens for our evening tours, dinner, and the circus.
One of the three white tigers who live at the Chimelong Hotel near the zoo, water park, and circus venues.
Our last stop of the day was Chimelong, a massive entertainment complex or ‘kingdom”. Chimelong is a partnership put together with a former farmer who opened the White Tiger Hotel. We toured the expansive, very popular, eight-year-old Chimelong Water Park. Next to the water park is China’s largest, extremely well kept Chimelong Zoo.
We fed the elephants bananas by tossing them at their open mouths as the zoo was closing. The monkeys, flamingos, antelopes, and hippos are all here, even panda bears.
The circus acts were breathtaking and thrilling.
After dinner at the White Tiger Hotel we headed over to the Chimelong International Circus, the worlds largest permanent circus.
We weren’t expecting much, and after a long day were longing for our hotel, but wow! This is starting to sound like a broken record, but Jim, Dave and I all felt this was the coolest, most creative circus any of us have ever seen. The specially built facility, with a moat of water ringing the stage, was equipped to provide a great light show and music to compliment the dancers and gymnasts and the several high wire acts.
Have you ever seen flamingos at the circus? They paraded right in front of us.
The Circus integrated several of its acts with many of the zoo’s animals including hippos, a variety of monkeys, a camel, bears, flamings, pigs, zebras, even birds to go with the horses and elephants. Clever, crisp, and highly entertaining and represented to us just how bold, creative, effective and strategic the Chinese economy has become.
The cast of the circus says goodnight.
Time to call it a day.