|Baths of Caracalla, by Aegidius Sadeler II (Metropolitan Museum of Art)|
Humans are by nature cautious. We are the descendants of those who fled at the snap of a twig, not those who shrugged and told themselves, “That can’t be a saber-toothed tiger coming; I’ll just keep eating these delicious berries ...”
Even today, when we read stories of tragedy, the tendency is to try to distance ourselves from whatever bad thing is going on: that’s far away, happening to very different people under very different circumstances than our own.
Which is why Thursday’s collapse of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, with some 150 residents missing, buried in the rubble, can be so terrifying to Chicagoans who live in apartment buildings: it’s hard to dismiss as a Florida phenomenon.
“I have a bad feeling in my gut about this and those sort of buildings in Chicago,” wrote one reader who lived for years in a high-rise on Sheridan Road. “Chicago has the additional worries of corruption of inspectors and building materials quality in addition to the weather concerns.”
That’s quite a charge, and I wouldn’t pass it along if I didn’t remember “Operation Crooked Code,” in 2008, when the feds probed bribery in Chicago’s buildings and zoning departments, coming up with a dozen convictions.
Immediately after the collapse, the Department of Buildings pointed out, “Chicago has one of the strictest building codes in the country.” Correct, if disingenuous. The issue isn’t whether those strict codes exist, but were they enforced when a building was constructed? Or did the inspector look the other way?
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