Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: The Rebel Transportation Commissioner

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Lit No Comments »

Gabe Klein (left) toasts the new riverwalk with Active Transportation Alliance cofounder Randy Neufeld/Photo: Steven Vance

Ex-Chicago Department of Transportation chief Gabe Klein says that when he returned to Chicago earlier this month for his first real visit since he resigned almost two years ago, it was a highly emotional experience. He was finally able to see the Bloomingdale Trail and the Chicago Riverwalk extension, projects that he spearheaded as commissioner, filled with people enjoying themselves. “It reinforced to me that there’s such a huge demand, particularly in urban spaces, just for great places to hang out.”

Klein was in town for a conference on “shared mobility” tools like bike-sharing and car-sharing. He was partly there to talk up his new book “Start-Up City: Inspiring Private & Public Entrepreneurship, Getting Projects Done, & Having Fun” (Island Press), a primer on how to quickly make improvements to cities in the face of grinding bureaucracy. Disclosure: I contributed a photo for the pint-sized paperback, of the commissioner striding diagonally across Jackson and State during the ribbon cutting for the city’s first “pedestrian scramble” intersection.

Klein came to CDOT in May of 2011 as part of the Rahm Emanuel administration, following a stint as director of the Washington, D.C. transportation department. During his two-and-a-half years in Chicago he also launched the (highly controversial) speed camera program, built dozens of miles of buffered and protected bike lanes, created the Divvy bike-share system, and planned the Loop Link bus rapid transit corridor. He says he quit the job to move back to D.C. for the birth of his daughter Simone, whose name was partly inspired by noted Chicagophile Simone de Beauvoir. Read the rest of this entry »

Free Will Astrology: Week of October 15, 2015

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By Rob Brezsny

ARIES (March 21-April 19): Here’s actor Bill Murray’s advice about relationships: “If you have someone that you think is The One, don’t just say, ‘OK, let’s pick a date. Let’s get married.’ Take that person and travel around the world. Buy a plane ticket for the two of you to go to places that are hard to go to and hard to get out of. And if, when you come back, you’re still in love with that person, get married at the airport.” In the coming weeks, Aries, I suggest you make comparable moves to test and deepen your own closest alliances. See what it’s like to get more seriously and deliriously intimate. Read the rest of this entry »

Free Will Astrology: Week of October 8, 2015

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By Rob Brezsny

ARIES (March 21-April 19): If I warned you not to trust anyone, I hope you would reject my simplistic fear-mongering. If I suggested that you trust everyone unconditionally, I hope you would dismiss my delusional naiveté. But it’s important to acknowledge that the smart approach is far more difficult than those two extremes. You’ve got to evaluate each person and even each situation on a case-by-case basis. There may be unpredictable folks who are trustworthy some of the time, but not always. Can you be both affably open-hearted and slyly discerning? It’s especially important that you do so in the next sixteen days. Read the rest of this entry »

Life Is Beautiful: Papi’s World

Comics No Comments »

By David Alvarado

Click to enlarge.

The Chicago Architecture Biennial Issue

Architecture No Comments »
Cover by Fletcher Martin

Cover by Fletcher Martin

“We shall leave, for remembrance, one rusty iron heart.”
—Nelson Algren, “City on the Make”

What’s rattling around that rusty heart some fifty years hence Algren’s lovingly caustic sendoff? For some, a boomtown of glass-sheathed skyscraping ambition and beautifully manicured space. For others, a city on the brink, potholed with equal parts resilience and resilient decay.

Maybe not so much has changed. Maybe this bifurcated nature—what Algren called the “Janus-faced city” and what might today just be called a condition of “the Global City”—has always been an elemental part of the city’s framework. From the Gilded Age splendor of Prairie Avenue hulking over Jane Addams masses, to Operation Breadbasket pushing up against Gold Coast shores, it’s a city aggressively unsure of how sure a place it is.

These multitudes play out in the city’s streets everyday, where the design of the city’s buildings, parks, transportation networks and policies all inform the way we go about our daily lives. It’s design that makes Chicago, and Chicago, long home to the most transcendent of American design moments and movements, makes design.
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Dime Stories: Bluejays and Rahm Emanuel’s September Surprise

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

In early folklore, blue jays were thought to be hand-servants of the devil because of their noisy and boisterous nature. I remember them as a pleasant and mysterious part of childhood. The mystery being that I would see them everyday for a while (a week or so) and then they would disappear for six months until I’d almost forget about them and then they’d be back. I was always wondering where the fuck they went. They were the Houdinis of the natural world.

In high school, I had a job cutting grass in Queen of Heaven Cemetery during the summers. The place was full of pine trees and thus, blue jays. In fact, if you want to see a lot of birds, go to any cemetery. It is a relatively safe place for them. As accidental bird sanctuaries, they are a safe place to nest and enjoy relative safety from humans cutting down trees and shooting birds.

I kind of liked that job. I worked with lots of guys from Mexico and in the middle of the afternoon, one of them would hop the fence and go buy six-packs and dirty magazines. We’d hide our mowers and drink beer in the bushes and smoke cigarettes and take naps. It was great. Learned all of the dirty words in Spanish I could think of and met people from another part of the world who were nothing like me, except that we wanted the same things; to work outside and to be left the fuck alone. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Divvy for Everyone Makes Bike-Share More Accessible

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Garfield Park, Green No Comments »

Divvy employee Michael Clark (red cap) and friends take a spin in East Garfield Park./Photo: John Greenfield

Before the Divvy bike-share system launched in June of 2013, city officials promised that attracting an ethnically and economically diverse ridership was a top priority. “Since we’re using public dollars, it’s important that the folks who are using the service reflect everybody in the community,” said Scott Kubly, deputy commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation at the time. “It’s a challenge, but we’re going to crack it.”

That hasn’t happened yet. Like most American bike-share systems, Divvy’s membership has skewed white, male, young, educated and relatively affluent.

The system currently has about 30,000 annual members. Of the hundreds who responded to a recent survey, sixty-five percent were male, and seventy-nine percent were non-Hispanic whites—a group that makes up only about thirty-two percent of the city’s population. The average age was thirty-four, the majority of respondents have middle-to-upper incomes, and ninety-three percent have a college degree or more.

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Free Will Astrology: Week of October 1, 2015

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By Rob Brezsny

ARIES (March 21-April 19): The next seven weeks will NOT be a favorable time to fool around with psychic vampires and charismatic jerks. I recommend you avoid the following mistakes, as well: failing to protect the wounded areas of your psyche; demanding perfection from those you care about; and trying to fulfill questionable desires that have led you astray in the past. Now I’ll name some positive actions you’d be wise to consider: hunting for skillful healers who can relieve your angst and aches; favoring the companionship of people who are empathetic and emotionally intelligent; and getting educated about how to build the kind of intimacy you can thrive on. Read the rest of this entry »

Free Will Astrology: Week of September 24, 2015

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By Rob Brezsny

ARIES (March 21-April 19): You are destined to become a master of fire. It’s your birthright to become skilled in the arts of kindling and warming and illuminating and energizing. Eventually you will develop a fine knack for knowing when it’s appropriate to turn the heat up high, and when it’s right to simmer with a slow, steady glow. You will wield your flames with discernment and compassion, rarely or never with prideful rage. You will have a special power to accomplish creative destruction and avoid harmful destruction. I’m pleased at the progress you are making toward these noble goals, but there’s room for improvement. During the next eight weeks, you can speed up your evolution. Read the rest of this entry »

Chicago Manual 2015: Only at Chicago

Education/Training, Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park No Comments »
Image from book titled Building Ideas, featuring architecture on the University of Chicago campus, published summer of 2013. (Photo by Tom Rossiter/The University of Chicago)

Image from book titled “Building Ideas,” featuring architecture on the University of Chicago campus, published summer of 2013. (Photo by Tom Rossiter/The University of Chicago)

I was a first year in the College in 1979, in my first quarter, taking Ralph Lerner’s Common Core social science course called “Political Order and Change.” A small class of maybe twenty students, we sat at desks aligned to form a large hollow rectangle, with Professor Lerner in the center of one end.

We were reading Plato’s “Republic” and I was fascinated, even though it was written thousands of years before the sci-fi novels ands sports biographies that had occupied my attention up through high school. Our professor really brought its ideas to light in our class discussions and I was in the early stage of a transformative intellectual awakening. I showed up one day and took a seat at the corner near the professor. Sitting between us was another older guy I did not recognize. Professor Lerner started the class by introducing our guest, a friend of his who’d been visiting him in his office and had decided spontaneously to join our conversation that day. His name was John Paul Stevens, then a relatively new justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Yes, there I was, all of eighteen years old, discussing the very foundation of justice with one of its most powerful advocates in the world. This, I figured, was the way my life was going to be from now on. Book chat with leaders of the free world and all that.

Only at Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »