Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Gettin’ Quigley With It

Checkerboard City, Green, Politics, Transit No Comments »
Mike Quigley

Mike Quigley/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

If you’re not a transportation geek like myself, you may be most familiar with Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL 5th) from his hilarious segment on “The Colbert Report.” His North Side district includes Boystown, and he’s known as a strong ally of the LGBT community. Therefore, Stephen Colbert, in his persona as a conservative blowhard, baited Quigley by insisting that homosexuality is a choice:

Quigley: I don’t think you choose. It’s from birth. You’re gay, and it’s the rest of your life.

Colbert: Gay babies? I find that offensive, the idea that there are gay babies out there and they’re looking at me, and they’re sexually interested in me, as a man.

Quigley: You have a point. It’s not a good point, but it’s a point.

However, Quigley, a blue-collar dude, built like a fireplug, is something of a rock star when it comes to bringing home transportation funding to the Chicago region. He’s the only Illinois member on the House Appropriations Committee and its subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development, with the memorable acronym THUD. He helped secure funding for the federal Core Capacity transit grant program, which will help bankroll the CTA’s rehab of the North Red and Purple Lines, and the TIGER program, which funds various sustainable transportation projects in cities. Read the rest of this entry »

Farm City: Sampling Detroit’s Thriving Urban Agriculture Movement

Green No Comments »
Plum Street Farm

Plum Street Farm

By Sharon Hoyer

It was an unseasonably brisk day in late April that I donned my denim overalls and headed out to an empty lot on the west side of Detroit to help build a seasonal high tunnel (better known as a hoop house to some of us, mistaken for a greenhouse by many others) on a residential street. When I arrived around 10am, half a dozen workers were milling about or atop ladders, joining the ribcage of a 2,000-square-foot temporary structure that would allow Raphael Ortega to transform the vacant land next to his home into a productive farm three seasons a year. Assuming things warmed up a bit, that is. I rubbed my hands and found myself wishing I’d worn gloves and a wool hat instead of rugged overalls. A rooster crowed in Mr. Ortega’s backyard, unfazed by the overcast day.

The volunteer workday was part of a series of free agricultural education events hosted by the Southeast Michigan Resource Conservation and Development Council. From February to October, the RC&D is hosting free events in and around Detroit for anyone interested in urban agriculture as a potential future career. Financing came from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and technical expertise came from Michigan State University (which, as a land-grant college, has a highly reputed agricultural program), along with the nonprofit Keep Growing Detroit. A lot of resources were going into the programming specifically geared toward job creation. The high tunnel on Mr. Ortega’s land must be used to grow produce for sale at market. The high-tunnel construction project would take three days, start-to-finish, and anyone was welcome to come lend a hand and learn for any length of time. About mid-afternoon a neighbor, well into her seventies and clad in a Tigers windbreaker, approached a small group of us wrapping up installation of baseboards along the western side of the structure and asked, “Who’s the foreman on this job? I can’t kneel, but I can work.” Read the rest of this entry »

Free Will Astrology: Week of July 2, 2015

Free Will Astrology No Comments »

By Rob Brezsny

ARIES (March 21-April 19): To determine whether you are aligned with the cosmic flow, please answer the following questions. 1. Would you say that your current situation is more akin to treading water in a mosquito-ridden swamp, or conducting a ritual of purification in a clear mountain stream? 2. Have you been wrestling with boring ghosts and arguing with traditions that have lost most of their meaning? Or have you been transforming your past and developing a riper relationship with your roots? 3. Are you stuck in a gooey muck? Or are you building a flexible new foundation? Read the rest of this entry »

Business and Buzzwords: In Search of Technology at Techweek

Education/Training, Events, News etc., Technology No Comments »
(l to r) Sam Yagan, Dr. Jennifer Jones, audience member/Photo: Zach Freeman

Sam Yagan, Dr. Jennifer Jones, audience member/Photo: Zach Freeman

By Zach Freeman

Billed by CEO Katy Lynch as a “week-long celebration of all-things tech,” Techweek is a lot of things to a lot of people, but in terms of this year’s physicality, it is essentially a taking over of a large section of the eighth floor of the Merchandise Mart with dozens of booths, three stages and a teeming mass of badge-sporting “innovators, disruptors, entrepreneurs, developers, VCs and visionaries.” Walking amongst them for the last two days I found it hard to get excited about much of what was being marketed, pitched, sold or displayed to me (except for the free food from gogo—that was pretty easy to get on board with). But maybe that’s because I’m just a grumpy old programmer.

A little backstory: I direct a small technology office for a large college within a large university—we build web applications to simplify manual processes, run reports to provide units with decision-making data and maintain the social media and website for the college. In my role, I not only lead a team, I gather requirements, write code, test, run code reviews and solicit feedback from our users. I also teach a databases class at another university.

I like being involved in all aspects of the software development lifecycle and encourage my team to be as well. In previous positions I’ve worked with teams that divide things up: project managers talk to clients, managers set goals, developers write code. I’m sure it works for some but it always seemed so inefficient and divisive to me, especially when the unfortunate result is that only the developers end up knowing anything about how the system actually works and why.

At Techweek, I felt the confusion coming back to me as speakers tossed out phrases like “technology literacy” without a clear definition of what it implied (Knowing how to code? Understanding social media? Owning the latest wearable? All three?) and representatives running booths seemed confounded by questions about how their software actually works with no one around to help clarify. Why do developers still get hidden away behind the scenes? I know we’re not always the best communicators or the most fun to talk to, but shouldn’t we be out there taking some credit for the stuff we’ve created? Or at least on hand in case some annoying nerd has a question besides “Where can I buy this?” or “How did you come up with the idea?” Read the rest of this entry »

Free Will Astrology: Week of June 25, 2015

Free Will Astrology No Comments »

By Rob Brezsny

ARIES (March 21-April 19): During my regular hikes along my favorite trails, I’ve gotten to know the local boulders quite intimately. It might sound daft, but I’ve come to love them. I’ve even given some of them names. They symbolize stability and constancy to me. When I gaze at them or sit on them, I feel my own resolve grow stronger. They teach me about how to be steadfast and unflappable in all kinds of weather. I draw inspiration from the way they are so purely themselves, forever true to their own nature. Now would be an excellent time for you to hang out with your own stony allies, Aries. You could use a boost in your ability to express the qualities they embody. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Run the Ribbon Mile Race (June 20, 2015)

Loop, News etc., Running No Comments »
Runners competing around the ribbon/Photo: Zach Freeman

Runners competing around the ribbon/Photo: Zach Freeman

Breakdown: Like witnessing a world-premiere play on opening night, participating in an inaugural race is exciting. Particularly when that race is planned in a popular new location and set at a rather uncommon distance. Saturday morning, the location was the skating ribbon around the climbing walls in Maggie Daley Park and the distance was a single mile. Not only was the promise of being one of the first to run around a new track intriguing (the ribbon has been open but used for skating—both ice and inline—up till this point) but the chance to test the legs on a distance that’s typically reserved for track meets made it especially unique.

CARA hosted the event, with categories for youth, open and all-comers running in sixteen waves spread out over several hours. Just over 100 racers made their way around the twists and turns of the ribbon, racing only against their given wave group (typically around ten runners to a wave) with a miked announcer calling out names and position numbers. The full length of the ribbon meant runners had to circle it five times to complete a mile (organizers rang a bell for the final lap) and the curvature didn’t make full-out sprinting especially easy, but it was indeed, as the CARA website described it, a “memorable experience for racers.”

Cash prizes were given to the top three finishers with a bonus promised for any male who could run a sub-4:00 and any female who could run a sub 4:40 (witnessing those feats would have been worth the cost of admission). The small field of runners and the track-meet-like atmosphere of the race allowed for more camaraderie and spectating than any other race I’ve run in the last several years. Though adding runners would spread the waves out even further, this could easily be an exciting half-day event in future years. Read the rest of this entry »

Capping It Off: Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa Walk Into A Bar…

Sports No Comments »
Brad Richards - Chicago Blackhawks" by Lisa Gansky from New York, NY, USA - IMG_7583. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Brad Richards – Chicago Blackhawks” by Lisa Gansky from New York, NY, USA – IMG_7583. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Don De Grazia

Like many adults self-consciously seeking intellectual justification for their maniacal attachment to a sports team, I maintain that my obsession with the Blackhawks quest to regain the Stanley Cup was largely cerebral, spiritual even—as edifying and inspirational as any philosophical text, and chock full of practical-yet-profound life lessons: Hustle and flow, grind and glide. Never give up, never lose confidence, every new contest is a clean slate. Adversity is the greatest motivator, and it’s never too late—but don’t cut things too close, or you might get smacked down by a random roll of the dice in the form of a floppy puck bouncing off your own player into the net to hand the 2014 LA Kings the golden ticket.

During the last NHL pre-season, I was having a nightcap at a mostly empty West Loop bar when I realized that the three men sitting stiffly at a table across the room were none other than Marian Hossa (my all-time favorite Hawk), Patrick Kane (the greatest stick wizard in hockey) and… some other dude. I realized that this was The New Guy—Brad Richards—who had just been brought in to center for Kane. Richards was a star in his own right, and had sacrificed an awful lot of money (and ego) to sign a one-year deal with the Hawks.

I’m no expert on body language, but the situation at their table seemed crystal clear—Richards and Kane were on an awkward first date, in anticipation of their arranged marriage, and Hossa was there as a sort of… well, wingman. But Hossa soon departed, and left the two Conn Smythe winners staring silently into space. My impulse was to go buy them a round of drinks and see if I could get an inside scoop on the upcoming season, but I am far too respectful a person to ever do something so intrusive. So, I encouraged an attractive young woman sitting next to me to do it instead. Read the rest of this entry »

The Company Factory: Is 1871 an Incubator, a Community, Endless Summer Camp or All Three?

News etc., River North No Comments »
Photo: Emerson Dameron

Photo: Emerson Dameron

By Emerson Dameron

It is not a typical Tuesday at 1871, the labyrinthine tech-startup hub located on the twelfth floor of the Merchandise Mart, because there are no typical Tuesdays here.

David Johnston is here. He is Canada’s Governor General, a position noble enough to merit a large floating entourage and the attention of much of 1871’s leadership. Thus, as I wait for my afternoon date with CEO Howard Tullman, I am left largely to my own devices. I explore. I chat up various people who don’t appear too engrossed in their work. I struggle to find the men’s restroom, which is about as far from the women’s room as it could physically be.

1871 does have a ping-pong table, but it’s stashed in the mailroom and does not seem to have seen much use of late. The closest thing I can find to an interactive game is the Higi Station, which measures BMI, pulse and blood pressure. It is one of several such kiosks scattered around the city.

Quantification is not a perfect paradigm for measuring success, but it may be the most useful we’ve currently got as a species. In some respects, I’ve done well enough trusting my intuition—it’s led me to fruitful creative work, wonderful friendships, and a marriage that saved my life with no facilitation from OKCupid or eHarmony. In other respects, it has not served me so well. My personal finances were a wreck until I discovered the Mint app. And although my health has ticked up since my hard-partying days, it has always been a source of painful anxiety.

Nerves aflutter, I submit to the cold, numerical wisdom of the Higi Station. My BMI is safely in the “normal” range for my height and age. That’s an improvement. My blood pressure, though, is dangerously high. That’s… disheartening. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Killing Ghost and Her Falling Stars

Dime Stories No Comments »
Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

The more I read about owls, the more I realize how paranoid white people have always been. In Western culture, owls are almost always associated with witchcraft  or some other nefarious practice. Maybe it is the eyes; they’ve always weirded people out. The eyes that Athena found “burning with inner light” freaked out the civilized types.
I must admit, when I found the down-covered screech owl, I was intrigued because I thought owls were mysterious and weird. I was not a popular kid, an ill-tempered little fucker who didn’t have many friends; mostly art kids and the other weirdos like me who hung around the pet store and drew pictures. I was thirteen when I found him and my sister named him Oliver. That summer he ate his weight in cicadas and eventually mice. He was not a friendly pet, in fact not really a pet at all, but an orphan. He was a gray screech owl and when he shed his down and his plumage filled in he was a beautiful bird; odd in all of the ways that I myself was. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Why Rolling on the River Is No Easy Task

Checkerboard City, City Life, Loop No Comments »
Tight turns and bottlenecks making cycling on the riverwalk a tricky endeavor. Photo: John Greenfield

Tight turns and bottlenecks making cycling on the riverwalk a tricky endeavor./Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Earlier this month, the Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, grabbed the spotlight as our city’s latest fabulous public space. However, the Chicago Riverwalk extension, which partially opened on May 23, is another strong contender. The new two-block stretch between State and Clark takes you down to within a foot or two of the sea-green water, and there are unique, breathtaking views of the city as you round the bridge houses.

The roughly $100 million project, funded by a federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act Loan that needs to be paid back in about thirty-five years, is slated to be extended all the way to Lake and Wacker by 2016. The now-open sections are the Cove, which has stone-like concrete seating units and will feature kayak rentals, and the Marina, with elegant teakwood banquettes whose tops will double as bar seating for eating and drinking establishments. Upcoming amenities include amphitheater seating, a water play area, fishing piers and a boardwalk.

The new spaces are already a hit with Chicagoans from all walks of life, and you’ll see dozens of people strolling, lunching, catching carp and relaxing there on nice days. The one fly in the ointment is that, while the riverwalk extension was designed to be a transportation corridor, it doesn’t function particularly well as one. Narrow sections of the path create bottlenecks, and sharp turns in the route are tricky to navigate, making it difficult to walk—let alone bike—the route efficiently when it’s crowded. Read the rest of this entry »