Street Smart Chicago

Life Is Beautiful: Papi’s World

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By David Alvarado

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The Chicago Architecture Biennial Issue

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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 »

Buildings Studies: Theory and Praxis

Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park No Comments »
KA apt

The author and her friend Andrea outside her Hyde Park apartment, circa 2001.

By Krisann Rehbein (MA ’02)

I’ve made a career out of my own curiosity. Fourteen years ago this week, my interest in the lives of buildings began. It started with my own story but the university and the world changed my perspective a thousand degrees.

For the year leading up to graduate school at the University of Chicago, I ditched my apartment and relied on the good graces of friends to save on rent. It became a joke not to invite me over or I’d stay a month. Two weeks before the start of fall classes, my boyfriend moved me into a cheap apartment on 53rd and Blackstone and I finally had a space of my own. Days later, he broke up with me. Just days after that, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on September 11.

My apartment was my refuge. Everything I needed was inside: a radio, a vintage red reading chair and ottoman, and books stacked on the floor. The only view was of a surface parking lot that didn’t bother me because it let in lots of light. Sometimes, I looked at the two windows of my apartment from the outside and thought of how nondescript they looked. My life was inside.

The World Trade Center building itself thrust architecture into the middle of an international conversation. Structural failures were analyzed. The cladding of the steel support beams and building codes of 1973 debated and technology of that day compared to the present.  Drawings of evacuation routes appeared in the newspaper. Section diagrams displayed the relationships between the floors and showed us how the elevators worked. Eventually, we learned what caused the building to completely melt into the ground.

The building’s design and the lives inside were unavoidably linked.  Read the rest of this entry »

South Woodlawn Avenue: Metamorphosis, Not Apocalypse

Education/Training, Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park No Comments »

By Karl T. Muth, MBA ’10

The University of Chicago is one of the few American institutions that is better-known, better-respected, and better appreciated by those one encounters abroad; in Juba, South Sudan, in a sweltering football stadium on the day South Sudan became a country, the man next to me, spying the phoenix on my cufflinks, smiled and introduced himself, “I studied in Hyde Park, too.” Ironic, then, given our institution’s enormous reach, that my UChicago story happens over a seventy-five-year period safely within the ambit of a one-block radius. Our family’s history is inexorably intertwined with three times the world nearly ended while we watched, and adapted, on the 5800-block of South Woodlawn Avenue. It is where our family’s gone to transform for three generations, each graduate like a sea turtle clumsily flapping toward freedom after maturing in an egg buried in the sands of 57th Street Beach.

As far as my grandmother knew, the world might have ended by the time she reached Hyde Park. An Anglo-Chinese refugee after Japan invaded His Majesty’s Overseas Territory of Hong Kong, she came to live in temporary immigration and refugee intake facilities constructed on the Midway and on Woodlawn itself by the U.S. military. Later, she moved into International House. She made the most of this time, studying for a graduate degree (like many studying during the war years, she received her AM after the war), integrating into the wartime immigrant Chinese community, and finding new romance in a new country with my grandfather, a polyglot diplomat-turned-entrepreneur. Read the rest of this entry »

Go South: Finding eta Creative Arts Foundation and Finding Myself in the Process

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Heidi Coleman teaching "Staging Desire"

Heidi Coleman teaching “Staging Desire”

By Robert Eric Shoemaker, AB ’14

Hyde Park can become a very small place if you let it. Especially when you’re an undergraduate student, when you’re just learning about the city and your place in it, when the other parts of the city that people tell you to visit are just so… far away on the Red Line. Hyde Park can be suffocating, when your homework is calling and you wake up from a drooling nap at 8pm in the Reg, and realize you almost (or did) miss your rehearsal for this/that/the other. You feel like you never leave—if you let it happen.

The South Side can also be a place of discovery, just like Lincoln or Wicker Park, Logan or Lincoln Square, insert-any-North-Side-neighborhood-here. Not only campus, which is one of the densest bits of arts-rich land in Chicago, but the rest of the South Side, too. That big blot on most Chicago maps labeled just with that moniker is peppered with important arts venues and hotspots, which are waiting to be found by an intrepid hoofer (or motorist, should you be so lucky as an undergrad).

As an undergraduate theater major and writer for the then-Newcity-affiliated Chicago Weekly (now the independent student publication South Side Weekly), I was looking for a “scoop” when I researched South Side theaters. I thought there had to be a story hiding somewhere just out of reach, where no other student would think to look. I discovered a theater that had been on the South Side and flourishing for many, many years before my “brilliant” idea had come to me: eta Creative Arts Center. Read the rest of this entry »