Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: The Case of the Missing People Spots

Andersonville, Architecture, Checkerboard City, Green No Comments »
Brian Bonanno, in baseball cap, and contractors reinstall the Farragut People Spot. Photo: John Greenfield

Brian Bonanno, in ballcap, and contractors reinstall the Farragut People Spot./Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

As the Tribune’s Blair Kamin recently pointed out, it’s embarrassing that San Francisco will soon have more than eighty “parklets”—parking-lane space repurposed as picturesque seating areas—while our much-larger city only has a handful of them. Dubbed “People Spots” by the Chicago Department of Transportation, which runs the program, eight of these have been put in on business districts in Grand Boulevard, Kenwood, Lakeview and Andersonville.

The beauty of parklets is that they take asphalt that’s usually reserved for warehousing private automobiles and transform it into attractive, planter-enclosed public space where neighbors and shoppers can congregate. The People Spot nicknamed “The Wave” at Addison and Southport in Lakeview is practically public art—its undulating, freeform seating units are both comfy and reminiscent of whale skeletons.

A study by Metropolitan Planning Council found that, since People Spots encourage people to linger on Chicago’s retail strips, they’re a shot in the arm for local businesses. Eighty percent of merchants surveyed felt nearby parklets helped attract customers to their establishments. Seventy-three percent of parklet users said that, if they weren’t eating, chatting, texting or relaxing in the spaces, they’d probably be at home. Thirty-four percent of them said they made spontaneous food or beverage purchases as a result of the inviting hangout space. Read the rest of this entry »

Free Will Astrology: Week of July 30, 2015

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By  Rob Brezsny

ARIES (March 21-April 19): “I am very much in love with no one in particular,” says actor Ezra Miller. His statement would make sense coming out of your mouth right about now. So would this one: “I am very much in love with almost everyone I encounter.” Or this one: “I am very much in love with the wind and moon and hills and rain and rivers.” Is this going to be a problem? How will you deal with your overwhelming urge to overflow? Will you break people’s hearts and provoke uproars everywhere you go, or will you rouse delight and bestow blessings? As long as you take yourself lightly, I foresee delight and blessings. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: WIPEOUTRUN (July 25, 2015)

News etc., Running, Sports No Comments »
Participants finish the WIPEOUTRUN on the Happy Endings slide/Photo: Zach Freeman

Participants finish the WIPEOUTRUN on the Happy Endings slide/Photo: Zach Freeman

Breakdown: Since 2008, the reality series “Wipeout” has been a mainstay for ABC, with the network airing 148 episodes of the obstacle-course-challenge show over seven seasons. Despite recent rumblings that season eight has been cancelled due to low viewership (neither confirmed nor denied by ABC), the brand, pairing with what was formerly ROC (Ridiculous Obstacle Course) Race, has taken to the streets with a nationwide race series called WIPEOUTRUN.

Setting up shop in the parking lots surrounding U.S. Cellular Field for the Chicago leg of this tour, thousands of participants paraded through a course consisting of giant inflatable obstacles with names like “Big Balls,” “Sweeper” and “Foam of Fury.” And though many of these certainly have the right to be called obstacles, there are also a number that are just entertaining water park rides—from the inner-tube-driven Temple Tubes to the epic finale slide christened Happy Endings.

Though billed as a 5K, the course, which wound its way around a series of cones and fences, registered as only slightly longer than two miles by my measure. Still, lines at various obstacles extended completion time to at least a forty-five minute experience. Individual costumes and team themes provided an extra level of entertainment on the course, along with pounding music and the fun of watching other participants… wipe out. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: BTN Big 10K (July 25, 2015)

Running, Sports No Comments »

Big Ten fans at the starting line/Photo: Zach Freeman

Breakdown: For six hours Saturday morning, the area between Soldier Field and McCormick Place was swarming with more than 13,000 Big Ten fans—alumni, students, parents and supporters—all with a common purpose, despite their varying school allegiances: to run 6.2 miles (or at least 3.1). This is the fourth year for the BTN Big 10K (which also features a 5K distance) and, back in its original location near Soldier Field, it continues to draw large crowds and put on a large post-race party (christened the “Fan Fest” and featuring bags, games and food).

This is a large race by any measure and race organizers have dealt with this by breaking the field out into waves and releasing packs of runners every three minutes, allowing for a more open course. Having the course follow the far less scenic route west of Lake Shore Drive allowed for comfortable running despite the large numbers. The familiar slip ‘n’ slide of years past appeared around mile five and though it didn’t have many takers, its appeal on a hot, humid July morning can’t be overstated. Read the rest of this entry »

Free Will Astrology: Week of July 23, 2015

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By Rob Brezsny

ARIES (March 21-April 19): The Latin motto “Carpe diem” shouldn’t be translated as “Seize the day!” says author Nicholson Baker. It’s not a battle cry exhorting you to “freaking grab the day in your fist like a burger at a fairground and take a big chomping bite out of it.” The proper translation, according to Baker, is “Pluck the day.” In other words, “you should gently pull on the day’s stem, as if it were a wildflower, holding it with all the practiced care of your thumb and the side of your finger, which knows how to not crush easily crushed things—so that the day’s stem undergoes increasing tension and draws to a tightness, and then snaps softly away at its weakest point, and the flower is released in your hand.” Keep that in mind, Aries. I understand you are often tempted to seize rather than pluck, but these days plucking is the preferable approach. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Steve Jesus, the Magic Lark and the Ghost of Jerry Garcia

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The Magic Lark 300By Tony Fitzpatrick

My pal Steve Jesus was in town for the weekend’s Grateful Dead end of days. He was happily sad at the prospect of a final Dead show. He was determined to experience the holy trinity of mind-altering Grateful Dead substances : X, acid and ‘shrooms, in that order. He also, thanks to Tinder, got to experience some slap and tickle twenty-first-century style. He hooked up with a lass who wasn’t looking for Mr. Right, but Mr. Right Now. Steve was happy to oblige. All in all, his weekend was sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Jerry Garcia would have been proud.

Steve is one of my oldest and best friends. Years ago, when I was on the radio, he was my producer. He has since gone on to work for a large tech outfit in San Francisco. He is a proud member of five or six dispensaries in San Fran and has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things cannabis.

There were all manner of Deadheads in town over the weekend and at first I thought they would be of the sixty-plus-year-old vintage. To my surprise there were plenty of kids who were not even alive before Jerry Garcia died. Read the rest of this entry »

Free Will Astrology: Week of July 16, 2015

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By  Rob Brezsny

ARIES (March 21-April 19): “Stop Making Sense” was originally the name of the film and music soundtrack produced by the Talking Heads in the 1980s, and now it is the central theme of your horoscope. I think your brain would benefit from a thorough washing. That’s why I invite you to scour it clean of all the dust and cobwebs and muck that have accumulated there since its last scrub a few months back. One of the best ways to launch this healing purge is, of course, to flood all the neural pathways with a firehose-surge of absurdity, jokes and silliness. As the wise physician of the soul, Dr. Seuss, said, “I like nonsense. It wakes up the brain cells.” Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: A Taxing Woman

Checkerboard City, Green, Politics, Transit 2 Comments »
Cook County president Toni Preckwinkle and CNT vice president Jacky Grimshaw. Photo: CNT

Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle and CNT vice president Jacky Grimshaw/Photo: CNT

Back in 2010, when Toni Preckwinkle was running against incumbent Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, she successfully used Stroger’s one-cent sales tax hike as a campaign issue, going as far as to make an ad with a Benjamin Franklin impersonator. “I used to teach my history students about Ben Franklin,” said Preckwinkle, a former high school teacher, in the spot. “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

After she was elected, Preckwinkle rolled back the sales tax to the current 9.25-percent rate. As president, she’s generally been credited with improving the efficiency of the county government and cutting costs, avoiding the allegations of patronage and incompetence that hounded Stroger.

However, to address pension obligations, Preckwinkle is now calling for a return to the higher county sales tax. In response, a Crain’s magazine cartoonist recently portrayed her as a mad scientist crying, “It’s alive!” as the 10.25-percent tax rises from the operating table like Frankenstein’s monster.

There’s a saying in politics, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” Accordingly, The Center for Neighborhood Technology and the Active Transportation Alliance are using this moment when the Cook County commissioners may vote for a tax hike to promote their Transit Future funding campaign. They’re asking the commissioners to simultaneously create a dedicated revenue stream for public transportation infrastructure in the county. CNT vice president of policy Jacky Grimshaw explained the reasoning behind this new push. Read the rest of this entry »

Free Will Astrology: Week of July 9, 2015

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By Rob Brezsny

ARIES (March 21-April 19): How can you fulfill your potential as an Aries? What strategies will help you become the best Aries you can possibly be? Now is an excellent time to meditate on these riddles. One of my Aries readers, Mickki Langston, has some stellar tips to inspire you: 1. One of your greatest assets is your relentless sense of purpose. Treasure it. Stay connected to it. Draw on it daily. 2. Love what you love with pure conviction, because there is no escaping it. 3. Other people may believe in you, but only sometimes. That’s why you should unfailingly believe in yourself. 4. It’s your duty and your destiny to continually learn more about how to be a leader. 5. Don’t be confused by other people’s confusion. 6. Your best friend is the Fool, who will guide you to laughter and humility when you need it most, which is pretty much all of the time. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Detroit?

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Illustration by Detroit's own Stephen Schudlich

Illustration by Detroit’s own Stephen Schudlich

Chicago’s smaller cousin to the northeast has been suffering a fair bit these recent years, becoming something of a punching bag for out-of-town media, politicians and comedians. But from its depths, something special is underway. Detroit is reimagining itself, and starting to live up to its “renaissance city” moniker. We started taking notice of this during the great recession, when artists from all over the world started moving to Detroit, lured by its bargain real estate and urban grit. Like Berlin a half generation or so ago, it’s becoming a creative mecca, and with that seeing new life in its culture, a rethinking of its design and built environment, and new vigor in its entrepreneurial spirit. The future of Detroit seems unbound from its one-industry past. To coin an overused ad slogan from its automotive legacy, this ain’t your father’s Detroit.

In the spirit of our annual summer road-trip editions, several of our writers and editors—some Motor City expats, others Chicago through and through—visited and explored. At the same time, we connected with writers, artists and designers with boots on the ground, who added a native’s insight. What better way to celebrate our nation’s birthday than with a deep meditation on one great American city? And in doing so, gain some insight into our own city, and ourselves?  Read the rest of this entry »