Street Smart Chicago

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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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

Hyde Park No Comments »
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 »

Doing it For Themselves: Age and Class Insularity Among the U of C Crowd

Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park No Comments »


By Michael Workman

It’s not long after the start of last year’s academic year. Another cold night, another slog out into the autumn chill, then a long ride cross town to check out a new art and performance space in Hyde Park. I’d heard about it through some mutual U of C friends that overlap with the North Side DIY youth spaces I’ve been frequenting, like Slag Palace and Kill Your Demons (KYD collective) and tonight, sitting on a Green Line, still slightly stoned, then slogging out on the pavement and the haul east across the park until I end up at Transit, yet another new art-slash-performance space that I have to take three buses and two trains to get to and it’s a long slog from my perch in the Lincoln Square neighborhood south to Hyde Park. Still, the feminist folk punk lineup is in my wheelhouse, and I’m interested in checking it out. Eventually, I locate the address through some iteration of turning around and around, staring at the little blue GPS dot flashing on my phone, trying to figure out what direction I’m facing because I honestly can’t tell, and after walking a few blocks around in their entirety, I end up roughly back where I was when I started out, except I’m standing in front of the address I’m looking for. Somehow. Yep, I double-check, this is it. Read the rest of this entry »

Fall Forward: A Guide to the New Season

North Center No Comments »
Cover by Fletcher Martin

Cover by Fletcher Martin

The Artists Take Over

With the fall art opening season pushing back closer to Expo Chicago, we decided this year to combine our Big Art Issue into our fall arts preview edition. But we wanted to keep that edition’s unique creative fire burning—remember last year’s takeover by Puppies Puppies?—and so decided to take the concept one step further. This year, the entire fall preview was created by artists selected by the editors in each discipline. And wow, what a range of work we’re excited to share with you! Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Dense Thinking

Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, Lakeview, Logan Square No Comments »

The 1611 West Division building has 99 units but zero parking for residents./Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Believe it or not, back in the early nineties, ex-mayor Richard M. Daley was planning to tear out an entire branch of the El system. “The Lake Street branch of what’s now the Green Line had terrible slow zones and you could almost walk to Oak Park faster,” recalls Jacky Grimshaw, the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s vice president for policy. “The mayor and the CTA president wanted to take it down.”

Grimshaw says this moment of crisis was the birth of Chicago’s transit-oriented development (TOD) movement, a push to create dense, parking-light housing and retail near rapid-transit stations in order to reduce car dependency. CNT and the West Side community organization Bethel New Life teamed up to present the CTA with a plan for TOD near the Lake/Pulaski stop, but it fell on deaf ears. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Chicago Full Moon Run (July 29, 2015)

-Neighborhood/Suburb, News etc., Running No Comments »
Runners prepare for the Full Moon Run/Photo: Zach Freeman

Runners prepare for the Full Moon Run/Photo: Zach Freeman

Breakdown: Standing at the makeshift starting line at the edge of Norwood Park last night—a day before the true full moon, race directors readily acknowledged—preparing for the kickoff of the fourth annual Chicago Full Moon Run, I marveled at the peaceful suburban neighborhood streets around me (had I really just parked my car for free only a block from the race?). Only I wasn’t in the suburbs. I was in the far northwest corner of Chicago, where parking is plentiful and you can run a foot race on the streets as long as you have a few volunteers directing traffic.

And that’s the way this race runs. Coupled with a mile race (billed as the “1 Mile Lunar Orbit”), this neighborhood event managed to draw in almost 200 participants this year with its cheap entry fee and charity mission (proceeds going to “benefit the battle against Multiple Sclerosis”). The 5K course is a double loop around Norwood Park and the surrounding neighborhoods, a quick, flat course through tree-lined streets on a perfectly-temperatured evening that led to a lot of quick running. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »