Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Travel Options in the Black Metropolis

Bicycling, Bronzeville, Checkerboard City, Green No Comments »
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Young Bronzeville residents at the Cargo Bike Roll Call/Photo: Steven Vance

By John Greenfield

In the early twentieth century, Chicago’s Bronzeville community, aka the Black Metropolis, was home to African-American innovators and barrier breakers in business, music, art, literature and other fields. Now the neighborhood is ground zero for another first, the Go Bronzeville travel demand management program. This campaign, launched in September by the Chicago Department of Transportation, offers free resources, events and support for residents who want to make more trips via walking, biking, transit and car-sharing, instead of driving alone.

TDM programs in other U.S. cities have helped lower the number of single-occupancy car trips, saving participants time and money while improving their health, as well as fighting traffic jams and lowering emissions. CDOT is using federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement funds to conduct campaigns in five different Chicago communities. Read the rest of this entry »

One Perfect Life: An Ode to the Real South Side

Back of the Yards, Bridgeport, Bronzeville, Chinatown, Englewood, Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Little Village, Pilsen, South Shore, Southeast Side No Comments »

By Scoop Jackson

“Pharaoh of the Sun/Lookin’ down the barrel of a gun/Y’all know where I’m from.”
—from the poem “Keep On” by famous South Sider Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr. (aka Common)

We call them “pockets.” It’s the best way any of us who come from the South Side of Chicago can describe the drastic ebb and flow of the ‘hoods we live in.

“On the South Side,” real estate agent and South Side resident Chrystal Caruthers says, “you can grow up in a good neighborhood but go two blocks over and I’ll bet the people won’t feel the same.” The block-to-block change. The neighborhood-to-neighborhood shift in dynamics, living conditions and mentality. It exists in other neighborhoods in the country, but not like on the South Side in this city. The same way Chief Keef can weave tales about life on the South Side, Will Smith can come here and hang out on the lake on 31st Street and go write “Summertime.”

Growing up here gives one a perspective of range. Range in the sense of how far-reaching an area can be, how diverse and disconnected and devoted people raised on the same concrete can be. Where oftentimes the kids at Bogan were more dangerous to a young black kid than the GDs or El Rukns who went to Dunbar.

There is more beauty in the real South Side than anyone who doesn’t live here could understand. Through all of the bullshit, all of the incidents that happen on the side of Chicago that gives it the nicknames “Homicide Capital” and “Chiraq,” there exist pockets of life that bring an unmatched sense of pride and joy not found anywhere else in the city. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Organic Mechanics

Bicycling, Bronzeville, Checkerboard City, Green No Comments »
Tonaa Jamerson, center, fixes a flat with a friend. Photo: John Greenfield

Tonaa Jamerson, center, fixes a flat tire./Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

As I pedal up to the Bronzeville Community Garden, 51st and Calumet, on a Wednesday afternoon, smooth R&B drifts from a sound system and folks are gathered around a table made of colorfully painted repurposed wood, gazing intently at a chess game. Planter boxes hold a variety of greenery, including tall stalks of corn, and an old bathtub covered with a swirling mosaic design sits full of soil that’s ready for planting.

Soon a group of ten teenagers will show up on mountain bikes to make improvements to the garden and do free bicycle repairs for community members. They’re apprentices with the Greencorps Chicago youth program, a project closely aligned with the Chicago Department of Transportation’s new Divvy bike-share system.

The planned coverage area for Divvy’s first 400 docking stations stretches from 63rd to Devon, including a number of low-income neighborhoods like Bronzeville, and CDOT has applied for funding to further expand the system. However, many Chicago communities won’t be getting bikes during this first round of installations. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Bike Share, Not White Share

Bicycling, Bronzeville, Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, News etc. No Comments »

B-Cycle, a small-scale bike share system that launched here in 2010/Photo: Michael Malecki

By John Greenfield

There’s a common misconception that transportation biking is only for privileged white folks. Recently Tribune columnist John Kass expressed this attitude when he dismissed cyclists as “the One Percenters of the Commuter Class,” but in reality people from all walks of life use bikes to get around. Many of these folks are the so-called “invisible riders,” low-income individuals who ride, not because they’re looking to get exercise or save the planet, but because they need cheap, efficient transportation.

Chicago’s upcoming bike-sharing program, slated to launch next spring and grow to 4,000 vehicles by the end of the year, is a great opportunity to broaden the demographics of cycling here to include more residents from underserved neighborhoods and communities of color. By providing cycles for short-term use, to be ridden from one automated rental kiosk to another, it will function as a second public transportation system and remove some of the major obstacles to cycling: the need to purchase, store and maintain a bike, plus fear of theft. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Pavement to the People

Andersonville, Architecture, Avondale, Bicycling, Bronzeville, Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, Lakeview, News etc., Wicker Park 3 Comments »

People Spot and bike corral in Andersonville/Photo: Andersonville Development Corporation

By John Greenfield

Local pundits like ex-Sun-Times columnist Mark Konkol and the Tribune’s John McCarron and John Kass have trashed the city’s new protected bike lanes as a waste of space on the streets. But Chicagoans tend to overlook the massive amount of room on the public way given over to moving and parking private automobiles.

A new Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) initiative called Make Way for People is dreaming up more imaginative uses of the city’s asphalt and concrete, creating new public spaces that are energizing business strips. In partnership with local community leaders, the program is taking parking spots, roadways, alleys and under-used plazas and transforming them into People Spots, People Streets, People Alleys and People Plazas, respectively, lively neighborhood hangouts.

“It’s not a top-down program where we come in and say, ‘We think you need a People Spot or a People Street,’” says Janet Attarian, head of the department’s Streetscape and Sustainable Design section. “Instead we say, ‘We want to help you build community and culture and place and, look, we just created a whole set of tools that wasn’t available before.’” Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Bike and Proud

Bronzeville, Checkerboard City, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Pilsen 1 Comment »

Eboni Senai Hawkins/Photo: Richard Pack

By John Greenfield

All Chicagoans should have a chance to reap the benefits of urban cycling: cheap, convenient transportation, improved physical and mental health and good times with friends and family. The proliferation of nonprofit bicycle shops and youth education programs, along with the rising popularity of fixies among inner-city teens, is starting to broaden the demographics of cycling here. But the local bike scene still doesn’t reflect our city’s ethnic and economic diversity. Eboni Senai Hawkins wants to change that. The thirty-four year old recently launched the Chicago chapter of Red Bike and Green, a nationwide group that promotes bicycling in the black community. Read the rest of this entry »

Bike Power: Alderman Robert Fioretti covers his ward on two wheels

Bicycling, Bronzeville, Politics No Comments »

If you drive through the South Loop or Bronzeville on a Saturday morning, there’s a good chance you’ll spot 2nd Ward Alderman Robert Fioretti out on his bicycle. Outgoing and lively, Fioretti would happily take a break from his bike to chat with you, but he might admonish you too. “Don’t take the car,” says Fioretti.

The alderman covers twenty-five miles each weekend, but he’s not your typical weekend warrior. “You’re able to see things, instead of just driving by things,” says Fioretti, who uses his weekly outings as a chance to see his community. Fioretti says he takes notes, calls 311 and “gets things fixed.” He isn’t talking in the abstract: the alderman carries graffiti-removing equipment with him and often goes ahead and makes the repairs himself.

“It’s a great way to stay in touch,” says Fioretti, who is inviting community members to join him for his weekend bike ride on Saturday, July 10. Getting out of a car and onto a bike, he says, will give community members a chance to experience an area they may drive through every day without really noticing what’s around them. “History actually happened at some of these locations,” says Fioretti, whose tour includes dozens of stops. Read the rest of this entry »

Nolympic Dreams: Six months after the 2016 heartbreak, what’s the legacy of would-be glory?

Bronzeville, City Life, Politics, Washington Park 3 Comments »

Photo: Sam Feldman

By Sam Feldman

In the architectural renderings, twenty-one high-rises line the south lakefront amid rows of orderly green trees. A newly built pedestrian bridge arcs over the Metra Electric tracks and Lake Shore Drive to connect the shimmering high-rises to the lakefront attractions, which include a new fountain, amphitheater and swimming pool. On the side of each high-rise is visible a symbol that’s slowly sliding from ubiquity to oblivion: the Chicago 2016 logo.

In real life, the scene by the Metra tracks in Bronzeville couldn’t look much different. There’s no fountain, amphitheater or swimming pool, no sleek new bridge to connect the city and the lake; instead of the rows of trees there’s a mostly empty parking lot; and instead of the Olympic Village, there’s a thirty-seven-acre deconstruction site. All that remains of Michael Reese Hospital’s thirty buildings are a few ruined hulks, several as-yet-untouched buildings, and numerous piles of rubble with demolition vehicles posed victoriously overhead. Read the rest of this entry »