Street Smart Chicago

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 »

Making strides: Can the Chicago Pedestrian Plan make mean streets safer for pedestrians?

Green, Little Village, Politics 1 Comment »

This June evening is too pretty for the subway, so I bicycle south to the Pink Line’s California station to meet up with the Active Transportation Alliance’s Tony Giron. He’s leading a march across the largely Mexican-American neighborhood of Little Village to Farragut High School for the first of seven public input meetings on the Chicago Pedestrian Plan.

Similar to the Bike 2015 Plan, this Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) document will be a roadmap for making the city a safer and easier place to walk. The goal is to reduce pedestrian injuries by half and fatalities by 100 percent. “Chicago is a great city for walking,” says Giron. “But along with park paths and tree-lined streets, we still have roads that are difficult to cross, dangerous intersections and places that are inaccessible to people walking.”

Joined by a handful of young Active Trans interns and volunteers, we walk our bicycles west down leafy 23rd Street, past families hanging out on stoops and vendors selling paletas and elotes as Norteño accordion music plays on stereos. When we arrive at Farragut a man on an adult three-wheeler with a hubcap-covered sound system on the back is pedaling around the schoolyard, trailed by kids on BMX bikes and tricycles. Read the rest of this entry »

¡Viva La Ciclovia!: Sunday Parkways throws a bash on the boulevards

Bicycling, Events, Garfield Park, Little Village, Logan Square No Comments »

Sunday morning and Humboldt Boulevard, usually dominated by speeding metal boxes, is filled instead with smiling faces: tots on trikes, parents with strollers, joggers, bladers and every kind of bicyclist. It’s like a more family-friendly Critical Mass, minus the pissed-off motorists. Are we in some alternate universe?

No, says a green-skinned alien who’s waving to folks as they roll past a temporary skate park that’s been set up for the occasion, hip-hop on the sound system. He’s actually 50-ish Rafael Boria, in costume to promote his son’s skateboard company, but he refuses to break character. “Coming from planet Yuron, I am pleased to see you Earthlings have created this inviting environment,” he monotones.

It’s Sunday Parkways, the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation’s scheme to turn roadways into temporary car-free space for healthy recreation, inspired by Bogota, Colombia’s Ciclovia (“Cycle Way” in Spanish) which draws up to two million residents every week to play on a seventy-mile street network.

The bike federation is staging two three-and-a-half-mile pilots of the program along Chicago’s boulevard system this month: last week’s North Side route which winds from Logan Square’s Centennial Monument to Garfield Park; and another test on October 26, from Garfield Park to 24th and California in Little Village. The federation organized and paid for these events but hopes to persuade Mayor Daley, an outspoken cycling advocate, to fund and expand Sunday Parkways next year.

Just south of the eagle-topped monument in Logan Square, Armitage Baptist Church has set up a makeshift café, handing out free java to fuel the cyclists. A few blocks down the route an “activity station” at Palmer Square Park hosts aerobics, yoga and fencing demos. “This is a great opportunity to meet your neighbors,” says Gloria Alcala, watching with her daughters Viviana, 9, and Valeria, 7, who have balloon animals tied to the front of their two-wheelers.

Marcus and Juvy Radford push their daughter Zoe, 2, past the Humboldt Park boathouse, where salsa dancing, a steel drum concert and capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that combines combat with music and dance, take place. “I think we should have this more often—and later in the day,” says the drowsy mom. A Henry Rollins lookalike pedals by, carrying a female friend in the front cargo hold of his Dutch work bike.

At the south end of the route in Garfield Park, at a live taping of the local TV show “Chic-A-Go-Go,” hostess Miss Mia and her puppet sidekick Ratso are leading a crowd of kids and their parents in line dances like the Cuban Shuffle, the Soulja Boy and the Cha-Cha Slide. They’re swarmed by a flock of Canada geese and Park says, “We’re trying to get geese to dance with us.”

At 1pm, just before rain sets in, city workers start moving traffic cones and barricades to open the streets to motorized traffic. “Oh, they’re letting the cars back in,” says a hipster. “Yeah,” replies a senior. “That sucks.” (John Greenfield)

Winter Brake: Biking in the Chicago Cold

Bicycling, Humboldt Park, Little Village, Loop No Comments »

By Stephanie Ratanas

Snow dust whips and swirls near the ground across Daley Plaza, catching on the chains and wheels of dozens of bikes scattered around. The clusters of bikes are reminiscent of a little league practice scene, only these bikes are larger, it’s winter and instead of grass and gravel beneath the bikes, only frigid cement. At 7:30am, with the temperature ten degrees Fahrenheit, thirty to forty people stand clutching steaming cups of coffee and hot chocolate that quickly lose heat. Today, the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation commemorates the coldest day in Chicago history, January 20, 1985, when temperatures reached twenty-seven degrees below zero, with “Winter Bike to Work Day.” A tent is set up on the plaza offering commuters hot drinks and cheesecake as they pedal their way to their respective nine-to-fives. The “bike to work day” event has been held around this celebratory date for the past several years, and for even longer in the summertime. Melody Geraci, one of the organizers, speaks energetically, the cold seeming to have little effect on her. “We get a pretty reliable number of folks every year,” she says. Roughly 150 to 175 bikers are expected to pass through the event on their way to work. “Lots of regular bicycle commuters, but the event also encourages people to try biking in the winter, and see that it’s not as scary as it seems.”
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Bohemian Rhapsody: University of Chicago profs study the migration of hipsters and other urban phenomena

Andersonville, Bridgeport, Bucktown, City Life, Edgewater, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Irving Park, Kenwood, Lakeview, Lincoln Square, Little Village, Logan Square, News etc., North Center, Pilsen, Roscoe Village, South Shore, Ukrainian Village, Uptown, Washington Park, Wicker Park, Wrigleyville No Comments »

By Sean Redmond

Entering Wicker Park by the Blue Line, you emerge into the intersection of Damen, North and Milwaukee to a long-familiar sight. There’s the Double Door across the street, Flash Taco and, until just recently, the façade of Filter, Wicker Park’s former hipster coffeehouse extraordinaire. These staples, like many along these primary roadways, fade into the background with repeated visits; yes, you know you can find Reckless Records and American Apparel and the venues and art galleries in the surrounding area, but getting where you want to go requires little thought once you’re situated enough to put your eyes to the sidewalk and your feet into autopilot. But then one day, you get off the train and, surprise, the boarded-up shell of Filter is replaced with an expansive Bank of America, and your mind jolts back into motion. Suddenly, a wave of thoughts bursts forth: “Man, there are a lot of banks in the area,”or “Wicker Park really is getting commercialized,” or  “Maybe I need to start spending more time in Logan Square.”
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