Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Gimme Shelter

Checkerboard City, Loop, South Loop No Comments »

photo by John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

This year when you walk to the Printers Row Lit Fest it’s a little less likely you’ll be killed by a car. The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) is currently wrapping up the $18 million Congress Parkway Reconstruction Project, from Wells Street to Michigan Avenue. The rehab has already brought a slew of pedestrian safety improvements, including new “pedestrian refuge” islands, making it safer, easier and more pleasant to walk across and along the massive street that forms the southern boundary of the Loop.

Construction on Congress Parkway began in October 2010 and the road reopened to traffic on May 15, just in time for the NATO summit. CDOT expects the final tasks, including finishing planter medians and installing decorative trellises and lighting, will be done by June 30.
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Checkerboard City: Streetcar Desire

Checkerboard City, Green, Lincoln Park, Loop, Transit, Wrigleyville No Comments »

John Krause/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Acid jazz pulsed on the sound system as a group of stylishly dressed transit fans clinked wine glasses last week at Vapiano, a sleek Italian restaurant at 2577 North Clark Street in Lincoln Park. They were there to launch the Chicago Streetcar Renaissance, a campaign to create a world-class streetcar line on Clark from the Loop to Wrigley Field, and eventually add lines in other parts of the city.

“Our mission is to grow the economy and the population of Chicago every year while reducing traffic congestion and making the city easier to get around,” says John Krause, the architect who founded the movement, nattily attired in jeans and a dove-gray sports jacket. “That means every year there will be more people and fewer cars, more commerce and less congestion.”

He has a vision of the clogged traffic and the notoriously sluggish buses on Clark replaced by efficient, comfortable streetcars, more pedestrian traffic, on-street cafés and broad bike lanes. “The only way you can get rid of cars is to replace them with something better,” he explains. “In a car paradigm everybody assumes the city is going to grow more and more congested. But a public-transit system is the opposite. The more people use public transit, the better it gets.” Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: The Southwest Passage

Bicycling, Bridgeport, Checkerboard City, Chinatown, Loop No Comments »

Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

A local ordinance requires that all new developments along the Chicago River include public access to the waterfront, so eventually there could be a network of riverwalks to rival the Lakefront Trail. But for now it takes a little detective work to navigate the waterway by bicycle. I’ve researched a few “stealth routes” along the North Branch, connecting bits and pieces of riverfront path with quiet side streets—you can read about them at tinyurl.com/stealthroutes. Last week I scouted out a fascinating route along the South Branch from the Loop to Bridgeport, but I should warn you that it isn’t completely legal. Read the rest of this entry »

The Path of History: City Running Tours of Chicago Offer a Healthy View of the Town

Chicago History, Loop, News etc., Running No Comments »

By Zach Freeman

Ask Marlin “The Reluctant Runner” Keesler what the best thing about running is and he doesn’t hesitate: “Stopping!”

With his thick athletic build, crew cut and well-groomed mustache, Keesler can cut an intimidating figure at first glance. But as soon as he starts talking, the tough-guy image quickly fades. Wearing an almost constant grin and slinging a pocketful of deliberately cheesy one-liners, the soft-spoken tour guide, 50 States Marathon Club member and Chicago manager of City Running Tours is friendly, talkative and always on the move, which is appropriate considering that six mornings a week he leads a series of historical running tours through the streets of Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Zero North/South

Austin, Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, Loop, West Loop No Comments »

By John Greenfield

Chicago’s Madison Street, named for one of the chief authors of the United States Constitution, runs through some of the most expensive real estate in town as well as some of the most underserved neighborhoods. As the city’s north-south bifurcating street, it forms the Mason-Dixon Line between the North Side and the South Side. Over the years I’ve hiked the entire length of several Chicago thoroughfares in search of fascinating sights and interesting people, so it was only a matter of time until I walked Madison, a relatively short street at eight miles, but one that’s dense with landmarks.

On a warm spring morning I start my walk in Millennium Park, where Madison T-bones into Michigan Avenue, 100 East Sunshine gleams off the Bean as I gaze past the historic high-rises of the Michigan Avenue cliff into the Madison Street canyon, then step off the curb and stride toward Jeweler’s Row. After passing the State Street intersection, Chicago’s Ground Zero, I cross the river by the grandiose Civic Opera House. Soon I come to Claes Oldenburg’s “Batcolumn,” 600 West, a 101-foot-tall Louisville Slugger made of gray steel latticework, symbolizing Chicago’s “ambition and vigor.” Read the rest of this entry »

Notes from the Underground: A Subterranean Safari in the Chicago Pedway

Chicago History, Loop, Transit No Comments »

Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

As I make my way through the blizzard to the Blue Line’s Logan Square stop, seven pigeons are huddled on Evelyn Longman’s giant eagle sculpture atop the Illinois Centennial Monument. It’s a Thursday afternoon in early January, the streets are lined with slush and cars move at a cautious crawl. A scruffy, bearded guy in a hooded jacket trudges across the street toward me with wet snow blowing into his face. “No, it ain’t shitty out,” he says with a grin. Me, I’m planning to take a pass on this nasty weather and spend the rest of the day in warmth and comfort as I go urban spelunking in the Chicago Pedway, an overlooked layer of Chicago’s transportation system.

The Pedway is downtown’s network of indoor pedestrian pathways, including below-ground tunnels, street-level concourses and overhead skyways, covering about five miles, and connecting more than forty city blocks. Tens of thousands of downtown workers use it every day to traverse the Loop without having to deal with cold, heat, rain, snow or the Loop’s hectic, often dangerous, street traffic. Read the rest of this entry »

13 Ways of Looking at Occupy Chicago: The Aesthetics of the Movement

City Life, Essays & Commentary, Loop, Media, Politics 3 Comments »

Photo: Erica Weitzel

By Monica Westin

1. “Grant Park: three years later” was the initial vision for this article—a snapshot of the stark difference in Chicago’s political and emotional temperature between the downtown celebration of Barack Obama’s election night in 2008 and the Grant Park arrests in mid-October of this year. But this comparison doesn’t begin to get at what’s interesting about Occupy. Because of what I will call its “aesthetics” as well as its size (at last count, more than seventy American cities have an Occupy protest, not counting the strength and scope of related protests abroad), the protest, or movement, depending on how you look at it, is very much that—an amorphous, sprawling political form that looks different from every angle and every subject position, like Wallace Stevens’ blackbird. That American mainstream media is unable to cover Occupy in any kind of coherent, proficient way is well-documented, but even as a single observer it was nearly impossible for me to take any kind of clearly articulated position about Occupy Chicago without immediately realizing I could make a strong case for an opposite view of the phenomenon (and usually I had heard someone do so in an interview). Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Gain: Six Ideas Chicago Should Steal from Other Cities

Architecture, City Life, Green, Lakeview, Loop, Pilsen, Transit, West Loop, Wrigleyville 2 Comments »

Rendering of the Dallas park expressway cap via the Woodall Rogers Park Foundation

By Sam Feldman

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Chicago’s received its fair share. We pioneered the steel-frame skyscraper, the Ferris wheel, and the electric blues, all worldwide hits. We started studying the idea of turning the abandoned two-point-seven-mile Bloomingdale Line into an elevated park in 1998, a year before the High Line was a gleam in anybody’s eye, though it’s New York’s elevated park that’s gotten all the attention. (To be fair, New York’s park does have the advantage of actually existing.)

But other cities have some good ideas too sometimes, and every so often we should glance around and see what might be worth stealing. We’ve made a good start with the recent announcement of a 300-kiosk bike-sharing system arriving by next summer, an idea we stole from Washington, DC, along with our new transportation chief Gabe Klein. But there’s a lot more we can rip off. There are areas where we haven’t been keeping up, or we’ve been making small plans, or we just haven’t taken the lead. Some of these ideas would cost money, but some of them would make money. Some of them might be immediately popular, while others could take some convincing. Some of them won’t happen—but some of them will. Read the rest of this entry »

State of Freedom: Can Open Streets downtown sell City Hall on future ciclovias?

Bicycling, Events, Green, Loop, Politics No Comments »

Photo: Brett Mohr

By John Greenfield

“On State Street, that great street, I just want to say
They do things they don’t do on Broadway”
—“Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)” by Fred Fisher

The question is, can Chicago do on State Street what New York City already does successfully, not on Broadway but on Park Avenue; what San Francisco does on Grant Avenue; and what Bogotá, Colombia, does on Calle 11?

After two previous attempts, the Active Transportation Alliance hopes Saturday’s car-free event on State Street will finally convince City Hall to embrace the ciclovia concept.

Born in Bogotá, the “ciclovia” (Spanish for “bike path”) concept closes streets to motorized traffic, creating safe spaces for citizens to bicycle, jog, stroll, play and mingle, encouraging healthy recreation and social interaction. Ciclovias are now popular around the world, and most of America’s bike-friendly major cities are holding successful events, but the model still hasn’t gained a foothold in Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Wright Returns to the Rookery

Architecture, Loop No Comments »

The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust is honoring its namesake’s position in the rich heritage of Chicago’s architectural history with the grand opening of the new Shop Wright gift store on July 21 in the Rookery, one of Chicago’s oldest and most historically significant buildings. Wright remodeled the lobby of the Rookery in 1905 and it was then restored to his designs at the end of the twentieth century. Heidi Farina, director of multi-channel retailing at the Preservation Trust, explains that the Shop Wright opening has always been the next step after the central offices of the Trust were relocated to the Rookery in late 2010. “It allows us to reach a new, different type of audience,” she says, “not only the tourists but the business community of Chicago.” The grand opening, which the public can attend, will feature “champagne and shopping” from 5pm-7pm together with appetizers, three prize giveaways and a ten-percent discount to the public and twenty-percent to members of the Trust.  Alongside the boozing and browsing, the Trust is offering rare tours to the Rookery Vault storage, which usually has no public access and features catalogued architectural items from recent renovations, including ornamental ironwork and elevator grilles. Farina says that the gift store will contain many new items that incorporate the Rookery’s design styles with floral, geometric patterns and elements taken from the elevators, as well as bird styles that pay homage to the heritage of the Rookery’s name. These will slot in beside the rich catalogue of Shop Wright’s furniture, books, accessories, jewelry and art inspired by Wright’s design work. Together with the new store, tours of the iconic Rookery are being expanded to five days a week beginning at noon every day, Monday through Friday. (Ben Small)

The Go Wright grand opening is July 21 at the Rookery, 209 South LaSalle, 5pm-7pm. RSVP at gowright.org/rsvp-rookery.html.