Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Putting the “X” in “Text”

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Northwest Side, Politics, Transit No Comments »
Margaret Laurino with her constituent Bob Kastigar / Photo courtesy of the 39th Ward

Margaret Laurino with her constituent Bob Kastigar/ Photo courtesy of the 39th Ward

By John Greenfield

As “mini mayors,” Chicago aldermen have a huge influence on the kinds of projects that are built in their districts. For example, a handful of aldermen have opted to use “menu money” discretionary funds to stripe additional bicycle lanes in their wards or bankroll innovative transportation projects, like the Albany Home Zone traffic-calmed block in Logan Square. On the other hand, they can stand in the way of progress, as when former 50th Ward Alderman Berny Stone put the kibosh on a bike bridge over the North Shore Channel in West Rogers Park.

39th Ward Alderman Margaret Laurino’s Far Northwest Side district includes parts of the Albany Park, North Park, Sauganash, Mayfair, Independence Park and Old Irving Park neighborhoods. The chairman of the City Council’s Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee, she’s probably best known to cyclists as the sponsor of a new ordinance that bans texting and cell-phone use while cycling. But she’s actually one of City Hall’s outspoken advocates for sustainable transportation. I recently caught up with Laurino at her ward service office, 4404 West Lawrence, to get her views on walking, biking and transit issues in her ward and citywide. Read the rest of this entry »

The Gypsy Trail: The history and legacy of Rom culture in Chicago

City Life, Northwest Side 2 Comments »

By David Wittercover

A neon sign in the window of the frame house flashes “Readings by Maria,” while a wooden marker on the roadside, lit by a small spotlight, spells out the same message in hand-painted letters. After a quiet knock a short woman opens the door. Her skin is olive and her hair dark brown, but her eyes are blue. She wears a dark house dress, a simple necklace and has a blue scarf wrapped around her hair.

“Are you here for a reading?” she asks. After a quick nod she leads you into the house. A chandelier hangs overhead, illuminating mostly white furniture, some covered by plastic. Black-and-white photos of dark-haired men in fancy suits and pictures of children with dark eyes line the walls. A man talks on a white phone, oblivious to the visitors.

The woman sits at a black and gold embroidered table and opens a box of tarot cards. “Come, sit down. I will read the cards and tell you your future…”

This is the home of a fortune-teller located on Harlem Avenue near Diversey. For many, whether in print, films or gossip, this is the image of gypsies. Others may include women with low-cut blouses dancing seductively, like the one portrayed in the 1970s pop hit, “Gypsy Woman,” or roaming bands of con artists, vis-a-vis the Peter Maas book and resulting movie “King of the Gypsies,” or Stephen King’s “Thinner.” Web sites like gypsypsychicscams.com allege gypsy fortune-tellers dupe unsuspecting customers out of thousands of dollars. Yet while some may fit this image, they are, like any other group, just a sampling of a race of people who have been around for more than a thousand years. Gypsies have been part of the Chicago landscape since the late 1800s, and today you can find them shopping, attending churches and working as musicians in jazz clubs, concert halls and European-themed restaurants throughout the Chicago area. Read the rest of this entry »

411: A Black Hole No Longer

-Neighborhood/Suburb, Logan Square, News etc., Northwest Side No Comments »

The newly formed Northwest Chicago Historical Society is currently looking for volunteers to help build their organization. A volunteer meeting will be held at the Chicago Public Library – Logan Square Branch, 3030 W. Fullerton, on May 14 at 7:30. The Northwest Chicago Historical Society-which is an extension of the Jefferson Park Historical Society-is hoping to have their organization up and running by early 2010. The group is open to any and all volunteers interested in preserving the history of the city’s Northwest Side. “At this point, we don’t know what people are going to want to volunteer for,” Dan Pogorzelski, one of the group’s organizers, says. Some of the specific areas that they would like assistance in include event planning, newsletter production and ad sales. The organization was founded in order to highlight the Northwest Side’s amazing history through preserving photos and stories before they are forgotten. “To quote one of my professors, ‘Anywhere west of the Chicago River is a black hole of Chicago history,'” Pogorzelski says. “Which makes it even more imperative to collect these stories and histories. The Northwest Chicago Historical Society will also host a meeting on May 27 at the Jefferson Park Library, 5363 W. Lawrence, and June 6 at the Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church, 5051 W. Gunnison.