Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Like CLOCC Work

Brighton Park, Checkerboard City, Green, Humboldt Park, Pilsen No Comments »
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Grant Vitale leads a walkability assessment in Pilsen. Photo courtesy of CLOCC.

“The built environment plays a huge role when it comes to people being able to be physically active,” says Grant Vitale, community programs manager for the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC). The group, based out of the Lurie Children’s Hospital, is an association of many local, statewide and national organizations working to help kids maintain healthy weight levels by encouraging better nutrition, as well as walking, biking and active play.

The rate of childhood obesity in the U.S. has more than tripled over the last three decades, and in 2008 Chicago’s obesity rate for young kids entering school was 22 percent, more than twice the national average. In some neighborhoods, mostly low-income African-American and Latino communities, over half of all children are overweight or obese. These areas tend to have less green space and higher pedestrian crash rates than wealthier neighborhoods, which discourages active transportation and recreation.

Over the last two years, CLOCC has partnered with the Chicago Department of Public Health on a $5.8 million, federally funded anti-obesity campaign called Healthy Places. The program has focused on creating safe streets and parks, as well as creating healthier schools, eliminating food deserts and promoting breast feeding. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Can Transportation Options Energize Englewood?

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Englewood, Green, Transit 1 Comment »
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Demond Drummer by Englewood’s Halsted/63rd Green Line Station/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Most Chicagoans associate Englewood with poverty and crime, but local advocates and activists see it as a neighborhood with untapped potential, with excellent access to public transportation being one of the keys to its future success. “From the beginning, Englewood was designed to be a transportation and retail hub, and that does not come up often enough in the conversation,” says Demond Drummer, a resident who works for the Teamwork Englewood community development organization.

Greater Englewood is a predominantly African-American area, roughly bounded by Garfield, Western, 79th and State. It includes two Green Line stations, three Red Line Stops, Metra’s Rock Island Main Line (although trains no longer stop here), and multiple bus routes. The New Era Trail proposal would turn a nearly two-mile, dormant rail corridor into an elevated greenway along 59th between Hoyne and Lowe. The city is also considering building bus rapid transit on Ashland, which would create yet another travel option. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Pedaling History

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Hyde Park, Museums No Comments »
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1839 McMillan bicycle, the first with pedals/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

The new exhibit “The Art of the Bicycle” at the Museum of Science and Industry does a fine job of tracing the evolution of the bike from the dandy horse, a primitive wooden contraption pushed along with one’s feet, to today’s high-tech steeds. While last year’s terrific “Bikes! The Green Revolution” show at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum celebrated cycling culture in general and the Chicago scene in particular, the MSI’s exhibit focuses on the history of the machines themselves. It features nine rarely seen historic bikes from the museum’s collection, newly restored for the show, plus a gaggle of modern rides.

“For 200 years people have continuously reinvented the bicycle,” reads the intro to the exhibit. “With each new decade new designs and technologies improved the popular machine, making riding safer, more reliable and more fun.” Amusement was probably one of the main motivations when German Baron Karl von Drais built the first verifiable dandy horse, a pedal-less, steerable, two-wheeled vehicle he dubbed the Laufmaschine (“running machine”) for cruising around his large garden. A 1931 replica of an 1818 Draisienne, as the French called it, is on display, and the clunky, green-and-gold vehicle looks like it would be a blast to scoot down the Lakefront Trail. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K (April 7, 2013)

Loop, News etc., Running No Comments »
Shamrock Shuffle starting line / photo: Zach Freeman

Shamrock Shuffle starting line/Photo: Zach Freeman

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Breakdown:  Seeing as the 8K isn’t a particularly common race distance, holding the title of “World’s Largest 8K” might sound like a questionable claim to fame to some, but the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle, often cited as the start of Chicago’s running season, is no small shakes. With a sold-out capacity of 40,000 runners, the Shamrock Shuffle is not only one of Chicago’s largest racing events, but ranks up there with the largest racing events in the world.

For the second year in a row, race organizers took the wise, though somewhat controversial (last year, at least) step of separating runners out with two start times (8:30am and 9:15am), effectively fielding two races with 20,000 participants each rather than one gigantic field. And for the second year in a row the decision proved beneficial. Though it’s certainly preferable to be a part of the first wave, it’s always preferable to have more open space on the course. Additionally, corrals were easy to get into and the two waves were clearly delineated by the color of the running bibs. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: When State Street Wasn’t “That Great Street”

Architecture, Checkerboard City, Chicago History, Green, Loop No Comments »
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State Street pedestrian mall in 1982/Photo: William C. Brubaker via UIC Digital Collections

By John Greenfield

When I was a bike messenger in the early nineties, the State Street pedestrian mall was the bane of my existence. In 1979 under Mayor Jane Byrne, the city closed the Loop’s main retail corridor to all forms of traffic except buses, taxis and delivery vehicles in an effort to bring back customers who had been drawn away to suburban shopping centers and the burgeoning Magnificent Mile. That meant I had to detour around State and access addresses along the strip via intersecting east-west streets.

Ultimately the pedestrian mall was judged a failure, and in 1996 under Mayor Richard M. Daley the wide sidewalks were jackhammered to make way for private automobiles again. That renovation, the $24.5 million State Street Revitalization Project, which included attractive Beaux Arts street lamps, ‘L’ entrances and other fixtures, is credited with turning the historically prosperous street back into a bustling retail district.

Laura Jones from the Chicago Loop Alliance provided background on the rationale behind creating the State Street mall. “When downtown started to empty out in the early seventies, business leaders from the Greater State Street Council went to the city with the idea of creating the pedestrian mall. They wanted to make State Street more like a suburban shopping mall, and also people were becoming more energy conscious, so they decided to try a transit mall.” Read the rest of this entry »

Growing Up: How The Plant is Making Futuristic Farming Today’s Reality

Back of the Yards, Green 1 Comment »

P1040823By David King

In 1915, a professor of geology at the University of Southern California by the name of Gilbert Ellis Bailey published a book that had the potential to revolutionize agriculture. In the sixty-nine-page treatise, Bailey outlined what he saw as a more efficient way to cultivate crops: use explosives to increase land mass vertically as opposed to horizontally. Inexpensive explosives, wrote Bailey, “enable the farmer to farm deeper, to go down to increase his acreage, and to secure larger crops, thereby offering more surface area.”

Bailey’s book bore the same name as his idea: “Vertical Farming.”

In the coming decades, a handful of people, from Buckminster Fuller in the 1930s to a Malaysian architect named Ken Yeang in the 1990s, took the idea in a decidedly modern direction. Why not, they believed, integrate plants into a literally vertical space—namely, buildings? Growing plants in open-air buildings, argued Yeang, would serve communal nutritional and climate control needs.

Also in the 1990s, Dickson Despommier, a professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University, went a step further. Not only would growing plants in buildings help feed a sharply increasing human population that won’t have enough arable land, he argued, weather would no longer pose a problem to growth; spoilage would become less of a concern, since food would be grown locally; empty lots and buildings would be put to good use; urban jobs would be created; and when abandoned, damaged ecosystems would have a chance to heal themselves.

Enter the man hoping to chart the next step in vertical farming—and he’s Chicago’s to claim. In a scruffy patch of the Back of the Yards neighborhood, forty-two-year-old John Edel is spearheading the creation of an industrial system that he hopes will not just grow plants in buildings, but also show the world that by using the waste of one food-production process as fuel for another, you can create a multipurpose manufacturing ecosystem—with zero emissions.

And it looks like he’ll do it, too. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: From Southern Africa to the South Side

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Hyde Park, Transit No Comments »
Dustin Gourdin / Photo: John Greenfield

Dustin Gourdin on 53rd Street in Hyde Park/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

“Parts of Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city, and the South Side of Chicago are actually eerily similar,” says Dustin Gourdin, a PhD student in the University of Chicago’s sociology department, over coffee at Hyde Park’s Valois Cafeteria. “You see a lot of the same issues, in terms of transportation challenges and youth opportunities. Hopefully we can figure out ways to make things better in both places.”

Since 2009 Gourdin, twenty-five, has made three research trips to Namibia, a nation of 2.1 million people just northwest of South Africa. He’s been studying the Bicycling Empowerment Network (BEN) Namibia, a nonprofit that provides disadvantaged local people with efficient transportation and job opportunities, as well as other non-governmental organizations. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: A Mistake by the Lake?

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Rogers Park No Comments »
Rendering of the proposed garage courtesy of Tawani Enterprises

Rendering of the proposed garage courtesy of Tawani Enterprises

Colonel J.N. Pritzker, one of Chicago’s wealthiest, most influential residents, is a historic preservationist and a bicycle advocate. As an heir to the Pritzker family fortune and longtime Rogers Park resident, the billionaire has used his money in creative ways to help revitalize the community.

In 2004 his investment firm Tawani Enterprises began buying residential properties in the neighborhood, renovating and leasing them. Some of the company’s holdings include the Mayne Stage theater, Act One gastropub, Cat’s Cradle bed and breakfast and the Emil Bach House, 7415 North Sheridan, a Prairie-style home by Frank Lloyd Wright, currently undergoing a faithful restoration. As an avid cyclist, he bankrolled the latest edition of Active Transportation Alliance’s Chicagoland Bicycle Map, and he occasionally pedals in Critical Mass, the anti-car bike parade.

So I’m puzzled why Pritzker’s company wants to tear down an attractive, historic house, a stone’s throw from the beach in Rogers Park, and replace it with a parking structure for 250 automobiles. The garage would largely serve Bach House visitors and residents at Farcroft by the Lake, a twelve-story tower at 1337 West Fargo, built in 1928, which Tawani is currently renovating into eighty-four upscale rental units. Both buildings are located only a few minutes walk from the CTA Red Line’s Jarvis Station. Eighty-four spaces would be set aside for short- and long-term paid parking for the general public. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Checkerboard City: Where the Sidewalk Ends

Architecture, Avondale, Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Irving Park, Lakeview, News etc. No Comments »

The old sidewalk on the south side of Fullerton, now replaced by a car lane/Photo: Michelle Stenzel

By John Greenfield

Last week I attended events related to two different Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) bridge projects. One of these spans will be a terrific addition to the city’s sustainable transportation infrastructure. The other one, not so much.

First the good news. CDOT’s Addison Underbridge Connector project will link up existing snippets of bike path along the Chicago River to create a nearly two-mile, car-free route from Belmont Street to Montrose Avenue. This new path segment will be suspended some sixteen feet above the river on piers.

Starting from the north end of an existing trail in Clark Park, just west of Lane Tech High School, the elevated path will continue north under the Addison Street Bridge, hug the east riverbank and then cross to the west bank to meet up with an existing trail in California Park. Eventually the path will continue under the Irving Park Road Bridge to Horner Park, where trails lead north to Montrose. Read the rest of this entry »