Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Divvy-ing Up Public Space

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Wicker Park No Comments »

Bike-share user Richard Hurh at the Smoke Daddy Divvy station/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

The 32nd Ward’s Scott Waguespack is a good guy, and he’s one of Chicago’s best aldermen. A key independent voice and reformer, he’s sort of the Eliot Ness of City Council. He made headlines for leading the opposition to Richard M. Daley’s much-hated parking-meter contract, as well as Rahm Emanuel’s fishy reboot of the deal. Waguespack is generally a strong supporter of sustainable transportation, and he bike commutes regularly—he’s been doored or struck by cars on multiple occasions.

It’s a bummer when a politician you respect is on the wrong side of an issue you care about. So I was distressed to read quotes from the alderman that seemed critical of Chicago Department of Transportation initiatives that convert car parking spaces to productive uses like Divvy bike-share stations, on-street bike racks and “People Spots” seating areas. “Bike shares, People Spots … what will that do to businesses?” he asked at a community event this spring. Read the rest of this entry »

Down South in North Chicago: Common Ground in a Coffeehouse

Andersonville, City Life No Comments »

By Martin Northway

It was a chance encounter that blossomed into a rare event—one of the kinds of experiences that have fueled a lifetime of frequenting coffeehouses. She was sitting alone reading, and though she was dressed down in sweats, without makeup, hair frazzled and a little flyaway, there was no hiding her ebony beauty; but there was no welcome mat out either.

We were at Kopi, A Traveler’s Cafe, in Andersonville during a pre-lunch lull. I had just sent a visiting friend back off to Indiana with a cuptigo and was contemplating a trek back down Clark Street to my spartan third-floor walk-up in north Uptown, when I noticed the title of the young woman’s large photo book, “Women of the West.”

My passion is history, so I interrupted her gently but with honest curiosity. I mentioned that for a spell my great-grandmother had been a deputy sheriff in Sedalia, Missouri. She said she was an actress absorbing background for a part in a play about former slave women on the frontier, “Flyin’ West.” Read the rest of this entry »

Kickstarter Chronicles: The Soul of Cuba

Kickstarter Chronicles, Oak Park No Comments »
Photo: Cesar Augusto

Photo: Cesar Augusto

By Jeff Gilliland

The Kickstarter Chronicles is a series of profiles of Chicagoans holding crowd-funding campaigns on Kickstarter allows for people to finance creative projects through individual donations, and seek new audiences at the same time. However, sometimes great projects still need an extra nudge into the limelight. 

Cesar Augusto doesn’t take photography lightly. “I don’t take many pictures,” the Oak Park-based photographer and creative director says. “In fact, I hate taking pictures when I haven’t had the time to think about what I’m trying to achieve.”

Augusto has had plenty of time to think about what he’s trying to achieve with his most recent project, “The Soul of Cuba.” The hardcover book, featuring more than a hundred stunning photographs from Augusto’s native country, documents his return to the home which has been, in his words, “the place of my dreams and nightmares for the last twenty years.” In it, Augusto grapples with the fading image of the Cuba he still remembers, and discovers the birth of a new economy and culture in a country that Americans still associate with old cars, Communism and exploding cigars. “The Soul of Cuba” captures this nostalgia, pain and wonderment in a sequence of black-and-white photographs that are at once haunting and uplifting, decayed and vibrant, aged and brand-new. “These photographs are exactly how my heart sees Cuba today,” Augusto says, both remote and always familiar, just like the tempestuous nation he fled more than two decades ago. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: What About Bob?

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, News etc., Politics, South Loop No Comments »

Bob Fioretti by the Dearborn protected bike lanes./Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Second Ward Alderman Robert “Bob” Fioretti got a raw deal in last year’s ward remap. His district currently includes portions of several neighborhoods on the Near South and Near West sides, but in 2015 his territory will flip to the Near North Side, which means he has to win over a whole new set of voters in the next election.

Perhaps because he has an uphill reelection battle anyway, lately he’s had no qualms about going against the mayor’s wishes on issues ranging from charter schools to the renegotiation of the city’s reviled parking-meter contract. As part of a series of interviews with aldermen about their view on transportation issues, I recently had coffee with Fioretti downstairs from his law firm, a stone’s throw from the Dearborn protected bike lanes. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Runnin’ With the Horses 5K (June 8, 2013)

-Neighborhood/Suburb, News etc., Running No Comments »
Runnin' With the Horses 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman

Runnin’ With the Horses 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman


Breakdown: Starting in the parking lot and finishing at the actual finish line that the horses cross at the Balmoral Park horse track in Crete, Illinois, the Runnin’ With the Horses 5K is one of a kind when it comes to Chicago-area races.

The first quarter mile of the course takes place in the parking lot outside the track, but things quickly get more exciting as runners take a sharp left and head through the outdoor spectating area, passing through the middle of the crowd before circling the perimeter of the track and then entering the horse track itself for roughly the last mile and a half. The gravel of the track provides an ideal running surface and race horses warming up only yards away makes for a memorable racing experience.

After the run there’s plenty of water and Gatorade on hand, but the real treat is a voucher good for three beers at the Brewhaha Beer Festival, where an impressive selection of domestic and microbrewery offerings await, along with a live band and a chance to place a wager on the night’s races. Yesterday’s race marked the fifth annual running of the race and the largest field yet (around 250 total runners). I’m guessing the distance from Chicago is keeping entries low, but it’s well worth the drive. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: The Northwest Passage

Architecture, Avondale, Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Chicago History, City Life, Green No Comments »
Rob Reid, Mike Filipinski and Elisa Addlesperger on the 2900 block of North Elston.

Rob Reid, Mike Filipski and Elisa Addlesperger on the 2900 block of North Elston.

By John Greenfield

I’ve walked the whole length of eleven Chicago streets in order to experience aspects of local geography, architecture and culture that I might have overlooked using faster modes. So when Rob Reid, who writes the history blog Avondale Time Machine, invited me to join him and friends to hike all 9.5 miles of Elston Avenue last month, I couldn’t refuse.

The street’s namesake was Daniel Elston, a London merchant who immigrated to Chicago in the early 1800s. By 1830 he’d bought a 160-acre parcel in River West, located along a crooked wagon road. The multitalented settler established several businesses—making soap, candles, bricks, beer and whiskey—he also served as a school inspector and alderman.

While Elston was first living by the thoroughfare that would later bear his name, it was a plank toll road owned by Amos Snell, who charged travelers two-and-a-half cents per mile to use it. Displeased with this, local farmers staged a Boston Tea Party of sorts—they dressed up like Indians, chopped down the toll gates and burned them. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Ridge Run (May 27, 2013)

Beverly, News etc., Running No Comments »
Ridge Run 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman

Ridge Run 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman


Breakdown: This morning’s race in Beverly’s Ridge Park marked thirty-six years for the Ridge Run, Chicago’s oldest 10K event. And for a Chicago transplant who has probably spent only a few hours south of 60th Street in the past five years, the Southwest Side neighborhood of Beverly (also known as Beverly Hills, I’m told) sounded like a distant and mysterious suburban land until I ran through its streets this morning (twice).

See, the Ridge Run has a unique (as far as I know) option for racers. while many races provide more than one distance option at their event, the Ridge Run offers a 10K at 8am followed by a 5K at 9:30, and gives runners the option of registering and running both distances in a single morning (it’s called the Ridge Run Challenge, and I highly recommend it).

Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Race to Wrigley 5K (May 11, 2013)

News etc., Running, Wrigleyville No Comments »
Race to Wrigley runners/Photo: Zach Freeman

Race to Wrigley runners/Photo: Zach Freeman


Breakdown:  For the eighth straight year, Chicago Cubs Charities organized the Race to Wrigley, a 5K through Wrigleyville that starts at the intersection of Addison and Clark and ends with a brief jaunt through the Wrigley Field ground-level concourse. After being warmed up by WGN’s Dina Bair and Danni Allen (winner of Season 14 of The Biggest Loser), the 3,000 or so timed runners (self-organized into pace groups) took off down a blocked-off Addison.

Organization along the course, including directional information and water stations were heavily attended and clearly marked, with a great deal of fanfare paid to the finish line area in front of Wrigley Field. The pre- and post-race party area in the space between Clark, Waveland and Wrigley Field was less well-organized, with a slow-moving and regrettably unsystematic gear check slowing things up and too many participants crammed into the space after finishing the run. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Like CLOCC Work

Brighton Park, Checkerboard City, Green, Humboldt Park, Pilsen No Comments »

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 »

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 »