Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: The Dick Van Dyke Effect

Logan Square, Loop, River North No Comments »
greenfield-biking2

The author in Dick Van Dyke mode and roadie apparel./Photos: Steven Vance

By John Greenfield

I first heard about the “Mary Poppins Effect” back in March 2011 from local bike blogger Dottie Brackett, also known as The Martha Stewart of Chicago Cycling. “This is basically the idea that drivers are nicer to women bicyclists riding upright bikes with dresses and flowing hair,” she wrote on her site Let’s Go Ride a Bike. “Who could be mean to Mary Poppins?”

On the other hand, it’s believed that motorists are less likely to operate safely around people wearing bike-specific clothing, bent over drop handlebars on a racing bike. “A cyclist dressed ‘normally’ looks more human to the driver,” wrote Dottie’s Massachusetts counterpart Constance Winters, who coined the term for the phenomenon on her blog Lovely Bicycle two months earlier. “The more ‘I am human! I am you!’ signals we give off when cycling, the more empathy a driver will feel towards us. Dehumanization, on the other hand, makes it easier to cause harm to another human being.” Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Green Parking or Greenwashing?

Architecture, Checkerboard City, Green, River North, Technology No Comments »

Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Every time I pedal downtown via the Kinzie Street protected bike lane I’m confronted by an oxymoron. At 60 West Kinzie stands an attractive, boxy structure covered with loosely arrayed rectangles of greenish glass, glittering in the sun. Piet Mondrian-inspired yellow panels accent the roofline and southwest corner, where they form a backdrop for twelve white corkscrew wind turbines arrayed in two columns. It’s the Greenway Self-Park, billed as “Chicago’s first earth friendly parking garage.” Its logo features a VW Bug with leaves blowing out of the tailpipes rather than noxious fumes.

Everyone agrees there are too many cars in downtown Chicago, so what could have possibly been sustainable about building this eleven-story garage, which accommodates 715 more of them? It opened in 2010, occupying valuable River North real estate, only a stone’s throw from several transit stations. There’s certainly nothing green about making it easy for, say, a guy from Naperville to drive solo to work every day in his Lexus, instead of taking Metra commuter rail. Read the rest of this entry »

Inspired Thinking: Architect John Ronan shares his schools

Architecture, Austin, Grand Crossing, River North No Comments »

It’s an early wake-up call for participants in the “Emerging Chicago” tour—which changes annually and selects breakthrough designs—with the Chicago Architecture Foundation. “Everything we have focused on so far has been on the forefront, on the cutting edge,” Nancy Cook, tour director announces on the way to the first location. “And I’m thrilled to say that we’re on the cutting-edge again.”

This year’s tour focuses on award-winning Chicago architect John Ronan’s work, specifically on two major buildings he has designed and built—Christ the King College Prep and Gary Comer College Prep. Both schools have had a profound impact on the impoverished neighborhoods and communities they were built in: Christ the King in the Austin neighborhood and Gary Comer, named after the late Lands’ End founder, in the Grand Crossing neighborhood.

Ronan meets the group at both institutions and offers his input, explaining his inspiration. At Christ the King, the building is concentrated on the Jesuit belief Corus Personalis, or care of the whole person. “The building is conceived like a body—the vital organs being the chapel, library, gym and cafeteria,” Ronan says. At Gary Comer, which works in conjunction with the youth center that shares its namesake adjoining the school, Ronan chose an almost-neon-greenish color for the exterior to reflect youth and optimism. “The school is very much about transparency and accountability both on the students and the staff,” Ronan explains. “And I put glass walls within each classroom to get the effect, to bring the natural light from two directions into each classroom.” Read the rest of this entry »

Soapbox Derby: Hanging with the hecklers at the Bughouse Square Debates

Events, Politics, River North No Comments »

“This is not cable TV… this is not adversarial bullshit.” With this declaration, so opens the twenty-fifth annual Bughouse Square Debate. Actually, heated debates pop up all around Washington Park’s Bughouse Square, off and on the soapbox, but gathered around the small, painted platforms are those who come to listen and those who come to heckle.

During a debate entitled “Students are Americans, Too!” two of the youngest speakers, or “bugs” of the day—and in the end, the winners of the Dill Pickle Award, presented to the best soapbox orator of the day—Pam Selman and Evan Ribot discuss the rights of student journalists. As they tell their story, a heckler in the crowd shouts, “But print journalism is dead!”

Another shouts back, “That’s why they’re up there talking! They’re trying to resuscitate it!”

While many of the bugs prepared in advance, researching and pouring their thoughts and feelings into a sheet of notes or script, the hecklers are flying by the seat of their pants.

“Oftentimes I agree with the conversation or the thing they are saying. I say it’s fun just to mix it up a little bit, that’s the spirit of the Bughouse Square Debates,” Bryan Young says. This is his second consecutive year at the event and he says sometimes people in the crowd aren’t in on the joke.

“I think a couple of people were taken aback that you would actually stand up and say something like that,” Young says. (Lindsey Kratochwill)

411: The Prom is Dead

News etc., River North No Comments »

There’s mindless entertainment, and then there’s brain-dead entertainment. Zombie Prom 2010 is proud to be the latter. After a successful test run last year, Zombie Army Productions has teamed up with Q101 and Elevate Chicago to “make Zombie Prom one of the premier dark events in Chicago,” says founder John LaFlamboy, stressing that it’s not just for horror aficionados but “for everyone.” True to its name, there’ll be free prom pictures, a prom king and queen contest, and a DJ. Unlike the often-fraught high-school version, though, the goal of this prom is decidedly unserious fun. “We’re all just putting on makeup like clowns and having a good time,” LaFlamboy says. Just in case, he’s booked “an eighties zombie cover band just to make sure that none of us take ourselves too seriously.” Getting decked out—costumes and makeup are mandatory, with makeovers available onsite for $10—gives partygoers permission to loosen up, or, in LaFlamboy’s words, “just have fun and be ridiculous and act like an idiot.” (Rachel Sugar)

Zombie Prom 2010, May 21, Vision Nightclub, 640 N. Dearborn. 9pm-4am with free dinner buffet from 9pm-10:30pm. $20 at the door. Costumes and make up mandatory, onsite makeovers available $10.

Beef Bailout: Mr. Beef must be kept in place

Food & Drink, River North No Comments »

mrbeefRiver North’s Mr. Beef Deli has been serving Chicagoans beef sandwiches for thirty years. Its walls, decorated with old and new album covers, movie posters and autographed celebrity photos, testify to both its age and enduring popularity. In a much-publicized crisis, Mr. Beef is facing foreclosure. Unable to get a new line of credit “in these economic times,” the sandwich shop may be forced to shut its doors. Read the rest of this entry »

Making Progress

Events, Love & Sex, River North No Comments »

Wanting to provide a Valentine’s Day alternative for their overlapping clients, the neighboring establishments of non-profit fair trade store Greenheart and Yoga Now have teamed up to host the Chocolate and Yoga Valentine’s Progressive. Starting with a raw, vegan, fair-trade-chocolate-truffle tasting and ending with a detoxifying ninety-minute yoga class, the Progressive “provides something you haven’t done every other Valentine’s Day,” says Talia Hagerty, outreach coordinator for Greenheart. While the Progressive does involve exercise and healthy treats, it is not something to be immediately dismissed. Organic free trade wine will be provided and participation doesn’t demand a complete alteration of world-view. “I wouldn’t say that we were out to oppose the consumerism of Valentine’s Day, but that we are out to promote responsible consumerism every day,” Hagerty says. “You don’t have to be a total left-wing environment hippie to enjoy this event.”

Wheel Time: Pat and Vanna visit Navy Pier

Events, Media, News etc., River North No Comments »

“Vanna’s a babe,” says a male reporter as the 51-year-old Vanna White teasingly walks past a room full of photographers and print journalists, as the long-running “Wheel of Fortune” is filming at Navy Pier. When Vanna enters and flashes her flawless white teeth—a perfect contrast to her tan and barely wrinkled face—the press assails the bubbly co-host with a flurry of hard-hitters: Read the rest of this entry »

411 Seven Days in Chicago: Lazy Days

City Life, Events, River North No Comments »

On the first day of the New Year, when the rest of the world is recovering from their respective hangovers, four contestants will embark on a mission few people could ever tolerate. These contestants must have the utmost stamina, determination and pride in order to succeed. With a $5,000 prize at stake, what must these contestants do? Be the ultimate couch potato. Sure, laugh, but this is serious business for some. As organizer Brian Hanover points out, it is “a lot more difficult than what it seems… you have to avoid falling asleep.” With the two-time champion Jason Pisarik sitting for forty straight hours last year, that’s a very long time to go without dozing. Out of the hundred-plus entries, only three will be selected to challenge the defending champ. They are selected “based on their passion for sports, creativity and determination,” and Hanover also notes that “one such individual sent in his entry to the tune of ‘Stairway to Heaven.’” The Sixth Annual Ultimate Couch Potato Contest is New Year’s Day at the ESPN Zone, 43 East Ohio.

411 Seven Days in Chicago: A Living Cabaret

Events, News etc., River North No Comments »

There is one thing that Susan Nussbaum thinks is very important for you to understand: “This is not about outsider art,” says the Access Living spokesperson. “This is about people with disabilities who are artists and are concerned about disability oppression and disability rights.” Founded in 1980, Access Living is a cross-disability organization that fosters dignity and self-esteem among those with disabilities enabling them to maintain satisfying, individualized lifestyles. “Contagious: A Disability Cabaret” will mark the official launch of the organization’s “Arts and Culture” project, December 7 at 115 West Chicago. In an effort to “raise visibility around Chicago’s disability culture and give voice to artists with disabilities,” the cabaret will feature a slide-talk by accomplished multimedia artists Brooke Lanier and Marcos Raya and painter Katie Miller. Excerpts of poems and plays written by artists with disabilities will also be performed. “This is just a fun, relaxing way to check out what people with disabilities can do,” says Nussbaum.