Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: What About Bob?

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

Monumental Error? How a Statue Honoring a Controversial Japanese Religious Leader Wound Up in a Chicago Park

City Life, South Loop, Uptown 5 Comments »

By John Greenfield

“Peace and Justice” sculpture in the Peace Garden / Photo: John Greenfield

Chicago’s Peace Garden is not a particularly peaceful place. Located in Uptown next to Lake Shore Drive, just east of the Buena Avenue underpass, its tranquility is undermined by the constant roar of traffic. The park features a rustic stone fountain, currently shut off for repairs, and a white post with inscriptions on each of its four sides: “May peace be in Chicago; May peace be in Illinois; May peace be in the United States; May peace prevail on Earth.”

In the center of the garden, almost directly below the expressway, stands the bronze sculpture “Peace and Justice” by local artist Margot McMahon, showing two young boys, one African-American and one Caucasian, holding a ball aloft. On the front of the trapezoidal granite base a plaque reads:

Erected in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Daisaku Ikeda’s life long struggle for peace, justice and human rights. Walking through Lincoln Park on October 9, 1960, the young president of the Soka Gakkai, Daisaku Ikeda witnessed a painful act of racial discrimination toward a young child, crystallizing his lasting commitment to rid the world of needless suffering and enabling the human dignity of all to shine.

The other three sides of the base feature quotations from Ikeda about the titular virtues.

When I first read the dedication, stopping on my bicycle en route from the lakefront to a nearby café, I was dumbstruck. After all, Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a lay Buddhist movement founded in Japan with millions of members worldwide, has often been described as a cult. What was a monument to Ikeda, the organization’s enigmatic “spiritual mentor,” doing in a public park? Read the rest of this entry »

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.
Read the rest of this entry »

Stranger Than Fiction: What’s Going on at Columbia College?

Education/Training, South Loop 1 Comment »

Photo: Marla Seidell

By Marla Seidell

Friday afternoon, I arrive at a Columbia College Chicago building on South Michigan Avenue to talk with Fiction Writing Department Chair Dr. Randall Albers. Dressed elegantly in jeans and a French blue shirt with black stripes covered with a brown corduroy blazer, Albers’ height and distinguished presence make him slightly intimidating. Yet he smiles and greets me warmly, ushering me into his spacious office with a killer twelfth-floor view of the lake, and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Read the rest of this entry »

Just for the Spell of It: The pastimes of drinking and spelling converge

Events, South Loop No Comments »

alphabetTransamoeba Gallery occupies a large room with wooden floors that looks like what’s behind the curtain of a stage: red swiveling chairs, large white cabinets and walls painted forest green with mirrors, photos, paintings, cell phones and cameras nailed, glued and screwed to the wall. On a large screen an image from a projector reads “1st Semi-Periodic United Drunken Spelling Bee of America for All,” or SPUDSBAA, as some of the competitors have come to call it.

“I’ve seen others have drunken spelling bees before,” says contest judge and event coordinator Mary Bowman on the bee’s origin. “I really like spelling and I wanted people to come. Honestly if I had it my way there wouldn’t be any drinking, but I think nobody would come without being able to drink.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Writing Type: The Big Read encourages more Bradbury

Events, Lit, News etc., South Loop No Comments »

bradburyphoto1Columbia College’s Hokin Annex echoes with the sounds of manual typewriters furiously clacking away. The school’s library is hosting the first ever “I Wanna Write Like Ray: The Typewriter Olympics” as one of many citywide The Big Read events.

The contest celebrates Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451″ by allowing students to revive the methods that he used to type the novel’s manuscript and to have their own work compiled into a book. Bradbury’s masterpiece was written on a metered typewriter—which needed to be fed a dime every half hour—in a basement at UCLA. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Eat These Words

Events, Lit, Literary Venues, News etc., South Loop No Comments »

The Center for Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College Chicago is hosting its 10th Annual Edible Books Show & Tea event on Wednesday, an event hosted at various venues across the globe in which artists, chefs and book lovers whip up recipes and create books that are made to be eaten. “It’s a fundraiser for the Center for Book and Paper Arts equipment fund,” says Steve Woodall, Director of the Book & Paper Center at Columbia. “This is something that’s been going on since 1999 and it was kind of the brainchild of Judith Hoffberg, who was the founder, and she died a couple months ago. And so part of this year’s event is a tribute to Judith and part is connected to Ray Bradbury.” This year’s Big Read sponsored by the Chicago Public Library is “Fahrenheit 451″-themed, and the Edible Book event will do its best to honor that. “It’s an open invitation for anyone who wants to make one!” Woodall continues. “If you bring an edible book with you, you get into the event free. It’s a really fun, kind of informal and interesting event. The winner last year was an edible book called ‘The Velveeta Rabbit’ that was a rabbit carved out of Velveeta. Somebody [else] made a tablet out of marzipan and a scroll out of pie dough, so it’s just kind of a fun, somewhat surreal event.” The event starts at 6pm at the Columbia College Library.

Tip of the Week: Story Week 2009: Part Two

Events, Lakeview, Lit, Literary Venues, News etc., South Loop No Comments »

Columbia College’s Story Week 2009 continues Thursday and Friday, kicking off with an event featuring the school’s playwriting students, who stage scenes from their work, at Film Row Cinema on Wabash. Later in the day at the same venue a panel discussion ensues, titled “On the Rise: Chicago Theater and Beyond,” featuring About Face Theatre Artistic Director Bonnie Metzgar, Goodman’s Tanya Palmer and Oobleck Theatre genius Mickle Maher. Friday offers a conversation with “The Girl on the Fridge” author Etgar Keret at Hokin Annex, plus a celebration of F Magazine, with Keret, Mort Castle, Augustus Rose and Betty Shiflett, later in the evening. The big event is Thursday night’s “Literary Rock & Roll” party at Metro, featuring Nami Mun, Lydia Millet and “Lush Life” author Richard Price. You should never miss an opportunity to see Price. (Tom Lynch)

Columbia College’s Story Week 2009 runs through March 20; visit colum.edu/storyweek for complete details. 

Tip of the Week: Story Week 2009

Events, Lit, Literary Venues, South Loop No Comments »

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One of the city’s top literary events of the year, Columbia College’s Story Week begins on Sunday, and as usual features the best of the bunch-students and faculty-of the school, plus some high-profile outsiders, at various events scattered throughout the city. This week kicks off with the “2nd Story: Storytellers” event at Martyrs’ on Sunday night, featuring readings by CP Chang, Molly Each, Deb R. Lewis and Doug Whippo. Saturday features a Q&A with “Blue Angel” author Francine Prose at the Harold Washington Library, plus a reading at Sheffield’s Beer Garden by local crime guy Marcus Sakey. The Nelson Algren Tribute, Tuesday at the Harold Washington, features appearances by Joe Meno, Billy Lombardo, Stephanie Kuehnert, Bayo Ojikutu and J. Adams Oaks. On Wednesday at the Spertus Museum, Rick Kogan discusses Studs Terkel in a tribute to the man, with Donna Seaman, Bill Young, Alex Kotlowitz, Don De Grazia, Drew Ferguson and Ann Hemenway. And that’s just the first half of the festival. (Tom Lynch)

Story Week 2009 runs March 15-20 at various venues. Visit colum.edu/storyweek for complete details.

Spicy Smackdown: Turning up the heat in the South Loop

South Loop No Comments »
Chutney Joe's

Chutney Joe's

By Michael Nagrant

With all the truth-seeking, moneyed, mid-life-crisis-experiencing entrepreneurs “climbing” Mt. Everest, it’s surprising there hasn’t been a nationwide boom in Nepalese cuisine. After all, in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the counter-culture got tired of smoking peyote and mainlining Mexican mezcal, they returned to the States bearing larded beans, chimichangas and burritos as big as your head. But, while young reformed hippies needed to build a life and make some money, flush hedge-fund managers don’t quite need sidelines beyond month-long sojourns to the Turks and Caicos or weekend benders at Maybach dealerships. And so our nation suffers a culinary debt.

And as the nation goes, so does Chicago, or at least the South Loop. Despite the confluence of affluence gathering in newly sprung high-rise condos off of South Michigan Avenue, or the density of cultured denizens living in former printing warehouses off Dearborn, the South Loop has been one of Chicago’s stalwart ethnic-food deserts. But, in the last month, with the addition of the Indian and Nepalese-skewing Chicago Curry House and the McDonald’s-meets-the-Maharaja, fast-food-slinging Indian diner, Chutney Joes, it’s now ground zero for all things sambar and spice. Read the rest of this entry »