Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Divvy-ing Up Public Space

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

Checkerboard City: Pavement to the People

Andersonville, Architecture, Avondale, Bicycling, Bronzeville, Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, Lakeview, News etc., Wicker Park 3 Comments »

People Spot and bike corral in Andersonville/Photo: Andersonville Development Corporation

By John Greenfield

Local pundits like ex-Sun-Times columnist Mark Konkol and the Tribune’s John McCarron and John Kass have trashed the city’s new protected bike lanes as a waste of space on the streets. But Chicagoans tend to overlook the massive amount of room on the public way given over to moving and parking private automobiles.

A new Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) initiative called Make Way for People is dreaming up more imaginative uses of the city’s asphalt and concrete, creating new public spaces that are energizing business strips. In partnership with local community leaders, the program is taking parking spots, roadways, alleys and under-used plazas and transforming them into People Spots, People Streets, People Alleys and People Plazas, respectively, lively neighborhood hangouts.

“It’s not a top-down program where we come in and say, ‘We think you need a People Spot or a People Street,’” says Janet Attarian, head of the department’s Streetscape and Sustainable Design section. “Instead we say, ‘We want to help you build community and culture and place and, look, we just created a whole set of tools that wasn’t available before.’” Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Open Streets, Closed Coffers

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

Julia Kim at Open Streets on State Street/Photo courtesy of Active Trans

By John Greenfield

Last year I wrote a Newcity cover story with the subtitle, “Can Open Streets downtown sell City Hall on future ciclovias?” For this year at least, the answer was no.

Since 2005, I’ve been chronicling the Active Transportation Alliance’s valiant efforts to stage ciclovías, Latin American-style events that shut down streets to car traffic, encouraging healthy recreation, community and commerce. It’s hard to believe I still have to report on the relative lack of support from the city, especially since Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) commissioner Gabe Klein have generally been terrific on sustainable transportation issues.

Don’t get me wrong. All the ciclovias Active Trans has organized so far have been fabulous, with thousands of Chicagoans of all stripes coming out to stroll, jog, pedal, play, dance and relax on car-free streets. And I’m certain that this year’s events—Open Streets in the Loop this Saturday and Open Streets Wicker Park/Bucktown on Sunday, September 16—will be the best ones yet. Read the rest of this entry »

Cycle of Regeneration: A bicycle store dies, a bike shop café is born

Bicycling, Food & Drink, Humboldt Park, Lakeview, Transit, Wicker Park No Comments »

Michael Salvatore outside soon-to-open Heritage Bicycles/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Chicago just lost one of its coolest bike shops, but we’re gaining one that may be even cooler. Last week Dutch Bike Co. abruptly closed its Chicago location, only three months after relocating from Lincoln Park to Wicker Park. Founded in Seattle, the company opened its only satellite store three years ago at 651 West Armitage in a gallery-like storefront. They offered beautiful, practical European-style city bikes by brands like WorkCycles and Linus, most costing over $1,000.

This summer the shop moved to 2010 West Pierce, around the corner from Penny’s Noodles, in search of lower rent and higher foot traffic, says owner Dave Schmidt, speaking from Seattle. But even in bike-crazy Wicker Park, sales were not what he’d hoped for. It probably didn’t help matters that Wicker Park mainstay Rapid Transit Cycleshop, 1900 West North, and Copenhagen Cyclery, another Euro-style store at 1375 North Milwaukee, were only a stone’s throw away. Read the rest of this entry »

Velo Love: Popping the question at Bum Island

Bicycling, Love & Sex, Wicker Park No Comments »

It’s a frigid Friday night and forty bicyclists have convened on Polish Triangle, aka Bum Island, the three-sided plaza at Division/Ashland/Milwaukee, populated by homeless guys and a hotdog vendor, and carpeted with pigeon droppings. It’s a bigger crowd than usual for the Wicker Park Critical Mass, one of several “mini masses” on the first Friday of the month, that also take place in Pilsen, Evanston and Oak Park. A female cyclist dressed as Santa passes out fleece balaclavas, while a dude on a recumbent in a spiky orange motorcycle helmet puffs on a pipe. Then a young couple, Aaron and Katie, ride up to the plaza and stand before the group, in front of the Nelson Algren Fountain. Aaron presents a small red box to his surprised girlfriend and drops to one knee as five of his helmeted pals unfurl signs reading “KATIE / WILL YOU / MARRY / ME ?” She runs forward and kisses him passionately as the crowd erupts with cheers, honking bike horns and ringing bells. After passing around bottles of bubbly, the mass of bicyclists saddle up and pedal off into the sunset. (John Greenfield)

Dispirited: How I lost my religion to a pedophiliac priest

Essays & Commentary, Wicker Park No Comments »

By Tom Lynchnewcitycoverpriest-copy

A couple weeks ago I received a CD at Newcity’s office, out of the blue, a compilation disc of local artists performing covers of Catholic hymns. “Crosswalk,” it’s called, and features bands like Office, The M’s, Canasta and The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir. The idea intrigued me immediately—when I took a closer look at its cover and realized that the purpose of the comp is to benefit victims of priestly sexual abuse, plus has sponsors like Wicker Park institutions Reckless Records, Earwax, The Silver Room and Moonshine, my eyebrows could not have raised any higher.

I grew up on the Northwest Side of Chicago, near O’Hare, a neighborhood technically labeled Dunning, though not many still use the term. Surrounded by Park Ridge and Norridge to the north, River Grove and Elmwood Park to the south and the Des Plaines River to the west, the relatively serene neighborhood has always had an abundance of city employees and their families: policemen, firemen, school teachers. Most Irish, but with a good amount of Italian and Polish. Growing up, there was even another Lynch family  just a  few doors down from us. My father is a Chicago policeman, and now my parents have several policeman neighbors lined up all next to each other down the block, creating what some jokingly call “Copland.”

As kids, we felt safe. Rarely did any element of real danger enter our naïve and, in retrospect, severely innocent worlds Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Fall Flat: Finding roommates made easy at Easy Bar

Wicker Park No Comments »

small for rentIn Wicker Park’s casual, dimly lit Easy Bar, thirty people make their way around the front space by the bar, ready to find their perfect match. Some wear nametags lined with red to indicate they’re looking while others wear blue nametags to show they’re in need… of a roommate, that is.

This gathering is one of the monthly meetings for the Flatmate Meetup brought to Chicago a year ago by David Kadavy. Kadavy came up with the idea for the Flatmate Meetup in 2006 when he moved from San Jose to San Francisco.

“I sent out tons of emails,” Kadavy recalls. “I was on the verge of having a nervous breakdown.” Read the rest of this entry »

Smoke ‘Em Out: Wicker Park Fest crams into Milwaukee Avenue

City Life, Wicker Park No Comments »

This was a mistake.

Enter the north end gate of the Wicker Park Fest Sunday evening and you’re immediately slammed with crowd, seemingly herded to no place at all as Milwaukee Avenue boasts an endless sea of patrons. Moved this year from its usual Damen Avenue home, the event’s suffocated by restaurant patios on the sidewalks, food and beer tents in the middle of the road and a centrally located stage, where local pop-punk quartet Smoking Popes explodes into “Midnight Moon.”

Can’t enjoy it, though. Strollers are out and the crowd gets beefier. A young girl with a bicycle struggles to maneuver through the titanic mound of flesh and beer-stink, only to slightly jar into a bearded fellow. “Excuse me,” she offers. He notices her sleeve tattoos. “Yeah, excuse you,” he elegantly retorts. “Good luck getting a job ever.” Nice guy.

Poor Myopic Books is raped; the Sunday night poetry series seems intimidated by the street noise seeping in from outside. The air is tense.

Exit after twenty minutes. Just past the gates outside Violet Hour, an altercation erupts. In the confusion of mass exodus and poorly planned detours, a cabbie has cut off some bicyclists. He yells from the car, “What the fuck you say?”

“Yellow Cab…move the fuck on!”

He peels out south past the park, waits for an opening, and whips a u-turn, heading back to fight some more.

Time to get the hell out of here. (Tom Lynch)

Common Sense: Dear Art Thief

City Life, Essays & Commentary, Wicker Park No Comments »

By Damien James

I spent more time than I’d like to admit wondering what you were thinking as you walked the halls of the smART Show in the Flat Iron building between 10:30pm and midnight a few weeks ago. I’m curious because in that time, you managed to swipe one of my drawings right off the wall and abscond with it.

My initial reaction, not surprisingly, was anger. Intense, red piping-hot anger. “What the fuck!?” were my words, to be exact, extra emphasis on the “f.” Who steals art at a small neighborhood show? From an “emerging” artist? (“Emerging” = “starving”) Even more, who steals a piece of art that’s already been sold? Now, I know it was small, and as you passed by maybe you thought it would fit perfectly in your bag or pocket or whatever, but did you not see the sticker above the drawing that said “sold”? Could you not have chosen a piece that hadn’t already been paid for? Because you see, some artists who do shows in the Flat Iron, especially in the halls of the Flat Iron, are struggling; they’re artists who are desperately trying to carve out some tiny, peaceful existence. We’re trying to do something good, to make and share something outside the ever-present web of invasive insanity-breeding consumerism. I get (but don’t condone, of course) stealing an iPhone, an X-Box, cash; but a drawing? Not only did you steal something I made, but you took money out of my pocket. And I’ve got other people to take care of beside myself. So: what the fuck!? Read the rest of this entry »

Sex on Display

Events, Love & Sex, News etc., Wicker Park No Comments »

At Wicker Park’s Debonair Social Club, Wednesday nights have become a “weekly sex-capade,” featuring live performances by local entertainers ranging from burlesque performers like Red Hot Annie to Elvis impersonators. Titled the “No-Tell Motel,” it’s slated to be raunchy and rowdy, causing a stir right from its inception. “We’ve had some burlesque events at Debonair over the last year with a couple of different companies and have always had a really good response,” says operating partner and Debonair owner Steve Harris. “It seems the clientele likes it because it’s different and new and not just another DJ. We’re trying to pick points of bringing in new fun things to Debonair.” And where’s the inspiration behind the “No-Tell Motel”? “We wanted it to be sexy and kind of provocative and have hidden meanings,” Harris says. “We wanted to make it a little bit clever and fun and just keep people on their toes. We try to put a twist on everything we do at Debonair.”