Street Smart Chicago

NATO Takes Chicago, Chicago Takes NATO

Events, Politics No Comments »

This weekend’s NATO summit is inspiring a mix of welcoming promotions, confrontational protests and regular Chicagoans heading out of town. Here’s a selective listing of events, protests and promotions inspired by the gathering.

Already Happening

Chicago’s Culinary Crossroads Over two hundred restaurant locations will present tasting menus, featured items, desserts, wine selections and cocktails inspired by the NATO nations. For more information visit chicagosculinarycrossroads.org. Through May 25.

NATO Cupcakes Magnolia Bakery, 108 North State. $3. Through May 25.

 May 17

Occupy Chicago’s Day of Environment: Planet over War! Bring your bike and rally against the environmentally destructive agendas of NATO and the G8. Rally outside of the Canadian Consulate, meet at the corner of Jackson and LaSalle. 2-11pm. Free. For more information visit natoprotest.org/events. Read the rest of this entry »

Hope Dies Last: The Lasting Scars of Difficult Times

Essays & Commentary, Politics 1 Comment »

Illustration: Zeke Danielson

By Michael Workman

In America, there is no more terrifying a ghoul than the threat of sustained, cripplingly high unemployment. We hear about it all the time. Have maybe even decided just to tune it out or maybe the ubiquity of the bloodless discussion of it has just inured us to the subject. It’s just numbers, right? It’ll get better eventually. Figure it out. After all, it’s hard to get a sense of what’s happening from those chatterboxes in the news, those talking heads feeding us an endless tickertape of statistics, empty percentages; high here, low there. We treat it like the weather. Numbers. Never any stories. Why does it always have to be numbers? Maybe it’s too much, what’s happening. Too garish, what’s happening to them, how the poor behave. How low.

Ask yourself. What actually are the effects on a family slipping below the poverty line, of losing their home in a foreclosure, of a family unable to afford gas, utility bills, clothes? Its effects aren’t just felt for a month or two, or something you get past in a year. There’s a price. And it’s one paid almost entirely by the less fortunate. And that’s what defines our society: how we treat our less fortunate and what price they pay for other’s prosperity. And if we’re a privileged society, maybe all that means is that the privileged get to ignore the silent anguish of the poor. But the cost of it doesn’t go away, ever. It stays with us as a people, changes and defines us psychologically and emotionally, and sometimes we lose one. But surviving it doesn’t fucking make you stronger, it scars and mutilates. Read the rest of this entry »

13 Ways of Looking at Occupy Chicago: The Aesthetics of the Movement

City Life, Essays & Commentary, Loop, Media, Politics 3 Comments »

Photo: Erica Weitzel

By Monica Westin

1. “Grant Park: three years later” was the initial vision for this article—a snapshot of the stark difference in Chicago’s political and emotional temperature between the downtown celebration of Barack Obama’s election night in 2008 and the Grant Park arrests in mid-October of this year. But this comparison doesn’t begin to get at what’s interesting about Occupy. Because of what I will call its “aesthetics” as well as its size (at last count, more than seventy American cities have an Occupy protest, not counting the strength and scope of related protests abroad), the protest, or movement, depending on how you look at it, is very much that—an amorphous, sprawling political form that looks different from every angle and every subject position, like Wallace Stevens’ blackbird. That American mainstream media is unable to cover Occupy in any kind of coherent, proficient way is well-documented, but even as a single observer it was nearly impossible for me to take any kind of clearly articulated position about Occupy Chicago without immediately realizing I could make a strong case for an opposite view of the phenomenon (and usually I had heard someone do so in an interview). Read the rest of this entry »

Government 2.0: How Mayor Emanuel is Using Social Media to Engage Chicagoans

City Life, Media, Politics, Technology No Comments »

Kevin Hauswirth/Photo: Brooke Collins

By Ella Christoph

Even before he took office, Mayor Rahm Emanuel knew he wanted a social media director—a position Richard M. Daley did not have. Appointed on Emanuel’s inaugural day, Kevin Hauswirth was not hired to earn votes for Emanuel during the election. Hauswirth, formerly an instructor of communications and advertising director for Roosevelt University, was tasked with the job of supplying Emanuel with a constant digital pulse—a live feed, so to speak—on the city. Rather than just tweet updates and YouTube press conferences, Emanuel wanted to hear what voters had to say over the Internet as well.  Read the rest of this entry »

State of Freedom: Can Open Streets downtown sell City Hall on future ciclovias?

Bicycling, Events, Green, Loop, Politics No Comments »

Photo: Brett Mohr

By John Greenfield

“On State Street, that great street, I just want to say
They do things they don’t do on Broadway”
—“Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)” by Fred Fisher

The question is, can Chicago do on State Street what New York City already does successfully, not on Broadway but on Park Avenue; what San Francisco does on Grant Avenue; and what Bogotá, Colombia, does on Calle 11?

After two previous attempts, the Active Transportation Alliance hopes Saturday’s car-free event on State Street will finally convince City Hall to embrace the ciclovia concept.

Born in Bogotá, the “ciclovia” (Spanish for “bike path”) concept closes streets to motorized traffic, creating safe spaces for citizens to bicycle, jog, stroll, play and mingle, encouraging healthy recreation and social interaction. Ciclovias are now popular around the world, and most of America’s bike-friendly major cities are holding successful events, but the model still hasn’t gained a foothold in Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »

Mind the Gap: Will West Rogers Park’s new alderman finally build a controversial bicycle bridge?

Bicycling, Politics, Rogers Park No Comments »

Photo: John Greenfield

The other day I was pedaling with friends under azure skies to Evanston’s Blind Faith Cafe when I was reminded of an old political fight. We were riding on the North Shore Channel Trail, a scenic, nearly car-free route from Albany Park to Evanston, when we came to the notorious gap in the path just north of Peterson. The trail ended abruptly, so we spun north on Kedzie a few blocks, turned west and rode on hectic Devon Street across the channel, then turned north to continue on the bike path into Lincolnwood.

If it weren’t for opposition from former 50th Ward Alderman Berny Stone, we would have been able to instead make a car-free transition to the section of the trail west of the channel via a bike-pedestrian bridge. Read the rest of this entry »

Making strides: Can the Chicago Pedestrian Plan make mean streets safer for pedestrians?

Green, Little Village, Politics 1 Comment »

This June evening is too pretty for the subway, so I bicycle south to the Pink Line’s California station to meet up with the Active Transportation Alliance’s Tony Giron. He’s leading a march across the largely Mexican-American neighborhood of Little Village to Farragut High School for the first of seven public input meetings on the Chicago Pedestrian Plan.

Similar to the Bike 2015 Plan, this Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) document will be a roadmap for making the city a safer and easier place to walk. The goal is to reduce pedestrian injuries by half and fatalities by 100 percent. “Chicago is a great city for walking,” says Giron. “But along with park paths and tree-lined streets, we still have roads that are difficult to cross, dangerous intersections and places that are inaccessible to people walking.”

Joined by a handful of young Active Trans interns and volunteers, we walk our bicycles west down leafy 23rd Street, past families hanging out on stoops and vendors selling paletas and elotes as Norteño accordion music plays on stereos. When we arrive at Farragut a man on an adult three-wheeler with a hubcap-covered sound system on the back is pedaling around the schoolyard, trailed by kids on BMX bikes and tricycles. Read the rest of this entry »

Concerned Citizen: George Blakemore puts the public in public meetings

Politics No Comments »

George Blakemore/Photo: Colleen Durkin

By Benjamin Rossi

A Google search can say a lot about a person. Most peoples’ names yield, if anything, a professional webpage or a Facebook profile. Type in “George Blakemore+Chicago,” and the search engine dredges up dozens of PDF files, the minutes from public meetings of the Park District, Forest Preserve, Cook County Board Committee meetings and many more going back for years. The minutes often note a few public speakers, along with their occupation—vice president of a union chapter, patient, social worker, professor. Appearing next to George Blakemore’s name: simply “Concerned Citizen.”

Blakemore has turned that generic title into a personal calling card of sorts. He is perhaps Chicago’s most prominent concerned citizen. Anyone who has ever been to a public meeting has seen him and heard him speak. He makes appearances at almost every public meeting held by government agencies on the city, county and state levels within city limits. Not everyone agrees with what he has to say, and some view him as a troublemaker or an annoyance. Others think that he is, in some ways, a model citizen. But few know how he got to be Chicago’s gadfly, or exactly how involved in government he is. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Congratulations Rahm, We’re Watching You

Politics No Comments »

Don Washington with onetime mayoral candidate Patricia Watkins

While Mayor Emanuel is still settling into his new office, political website Mayoral Tutorial (mayoraltutorial.com) will be celebrating its new angle: keeping an eye on him. The site, which provides research and commentary on public policy in Chicago, was set up as a way to keep track of the issues during the 2010 mayoral campaign, but has been static since the election.

Creator Don Washington, a political director and policy researcher, says it’s high time to update as Mayor Emanuel goes from just a Twitter handle to the real deal. “During the campaign people went to it in droves,” he says. “Folks said you should really keep it up, as a way to keep track of the Emanuel administration and the city council.”

The relaunch party at the Heartland Cafe on May 17 will include skits, songs, stand-up and speeches from artists, activists and musicians. While it might be a celebration, there will definitely be an educational component to the night.

Washington regularly sets up “agitational” town halls around the city as a way to shake up citizens and get them engaged in the political arena. He brings in speakers from unions, universities and the business world to discuss policy issues with ordinary people, often dispelling political rumors and misinformation. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Menu: Alderman Joe Moore lets Rogers Parkers pick their poison

Green, Politics, Rogers Park No Comments »

Forty-ninth Ward alderman Joe Moore is famous for his crusades against big-box stores and foie gras, but lately he’s been having more success with a new initiative called participatory budgeting. In this process, regular folks recommend projects for public funding and vote on how the cash is spent. First pioneered in Porto Alegre, Brazil, participatory budgeting is gaining popularity as a way to engage citizens and make government spending decisions more democratic.

Moore is the first politician to bring participatory budgeting to the U.S. Each of Chicago’s fifty alderman has an annual budget called “Menu Money” to pay for physical improvements to their wards, like replacing streetlights and fixing streets and sidewalks. Normally, aldermen dictate how the money is spent but Moore, whose ward is comprised mostly of left-leaning Rogers Park, decided to let his constituents have their say.

Instead of just the usual meat-and-potatoes projects last year, when the process started, residents bankrolled a community garden, a dog-friendly park, solar-powered garbage cans, historical marker signs, and murals under CTA and Metra viaducts. Transportation improvements include a pedestrian signal, shelters at El platforms, new bicycle lanes and bike racks that will double as public art. Read the rest of this entry »