Brian Bonanno, in ballcap, and contractors reinstall the Farragut People Spot./Photo: John Greenfield
By John Greenfield
As the Tribune’s Blair Kamin recently pointed out, it’s embarrassing that San Francisco will soon have more than eighty “parklets”—parking-lane space repurposed as picturesque seating areas—while our much-larger city only has a handful of them. Dubbed “People Spots” by the Chicago Department of Transportation, which runs the program, eight of these have been put in on business districts in Grand Boulevard, Kenwood, Lakeview and Andersonville.
The beauty of parklets is that they take asphalt that’s usually reserved for warehousing private automobiles and transform it into attractive, planter-enclosed public space where neighbors and shoppers can congregate. The People Spot nicknamed “The Wave” at Addison and Southport in Lakeview is practically public art—its undulating, freeform seating units are both comfy and reminiscent of whale skeletons.
A study by Metropolitan Planning Council found that, since People Spots encourage people to linger on Chicago’s retail strips, they’re a shot in the arm for local businesses. Eighty percent of merchants surveyed felt nearby parklets helped attract customers to their establishments. Seventy-three percent of parklet users said that, if they weren’t eating, chatting, texting or relaxing in the spaces, they’d probably be at home. Thirty-four percent of them said they made spontaneous food or beverage purchases as a result of the inviting hangout space. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Andersonville, Architecture, Avondale, Bicycling, Bronzeville, Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, Lakeview, News etc., Wicker Park
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 »
Bill Savage/Photo: John Greenfield
By John Greenfield
“Nelson Algren wrote, ‘It isn’t hard to love a town for its greater and its lesser towers, its pleasant parks or its flashing ballet,’” says Algren scholar Bill Savage, strapping on his bicycle helmet. “‘But you never truly love it until you can love its alleys too.’ So there’s this dynamic in the city between the boulevard and the alley, between the beautiful urban spaces and the place where the garbage and the rats are, and if you really love Chicago you’ve got to love both.”
An English lecturer at Northwestern University, Bill grew up in Rogers Park with his brother, sex advice columnist Dan Savage, and still lives in the neighborhood. “I tell my students, it’s very easy to experience the city secondhand, in books and movies and online,” Bill says. “But if you’re not out there on the pavement, whether on foot or on a bicycle or in a car or on public transportation, you’re missing something.” Read the rest of this entry »
Nelly’s club anthem bumps along the purple walls and gold-plastered ceilings in Mary’s Attic. “It’s gettin’ hot in herre, so take off all your clothes” seems fitting for a group that calls itself Democracy Burlesque. But while the name fools, the players don’t tease. The audience gets a little skin, but nothing unpalatable and nothing overtly naked (except the politics—that’s their tagline).
Democracy Burlesque is more sketch comedy than dance, more sharp wit than easy laughs. Many of the actors double as writers and directors, and that multifaceted involvement exudes a bud-to-blossom continuity throughout each sketch and the production as a whole, as if the company members all slept with each other and raised their babies at Hamburger Mary’s, divulging in free-range mini-burgers and spouting political quips left and right. Read the rest of this entry »
By Tom Lynch
On an unusually warm and muggy evening in early March, a sizeable crowd has gathered at Andersonville’s Women and Children First Bookstore, all here to help celebrate the release of “Ruins,” local author Achy Obejas’ new novel. All seats taken, some are forced to stand in the back, near the table that supports the bottles of champagne and large white cake, with the book’s title and the author’s name scribbled across it in edible coloring. After a few announcements, Achy’s introduced, and she sweetly refers to W&C as “home base”; her reading’s received well-everyone’s here to see her, after all-and afterwards, you get the sense she’s relieved by the audience’s lack of questions, that she’d rather not be at the center, with all eyes on her. Either that or she wants to hit the booze and cake as soon as possible.
“I still get really nervous,” Obejas says. “Nobody believes me when I say that, but I still get insanely nervous about reading.” Read the rest of this entry »
An epic novel that documents one family’s emigration from Ireland to the United States during the great potato famine—Chicago, in fact—Mary Pat Kelly’s enormous epic “Galway Bay” paints a picture of the nineteenth-century Irish-American experience with thrilling, if a little overwhelming, results. Let’s face it, though—there was no way this book could’ve been short. Gritty, though not as gritty as “Angela’s Ashes, ” and romantic, though not in an abysmal “Far and Away” way, Kelly weaves her plot with historical intricacies and brilliant observations that could only come from an authority on the subject. Spanning six generations, Kelly’s most impressive feat is her ability to naturally allow space for the passage of time. A former nun, Kelly’s an award-winning documentary filmmaker and former producer on “Good Morning America” and “Saturday Night Live,” plus has a PhD in Irish literature. “Galway Bay” is a meaty novel, rich with color and hope. (Tom Lynch)
Mary Pat Kelly discusses “Galway Bay” March 9 at 57th Street Books, 1301 East 57th, (773)684-1300, and March 11 at Women and Children First, 5233 North Clark, (773)769-9299, 7:30pm. Both events are free.
Andersonville, Bridgeport, Bucktown, City Life, Edgewater, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Irving Park, Kenwood, Lakeview, Lincoln Square, Little Village, Logan Square, News etc., North Center, Pilsen, Roscoe Village, South Shore, Ukrainian Village, Uptown, Washington Park, Wicker Park, Wrigleyville
By Sean Redmond
Entering Wicker Park by the Blue Line, you emerge into the intersection of Damen, North and Milwaukee to a long-familiar sight. There’s the Double Door across the street, Flash Taco and, until just recently, the façade of Filter, Wicker Park’s former hipster coffeehouse extraordinaire. These staples, like many along these primary roadways, fade into the background with repeated visits; yes, you know you can find Reckless Records and American Apparel and the venues and art galleries in the surrounding area, but getting where you want to go requires little thought once you’re situated enough to put your eyes to the sidewalk and your feet into autopilot. But then one day, you get off the train and, surprise, the boarded-up shell of Filter is replaced with an expansive Bank of America, and your mind jolts back into motion. Suddenly, a wave of thoughts bursts forth: “Man, there are a lot of banks in the area,”or “Wicker Park really is getting commercialized,” or “Maybe I need to start spending more time in Logan Square.”
Read the rest of this entry »