Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Better Bike Resources for the South and West Sides?

Back of the Yards, Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Humboldt Park, Little Village No Comments »

Robert Calvin rides on the “enhanced sharrows” on Lake Street in Austin. Photo: John Greenfield


By John Greenfield

Last month, African-American cyclists Oboi Reed, Peter Taylor and Shawn Conley released an open letter asking the city, state, and local advocacy groups for a more equitable distribution of bike resources to Chicago’s black communities. Read the letter at

They noted that there’s generally a higher density of bike lanes, with better connectivity, downtown and on the North Side. “Stuff on the South Side and the West Side has really been hit-or-miss, putting in a bike lane that goes from nowhere to nowhere, not really connecting destinations,” Taylor told me.

That’s the case with a couple of the recently striped bikeways I checked out on the West and South Sides last week. The city installed segments of buffered bike lanes–with additional space striped on one or both sides–on Pershing between Western and Ashland, and on 63rd between Central Park and Western, as part of successful road diets. However the new BBLs are “orphans,” because they don’t link up with any other bikeways. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Hauling Ashland

Back of the Yards, Checkerboard City, Green, Lakeview, Pilsen, Transit 1 Comment »
A southbound #9 Ashland bus / Photo: John Greenfield

A southbound #9 Ashland bus/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

“It doesn’t matter what you do to the bus! I will never take a bus! I will drive until the state won’t give me a license anymore.” So said an otherwise nice-seeming lady from the anti-bus rapid transit group the Ashland-Western Coalition at a community meeting this summer.

The CTA plans to build a BRT line on Ashland from 95th to Irving Park, providing an El-train-like experience on wheels instead of rails. Think of it as the Gray or Indigo Line. The buses will run in car-free lanes in the middle of the street, with stops located every half mile.

These traits, along with several other timesaving features, will bring speeds up to an estimated 15.9 mph, including stops, during rush hours. That’s almost twice as fast as the current #9 Ashland bus, which the CTA says averages only 8.7 mph, and it’s comparable to car speeds. That’s what’s needed if we want to make transit an attractive alternative to driving. Read the rest of this entry »

One Perfect Life: An Ode to the Real South Side

Back of the Yards, Bridgeport, Bronzeville, Chinatown, Englewood, Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Little Village, Pilsen, South Shore, Southeast Side No Comments »

By Scoop Jackson

“Pharaoh of the Sun/Lookin’ down the barrel of a gun/Y’all know where I’m from.”
—from the poem “Keep On” by famous South Sider Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr. (aka Common)

We call them “pockets.” It’s the best way any of us who come from the South Side of Chicago can describe the drastic ebb and flow of the ‘hoods we live in.

“On the South Side,” real estate agent and South Side resident Chrystal Caruthers says, “you can grow up in a good neighborhood but go two blocks over and I’ll bet the people won’t feel the same.” The block-to-block change. The neighborhood-to-neighborhood shift in dynamics, living conditions and mentality. It exists in other neighborhoods in the country, but not like on the South Side in this city. The same way Chief Keef can weave tales about life on the South Side, Will Smith can come here and hang out on the lake on 31st Street and go write “Summertime.”

Growing up here gives one a perspective of range. Range in the sense of how far-reaching an area can be, how diverse and disconnected and devoted people raised on the same concrete can be. Where oftentimes the kids at Bogan were more dangerous to a young black kid than the GDs or El Rukns who went to Dunbar.

There is more beauty in the real South Side than anyone who doesn’t live here could understand. Through all of the bullshit, all of the incidents that happen on the side of Chicago that gives it the nicknames “Homicide Capital” and “Chiraq,” there exist pockets of life that bring an unmatched sense of pride and joy not found anywhere else in the city. Read the rest of this entry »

Growing Up: How The Plant is Making Futuristic Farming Today’s Reality

Back of the Yards, Green 1 Comment »

P1040823By David King

In 1915, a professor of geology at the University of Southern California by the name of Gilbert Ellis Bailey published a book that had the potential to revolutionize agriculture. In the sixty-nine-page treatise, Bailey outlined what he saw as a more efficient way to cultivate crops: use explosives to increase land mass vertically as opposed to horizontally. Inexpensive explosives, wrote Bailey, “enable the farmer to farm deeper, to go down to increase his acreage, and to secure larger crops, thereby offering more surface area.”

Bailey’s book bore the same name as his idea: “Vertical Farming.”

In the coming decades, a handful of people, from Buckminster Fuller in the 1930s to a Malaysian architect named Ken Yeang in the 1990s, took the idea in a decidedly modern direction. Why not, they believed, integrate plants into a literally vertical space—namely, buildings? Growing plants in open-air buildings, argued Yeang, would serve communal nutritional and climate control needs.

Also in the 1990s, Dickson Despommier, a professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University, went a step further. Not only would growing plants in buildings help feed a sharply increasing human population that won’t have enough arable land, he argued, weather would no longer pose a problem to growth; spoilage would become less of a concern, since food would be grown locally; empty lots and buildings would be put to good use; urban jobs would be created; and when abandoned, damaged ecosystems would have a chance to heal themselves.

Enter the man hoping to chart the next step in vertical farming—and he’s Chicago’s to claim. In a scruffy patch of the Back of the Yards neighborhood, forty-two-year-old John Edel is spearheading the creation of an industrial system that he hopes will not just grow plants in buildings, but also show the world that by using the waste of one food-production process as fuel for another, you can create a multipurpose manufacturing ecosystem—with zero emissions.

And it looks like he’ll do it, too. Read the rest of this entry »