Street Smart Chicago

Race Review: Chicago Full Moon Run (July 29, 2015)

-Neighborhood/Suburb, News etc., Running No Comments »
Runners prepare for the Full Moon Run/Photo: Zach Freeman

Runners prepare for the Full Moon Run/Photo: Zach Freeman

Breakdown: Standing at the makeshift starting line at the edge of Norwood Park last night—a day before the true full moon, race directors readily acknowledged—preparing for the kickoff of the fourth annual Chicago Full Moon Run, I marveled at the peaceful suburban neighborhood streets around me (had I really just parked my car for free only a block from the race?). Only I wasn’t in the suburbs. I was in the far northwest corner of Chicago, where parking is plentiful and you can run a foot race on the streets as long as you have a few volunteers directing traffic.

And that’s the way this race runs. Coupled with a mile race (billed as the “1 Mile Lunar Orbit”), this neighborhood event managed to draw in almost 200 participants this year with its cheap entry fee and charity mission (proceeds going to “benefit the battle against Multiple Sclerosis”). The 5K course is a double loop around Norwood Park and the surrounding neighborhoods, a quick, flat course through tree-lined streets on a perfectly-temperatured evening that led to a lot of quick running. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: The Case of the Missing People Spots

Andersonville, Architecture, Checkerboard City, Green No Comments »
Brian Bonanno, in baseball cap, and contractors reinstall the Farragut People Spot. Photo: John Greenfield

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 »

Race Review: Run the Ribbon Mile Race (June 20, 2015)

Loop, News etc., Running No Comments »
Runners competing around the ribbon/Photo: Zach Freeman

Runners competing around the ribbon/Photo: Zach Freeman

Breakdown: Like witnessing a world-premiere play on opening night, participating in an inaugural race is exciting. Particularly when that race is planned in a popular new location and set at a rather uncommon distance. Saturday morning, the location was the skating ribbon around the climbing walls in Maggie Daley Park and the distance was a single mile. Not only was the promise of being one of the first to run around a new track intriguing (the ribbon has been open but used for skating—both ice and inline—up till this point) but the chance to test the legs on a distance that’s typically reserved for track meets made it especially unique.

CARA hosted the event, with categories for youth, open and all-comers running in sixteen waves spread out over several hours. Just over 100 racers made their way around the twists and turns of the ribbon, racing only against their given wave group (typically around ten runners to a wave) with a miked announcer calling out names and position numbers. The full length of the ribbon meant runners had to circle it five times to complete a mile (organizers rang a bell for the final lap) and the curvature didn’t make full-out sprinting especially easy, but it was indeed, as the CARA website described it, a “memorable experience for racers.”

Cash prizes were given to the top three finishers with a bonus promised for any male who could run a sub-4:00 and any female who could run a sub 4:40 (witnessing those feats would have been worth the cost of admission). The small field of runners and the track-meet-like atmosphere of the race allowed for more camaraderie and spectating than any other race I’ve run in the last several years. Though adding runners would spread the waves out even further, this could easily be an exciting half-day event in future years. Read the rest of this entry »

The Company Factory: Is 1871 an Incubator, a Community, Endless Summer Camp or All Three?

News etc., River North No Comments »
Photo: Emerson Dameron

Photo: Emerson Dameron

By Emerson Dameron

It is not a typical Tuesday at 1871, the labyrinthine tech-startup hub located on the twelfth floor of the Merchandise Mart, because there are no typical Tuesdays here.

David Johnston is here. He is Canada’s Governor General, a position noble enough to merit a large floating entourage and the attention of much of 1871’s leadership. Thus, as I wait for my afternoon date with CEO Howard Tullman, I am left largely to my own devices. I explore. I chat up various people who don’t appear too engrossed in their work. I struggle to find the men’s restroom, which is about as far from the women’s room as it could physically be.

1871 does have a ping-pong table, but it’s stashed in the mailroom and does not seem to have seen much use of late. The closest thing I can find to an interactive game is the Higi Station, which measures BMI, pulse and blood pressure. It is one of several such kiosks scattered around the city.

Quantification is not a perfect paradigm for measuring success, but it may be the most useful we’ve currently got as a species. In some respects, I’ve done well enough trusting my intuition—it’s led me to fruitful creative work, wonderful friendships, and a marriage that saved my life with no facilitation from OKCupid or eHarmony. In other respects, it has not served me so well. My personal finances were a wreck until I discovered the Mint app. And although my health has ticked up since my hard-partying days, it has always been a source of painful anxiety.

Nerves aflutter, I submit to the cold, numerical wisdom of the Higi Station. My BMI is safely in the “normal” range for my height and age. That’s an improvement. My blood pressure, though, is dangerously high. That’s… disheartening. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Why Rolling on the River Is No Easy Task

Checkerboard City, City Life, Loop No Comments »
Tight turns and bottlenecks making cycling on the riverwalk a tricky endeavor. Photo: John Greenfield

Tight turns and bottlenecks making cycling on the riverwalk a tricky endeavor./Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Earlier this month, the Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, grabbed the spotlight as our city’s latest fabulous public space. However, the Chicago Riverwalk extension, which partially opened on May 23, is another strong contender. The new two-block stretch between State and Clark takes you down to within a foot or two of the sea-green water, and there are unique, breathtaking views of the city as you round the bridge houses.

The roughly $100 million project, funded by a federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act Loan that needs to be paid back in about thirty-five years, is slated to be extended all the way to Lake and Wacker by 2016. The now-open sections are the Cove, which has stone-like concrete seating units and will feature kayak rentals, and the Marina, with elegant teakwood banquettes whose tops will double as bar seating for eating and drinking establishments. Upcoming amenities include amphitheater seating, a water play area, fishing piers and a boardwalk.

The new spaces are already a hit with Chicagoans from all walks of life, and you’ll see dozens of people strolling, lunching, catching carp and relaxing there on nice days. The one fly in the ointment is that, while the riverwalk extension was designed to be a transportation corridor, it doesn’t function particularly well as one. Narrow sections of the path create bottlenecks, and sharp turns in the route are tricky to navigate, making it difficult to walk—let alone bike—the route efficiently when it’s crowded. Read the rest of this entry »

Dynastic by Design: How The Field Museum Built the Nation’s Largest Chinese Historical Museum Exhibit

Museums, News etc., South Loop No Comments »
Guardian Lions

Guardian Lions

By Nona Tepper

“When I look at it straight it looks straight, but when I look at it sideways it looks crooked,” says Jaap Hoogstraten, director of exhibitions at the Field Museum.

The man paces in front of an arch decorated with red, blue and gold images of ancient Chinese life. The air smells like dust, and a saw grinds on a bench in the middle of the gallery. Project manager Tom Skwerski stands behind him.

“It’s tricky to do an immersive environment,” Skwerski says. “We don’t want to look like a Chinese restaurant.”

The men are standing in the Cyrus Tang Hall of China, an upcoming exhibit at The Field Museum slated to open just three months from that day. The arch is stenciled with what look like the same designs that decorate the entrance gate to Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood, but is it crooked? Hoogstraten and Skwerski have had this debate before, Hoogstraten says. Perhaps they’ll have it again. The men walk away and start talking about what still needs to be done. The nearly 400 objects need to be mounted; the mounts need to be attached to bases; the bases need to be covered in decorative felt. The producers need to speed up the slideshows on Chinese dynastic history and, speaking of technology, the technology for the projections of Neolithic China still needs to be developed.

The men have three months.  Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: What Kind of Art Is Coming to Wilson?

Architecture, Checkerboard City, Green, Transit, Uptown No Comments »
Cecil Balmond and the ArcelorMittal Orbit. Photos: John Greenfield, Wikipedia

Cecil Balmond and the ArcelorMittal Orbit/Photos: John Greenfield, Wikipedia

By John Greenfield

“The essence of public sculpture is that, for a moment, it belongs to you,” says renowned Sri Lankan-British artist Cecil Balmond, speaking at a recent packed community meeting in the basement of an Uptown nursing home. Last July, the CTA hired Balmond to create artwork for the Wilson Red Line station, as part of a massive, $203 million reconstruction project. It’s notable that the Wilson stop—a notoriously grungy facility and three-time winner of RedEye’s “Crust Station” contest—will be getting a piece by a man whose website calls him “the world’s leading thinker on form and structure.”

Work to rebuild the station began last fall and, as of press deadline, crews were almost done using heavy equipment to demolish the westernmost set of tracks and concrete support pillars. In all, 2,200 feet of the one-hundred-year-old tracks will be replaced and relocated, and the station will be transformed into a new transfer point between the Red and Purple lines. As a result, you can expect an influx of Northwestern students and staff moving to Uptown by the end of the decade. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: The Divvy Perimeter Ride

Bicycling, Bridgeport, Checkerboard City, Englewood, Green, Lawndale, Little Village, South Shore No Comments »

New Divvy station outside Comer College Prep in Grand Crossing/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

This year’s Divvy bike-share expansion, beefing up the system from 300 docking stations to 476, is moving at warp speed. One-hundred new stations have been installed since mid-April, and the rest should be in by early June.

As Divvy grows, the city is also trying to make it more equitable. After the expansion, the portion of the population that lives in the service area will grow from about thirty-three percent to fifty-six percent, and several low-income communities are getting stations for the first time. Meanwhile, CDOT is working on a strategy to provide Divvy access for residents who don’t have credit cards, and they promise they’ll have a major announcement about this by early summer.

To get a sense of how the stations are working out on the terra nova, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, I set out to pedal the perimeter of the completed service area on a sunny afternoon last week. I began my quest at the southeastern-most outpost of the system at Rainbow Beach in South Shore, a mostly African-American community. There was an eerie fog on the shoreline, and the sound of the waves mingled with birdsongs as I undocked my Divvy. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Rickshaw Republic

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, Wrigleyville No Comments »
Darren Hilton outside Wrigley Field. Photo: Peter Mueller

Darren Hilton outside Wrigley Field/Photo: Peter Mueller

By John Greenfield

“Some people think pedicabbers are nuisance, but we’re really only here to help people,” says Darren Hilton, forty-two. A former bicycle messenger, he’s been in the bike taxi business for five years. “As pedicab operators, our job is to give visitors red-carpet service and keep them coming back to Chicago.”

Hilton says Chicago’s pedicab ordinance, which passed City Council about a year ago, is too restrictive, and has led to some of his colleagues being slapped with thousands of dollars in fines. He has received a few $500 tickets himself.

The purpose of the local ordinance was to regulate what some officials saw as a somewhat anarchic industry. The law was introduced by 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney, whose district includes Wrigley Field. Downtown Alderman Brendan Reilly pushed to include geographic restrictions: pedicabbers are now banned from State and Michigan, between Congress and Oak, at all times. They’re also prohibited from working in the Loop during rush hours. Read the rest of this entry »

The Parking Game: There’s Lots of Competition in Wrigleyville. Lots and Lots.

City Life, Sports, Wrigleyville 2 Comments »
Photo: John Moss

Photo: John Moss

By John Moss

To check the pulse of the Chicago Cubs during any given season, you can take in a game at Wrigley Field or follow the team on television, through the box scores, or in the standings. You can glance up at the flag flying above the center field scoreboard as you pass by on the train, white for a victory that day, blue for a loss. Or, a less obvious yet still effective method, you can simply go by what the lots around the stadium, most of which are owned independently of the team, are charging for a place to park during a game.

Unlike at U.S. Cellular Field, the United Center and Toyota Park, where Chicago’s other professional sports teams play, no great sea of parking space exists outside Wrigley Field; instead, it is more like a cluster of small ponds. One-hundred years old last April, Wrigley is famously situated in the middle of a residential neighborhood. One moment you are walking north on tree-lined Sheffield Avenue past a row of three-flats, then all of a sudden there it is—an overwhelming burst of concrete and steel dwarfing you and everything in its shadow: a 40,000-plus-capacity baseball stadium.

At the time Wrigley was built, its location, a few steps from the El and within bustling turn-of-the-century Lakeview, made it ideal, Margaret Gripshover notes  in her essay, “Lake View, Baseball, and Wrigleyville: The History of a Chicago Neighborhood.” Most fans back then would have traveled to the game on foot or by train.

Wrigley Field is so old that only after automobiles became prevalent did its location become problematic. To say nothing of today, back in the early fifties the ward’s alderman cited parking and congestion as the main problems in the area, with the area around Wrigley, later to be known as Wrigleyville, being the worst. Any chunk of space could help ease the parking burden. A convent that once stood on the 1100 block of West Grace, a few blocks north of the stadium, allowed Cubs fans to park there on game days for a donation (though the operation later came under investigation, the Sisters having since contracted out to a private firm, for parking without a license). Read the rest of this entry »