Street Smart Chicago

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 »

Monumental Error? How a Statue Honoring a Controversial Japanese Religious Leader Wound Up in a Chicago Park

City Life, South Loop, Uptown 8 Comments »

By John Greenfield

“Peace and Justice” sculpture in the Peace Garden / Photo: John Greenfield

Chicago’s Peace Garden is not a particularly peaceful place. Located in Uptown next to Lake Shore Drive, just east of the Buena Avenue underpass, its tranquility is undermined by the constant roar of traffic. The park features a rustic stone fountain, currently shut off for repairs, and a white post with inscriptions on each of its four sides: “May peace be in Chicago; May peace be in Illinois; May peace be in the United States; May peace prevail on Earth.”

In the center of the garden, almost directly below the expressway, stands the bronze sculpture “Peace and Justice” by local artist Margot McMahon, showing two young boys, one African-American and one Caucasian, holding a ball aloft. On the front of the trapezoidal granite base a plaque reads:

Erected in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Daisaku Ikeda’s life long struggle for peace, justice and human rights. Walking through Lincoln Park on October 9, 1960, the young president of the Soka Gakkai, Daisaku Ikeda witnessed a painful act of racial discrimination toward a young child, crystallizing his lasting commitment to rid the world of needless suffering and enabling the human dignity of all to shine.

The other three sides of the base feature quotations from Ikeda about the titular virtues.

When I first read the dedication, stopping on my bicycle en route from the lakefront to a nearby café, I was dumbstruck. After all, Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a lay Buddhist movement founded in Japan with millions of members worldwide, has often been described as a cult. What was a monument to Ikeda, the organization’s enigmatic “spiritual mentor,” doing in a public park? Read the rest of this entry »

Hillbilly Heaven: Chicago’s Other Migration from the South

Chicago History, City Life, Uptown 4 Comments »

By David Witter

It is two-thirty in the morning at Carol’s Pub. Most of the other bars in the neighborhood have closed, and customers of all ages—from twenty-one to sixty—file in to order more beer and whiskey, and to dance to the music of Diamondback, Carol’s house band for more than fifteen years. Some people talk, most drink, and some even dance beneath a sign which features a guitar, cowboy boots and hat reading: “Welcome to Carol’s, The Best in Country Music.”

By four o’clock in the morning, the music and beer have stopped flowing and dozens of people with beer on their breath and cigarettes in their mouths make their way through the streets of Uptown, humming the music of Johnny Cash as they go.

Forty years ago, the same streets were filled with similar spirits morning, noon and night. Take a walk down Clark Street or Broadway near Wilson and you would be sure to see hosts of men sporting Elvis-like sideburns and hair slicked back with the help of generous dabs of Brylcreem or Vitalis, usually wearing green work pants, a dark canvas jacket or nylon windbreaker and vinyl penny loafers with white socks. The women, often with children in tow, wore feminine white or yellow dresses and piled their hair high in a beehive. Together, these southern transplants transformed Uptown into what became known as “Hillbilly Heaven,” turning bars into honky-tonks, delis into diners, streets into drag strips and vacant lots and alleys into auto repair centers. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Savage Ride

Andersonville, Avondale, Beverly, Checkerboard City, Chinatown, Rogers Park, Uptown No Comments »

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 »

The Boys of Sliotar: They make you want to hurl

Sports, Uptown No Comments »

As he explains the ancient Gaelic sport of hurling, Colm Egan spits on his hands, rubbing them over the leather-covered cork ball, the size of a baseball, called a sliotar. Behind him, a few men in brightly colored jerseys unwrap long metal poles to set up as end posts on opposite sides of the field, setting down bags of full-coverage helmets and wooden bats with flat paddles at the end.

“It’s an honest game,” he says, explaining that the only thing that keeps players from truly hurting each other in the fast-paced sport, which involves heavy wooden bats called hurleys and no protective padding, is the players’ honor. “There’s not a lot of rules.”

Each Sunday until May 8, Chicago’s Gaelic Athletic Association (G.A.A.) will be holding informal hurling games for all skill levels, hoping to recruit more Chicagoans to the game before the league’s season starts up on May 15. They’ll provide the equipment, the team and, of course, the instruction.

Egan, 42, first picked up a hurley as a 5-year-old in County Tipperary, Ireland, where hurling is the national sport and the local G.A.A. forms the basis of almost all social activity. Last year’s entirely amateur national championships in Ireland attracted 84,000 spectators. Read the rest of this entry »

Paper Trail: Documenting a career in social activism

Politics, Uptown, West Loop No Comments »

“You can’t really create a credible way of moving ahead, ” says Doug Dobmeyer, “unless you know the path.” Dobmeyer, a longtime Chicago social activist, has lined this “path” with more than thirty years of research and work with Chicago’s housing issues and emergency social services. Now the Special Collections department at the UIC Library has acquired the Doug Dobmeyer Papers and will have an opening reception April 8 at 3pm. The papers document the many organizations that Dobmeyer participated in, and include media coverage, reports, administrative records and correspondences. Dobmeyer, who among many other efforts spent several years running the homeless shelter in Uptown, talks about the steps the city has made toward improving the quality of life for the homeless, “In the 1980s, when I was the director of the shelter, we had city government sending out inspection teams trying to find reasons to close us down. And since that time, and I will credit Mayor Washington, the attitude of City Hall is totally different.” Dobmeyer is quick to warn, however, that the solutions are still evading us. It is with collections such as the Dobmeyer Papers, he hopes Chicago will be able to truly make progress on such a serious issues as homelessness. (Peter Cavanaugh)

One Gigantic Evening: Kinetic Playground is not normal

Events, Uptown No Comments »

big-gigantic-press-shot-3-200x134“Fifteen bucks but it’s totally worth it—Big Gigantic is here!” sounds a voice from the crowd of people gathered outside Uptown’s Kinetic Playground.

Such unbridled enthusiasm doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Big Gigantic, an electronica/hip-hop duo from Boulder, Colorado, has managed to amass quite a Chicago following. “Last time we played Chicago,” shares drummer Jeremy Salken, “200 people confirmed on Facebook, but 500 ended up showing.”

The opening band plays softly while the few that have arrived lounge on the large cushioned bench that lines the back wall. Almost no one has a drink in hand and, if they do, it’s a Red Stripe held almost disdainfully, as if it has been forced upon them or they are holding it for someone else. There is a masseuse in one corner giving what appear to be “tip what you feel it was worth” massages and a lone, blonde-dreadlocked hula-hooper twists her pink tank-topped torso to the beat in another. This is no Lincoln Park Pub Crawl. Read the rest of this entry »

Any Excuse for Biracial Brownies: Uptown watches Obama and McCain duke it out

Events, Politics, Uptown No Comments »

Senators John McCain and Barack Obama stand behind their respective pulpits at the University of Mississippi. Audiences tune in to watch, and Margo O’Hara, like many others across the nation, hosts a presidential debate party in her Uptown apartment. Her guests are friends: film editors, theater crew, Web site aficionados, writers and comic-book gurus. They are, predictably, a liberal lot; the sort who go all-out for presidential debates. “They’re biracial,” explains Eden Robins of the dairy-free tofu cheesecake brownies she’s made, gesturing to the frosted depiction of Obama’s trademark “O.”

Drinking games commence. Swigs are taken when McCain calls himself a “maverick,” or when either candidate mentions “Wall Street” and “Main Street” in the same breath. With wine glasses and beer bottles in hand, the guests cheer when their hometown hero faces his opponent and proclaims, “John, you like to pretend like the war started in 2007!” McCain’s comments are met with hisses and flying projectiles.
Afterward, the party travels to the back porch for cigarettes and further political discourse. The fate of Iran’s nuclear program, pork barrel spending, Sarah Palin’s updo. The topic of conversation inevitably shifts to the economy’s nosedive, and Robins says, “I’m so glad my lack of foresight and knowledge about investing is FINALLY paying off.” At that moment, floodlights blind the alley, followed by the robotic bleep of a squad car. “Who called the cops?” one party goes asks.

“Alright people,” a megaphone crackles, and the officer’s disembodied voice betrays a hint of humor. “Let’s take the debate inside.” The neighbors must be Republicans. (Laura Hawbaker)

Bohemian Rhapsody: University of Chicago profs study the migration of hipsters and other urban phenomena

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 No Comments »

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 »

Group Therapy: Early to Bed teaches us nerds how to flirt

Love & Sex, Uptown No Comments »

Teaching nerds social intimacy is a pop-culture commodity nowadays. But Universal Studios’ “Sydney White” and VH1’s “The Pick Up Artist” are bandwagoners compared to Chicago’s North Side sex boutique Early to Bed and its “Flirting for Nerds” seminar.

Just shy of an expansive dildo display, ten eager students gather in a horseshoe-shaped group. “I’m convinced that nerds are the best flirts because they are already passionate,” says researcher turned preacher Rebecca Steinmetz, a 26-year-old sex educator and University of Chicago grad student who teaches nerds how “to channel that passion.”
Read the rest of this entry »