Street Smart Chicago

Chicago 2046: Visions for a new city

City Life, Essays & Commentary 1 Comment »
All photos @jasonmpeterson Jason M Peterson is the chief creative officer of Havas North America and a Chicago-based photographer.

All photos @jasonmpeterson/Jason M Peterson is the chief creative officer of Havas North America and a Chicago-based photographer.

This issue marks Newcity’s thirtieth anniversary.

Back when we published our first issue, “30” in journalism meant the end, as in the end of a story, a typographical cue sent from writer to editor. It was a  tradition dating back, it is believed, to the era of the telegraph when a similar code told the operator a message had ended. Accordingly, the number has some foreboding metaphorical qualities for a publisher, especially in these times. But I am pleased to report that while the typographic usage is now dead, print continues to thrive at Newcity.

And so this issue is not a nostalgic look back. Instead, we asked thirty writers, cultural and community leaders to envision the city thirty years hence. Read the rest of this entry »

A Lot You Got to Holler, Episode 1: Chicago Plays Itself

Architecture, Chicago History, Essays & Commentary, News etc. 1 Comment »

Chicago Plays Itself


A Lot You Got to Holler is a new Newcity Design podcast. Hosted by Newcity design editor Ben Schulman and Chicago architectural journalist Zach Mortice, the podcast will explore Chicago’s singular history of architecture, design and urbanism, with an emphasis on pop culture. Schulman and Mortice will invite artists, designers, and architects into the studio for conversations about Chicago’s past and ongoing role as a proving ground for American culture. Read the rest of this entry »

Chicago Manual 2015: Only at Chicago

Education/Training, Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park No Comments »
Image from book titled Building Ideas,  featuring architecture on the University of Chicago campus,  published summer of 2013. (Photo by Tom Rossiter/The University of Chicago)

Image from book titled “Building Ideas, ” featuring architecture on the University of Chicago campus, published summer of 2013. (Photo by Tom Rossiter/The University of Chicago)

I was a first year in the College in 1979, in my first quarter, taking Ralph Lerner’s Common Core social science course called “Political Order and Change.” A small class of maybe twenty students, we sat at desks aligned to form a large hollow rectangle, with Professor Lerner in the center of one end.

We were reading Plato’s “Republic” and I was fascinated, even though it was written thousands of years before the sci-fi novels ands sports biographies that had occupied my attention up through high school. Our professor really brought its ideas to light in our class discussions and I was in the early stage of a transformative intellectual awakening. I showed up one day and took a seat at the corner near the professor. Sitting between us was another older guy I did not recognize. Professor Lerner started the class by introducing our guest, a friend of his who’d been visiting him in his office and had decided spontaneously to join our conversation that day. His name was John Paul Stevens, then a relatively new justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Yes, there I was, all of eighteen years old, discussing the very foundation of justice with one of its most powerful advocates in the world. This, I figured, was the way my life was going to be from now on. Book chat with leaders of the free world and all that.

Only at Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »

Buildings Studies: Theory and Praxis

Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park No Comments »
KA apt

The author and her friend Andrea outside her Hyde Park apartment, circa 2001.

By Krisann Rehbein (MA ’02)

I’ve made a career out of my own curiosity. Fourteen years ago this week, my interest in the lives of buildings began. It started with my own story but the university and the world changed my perspective a thousand degrees.

For the year leading up to graduate school at the University of Chicago, I ditched my apartment and relied on the good graces of friends to save on rent. It became a joke not to invite me over or I’d stay a month. Two weeks before the start of fall classes, my boyfriend moved me into a cheap apartment on 53rd and Blackstone and I finally had a space of my own. Days later, he broke up with me. Just days after that, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on September 11.

My apartment was my refuge. Everything I needed was inside: a radio, a vintage red reading chair and ottoman, and books stacked on the floor. The only view was of a surface parking lot that didn’t bother me because it let in lots of light. Sometimes, I looked at the two windows of my apartment from the outside and thought of how nondescript they looked. My life was inside.

The World Trade Center building itself thrust architecture into the middle of an international conversation. Structural failures were analyzed. The cladding of the steel support beams and building codes of 1973 debated and technology of that day compared to the present.  Drawings of evacuation routes appeared in the newspaper. Section diagrams displayed the relationships between the floors and showed us how the elevators worked. Eventually, we learned what caused the building to completely melt into the ground.

The building’s design and the lives inside were unavoidably linked.  Read the rest of this entry »

South Woodlawn Avenue: Metamorphosis, Not Apocalypse

Education/Training, Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park No Comments »

By Karl T. Muth, MBA ’10

The University of Chicago is one of the few American institutions that is better-known, better-respected, and better appreciated by those one encounters abroad; in Juba, South Sudan, in a sweltering football stadium on the day South Sudan became a country, the man next to me, spying the phoenix on my cufflinks, smiled and introduced himself, “I studied in Hyde Park, too.” Ironic, then, given our institution’s enormous reach, that my UChicago story happens over a seventy-five-year period safely within the ambit of a one-block radius. Our family’s history is inexorably intertwined with three times the world nearly ended while we watched, and adapted, on the 5800-block of South Woodlawn Avenue. It is where our family’s gone to transform for three generations, each graduate like a sea turtle clumsily flapping toward freedom after maturing in an egg buried in the sands of 57th Street Beach.

As far as my grandmother knew, the world might have ended by the time she reached Hyde Park. An Anglo-Chinese refugee after Japan invaded His Majesty’s Overseas Territory of Hong Kong, she came to live in temporary immigration and refugee intake facilities constructed on the Midway and on Woodlawn itself by the U.S. military. Later, she moved into International House. She made the most of this time, studying for a graduate degree (like many studying during the war years, she received her AM after the war), integrating into the wartime immigrant Chinese community, and finding new romance in a new country with my grandfather, a polyglot diplomat-turned-entrepreneur. Read the rest of this entry »

Doing it For Themselves: Age and Class Insularity Among the U of C Crowd

Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park No Comments »


By Michael Workman

It’s not long after the start of last year’s academic year. Another cold night, another slog out into the autumn chill, then a long ride cross town to check out a new art and performance space in Hyde Park. I’d heard about it through some mutual U of C friends that overlap with the North Side DIY youth spaces I’ve been frequenting, like Slag Palace and Kill Your Demons (KYD collective) and tonight, sitting on a Green Line, still slightly stoned, then slogging out on the pavement and the haul east across the park until I end up at Transit, yet another new art-slash-performance space that I have to take three buses and two trains to get to and it’s a long slog from my perch in the Lincoln Square neighborhood south to Hyde Park. Still, the feminist folk punk lineup is in my wheelhouse, and I’m interested in checking it out. Eventually, I locate the address through some iteration of turning around and around, staring at the little blue GPS dot flashing on my phone, trying to figure out what direction I’m facing because I honestly can’t tell, and after walking a few blocks around in their entirety, I end up roughly back where I was when I started out, except I’m standing in front of the address I’m looking for. Somehow. Yep, I double-check, this is it. Read the rest of this entry »

Chicago, Earth

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Cover by Talya Modlin

Cover by Talya Modlin

As we prepare to launch our experiment in the future of cultural globalism, Newcity Brazil (read more about it at, we’ve developed a much deeper understanding of the challenges as well as the rewards of being “a stranger in a strange land.” And while travel is a transformative way to reshape our understanding of the world in which we live, the very city around us is full of such experiences as well, with resources ranging from institutions like Instituto Cervantes, the Goethe Institut and the Istituto Italiano di Cultura, to our friends and neighbors, many of whom enter our lives from an entirely different point of origin and enrich us so much more for the experience. And so, on these pages, some of the city’s finest—the world’s finest—novelists, poets and journalists share a slice of their experience. Enrich yourself. (Brian Hieggelke) Read the rest of this entry »

Half and Half and Wholly Human: Searching for Meaning in “What Are You?”

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Nina Coomes and sister in Japan

Nina Coomes and sister in Japan

By Nina Coomes

“What are you?”

The first time Chicago asked me this question, it was out of the mouth of an inquisitive twelve-year-old boy. It was the first day of school at Mary Gage Peterson Elementary. I was the New Girl, wearing blue jeans, white ankle socks and a teal sweatshirt that says “SOCCER CHICK” down the arm because I figured nerds don’t wear sweatshirts with sports words on them. The school yard was riotous–a far cry from the orderly lines of yellow-capped students filing into a Japanese first-grade classroom, even further still from the soft siphon of school bus to hallway introduced to me when my parents first moved us from Japan to rural Illinois.

Boys flung backpacks over the black iron fence, their too-big t-shirts flapping like seagull wings as they hurled themselves onto trampled grass. A flock of girls with gold earrings swarm by the double doors licking Hot Cheetos dust off manicured fingers. Parents crowded nervously around the asphalt where we were supposedly lining up by grade, shouting warnings, farewells, admissions of love in languages I had never heard before.

“No, really, what are you?”

I recalled the question being posed, and examined my options.  Read the rest of this entry »

Devon Avenue Sampler: Quilting the Urban Diaspora

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DevonAvenueSampler/Laura Kina

“Devon Avenue Sampler” Acrylic paint on hand sewn quilt 53 x 77 in. 2009

“Devon Avenue Sampler” features vintage and contemporary street signs and imagery from my West Rogers Park Chicago immigrant neighborhood where Orthodox Jews, Hindus, Muslims and Christians all live. This all-American urban South Asian/Jewish corridor is lined with jewelers, ethnic grocery stores, bakeries, spice shops, restaurants, colorful sari shops, travel & tour services, cell phone/electronics/luggage shops, beauty shops advertising eyebrow threading and mehndi, and a baseball field. I have sewn patchwork canvases of dark blue fabrics and denim reminiscent in form to Japanese indigo boro quilts to reflect my own mixed ethnic heritage in the background. Read the rest of this entry »

Be Baltic Be

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By Lina ramona Vitkauskas

I, Lithuanian-American, a flexed flax,
Sanskrit buttress of bridles, buttermilk,
& mead. I, Soviet weaponry, Finn
fingers, brass Russina sex, German march,
bedded in miles of jaws & arthropods;
sterlings, stork, & calendula; I, nova
& novena of all my fathers, conjured from vapors of cigars.

Do not believe or include me,
allow me existence below larch forests
& seas. I, your town fool, burlesque
body, egg strands of impossibility
against Lituane lips. Read the rest of this entry »