Street Smart Chicago

Shifting into High Gear: When it comes to big plans for bicycling, City Hall is coasting

Bicycling, Politics 1 Comment »

By John Greenfield

Don’t get me wrong—Chicago’s already a terrific place to ride a bicycle. It’s flat, with a bike-friendly street grid and a scenic, 18.5-mile Lakefront Trail. Since the early nineties, the City of Chicago has spent $100 million to push pedaling, striping over 110 miles of bike lanes, installing more than 12,000 bike-parking racks, and educating tens of thousands of people about safe cycling via Mayor Daley’s Bicycling Ambassadors. Cyclists have access to buses and trains, we’ve got a fancy bike station in Millennium Park, and the list goes on.

But when Newcity asked me, a former Active Transportation Alliance staffer and consultant to the Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) Bicycle Program, for my take on the current state of bike culture in Chicago, one word sprang to mind: stagnant. Read the rest of this entry »

Bike Power: Alderman Robert Fioretti covers his ward on two wheels

Bicycling, Bronzeville, Politics No Comments »

If you drive through the South Loop or Bronzeville on a Saturday morning, there’s a good chance you’ll spot 2nd Ward Alderman Robert Fioretti out on his bicycle. Outgoing and lively, Fioretti would happily take a break from his bike to chat with you, but he might admonish you too. “Don’t take the car,” says Fioretti.

The alderman covers twenty-five miles each weekend, but he’s not your typical weekend warrior. “You’re able to see things, instead of just driving by things,” says Fioretti, who uses his weekly outings as a chance to see his community. Fioretti says he takes notes, calls 311 and “gets things fixed.” He isn’t talking in the abstract: the alderman carries graffiti-removing equipment with him and often goes ahead and makes the repairs himself.

“It’s a great way to stay in touch,” says Fioretti, who is inviting community members to join him for his weekend bike ride on Saturday, July 10. Getting out of a car and onto a bike, he says, will give community members a chance to experience an area they may drive through every day without really noticing what’s around them. “History actually happened at some of these locations,” says Fioretti, whose tour includes dozens of stops. Read the rest of this entry »

Confessions from the Welfare State: Lessons learned, and offered, along the American way

Brighton Park, Essays & Commentary, Politics 1 Comment »

By Frank Pulaski

We sat in the restaurant, Huck Finn’s, almost every morning sitting in the restaurant from nine till noon, my father Frank and his friends, George the Greek and Jimmy Figgs, and my uncle Tom, mocking the idea that the world’s highest ideal was work. That work was the gold standard of virtue in society. It was as if you were with escaped convicts, runaways from the labor force. Their eyes were always bloodshot and tearful. Woeful may be a better word. They’d sneak little hits of whiskey into black coffee, watching workers cross the bridge on the way to their jobs. Sometimes, when the restaurant phone rang for a long time, the Greek enacted a little drama. He pretended to answer the phone. Then like magic we were supposed to imagine that we were on break, sitting in the basement of Ford Motor Company, playing cards and drinking whiskey. If you used your imagination, you could almost hear the assembly line roaring overhead, spitting out cars and profits.

The Greek: Hello, yeah, George, right…Hey Frank it’s for you…
Frank: Who is it?
The Greek: It’s Mr. Ford.
Frank: Tell Ford I’m busy. What’s he want?
The Greek: Mr. Ford, Frank says he’s busy, no, Figgs is taking a shit… Can I take a message? Yeah… right… yeah…. Frank, Mr. Ford says he needs more cars… He wants us to get upstairs and crank up the assembly line…
Frank: Yeah, well you tell Ford that if he wants more cars that he can come down here and build them his fucking self.
The Greek: Mr. Ford, Frank says he ain’t gonna do it. If you want more cars, you gotta come down here and build them your fucking self! Read the rest of this entry »

Nolympic Dreams: Six months after the 2016 heartbreak, what’s the legacy of would-be glory?

Bronzeville, City Life, Politics, Washington Park 3 Comments »

Photo: Sam Feldman

By Sam Feldman

In the architectural renderings, twenty-one high-rises line the south lakefront amid rows of orderly green trees. A newly built pedestrian bridge arcs over the Metra Electric tracks and Lake Shore Drive to connect the shimmering high-rises to the lakefront attractions, which include a new fountain, amphitheater and swimming pool. On the side of each high-rise is visible a symbol that’s slowly sliding from ubiquity to oblivion: the Chicago 2016 logo.

In real life, the scene by the Metra tracks in Bronzeville couldn’t look much different. There’s no fountain, amphitheater or swimming pool, no sleek new bridge to connect the city and the lake; instead of the rows of trees there’s a mostly empty parking lot; and instead of the Olympic Village, there’s a thirty-seven-acre deconstruction site. All that remains of Michael Reese Hospital’s thirty buildings are a few ruined hulks, several as-yet-untouched buildings, and numerous piles of rubble with demolition vehicles posed victoriously overhead. 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)

Lesson Plan: What the hell do you know about Afghanistan?

Education/Training, Events, News etc., Politics No Comments »

The crowd inside the Hideout is gently packed by 8pm. Pockets of conversation get swallowed up in hugs and the toasts of pint glasses. Twenty minutes later, a young man named Aaron Hughes takes the stage. He’s tall, but his soft voice and earnest expression seem to shrink him. It’s disarming, then, when he ends his monologue with a confrontational question: “What the hell do you know about Afghanistan?”

The backroom of the Hideout is now full and leaking into the bar area. Someone from the crowd shouts out, “Taliban!” Another yells, “poppy fields!” After a few more keywords, there is a decided stillness among the audience, proving what organizers of the night’s event hoped. The general public really doesn’t know much about Afghanistan. Read the rest of this entry »

Unplug and Recharge: Arianna Huffington addresses Columbia College

Events, Loop, Politics No Comments »

Nearly two hours before the night’s speaker is scheduled to go on and yet people are already buzzing around shaking off the weather inside the Conaway Center at Chicago’s Columbia College. A woman directs people to the registration line. A man jokes to his friend about her hair, but she chalks it up to the wind. A trio of adults weigh their chances of getting into tonight’s event. It feels not unlike lining up for dodgeball. No one wants to get picked last.

Two student ushers direct people to the overflow room and tell the lucky ones—those who registered early enough for tonight’s event—that the Film Row Cinema will open shortly. A few men try to flirt their way out of the room and into the theater. “I’ve got overflow tickets,” a man in a ball cap says, smirking. “How likely is it we’ll get in?”

A woman appears in a headset, “You know it’s really hit or miss. I don’t want to promise anything.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Hunt For Equality: LGBTQ advocates protest a suburban bar

Events, News etc., Politics, Pride No Comments »

DSC_1038The cars pull up one by one into the desolate suburban parking lot of Hunter’s Nightclub in Elk Grove Village. Transgender activists and people of all gender identifications dressed in varying degrees of drag step out of the vehicles and start organizing. Behind them, a trans flag hangs from the roof of a station wagon. The protesters excitedly look over talking points, pass around a petition and take a moment to hug and catch up. “You’ve got a beard, look at you!” someone in the crowd shouts. “We should give out genderfucked cards,” says another. The party is hastily broken up, however, when the bar’s manager arrives on the scene, accompanied by a bouncer. Asked if the group could enter the bar rather than be kicked out, the manager replies, “If you’ve got IDs.”

Hunter’s, one of the best-known gay bars in the northwest suburbs, has served Chicago’s LGBT community for twenty-seven years. A couple of months ago, Hunter’s instituted a policy that requires patrons to show IDs that match their “gender presentation.” Read the rest of this entry »

Games Over: A wake at Daley Plaza

Loop, News etc., Politics No Comments »

853755_47726595Barely a foot outside the office on my way to Daley Plaza to hear the final Olympics announcement, and Chicago is shockingly eliminated in the first round of voting. There will be no Games on the Lake.

This is what dashed dreams look like. The Olympic supporters still mingle and sway in the Loop, either in disbelief of Chicago’s quick dismissal or simply weary of returning back to work. Orange everywhere—the Chicago Olympic ad campaign, the 2016 logo, on banners, t-shirts, signs and pamphlets. Some optimistic sign-sporters have altered theirs to Chicago 2020, a “there’s always next year” glow of disappointment and acceptance on their drizzle-pecked faces. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Answer Us

Loop, News etc., Politics No Comments »

October 7 marks the eighth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. As such, an antiwar protest will be held at 5pm by the Chicago division of the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition at the Chicago Water Tower. Formed at a very poignant time in U.S. history, September 14, 2001, the coalition is a national grassroots organization that has been holding demonstrations to end war for eight years now. “A majority of people in the country are against the war. The point is that the money we’re spending on this war should be going to people that really need it,” says John Beacham, coordinator of the protest. “No one understood the reason we went to Iraq. Now it seems Afghanistan is a similar situation. Our message is that it’s the people that are going to stop the war.”