Thursday, October 19, 2006

This Would Be a Manifesto . . .Why I BLoG

[Note: This entry responds to an invitation to participate in Reconstruction: A Journal of Contemporary Culture's issue on blogging. Read more here. ]


“(Blogging) is related to character. If your values are sound, your (blogging) will be sound. It all begins with intention. Figure out what you want to do and how you want to do it, and work your way with humanity and integrity to the completed (post). Then you’ll have something to (RSS).”

--adapted from Richard Zinsser, from his book On Writing Well

I blog because I write. I write because it’s the most authentic and satisfying way I’ve found to explore and discover my world. That’s not to say the writing is authentic and satisfying, but the process is.

Blogging moved my writing out of my journals and into a realm that, frankly, is almost as obscure. Yet, knowing that someone might stumble across a post, that there might be an audience or there will be an audience, changes my relationship to my writing. It makes me sit up straight. Center myself. Try to be presentable.

I’m wise enough to understand that the world does not want to hear me whine, and I’m relieved enough by this realization to have left my journals behind shortly after registering on Blogger.

The discoveries and connections I’ve made with my readers and for myself are their own reward. None of us need require anything more.

This would be a "manifesto" if I were that kind of girl.

But I'm not.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Place Where We Blog

Poynter Online discusses a forthcoming website of "place blogs" called Find article here.

Wrecking Ball as Cover Girl

This week's Time Out Chicago covers demolition and preservation issues around the city. Find articles posted here.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Ecology of Absence on Cooperative Temperance Cafe

Michael Allen tracks the history and loss of the Cooperative Temperance Cafe at 3206 N. Wilton here.

Photo courtesy of Ecology of Absence.

Have you Zillowed Your Home Yet?

If not, you will soon. Zillow is the most compelling website I've seen yet for valuing and comparing real estate. They have more than 67 million homes in their database, and you don't have to register to use it. You can find out what your home (or any home) is valued at on the market, you can see an aerial view of its location, and track its value over time. If you own a home or if you're considering buying one, you must check them out on Zillow.

(Sounds like I own stock, doesn't it? Wish I did. Maybe I should. . . )

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Breaking News: Sears Tower to Relocate to Howe Street

Experts predicted today that the trend toward enormous houses on Howe, Orchard, and Burling streets will soon force a buyer to purchase the financially downgraded Sears Tower and relocate it to Lincoln Park.

Real estate analysts with Coldwell Banker Real Estate Group point to significant economic pressures on the cost of building new homes and the seemingly insatiable appetite of high-end buyers for "bigger digs."

Coldwell Banker revealed the results of their study of 215 single family homes currently on the market in Lincoln Park.

According to the study, the most expensive home is $12 million and the least expensive is $479K. The $12 million dollar home (to be built on Howe Street) will be have 7800 square feet, which is $1538 per square foot. While the $479K home on Diversey has about 1250 square feet, which is $383 per square foot.

By contrast, industry experts note, the Sears Tower was purchased after 9/11 for $835 million dollars. Its 3.8 million square feet sold for $219 each, a bargain over current residential home prices.

Several high-placed real estate executives speculated that it's only a matter of time until a savvy, high-end home buyer does the math and buys the tower.

The tower's bonds, backed by the building's mortgage loan, were downgraded earlier today, heightening speculation that the deal could go through any time now.

Industry experts familiar with the Chicago market admit privately that the the buyer would probably need to figure an additional 20%, or $167 mil, on top of the purchase price to cover the tower's conversion to a single family home with 2,856 bedrooms, 1,438 and a half baths, a three-car garage, and a swing set out back.

Jill St. Jermaine, a spokesperson for The Bowen Group, the leading real estate company behind the initiative to bring the Sears Tower to Lincoln Park, downplayed the need for re-modeling. She emphasized that the tower is very close to "move-in condition" right now.

"In fact, Lazy-Boy recliners and a flatscreen t.v. are being added to the Skydeck as I speak."

The TPWWL Award for Excellence in Logo Design Goes To . . .


Before it's too late. This store recently closed and is sporting a "for rent" sign in its window. You can find it on North Avenue, just east of Elston, across from the Home Depot.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Cupolas Complete (Finally)

Long-time listeners at this blog know I've been following the creation and erection (so to speak) of the cupolas at Holy Trinity church near Noble and Division. The scaffolding finally came down, and they were looking their absolute best two weeks ago for a visit from the Vice President of Poland.

When I asked a friend of mine, who immigrated from Poland more than twenty years ago, whether she went to see the Vice President, she made that "pffft" sound and shook her head. "The Vice President and the President -- twins!"

That's right, they're twin brothers. The President, she said, chose his twin brother as his Vice President. And, she added, "The President has done nothing for anybody in Poland."

"Nut-ting," she emphasized.

Well, at least the cupolas seemed happily ready to see him.

[The cupolas were crafted in the parking lot next to the church, and then were hoisted to the top by cranes just before Christmas last year. Follow their progression via previous posts below:

October 2005
November 2005
December 2005
April 2006]

Well, it worked for Meigs Field. . .

So, I came home tonight about a half an hour ago - at 11:30 p.m. That's p.m. as in, well come to think of it, I don't know what p.m. stands for. But, you know what I mean -- afternoon and nighttime. (Sidetrack to Google: it stands for post meridian.)

Anyway, I come home and two guys in reflective vests are writing parking tickets all up and down my street. And, it's a residential street -- no meters. The car directly outside my house (not mine fortunately) had two tickets on its windshield, and my street does not require permits, so they must have been digging deep for things like missing city stickers and outdated plates.

(More about Meigs reference here.)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

"We Answer Historical Questions for People and Institutions"

The Newberry Library's Fall 2006 public program brochure arrived in the mail recently. And, like all the public program brochures that arrive from around the city, I've dog-earred the pages of seminars I might take if I had the time.

One recurring, dog-earred class is "A Short Course in House History," by Grace Dumelle. She is president of a historical research firm called Heartland Historical Research Service. (Find it here.)

Her site posts some of the questions her firm has answered:

My grandfather was murdered in 1917, can you get more information?
What national magazine featured the plans for my home?
Did a wealthy person build my home?
Was my garage used as a residence?
Who are these other people buried in my family’s plot?

Any body else smell a PBS reality show here?

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Place of Spinach

Well, as you know, don't eat your spinach this week. (More here.)

My husband went to Whole Foods this past weekend and came back with a 16-page booklet titled "Locally Grown" about the local farmers who grow Whole Foods' food. Maybe it was displayed a little more prominently to remind us of the faces behind our spinach and vegetables.

The brochure is quite beautiful. It's printed on recycled paper and features the rich colors of farmland and lovely photos of the earthy people who grow our food. Each team of farmers is highlighted and situated in the place where they live. (You can click through to their profiles and photos here.)

Richard de Wilde on Harmony Valley Farm in Viroqua, WI

James Welch and Joel Kelhma on Avalanche Organics in Viola, WI

Steve Pincus and Beth Kazmer on Tipi Produce farm in Evansville, WI

Jack Hedin and Rhys Williams on Featherstone Farm in Rushmore, MN

Martin and Atina Diffley on Gardens of Eagan in Eagan, MN

The Organic Valley Co-op in Viola, WI featuring the Shepard Family

Herb and Elizabeth Teichman on Tree-Mendus Fruit Farm in Eau Claire, MI

Chris Eckert in Eckert Orchards in Belleville, IL

Don and Anthony Cinzori on Cinzori Farms in Ceresco, MI

Lee and Laurie Arboreal on Eater's Guild in Bangor, MI

Bill Donahue on Donahue's Sunshine Farm in Collinsville, IL
These two events -- the spinach scare and happening upon the brochure -- coincided with my discovering the writer, Wendell Barry, who said:

Wherever they live, if they eat, people have agricultural responsibilities just as they have cultural repsonsibilities. Eating without knowledge is the same as eating without gratitude. What's the use in thanking God for food that has come at an unbearable expense to the world and other people? Every eater has a responsibility to find out where food comes from and what its real costs are, and then to do something to reduce the costs. All of us are now dependent on lots of products, the origin of which we don't know and can't learn.
Food for thought, indeed.

2006 International Coastal Clean-up Tally at North Avenue Beach

Well, the great clean-up has ended and here are the low down, dirty numbers to prove it.

Shoreline & Recreational Activity Items
262 bags
112 balloons
139 plastic beverage bottles
434 glass beverage bottles
59 beverage cans
1021 caps, lids
23 clothing, shoes
110 cups, plates, forks, knives, spoons
748 food wrappers
23 pull tabs1 six-pack holders
20 shotgun shells
405 straws, stirrers
37 toys

Lake/Waterway Activities
2 fish trapping items
3 fishing lines3 fishing lures/light sticks
3 fishing nets
1 lightbulb/tube
71 plastic sheeting/tarps17 rope268 strapping bands

Smoking-Related Activities
5654 cigarette/cigarette filters
5 lighters
92 cigar tips
24 tobacco wrappers

Medical/Personal Hygiene
3 condoms1 diaper
3 syringes
4 tampons, applicators

Dumping Activities
7 batteries
99 building materials
2 Cars/Car parts
1 Tire
Also: 1 sign post, 1 volleyball net, 117 bits of glass, 162 bits of plastic, 12 pieces of “Portafloor,” 8 rubberbands, 2 toothbrushes, 11 Hair Accessories, 8 Bandages, 1 comb, 4 sports tags, 10 pieces of wire

These totals will be culled and added to everyone else's tallies from around the world and aggregated for a grand total through the managing organization, The Ocean Conservancy. (For example, in 2004, volunteers picked up 1,292,154 cigarette butts worldwide and 7,102,030 pieces of garbage total worldwide.)

Please watch for more information about the worldwide totals. Also, please visit to help your great lake even more.

Photos coming soon. Thanks one and all - and a big thanks to the weather gods. They especially rocked on Saturday.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Chicago Moving Companies, Photo #1

Last week, I saw this truck parked in the lot at the Salvation Army on Clybourn, and I knew the time had come to launch a photo thread on Chicago moving companies.

[Have a photo of your favorite moving company? I will send four Illinois quarters to the first three people who e-mail me jpegs on the topic at Please include where and when you snapped the photo(s).]

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

National Building Museum Pushes National Curriculum for Design

The National Building Museum is launching a curriculum today that will help relate good design to math, science, and engineering. More here.

Speaking of Clean Water: News from Debra Shore

An update from Debra Shore's campaign arrived in my in-box recently. She writes:

A colleague suggested this thought experiment: what if we replaced “stormwater management” in every civil engineering text with “drinking water management?”

Brilliant. A perfect Lakoff study in framing if I ever heard one. And, I'd welcome more than just civil engineering texts referring to it that way. I hope all environmentalists will begin incorporating this inspired (and, frankly, more accurate) term into their vocabulary. Me included.

Shore also invites everyone concerned about clean water to make a comment now to the Water Reclamation District. Perhaps even suggest the notion of "drinking water management?"
Comments are due by September 29 and should be sent to
Mr. Joseph Sobanski,
Chief Engineer
100 E. Erie Street, Chicago, IL 60611

Mary Schmich on The Trashy Beach Experience

About a month ago, I invited Mary Schmich, the columnist from the Chicago Tribune, to come to the beach clean-up on Saturday (see previous post about the clean-up here). And, to my enormous surprise, she in turn invited me to do a mini-beach clean up with her yesterday at North Avenue.

Our morning together turned into her column this morning. You can find it on the Trib's site here. And, damn, if she wasn't right that the lake looked like an Impressionist painting yesterday. It was beautiful in a kind of "pewter" way, to borrow her adjective.

Needless to say, I'm very pleased with the piece and am grateful that she gave coverage to this topic. She's got a long reach, and I'm hopeful the article will raise greater awareness for the two deserving organizations behind the event, the Alliance for the Great Lakes and the Ocean Conservancy.

See you on Saturday.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Park Yourself (but not Myself) Underway

Jenny Roberts' great parking spot extravaganza is underway. (See previous posts on Jenny's work here and here.) Check out all the wonderful ways we could be using parking spaces better. Among my personal favorites is Burleigh Kronquist's piece - People Cheerleader.

"Burleigh will have a megaphone and a pompom. He will use
the space as a cheering section, encouraging and praising passersby for their
excellent pedestrianship and all-round human effort. "
Look for him on North Avenue near Wells Street on Saturday, September 16 from 4 to 6 p.m.

See the full agenda here. (And, please note, careful readers, I regretfully canceled my participation. Too much too soon right after returning from vacation and getting my school shoes properly shined. My apologies to all, but most of all, to Jenny for any mucking up I've cauused.)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Vacation is Good. Coming Home is Good.

Well, it' s good to be back. Got my fill of wildlife (viewing not eating) and lots of quality time w/ my family.

(Damn, can my kid play Monopoly. Only in this case it was Canadian Monopoly where our choice of objects to move around the board included a pontoon plane, a moose, a hiking boot, a grizzly bear, and a hockey player. Apparantly the sixth object was lost long before we showed up. Maybe it was a little itty bitty beer.)

Also enjoyed lots of quality time with our good friends the MacArthurs, who are just the loveliest people you could ever imagine and they also happen to build damn fine go-carts.

Now, just as soon as I figure out how to get the images from the new camera to the blog, you will see said go-carts, Monopoly game, and wildlife. And, if you're really lucky, maybe even the MacArthurs.

So, back to work and blogging. Plus, a special thanks to Alderman Vi Daley's office for sending out information about the North Avenue Beach Clean-up next Saturday from 9 to noon. See previous post here for more information. I understand that Vi and members of her staff will be there, which I find really exciting because our beach is an amazing, beautiful resource, and it will be good to share our clean-up information with her.

(Also, to be fair, I want to mention that Vi's opponent in this fall's re-election campaign, Tim Egan (see his website here), e-mailed in early August wanting to announce the clean up and bring a team, too.)

Just love love that all these folks are coming together to help protect this wonderful natural resource. And, if you have yet to sign up for the clean up, please e-mail me at or visit Alliance for the Great Lakes.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Over and out for Now

I'm on hiatus again -- vacation with the family. My apologies to those of you who have been awaiting a post on your fine topics. See you after Labor Day.



Monday, August 07, 2006

The Cost of Water

For the record, I live in a townhome complex of 32 units on the city's near north side. The association sent out its annual report recently, and our total cost for water was $5,000. That works out to about $13 per unit per month. It's so cheap we don't even pay the bill individually. It's just covered as part of our association fees.

It's little wonder that the thought to conserve water in our city hardly crosses most of our minds. When I saw that dollar figure I couldn't help but think of Debra Shore's comment about why she wanted to run for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation Commissioner this November. I've posted this quote before, but I'll repeat it here:

Over the next 20 to 25 years we are going to find substitutes for oil -- there are substitutes for fossil fuels. There are no substitutes for water. It's an irreplaceable resource. And I think the eyes of the country and the eyes of the world are going to turn to those Great Lakes communities that sit on 20 percent of the world's freshwater.
I'm coming to believe that we must attach costs to our natural resources that reflect their value and encourage us to protect them, just like I believe we must attach costs to our garbage to encourage us to reduce it.

Photo courtesy University of Wisconsin-Madison, Space Science & Engineering Center. Find reference here.

2006 Midwest Energy Solutions Conference coming September 27 - 28

You can find out more about the energy conference, sponsored by the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance and held at Crowne Plaza Chicago O'Hare here.

Unfortunately, they say they're interesteed in attracting consumers as well as advocates, utility companies, energy service companies and non-profits, but the registration fees seem to suggest it's really for utility companies.

Friday, August 04, 2006

An Evite for You: 2006 International Coastal Clean-up at North Avenue Beach

Host: Jennifer Roche
Location: North Avenue Beach (By the "Boat")
1603 N. Lakeshore Drive, Chicago, IL View Map
When: Saturday, September 16, 9:00am to 12:00pm
Phone: ThePlaceWhereWeLive[at]

90 countries!
50 states!
400,000 volunteers!

All coming together to help protect and restore our lakes, rivers, and oceans.

Will you join us?

For the second year in a row, I will be co-captaining the International Coastal Clean-up at North Avenue Beach in Chicago. (John will join me as my co-captain this year as Ann Hopkins Avery and her husband, Lance, await the arrival of their new, little beach-cleaner-upper to be. Best wishes Ann & Lance!)

This event began more than 20 years ago when an Ocean Conservancy staff member was appalled at the amount of litter she found on the shores of South Padre Island, Texas. She organized a clean up, and, within a generation, that seemingly modest gesture grew into a worldwide phenomenon.

Please join us. We'll use the morning to enjoy the sunshine (or rain), meet new people, admire the lake, and pick up garbage. All of the garbage will be weighed and documented to help lobby for clean water legislation and raise awareness among policy makers and polluters. In other words, your efforts will make a difference.

This is an especially child-friendly volunteer event. All are welcome. Forward this freely. Come for three hours or three minutes.

What to bring? Nothing, really. We’ll supply everything, but if you think of it, work gloves are helpful to wear.

Who is the sponsor? It is sponsored by the Alliance for the Great Lakes and launched in cooperation with the Ocean Conservancy, which coordinates the event world-wide.

I hope to see you there. It's sure to be one of the last great events of summer!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

California Dreamin' on North Avenue Beach

The pro volleyball tour, known as AVP, came to our corner of the sand this past weekend. It was great fun, and I got out of there without purchasing the requisite footgear: Crocs.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Collaborative Art: What criteria Should We Use to Evaluate it?

What criteria should we use to evaluate socially engaged art?

Earlier this year, in an article for Artforum magazine, London-based critic Claire Bishop raised provocative questions and poked at the critical status quo about the discourse surrounding what she terms, "relational" practices — socially engaged art, community-based art, experimental communities, dialogic art, littoral art, participatory, interventionist, research-based and collaborative art.

I interviewed Bishop about her ideas on the critical dialogue surrounding socially engaged art for Community Arts Network. You can find it posted here.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Gay Games: The Ripple Effect

Chicago is hosting the Gay Games this week, and I've been meaning to post a big hey-ho! to all the participants. Welcome!

At our house, my six-year-old listens to the radio with an uncanny awareness -- as if he realizes it is a sure way to divine the secrets of adulthood. When a Gay Games commercial came on XRT, it prompted his first inquiry on the topic of homosexuality: "What are the Gay Games?"

So, I explained, and let me tell you, when you explain homosexuality in its most basic, uncharged terms -- sometimes men and women love one another, sometimes women and women love one another, sometimes men and men love one another -- children reveal how little of a big deal it is. He had more questions about the events than the idea that love transcends just about everything.

So this morning, we were traveling west behind a North Avenue bus that featured the Gay Games logo. "Mom?" Zack asked from the back seat. "Why are there Gay Games?"

So, I explained about the atheletics and gay people probably wanting to be together in a happy and welcoming environment. I said that there is a lot of hatred toward gay people around the country, but not in our city so much, so they probably are enjoying feeling welcomed and at peace while they compete.

So he thought about that for a few minutes, and then he asked, "Does Uncle Joe who lives on that farm like the Gay Games?"

To which I answered honestly, "I don't know if he does or not."

More thinking time. "I think he probably does because he really likes sports."

Meanwhile, Natalie, my 18-month old, is in her car seat proudly sporting her newly-acquired vocabulary word: "Gay! Gay! Gay!"

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Sign of Hope for a Sustainable America or Daley Taking the Green Thing Way Too Far?

I did a "hunh?" at the library today.

What's up with that? Out of all the crap in my home that could be dropped in a box for recycling, I'll be damned if one of them is an American flag. I'm kicking myself because I forgot to look in the box and see if anyone disposed of one. And, look how HUGE the box is. Woah! Does it really mirror the size of their perceived demand??

Monday, July 17, 2006

What Looper Did on His Summer Vacation

Launched an even more beauty-uss site. Visit his so-real-you-can-touch-em photos of Chicago here. I noticed he also added a link to the new site in response to requests to purchase copies of his photos. Very cool.

Katharine Graham: Ideas about Buildings

I've been reading Katharine Graham's memoir, Personal History. She was the owner and publisher of the Washington Post during the Watergate crisis.

In one excerpt she talks about their decision to move the Post out of its 56-year-old dilapidated building into a brand new one. It's a telling paragraph about the relationship between people and buildings:

Groundbreaking took place in late 1949, and the first full paper was printed at the new L Street site in November 1950. There was a very alcoholic, emotional party as everyone finally left the old E Street building behind. The party -- more of a wake, actually -- was, as someone put it, to "mourn the death of a building" which, with all its inconvenient horrors, was still much loved.
In fact, many longtime employees were less than enthusiastic about moving from the dingy but bustling E Street plant into the spic-and-span newness of the quiet L Street building. The new building doubled our press capacity, while providing modern conveniences like air-conditioning, soundproofing, and a clean environment, but it looked cold and impersonal in contrast to the old. One Post old-timer was quoted saying, "It'll be all right once we get to spitting on the floor again."

The photo is of the building they moved out of at 1335 E Street. It was built in 1893.

1335 E Street building photo borrowed from The Washington Post company history here.

How I Learned to Love the Hot Today

Once I got past the notion that I was probably inhaling nothing but bus fumes and suppressed the fear that every twinge was a bacterium coming to blind me, there is one word for what it felt like to dive into Lake Michigan this evening and swim along the lap lanes at Oak Street Beach: exhilirating. I recommend you try it.

Update: Duh, I was at the Chicago Street Beach, a bit farther south than Oak Street. That's where the "lap lanes" are.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Call for Proposals: What Would be a Better Use of a Parking Space?

My friend, the artist Jenny Roberts, who launched a lovely parking space party this past April, has a new project underway to expand on the idea. (See my previous post on her parking lot party here.)

She recently issued a call for proposals. The details are listed below. Why don't you submit an idea? I'm mulling over a few myself.

Citywide parking space art event

This is a call for proposals for an action/performance to take place in early September (specific date and time to be determined) in a parking space somewhere in the city. The pieces should last approximately two hours.

The only requirements are that you:
1. Use a parking space with a meter
2. Don’t engage in any activity that would be illegal in and of itself

You will “rent” the space(s) by paying the requisite amount for the time. This payment should authorize and entitle you to use the space in any way you choose. Why should cars be privileged? Why should so much space be devoted exclusively to automobiles?

The purpose of these citywide action/performances is to interfere with the monolithic and unimaginative uses of urban space.

This citywide action is intended to extend and expand upon the parking space cocktail party piece held in April.

This is an art piece, but you don’t have to be an artist to participate.

Send your proposal to The proposal should contain a brief description of your project, which can be solo or collaborative. Please include your intended location (by street number,intersection, etc.). The location is of your choosing and can be anywhere in Chicago. Please also let me know which dates don’t work for you in the first two weeks after Labor Day in September.

I will choose the date and time, consolidate the proposals into one announcement, map the locations, and publicize the time and date of the event.

All action/performances will take place at the same time and on the same date. Viewers may choose to attend one, a few, or all of the pieces.

Please send me your proposal by August 12. I will let you know the date and time by August 20.

--Jenny Roberts

Meet Ecology of Absence: Michael Allen & Claire Nowak-Boyd

Out of all the good things that have arisen from pounding away at this blog, nothing tops getting an opportunity to meet Claire Nowak-Boyd and Michael Allen of Ecology of Absence. They were kind enough to meet for pancakes and potato latkes at the Golden Apple a few weekends ago, while they were passing through town.

I'm tempted to write that buildings in the Midwest do not have better friends than these two, but that would be selling them short. They care and wonder about the people and stories behind the places, too. They're smart and passionate and committed to protecting what makes our built environment so special.

And, would you believe they met while trying save the City Hospital in St. Louis? Then, in 2005, they won Cutest Preservation Couple of the Year.

Okay, I made that last one up. But it's entirely plausible, isn't it?

Read more of their good work at their blog, here.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Documentary film by Chicagoan Ben Byer Pre-Release Party to be Held on Saturday, July 15

A friend of the filmmakers introduced me to the documentary, Indestructible. I was so moved by Chicagoan Ben Byer's trailer about his fight with ALS, that I'm now a supporter of the film.

Please join me at their roof-top, pre-release party on Saturday night, July 15 at 117 N. Jefferson. More details, including the trailer, are available online at at Indestructible's website here.

Mess Hall: Exhibit of Chicago's Hand-painted Signs

You know how when you hear about something from three, un-connected friends or respected sources that you realize it's time you look into it and discover it for yourself?

Well, that's what happened with me and Mess Hall.

What is Mess Hall? They're a Chicago-based ".org" who have an entire web page waxing philosophically about who they are here, but, in a nutshell, they're people who care about community, buildings, and glue like you and me. Although they explore it in much cooler, more community-oriented way than I'm able to here.

Like this Friday, July 7 from 7 - 10 p.m., their exhibition of hand-painted signs opens. Here's my entry from Jake's on the corner of Montrose and Sheridan. You can view it and many others at the exhibition which runs through August 6 at 6932 North Glenwood.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Fourth of July Weekend: A Time for Fireworks and, um, Balloonists

There must be a correlation between the rise of fireworks and the decline of hot air ballooning over the Fourth of July holiday, you think?

Here's a photo above of "lady aeronaut" Lizzie Ihling, above. She's standing on a field of launching balloons in Chicago on July 4, 1908. On July 5, 1875 she became the first woman to make a solo flight in a balloon.

Here's another view below of the balloons taking off in 1908 Chicago.

Yup, one good rocket that explodes into a smiley face would shuttle them earthbound in no time.

Photos from the Daily News Archive. Found here. A little more info on Ihling's historic flight here.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Greening the Infrastructure

Two major national organizations -- the United States Green Building Council and the American Society for Civil Engineers -- are currently drafting initiatives, that if approved, will deliver more comprehensive and integrated guidelines to practitioners about how to build sustainable infrastructure.

You can read more about it in an article I wrote that published earlier this month (here) in Revitalization: The Magazine of Community Renewal and Natural Resource Restoration. (And, remember subsriptions are free to those in the industry. Apply here.)

Representative quote:

"(Doug Farr, LEED-ND Chair and president of Farr Associates, an architectural, urban design, and historical preservation firm) said that LEED-ND represents only a first step toward looking beyond the sustainability of buildings to recognizing the importance of context, place, and location. He agrees strongly that practitioners need to stop making superficial gestures -- like planting native prairie grasses next to new highways -- in favor of more integrated approaches."

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The New Yorker Bids Farewell to CSO's Barenboim

Frankly, I don't know much about classical music beyond the fact that Dvorak's New World Symphony is beautiful, Beethoven's Ninth is my favorite, and Vivaldi's Four Seasons makes me happy.

I could not listen to a work and tell you how one conductor treats it versus another. That's why I'm grateful for Alex Ross and his article in this week's New Yorker (here) that explains the touch that Daniel Barenboim brought to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

The only sound bite of press I heard about Barenboim's exit concerts earlier this month was that he got a 15-minute standing ovation. Here's an excerpt of some of Ross's richer insights:

"The performance advertised the fact that Barenboim has left the Chicago Symphony in splendid shape. People always marvel over the Chicago brass, and with good reason: they have no equal. Each time another f was added to Bruckner’s stepwise crescendos, you could hear the gradation clicking into place, and the sound towered ever upward without cracking. But the Chicago strings are also world-class these days. They have acquired that darkly throbbing tone that used to be the sole property of the Berlin Philharmonic. They seemed especially in synch with Barenboim’s roving beat; when he rocked backward on his feet, making the gestures of a drowning man, and then recovered to deliver a punching downbeat, they trembled and dug in with him. . .

During the fifteen-minute ovation that followed the Beethoven, Barenboim went around shaking hands with—or, in many cases, hugging and kissing—all ninety-one members of the orchestra. In the process, an ovation that had initially been directed at the conductor became an ovation for the players, with waves of applause rising up for the longest-serving veterans. You forgot the maestro, and focussed on those who had made the sounds. Barenboim could not have made a more graceful exit."

Three Penny Cinema is Spent

I don't know if it was inevitable that The Three Penny independent cinema on Lincoln Avenue was going to close, but yesterday the Chicago Tribune reported (here) the doors are locked and its owner is out looking for another job.

Apparently, he owed over a hundred thousand dollars in back taxes, and they revoked his business license.

I'm always sad when locally-owned enterprises can't make a go of it in our city, but The Three Penny provided consistently unsatisfying movie experiences. And, I'm not referring to their taste in films.

The seats were like-sitting-on-a-tuna-can lumpy. The roof leaked. You could hear the movie next door when you were watching your own. The films often stopped cold in middle of your viewing, and the floors could be pull-off-your-shoe sticky. Except for the retro-y ticket booth, there was nothing charming about its interior. In fact, it was even a little creepy.

So, I'm sorry to see a small-townish cinema go, but just can't get myself too worked up over it. Au revoir, Tres Pennies.

Image from the Adam Martin collection at Find more images of the Three Penny on their site here.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Exploring Abe Lincoln: Rodeo Abe

Here's a graphic from my ongoing series that explores how the image of Abe Lincoln is used throughout our state and, in this case, country. Here we see bandanna'd Abe serving as an icon for the High School Rodeo Association. Their finals will be held in Springfield this August.

You can see in a larger version (w/full bandanna view) at the rodeo site here.

You can pick up earlier threads in my Abe series by clicking here.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

On Hiatus

Well, it's probably a bit obvious given the lag in my posts that I need to take a hiatus, but here is my official notice. Don't know when I'll be back. Just need a break from the blog. Work, family, life beckon. Peace to all.


Saturday, May 20, 2006

Go West(ern), Young Men & Women

Everyone wants to put a Chicago e-mail newsletter in your in-box, but Gaper's Block's is one of the few I actually enjoy reading. Written by Brian Sobolak, it's called the Party Line. It's nothing fancy. Just engaging writing delivered in a bare bones format. Here's a little sample below.

""Hey Brian -- what do you think the neighborhood is like at Sacramento and Lawrence? Would it be a good place to live?"

That's an email I got from a friend last week, and indeed, Sacramento and Lawrence is a FINE place to live. Perhaps it's me, or perhaps it's the company I keep, or shoot, maybe I'm just getting older, but I've been surprised to see how many people have been willing to move across the unofficial border of hip Chicago, Western Avenue. The masses are teaming out of Roscoe Village and Lincoln Square to settle in formerly uncharted territory: Avondale, Albany Park, even Jefferson Park.

It's funny what a mythical place Western Avenue occupies in the Chicago mind: the big great street that is so ugly that most of the time you just want to close your eyes and pretend you're about to turn. But once you cross it, everything seems distinctly more neighborhoody (cf. Devon east of Western vs west of Western; same for
Lawrence, Irving Park, even Division or North, too.)

Western still is a big border, an edge somehow. In our minds, anyway."

Sign up for your Party Line by scrolling a bit south and right once you click here.

Take a Peek: Evanston's FalconCam

It's baby peregrine falcon season. We know because we've heard mom and dad's screeches from their nest in St. Michael's Church here in Old Town. If you put your feet in the shoes of a little church mouse for even just one moment, it's a terrifying sound.

Evanston Public Library also knows the joy of peregrines as they have a FalconCam set up. Take a peek at their new baby falcon here. It was born May 17.

Listen to the peregrine falcon's call here, but it's not quite the screech I've been hearing.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Winners of 2005 Curt Teich Postcard Archive Competition Exhibit in Chicago

The Curt Teich Postcard Archives (which I've blogged about before here) host a postcard design competition every two years.

The 2005 winning entries will be exhibited at Columbia College's Center for the Book and Paper Arts this summer. Priscilla Otani's digital print above called Manhattan Fairytale was a finalist and one of my favorities, but to the Archive's enormous credit a definitively non-nostalgiac work took first place.

You can find all the winners online here and more about their Chicago exhibition here.

Tracy May: Behind Walk & Roll Chicago

Several years ago, my friend, Tracy May (at far right in photo), left her publishing career to fight cancer. Cancer took her mother's life when Tracy was still in grade school. Now, she's helping to wrestle the bully disease to the ground, and she's not letting up.

She's the head of Chicago's Walk & Roll Chicago. It takes place next Sunday, May 21, along the lakefront, and is one of the largest walk-type fundraisers for the American Cancer Society in the country.

To sponsor Tracy and read about some of the people she's met along her journey, go here.

To sign up to walk in this inspiring event, to volunteer, or to learn more about sponsoring other participants, go here.

I'm so proud of Tracy for her amazing courage and dedication. No doubt her mom is, too.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Illinois Public Space & the 2007 Budget

Jonathan Goldman of the Illinois Environmental Council recently blogged about the proposed budget cuts to our funds for public and open spaces over at the Illinois Enviroblog. Thanks to some great fighting back by organizations like his, most, but not all, of the cuts were saved.

Here's an especially nice nugget of good news:

The Open Space Land Acquisition and Development Fund (OSLAD) was slated to have $20 million raided, but this was fought off. In addition, the annual appropriation was increased from $20 million this year to $30 million for next year! Also, the Conservation 2000 program will receive a $12 million appropriation from this fund.

The full scoop here at Illinois Enviroblog.

Reviewing Chicago's Bike Plan 2015 - (It lacks mandatory banana seats, fyi)

Apparently, the fine folks over at Bicycle Magazine (link here) love us. We've consistently ranked near the top of the charts when they've doled out urban biking kudos.

In their March 2006 issue, they named us the second best city in the country for biking, and they were mark on with their city description and biking suggestions. (Although, I prefer the smaller-scale, personal service over at Kozy's Cyclery above the giant, chaotic scene of Village Cycle.) Here's what they said:

"Why Chicago?: Its stated goal is to be the most bike-friendly city in the U.S. and by 2015 it likely will be; Millennium Park Bike Station; 2004 BikeTown

Must-ride: Lakefront Bike Path
Cool event: Bike the Drive;
Hangout: The Handlebar;
Local info: Chicago Cycling Club;
Bike Shop: Village Cycle Center;

With a city leadership dedicated to cycling (including Mayor Richard Daley Jr., roadie), a remarkable network of bike lanes and racks, and an ambitious plan called Bike 2015 to add even more, Chicago's love of biking will soon outshine its drawbacks-dense traffic, bitter winters and ho-hum rec riding near the city."

Ho-hum? Fair enough. The rest of the article is here. San Diego was number one. Our Bike 2015 Plan (that I never knew we had) can be found here.

Friday, May 12, 2006

How do we build Healthy Places? May 20 Seminar in Chicago Explores the Issue

Via the Center for Neighborhood Technology:

How Do We Build Healthy Places?: Urban Planning, Food, and Health

05/20/2006 — 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM
Garfield Park Conservatory
300 N Central Park Ave
Chicago, Illinois 60624-1945

Registration Required

Join The Public Square at the Illinois Humanities Council and the Neighborhood Writing Alliance for a provocative discussion with the community on how urban planning affects our access to food, our stress level, and our access to quality healthcare. The conversation will be lead by:

Janet Smith, Nathalie P. Voorhees Neighborhood Center (moderator)
Daniel Block, Chicago State University
Miguel Morales, Co-op Humboldt Park
Ben Helphand, Center for Neighborhood Technology

This event is part of Health as a Human Right: A Series of Community Conversations, co-organized by The Public Square at the Illinois Humanities Council and the Neighborhood Writing Alliance on public health and access to healthcare. We will consider not only the challenges of an inadequate healthcare system, but also the way in which issues such as geography, demographic inequalities, food distribution, sexuality, adolescent access to healthcare, and the strains of war can and should inform our larger picture of public health.

Find out more here at the link for The Public Square.

The Feel Good Story of the Neighborhood: Bookstore Receives $75K to Stay Open

Gaper's Block reported on Tuesday that Transitions Bookstore, the new agey incense and yoga-ish independent bookseller in my neighborhood, received an 11th hour, no-strings-attached grant of $75,000 to stay open. The donor was Anonymous, the ubiquitous and most generous person in the world.

More via Gapers Block here.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

University Village: What we got in exchange for the demise of Maxwell Street

Above is a photo of University Village near the University of Illinois-Chicago campus. It was taken by TPWWL reader Steve Vance.

As you may recall, this was built where the historic Maxwell Street Market used to sit. Maxwell Street's demise is a long story, but it was, in a nutshell, mayor-driven.

The Tribune ran an article on May 4 (link here) about how current neighborhood boundaries are shifting along with property values. The article quotes a lifelong resident who laments the arrival of the "Village." She said,

"I can't remember the name of the condo devleopment, but it's something completely ridiculous. South Water Market has such an incredible history,
and it's Chicago. It seems like they're trying to completely rewrite

Visit Steve's full photo tour of the village here. (Thanks, Steve!)

Link to Maxwell Street Heritage Site here.

Blair Kamin: Big Alien Saucer Soldier Field Gets What it Deserves

I know this is a bit late, but the Trib's architectural critic, Blair Kamin, did such a great job writing about the colossal aesthetic failure of the Soldier Field renovation and the subsequent fall-out, that I wanted to note it here.

As you may know, Soldier Field lost its status as a national historic landmark because its renovation robbed it of most of its historic character. Kamin's April 24 piece is a deliciously satisfying, finger-pointing read. Find it here.

A representative quote:
"(The stripping of landmark status) sends a message that resounds far beyond Chicago: Don't mess with the nation's most venerated sites, not if your design is going to make it look, as this one did, like the Starship Enterprise crash-landed atop the Parthenon. The feds won't let you get away with it, especially if they have the power to stop you in your tracks financially, which, unfortunately, they lacked in this case."

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat Headquartered in One-story Chicago Building

Kind of reads like an Onion headline, doesn't it?

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat is located in Chicago (and here online), in one of the most famous single-story buildings in the world: Mies van der Rohe's S.R. Crown Hall at IIT (link here). Perhaps that's why they feel a need to emphasize that they're "not an advocate for tall buildings per se." For them, it's all about if you are going to build skyscrapers, make sure they're worthy ones.

Well, sure. Why not?

Perhaps their half-hearted mission explains their one-story hq and why they haven't updated their online journal, CTBUH Review (link here), since 2001.

Despite these signs of death, what led me to their site was a Wall Street Journal article by Alex Frangos from April 2006 about trends in skyscrapers. He quoted the head of the Council, David Scott, and described the group as "a sort of skyscraper-designer trade group."

I feel better knowing even the WSJ guy couldn't figure it out.

The Architectural Critic's A-ha Moment

John King, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, says that critics should do more than look at "New Works by Big Stars." I hope his peers were listening. . . Here's an excerpt below. You can find the link to the entire article here.

"An architecture critic isn't musing on a branch of art that is tucked away in a gallery or a bookstore or a multiplex or a television set. We're entrusted with the urban landscape that everyone shares, from museums to strip malls and sidewalks to skyscrapers. . . .That's a responsibility -- and an exhilarating one.

Developers aren't likely to lop 10 floors off a building or build the thing out of granite based on a critic's contempt. But as you build your case over time, readers might begin to demand more from the buildings and open spaces that frame their lives."


Be careful out there Ladies: Criminal Sexual Assault in our Ward

Via e-mail from our alderman's office today:

"The Chicago Police Department is investigating Criminal Sexual Assault that occurred on Saturday, May 06, 2006 between 3:30 and 4:30 A.M. in the 2600 block of North Wilton Avenue.

The offender is described as Male, White, in his late 20’s, around 5’9” and 200-215 lbs. Offender was described as heavier set with a large stomach, wearing a greenish color, long sleeve shirt and khaki pants. Offender had a ski mask covering face.

The victim was assaulted after offender pushed his way into her apartment. If you have any information concerning this crime, please contact the 19th District or Area 3 Homicide/Sex/Gang Crimes Unit.

For your own safety, try to be aware of your surroundings. Walk in pairs or groups and, if possible, do not open your doors to strangers. If you note any unusual activity in your area, do not hesitate to contact the Chicago Police Department.

If you have information – contact Area Three Detectives at 312-744-8261 or District 19 at 312-744-5574 and always call 911 to report ANY emergency or suspicious activity."

Now if they only had a quarter of a million windmills to go with. . .

Via press release:

"The Garfield Park Conservatory will host a tulip giveaway in conjunction with the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance. Approximately 250,000 tulips, most of them from the medians around downtown Chicago, will be given away to the public on a first come first serve basis.

The huge giveaway will be held at the Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 N. Central Park Ave., Saturday, May 20, 9 a.m. to approximately 11 a.m. Note that the event will run as long as flowers are available.

For more information, please contact the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance at (773) 638-1766 ext. 14 or visit its web site at:

The Garfield Market Place, a European open-air bazaar that offers greening supplies and unique products, is open Saturdays and Sundays, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m."

Thanks to Nancy K. for the tip.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Green City Market Returns May 17

Another sign of spring has sprung. The popular organic festival of fresh food, Green City Market, returns for its eighth season beginning Wednesday, May 17 at 7 a.m. It will run on Wednesdays and Saturdays through October 28. More info at the Green Market's link here.

Via Inside Lincoln Park.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Sign of a Back Alley Time: Belmont Lounge

It may be Gunther Murphy's Irish Pub in the front (link here), but it's still the Belmont Lounge from the back. I love that the owners haven't torn this sign down.

You can get a great view of it by driving west on the 1600 block of Melrose, just past Lincoln Avenue. It overlooks an alley and the Lincoln-Belmont Library (where I'm blogging from live! right now.) Enjoy it while it lasts.