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The Mechanics

Event Tue Aug 12 2014

18 Groups to Participate in Placemaking Challenge

The Metropolitan Planning Council will hold its annual Placemaking Challenge this weekend, Aug. 15-17. The event, entitled "Old Place, New Tricks," will be held in neighborhoods throughout the city as well as the city of Blue Island.

Last year's MPC Placemaking Challenge resulted in Union Station having a picnic area as well as other amenities.

There will be 18 groups participating in the Placemaking Challenge, including Austin Coming Together, I Grow Chicago, Rebuild Foundation and Groupon. The events will occur in a variety of neighborhoods including Ravenswood, Austin, Bronzeville and Pilsen.

According to MPC's website for the event, they "believe people have the power to transform their neighborhoods, one space at a time."

Among the project is Austin Coming Together transforming an area in the 600 block of North Lorel Avenue into a "Peace Lot," which will provide a space for residents to organize and address issues affecting the area.

For more information on the event, visit the website for the Placemaking Challenge.

Monica Reida / Comments (0)

Neighborhoods Tue Mar 04 2014

Luxury Housing and Gentrification in Uptown

For two years I would go by the abandoned Frank Cuneo Memorial Hospital at Montrose and Clarendon on my way to my apartment. It didn't matter if it was the middle of the day or late at night, I always thought, "That building creeps me out."

frank cuneo memorial hospital
Frank Cuneo Memorial Hospital. Photo by Devin Hunter

After years of trying to find a new development for the site, it looks as though luxury housing will go on the site, a project which will receive about $14 million in Tax Increment Financing funds. This led to protests and criticism from Uptown residents upset with the project.

Historically, Uptown has been a neighborhood where underprivileged people move. This also interestingly enough includes Appalachians, large numbers of which moved to Chicago following World War II. Residents of Uptown celebrate the diversity as it is a neighborhood where you can in one day get Mexican food from a taqueria, chicken from a place that feels lifted out of the '80s and Vietnamese food on Argyle.

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Monica Reida / Comments (10)

Neighborhoods Fri Feb 21 2014

Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards Honors Projects, Recognizes Challenges

Chicago is a city with not only a bustling downtown core, but strong, diverse neighborhoods.

That's what over 1,500 civic leaders celebrated yesterday at the Palmer House Hilton. The Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards (CNDA), now in its twentieth year, has made Chicago's neighborhood development a model for the country to emulate. At the event, leaders recognized successful neighborhood projects of 2013, celebrated a history of community development, and discussed issues that neighborhoods face today.

The event began with a panel moderated by WBEZ reporter Natalie Moore. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and community organizers David Doig, Demond Drummer, and Michael Rodriguez of Pullman, Englewood, and Little Village, respectively, discussed what local and federal governments can do better to make their communities better. Rodriguez began the discussion by addressing the issue of comprehensive immigration reform--"I don't believe we should have second class citizenship."

The organizers questioned the efficacy of the "War on Drugs," explored the unemployment problem plaguing their neighborhoods and the issue of minimum wage.

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Nenad Tadic / Comments (0)

Neighborhoods Thu Feb 20 2014

The Saga of Edgewater Medical Center

Edgewater Medical Center
Edgewater Medical Center; photo by Kevin Zolkiewicz/Flickr

Sitting between Hollywood and Edgewater on Ashland is a vacant decaying building. The building is that of Edgewater Medical Center, which has been closed since 2001.

The hospital has three claims to fame: the first and second are that it is the birthplace of Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Wayne Gacy. The third claim to fame is the reason why the hospital closed.

It came to light in 2001 that Edgewater Medical Center had been defrauding Medicare. Among the procedures the hospital was performing were unnecessary angioplasties, and two patients died from the unneeded procedures. Eventually, the fraud came to light and Medicare decided to stop reimbursing Edgewater Medical Center. The hospital closed in December 2001 after a string of financial problems, left in a state that seems as if everyone up and left.

Twelve years later, Edgewater Medical Center still sits empty, a dangerous eyesore.

During the 12 years since its closure there has been a lengthy debate over what to do with the land. Should the site of the hospital be used for condos or for what residents feel is a much-needed green space?

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Monica Reida / Comments (2)

Neighborhoods Wed Jan 29 2014

Public Citizen: Neighborhood Watch 2.0

Public Citizen is a series about how the people of Chicago connect with their government and their city. Get involved: leave your two cents on our next story about the return of EveryBlock, leave a comment or tweet thoughts to @miketewing.

His neighbors were just robbed. Again. Steve Niketopoulos asked how they were keeping up. They felt less safe in their home, they said. Talking with the police afterwards made them feel even more confused and guilty. Like it was their fault.

Another neighbor told him she came home one day to find a man hanging halfway out of a window. When the police came, they asked why the windows didn't have bars them. She felt guilty for being unprepared.

Steve had heard enough.

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Mike Ewing / Comments (1)

Whittier Elementary Sat Aug 17 2013

Whittier Field House (La Casita) Demolished

As we broke in Merge, the Wittier Field House was demolished Saturday morning. The field house, which came to be known as "La Casita," developed into a vibrant community center after a parents from the community and nearby school demanded it be turned into a library and gathering place rather than demolished in 2010. The parents are now demanding a new field house.

A few photographs from the demolition follow. More information will be added as the situation evolves.

Whittier Field House (La Casita) Demolition

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David Schalliol / Comments (0)

TIFs Fri Jul 12 2013

County Clerk Orr Sounds Quiet Alarm on TIF Overuse

Cook County Clerk David Orr, in a half-hour July 12 press conference releasing his office's required 2012 tax increment financing ("TIF") revenue report, highlighted the enormous amount of revenue siphoned from Chicago and Cook County taxpayers into TIF districts, and called for early declaration of surpluses within Chicago to fund needs like schools. Observing that billions of dollars have flowed into the now-over-500 districts, Orr released a video (embedded below) on the Clerk's website to help taxpayers grasp how the little-understood mechanisms work.

The video's tone suggests a school science filmstrip, kind of quiet in view of the alarming numbers, but this is government, not advocacy. At 2:41, over soothing guitar arpeggios, a pleasant female narrator says, "In most cases, taxpayers outside the TIFs pay more to generate the revenue requested by [their own] taxing districts." TIF critics such as the Reader's Ben Joravsky have hammered relentlessly on this, how TIFs hike your taxes, but it's easy to miss in the video unless you pause.

Orr's press conference was both longer and stronger than the official video. Noting that Chicago's collective TIF districts pull in half as many tax dollars as the City itself, Orr expressed concern that so "many taxpayer dollars are diverted into the Loop," charged that "not enough is being done in the neighborhoods," and that there has been little transparency as to how $5.5 billion in TIF dollars has been spent. He urged Mayor Emanuel and the City Council to declare a TIF surplus this year "as soon as possible" for the benefit of Chicago Public Schools, asking, "How do you explain to the kids in many of these schools that gym, music and art classes are cancelled while profitable businesses downtown ... received 25, 30, 40, 50 million?" Good question.

While Orr's remarks centered on Chicago, they echoed the same requests made by pressed suburban taxpayers for more transparency and accountability, better metrics, declarations of surpluses, and early retirement of no-longer-needed districts.

Overall, the video capably illustrates TIF workings and numbers, whose magnitude needs time to sink in, and Orr deserves credit for shining further light on what is now a gargantuan but opaque component of local governmental taxing and spending.

Jeff Smith / Comments (0)

Neighborhoods Wed Mar 20 2013

Rogers Park Residents Give Thumbs Up to Touhy Park Renovation Plan

A group of about a dozen Rogers Park residents on Tuesday gave their stamp of approval to plans to renovate the playground at Touhy Park.

Michael Lange, a project manager for the Chicago Park District's planning and construction department, showed a group of residents gathered at the Touhy Park fieldhouse Tuesday night a possible site plan for the renovated playground. Lange said that two new sets of playground equipment - one designed for kids aged 2-5 and another for kids 5-12 - will be installed on the northeast side of the park.

Additionally, Lange said, existing equipment for kids aged 2-5 on the northwest side of the park will be refurbished and new picnic tables, a seesaw and a structure that looks like a car will be installed.

All told, Lange said, the renovation will cost about $450,000.

Money for the renovation will come from 49th Ward Ald. Joe Moore's menu money, which is $1.3 million allotted annually to each of Chicago's 50 aldermen to spend at their discretion.

The project was actually voted on by ward residents during the 2011-2012 participatory budgeting process, said Moore, who hosted Tuesday's meeting. Participatory budgeting is a process by which aldermen allow residents of their wards to vote on how menu money is spent. In Chicago, only the 49th, 46th, 45th and 5th wards take part in the process,

Though the residents ultimately gave their approval to the plans presented by Lange, the proposed new play structure for 5-12 year old kids caused some residents in attendance to raise their eyebrows a bit. The proposed structure, according to the proposed site plan, is a spiderweb-looking combination of arches, as well as rope nets and plastic discs for climbing.

Some residents expressed concern that kids might prefer a more traditional platform-based structure. Lange disagreed, saying that he believed kids would enjoy the unique structure.

"Kids can sort of attack it any way they want," he said.

Lange said after the meeting that the renovations will likely begin in late June or early July and hopefully finished by September or early October.

Bill Mayeroff / Comments (0)

Neighborhoods Tue Mar 12 2013

Preservation Chicago's 7 Endangered Buildings (Map)



Preservation Chicago announced its "Chicago 7," a list of seven significant buildings the organization feels are in danger of demolition this year, on March 12. The list includes:


  • the Allstate Headquarters Building

  • the Century and Consumers Building

  • Hotel Guyon

  • the Julia C. Lathrop Homes

  • the Medic Building

  • St James Catholic Church

  • State Bank of Clearing

"We try to narrow down the list to what we feel is under immediate threat," said Jonathan Fine, executive director of Preservation Chicago. "There has to be some immediacy."

The preservation group grew out of a Near North Side preservation rally in 2000 and officially formed as Preservation Chicago in 2001. It has been listing the top seven threatened buildings every year since 2003. Some years, all seven buildings on the list survive, and the most they lose in a given year is two, according to Fine. Sometimes one entry on the list is a historic district, or multiple buildings, such as the Century and Consumer buildings on this year's list.

"A parent wouldn't choose which child they love best and we don't choose which building we love best," said Fine.

Click on the map markers for more information on each building.

Tyler Davis / Comments (0)

Chicago Tue Feb 12 2013

City Mouse, Country Mouse: Geopolitics and Guns

The argument over gun control is not, as some want to frame it, primarily partisan, let alone a battle between those opposed to violence and those OK with it. It's as much a geographic and cultural divide as anything else. Understanding the different perspectives stemming from the very different homicide rates in very different areas is key to overcoming simplistic sloganeering or unfounded assumptions, and is critical to basing policy on evidence. Consider Chicago and Iowa, for starters.

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Jeff Smith / Comments (0)

Ward Politics Wed Nov 14 2012

Arena Thinks Participatory Budgeting Could Expand

Participatory budgeting, at least at the moment, is not what you would call a widespread phenomenon.

Only four of the city's 50 wards -- the 5th, 45th, 46th and 49th -- are taking part in the process, wherein ward residents -- rather than aldermen -- get the chance to decide what to do with $1 million of aldermanic discretionary funds, which are known as "menu money."

But Ald. John Arena, whose 45th Ward encompasses a large chunk of the Northwest side from Nagle to Elston and from Devon to Waveland, thinks that more aldermen could soon jump on board.

"I think it will spread some more," Arena said Tuesday. "I think it'll expand over time."

The 49th Ward has gone through the participatory budgeting process every year since 2009, but the other three are new to it this year. Arena, who was elected last year, said that from almost the beginning of his term, he was thinking about bringing participatory budgeting into the ward.

"I was intrigued by it because it's a very transparent process," he said.

Participatory budgeting is a four-step process. Last month, each participating ward held several community meetings where residents could spitball ideas for how to spend the money. Step two will take place between now and March, when residents who asked to be community leaders will meet to decide which projects will wind up on the final list for residents to vote on. Step three will be the vote in May and the final step is implementation of the projects residents voted for.

Arena believes the process could work in other wards, though he was unsure about whether it could work at a citywide level. While he doesn't know if any aldermen are thinking about jumping on the participatory budgeting bandwagon any time soon, he knows at least one alderman -- Scott Waguespack of the 32nd Ward -- did consider it.

Arena does believe, however, that residents would like to see participatory budgeting expand into other parts of the city.

"I think the city of Chicago is engaged in their government," he said.

Bill Mayeroff / Comments (0)

Ward Politics Tue Oct 09 2012

49th Ward residents pitch ideas for capital improvements

If you had an extra $1 million that had to be used to improve your neighborhood, what would you do with the money?

A group of about 30 residents of Chicago's 49th Ward got to answer that very question Monday evening. The group packed into a room in the fieldhouse at Loyola Park for the first of seven "neighborhood assemblies" to discuss the first step of the 2012-2013 participatory budgeting process.

Participatory budgeting, said 49th Ward Ald. Joe Moore, is a process by which residentsparticipatory49_02.jpg decide how he should spend $1 million in discretionary funds awarded to each alderman (known as "menu money") for infrastructure improvements in their ward. The 49th Ward, Moore said, was the first place in the United States to implement such a process when it started in 2009.

"The 49th Ward has been on the cutting edge," Moore told the crowd. "Every person has an equal voice. It's not just me making the decisions about how that money's spent."

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Bill Mayeroff / Comments (0)

Chicago Fri Jul 27 2012

Either I Just Skewed A Chicago Cultural Plan Town Hall Meeting, Or This Whole Thing Is A Farce

After taking a close look at the Chicago Cultural Plan draft released last week, I wanted to hear what other people had to say about it. More importantly, I wanted to hear how representatives of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and their consulting firm, Lord Cultural Resources, would talk about such a dense, buzzword-filled document to a room of concerned Chicagoans. So I went to Malcolm X College on Tuesday night for the first of four town hall meetings dedicated to the plan, hoping to get some clarity.

The first sign that something was amiss was when I registered and was promptly given a transponder. I was informed that I would need this to vote during the "audience participation" part of the town hall -- nevermind that the implied goal of a town hall is audience participation.

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Jason Prechtel / Comments (5)

NATO-G8 Mon May 14 2012

Foreign Press: While You're Thinking Globally, Don't Forget Locally

The Grassroots Collaborative, a coalition of community groups, labor unions, and faith communities, has launched an initiative to invite the foreign press in town to cover the NATO Summit to take some time out for a bus tour of Chicago's neighborhoods, to give them a true taste of Chicago.

As part of the initiative, they've launched a video series featuring community leaders from Chicago's disparate neighborhoods talking about the community needs that have gone addressed for generations.

Here's Pastor Victor Rodriguez, from the Little Village neighborhood, talking about the lack of basic facilities faced by the neighborhood's kids, and how just a fraction of the $14 million being spent on parties and entertainment for NATO functionaries could change the lives of hundreds or thousands of Chicago children.

The NATO summit is being boosted by the city's leadership with the same trickle-down rationale Mayor Daley used to justify so much spending (and TIF-ing) in the central business district: by making Chicago a "world-class" destination, money pours in and that benefits everybody. Pastor Vic rightly wonders just why after years of these priorities, so little, if anything, has redounded to the benefit of Chicago's neighborhoods.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

Privatization Tue Apr 24 2012

Capital Strikes, Capital Flight, and the Wholly Privatized City

In approving with no modifications Mayor Emanuel's infrastructure trust plan today, the City Council took another step towards ensuring their own irrelevance and wholly privatizing the operations of Chicago. It also took another step towards building up the Mayor's 30-second campaign commercial for whatever higher office he's envisioning (so far, he's got "won the longest school day in the country" and "made the tough decisions to balance the budget"; of course, "took on the special interests (workers)" is a given). They can't be wholly blamed, though. There's little room for them, or any local (and even state) legislatures to maneuver. The corporate tactics of capital strikes and threats of flight have proven their worth. Cities and states have been starved for well over a decade, and now we're reduced to auctioning off what we own to meet our obligations.

In a piece on the Infrastructure Trust last week, I said that it wasn't an inherently terrible idea, in part because there's really no other feasible way to raise the money. Issuing general obligation bonds wouldn't be terrible different, the federal government doesn't spend money on infrastructure any more (at least not in a direct way not routed through private pockets) and the city's wealthiest institutions and individuals are unwilling to pay higher taxes--in fact, are unwilling to pay any taxes that aren't offset by massive welfare entitlements, as the ongoing tax increment financing boondoggle demonstrates.

Taking a step back and considering the broad view, this is an astounding progression of events. Over the last 25 years, Chicago's corporate and political leadership has drained the city of revenue through creation of TIFs as a condition to invest capital in neighborhoods--the whole point of a TIF is that available capital is being withheld until the public provides better incentives for its investment. The billions of dollars diverted into these funds contribute to not only to budget shortfalls but, amazingly, increase taxes on middle class taxpayers, as the school district and other bodies have to raise their tax levy to meet their obligations.

At the same time, the city's corporate powerhouses not only withhold investing capital without generous givebacks, but also threaten to leave if their taxes (euphemistically called the "business climate") are not satisfactory.

The result is a public sector starved of revenue which must then turn to selling off (or "long-term leasing-off") its assets. This in turn, by the way, reduces a city's credit-worthiness even more, making it more difficult to issue bonds in the future and narrowing the city's tax base.

This isn't just random dot connecting; it's actually how investors view Infrastructure Trust vehicles. Consider this bit of finance news from last year:

Earlier this month AMP Capital Investors was appointed by Irish Life Investment Managers to advise on its $1.5bn Irish Infrastructure Trust. The fund is expected to acquire key assets such as airports when the Irish government begins selling down assets to meet its obligations.

And this:

[The Irish trust] will provide crucial liquidity to a sector which has, and will continue to be, squeezed of capital. At the same time valuations for infrastructure assets should be low, given the weak macroeconomic outlook, with BMI anticipating a double dip recession to hit in 2012.

Investors in infrastructure trusts are not interested in helping communities (we, a community, are leasing the assets) getting to a place of healthy revenue capable of meeting obligations and investing in long-term projects. To the contrary; the more a community is starved of revenue, the more it'll have to auction off assets. The more it has to auction off assets, the fewer options it has to raise revenue. And on and on.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

Crime Fri Jan 20 2012

Housing & Crime in Uptown

by Ronnie Reese

Shelly Friede, a single mother of three, looked a high-ranking member of the conservative Vice Lords street gang in the eye and asked a question.

"Are you trying to shoot my children?"

That was seven years ago, when Friede first moved into subsidized housing in the 4400 block of North Magnolia in Uptown. Her 24-unit courtyard building stood in Black P Stone Ranger territory and had been riddled with bullets from a drive-by shooting by the rival Vice Lords.

Two years later, Friede was pregnant with her youngest child, Sebastian, when her family came under fire again. This time, it was an internal dispute among the P Stones as "they shot down the gangway, then shot over my head," she recalled.

The physical landscape of Uptown has changed a great deal since Friede's first run-in with violence there. Wilson Yard, a former CTA rail storage and maintenance facility destroyed by fire in 1996, has been redeveloped to include residential apartments, a Target and an Aldi supermarket. Nearby, a mid-rise residential condominium sits on the former site of the 46th Ward office in the 1000 block of West Montrose Avenue.

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Mechanics / Comments (9)

Chicago Thu Jan 19 2012

City Council Passes New Ward Map

After discussion and presentation of multiple new ward maps for Chicago, the City Council came to a compromise and passed a new map today.

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Monica Reida / Comments (0)

Chicago Fri Jan 13 2012

Chicagoans Voice Concerns Over Remapping Process at Second Hearing

On a snowy Thursday evening Chicagoans filled the Progressive Baptist Church sanctuary for the second ward-remapping hearing of the year, led by Ald. Richard Mell.

At this hearing, a main focus of the evening were concerns over how the 11th Ward, near where the hearing was held, would be drawn on the Map for a Better Chicago, but primarily the problems residents in Back of the Yards face due to being divided.

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Monica Reida / Comments (1)

Urban Planning Tue Dec 20 2011

Regime Theory in Chicago: A Case Study

This week, Chicago Parking Meters, LLC, the shell consortium that owns our once-public parking meters, has sent the city two bills: one to compensate it for parking by the disabled, and one to compensate it for street closures. Despite some lap yapping from the Mayor, the city has little choice but to pay these bills, either in full or mostly-in-full.

The parking meters are bemoaned as an anomalous poor choice by Mayor My Predecessor, and Mayor Emanuel has regularly shifted between jokey anger and sighing resignation as to it. The truth is though that Mayor Emanuel will have his own Parking Meters deal--probably several--before his Mayoralty ends, and that his power to govern the city--to actually govern city, not just move numbers around between departments to create superficial savings and issue press releases--is not a function of his ability to "lead" but a function of his ability to creatively supplicate.

How does Chicago's government operate? The way it actually operates is fundamentally different from the way it apparently operates. The "apparent" part: it writes laws and enforces them evenly. The way it actually operates: it makes up for a deficiency to act on its own by seeking out powerful investment institutions to partner with, offering up its coercive authority in exchange for badly needed capital. Those agreements are the regime we actually live under, not the laws on the books.

The fundamental shift towards neoliberalization of the economy and government at federal and state levels has changed how Mayors and Councils "govern" cities if they really govern them, in the classical civics-class sense, at all. Of course Emanuel, as one of the political architects of one of neoliberalization's most important structural supports, NAFTA, is not a victim of neoliberalization but an important figure in its rise. That fact is one of the reasons national elites rushed to fund his campaigns for Congress and the Fifth Floor.

In the Neoliberal City, laws, regulations, and rules are less important than relationships between political leaders and wealth, or capital. Mayor Emanuel explicitly ran for office touting his ability to "leverage" his relationships with wealthy elites. He even comically justified his immense fundraising from out-of-state and global financial elites by pointing out that because the rich like him, he'll be able to beg goodies out of them for the public.

The regime that runs the city is not about legislation and enforcement, it is about bilateral agreements, where government promises to use its power for the benefit of investment, or capital, to the greatest extent possible. Carving exceptions to law is as important, if not more important, than legislating itself.

The most stark example of this is the "Memorandum of Understanding" between the City and the University of Chicago, an agreement that could usher in major changes to the Hyde Park/Kenwood area, that was agreed upon in bilateral negotiations between the Mayor and the President of the University. The Mayor told the press he was moved to go into these high-level negotiations with the University after the President told him that in China, such building projects only took six months, whereas the bureaucracy here would lengthen it to years.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

Chicago Sun Dec 04 2011

Occupy Chicago Joins Motel Occupation

Visitors to Pastor Corey B. Brooks Head onto the Roof

At 7p.m. tonight, Occupy Chicago will hold its first overnight occupation on the South Side following a general assembly on property owned by New Beginnings Church. The church is hosting the event in conjunction with its own occupation of the derelict Super Motel at 6625 S. Martin Luther King Blvd, which is across the street from its main sanctuary. Its pastor, Corey B. Brooks, has been camping on the roof of the motel for a dozen days and fasting on water alone. He plans on camping on the site until the church raises $450,000 to raze the former motel and build a community center with mixed-use, mixed-income development on site.

Pastor Brooks said that he was "excited" when contacted by Occupy Chicago. "I think that anybody who -- especially when they're not from this area -- wants to come lend support, we've got to be open to that." Ultimately, the pastor hopes that he can play a role mediating between the group and Mayor Emanuel. "I want to have good relations with everybody. We are the church. We're not supposed to be at war with anybody ... We bring about peace."

Follow developments in the motel case on the Project H.O.O.D. website and through Pastor Brooks' Twitter account, CoreyBBrooks. Occupy Chicago is online at http://occupychi.org.

Additional photographs follow.

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David Schalliol / Comments (1)

Race Thu Oct 27 2011

"You Even See White People on 43rd Street Now": Income and Segregation in Chicago

by Daniel Hertz

On a recent sunny afternoon, "John," 25, was hanging out at the Lake Meadows shopping center at 35th and King Drive in Bronzeville. He is a new resident of the city's oldest black neighborhood, formed in the first quarter of the 20th century by southern migrants searching for better jobs and living conditions in the North. John is also a migrant: he moved to Bronzeville from southwestern China earlier this year. And, in doing so, he became part of the slow breakdown in the racial order of Chicago that has been taking place for the last few decades.

It is not news that this city, like most northern industrial metropolises, is an especially egregious case of American racial segregation. Separation was never explicitly enforced by law, but restrictive housing covenants, social pressure, and violence, both random and coordinated, managed to create very real boundaries outside of which few blacks dared to live. Successive waves of migrants following World War II expanded the black ghetto to encompass much of the south and west sides of the city, while the severity of segregation worsened.

But it is less often noted that since peaking around 1970, black segregation in Chicago has been on a slow, but notable, decline. Now, new data from the 2010 Census gives an in-depth portrait of a still-divided city's tentative steps away from the kind of apartheid that earned it the nickname "Beirut on the Lake" in the 1980s. In neighborhoods like Bronzeville and Woodlawn on the South Side and Garfield Park on the West Side, white, Latino and Asian Chicagoans have cracked open the door to integration. Likewise, black families have started to move into pockets of the northwest and southwest sides where African Americans often made up less than one percent of residents just ten years ago. In some of these places, African American populations have grown by factors of two, three, or even ten since 2000.

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Mechanics / Comments (1)

Neighborhoods Mon Aug 29 2011

North Lawndale Quilting Project

The North Lawndale African American Quilting Project was a long time coming.

Described as an "idea deferred" by organizer Valerie Leonard, the notion to strengthen community bonds through the tradition of storytelling and the craft of quilting came back in 2000, when she took a job at the North Lawndale Small Grants Human Development Corporation. At the time, however, she and the board of directors were focused on getting the African Garden Project off the ground, so the quilting — which was to be an extension of the garden project — had to wait.

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Megan E. Doherty / Comments (1)

Public Transportation Fri Aug 26 2011

Growing Pains: The Red Line Extension

by Christopher Gray

Eddie Davis waits in his dapper suit for customers to arrive at Bass Furniture, but buyers and even browsers are few and far between these days for the Roseland landmark at South Michigan and 115th Street.

Business has been down for years, while Davis continues to pay the mortgage on his store and warehouses, which have sold new furniture on the Far South Side for generations.

"As much as I would like to stay in the 9th Ward, if I had the resources, I would move," Davis said.

The days when far South Michigan Avenue was a thriving commercial corridor with competing department stores are long gone, but Davis said business was much better even 10 years ago when a strip mall sat cater-corner to his store.

The mall was bulldozed for redevelopment in 2004, and the neighborhood has been waiting ever since for a grocery store to anchor the neighborhood on 115th. Roseland is completely without a supermarket, making it one of the city's largest "food deserts."

"It has impacted our business tremendously," Davis said. "We need foot traffic. We need people."

An Aldi store may yet anchor that location within the next year, but Bass Furniture could some day benefit from another development: a new El station a few hundred yards to the south, part of the proposed Red Line extension.

"We've been here 70 years," Davis said. "If it takes 10 years for the train, we hope to be here in 10 years."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel campaigned on an overhaul of the Red Line as his highest transportation priority, and within his first 100 days in office, the CTA has showed the beginnings of that process: the agency won $8.4 million in federal dollars to conduct environmental studies for Red Line improvements.

The environmental studies will take two years, and push out the finish line of a Red Line extension until at least 2017, but Joe Iacobucci, a strategic planner at the CTA, said any delay is hardly the biggest obstacle the project faces.

"The two main barriers are finding capital funds and operations costs," Iacobucci said. "We're still a ways to go, but we're still pushing this through as fast as we can."

When Richard M. Daley was mayor, the Red Line extension had to share CTA planning time with extensions to the Yellow and Orange lines as well as a new inner-city connector route called the Circle Line. Under the new mayor, those projects appear shelved, and only the Red Line extension remains active. But now the extension is sharing funds with improvements to the existing Red Line on the North Side.

In the spring, the CTA initiated its "Your Red" campaign, which, reflecting Emanuel's Chicago 2011 Transition Plan, takes a three-pronged approach to the Red Line: overhaul the dilapidated north branch of the Red Line and the suburban Purple Line for $2.4 to $4 billion; replace the rails, ties and ballasts of the Dan Ryan branch of the Red Line for $700 million; and extend the Red Line to 130th Street, through the Roseland neighborhood to Altgeld Gardens, for $1.2 billion.

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Mechanics / Comments (2)

Transportation Tue Aug 16 2011

Talking Transportation with 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett Jr.

By John Greenfield

As "mini mayors," aldermen have a huge influence on the kinds of projects that are built in their districts. For example, a handful of aldermen have opted to use "menu money" discretionary funds to stripe additional bicycle lanes in their wards or to bankroll innovative transportation projects, like the Albany Home Zone traffic-calmed block in Logan Square. On the other hand, they can stand in the way of progress, like when former 50th Ward Alderman Berny Stone vetoed a bike bridge on the North Shore Channel Trail in West Rogers Park.

ald_walter_burnett_jr.jpgAs gas prices rise and addressing the problems of climate change, pollution and traffic jams becomes increasingly important in Chicago, it's important to know where our elected officials stand on sustainable transportation. As one of the city's most bike-friendly alderman and a former board member with the Active Transportation Alliance, 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr. seemed like an ideal candidate for an interview.

The district covers an incredibly diverse area, including parts of Humboldt Park, East Garfield Park, the West Loop, River West, Cabrini Green and Old Town. Last week I caught up with Burnett, who has been in power since 1995, in his City Hall office. He updated me on new walking, biking and transit projects in the ward, discussed how better transportation options can help low-income people access education and jobs, and gave me a few local restaurant tips.

Tell me a little about your experience working with the Active Transportation Alliance.

The thing about Active Trans is they're always looking at "best practices" nationally and internationally and thinking about how to use those ideas to make biking better in Chicago. I went with them to Quito, Ecuador, [in 2008, along with 35th Ward Alderman Rey Colon and other city officials] for a conference on ciclovias [events that close down a network of streets for car-free recreation]. Every Sunday in Quito they bike around the city, and there's so many kids and parents involved it's a beautiful sight.

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Mechanics / Comments (2)

Neighborhoods Tue Aug 16 2011

Chicago's Public Health and Violence Troubles Still Segregated

Chicago has over 200 neighborhoods within 77 "community areas." Guess which have the least access to "basic health resources"?

You probably didn't think of the Near North Side.

A new study by Northwestern University and the Chicago Department of Public Health demonstrate what most people already know: the South and Southwest areas of Chicago are painfully deficient in access to the tools for a healthy life.

The study tracked the prevalence of childhood obesity, breast cancer, HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, motor vehicle injury and death, as well as access to parks, good medical care, and affordable fresh fruit and produce.

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Aldermen Fri Aug 12 2011

Decoupling Waste from Ward Map: Garbage as Politics

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is reportedly steaming ahead with plans to unlink the collection of Chicago's residential garbage (for single-family homes, two-flats, and three-flats) from the time-honored ward-by-ward provision of this critical municipal service, a move that may leave some aldermen equally steaming. The potential $60 million savings in play here from collecting garbage along routes that make the most sense for Streets and San, rather than by political boundaries, should make this a no-brainer. So why opposition? Because, while many think of politics as trashy, in Chicago, trash is politics.

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Jeff Smith / Comments (3)

Chicago Thu Aug 11 2011

Action Now Tries to Help BofA but Member is Arrested Instead

Earlier this week Action Now board member Marsha Godard tried to deliver a stack of violation notices to Bank of America headquarters. She entered as customer trying to receive assistance and help bring attention to the plight of vacant homes on the South Side. Instead of simply accepting them and calling it a day, Bank of America called the police and had her arrested for criminal trespassing.

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Urban Planning Thu Jul 07 2011

Chicago and Portland: Urban Dynamism

portlandia.widea.jpg

Aaron Renn, the estimable Urbanophile from the blog of the same name, published a piece considering what Portland, as a beacon of "livability," means for cities across the country. Renn compares Portland in the 1990s to Chicago in the 1890s: visionary and opportunistic, the "orderer" of its day:

Portland didn't invent bicycles, density or light rail -- but it understood the future implications of them for America's smaller cities first, and put that knowledge to use before anyone else. The longest journey begins with a step, but you have to take it. Nobody else did. In an era where most American cities went one direction, Portland went another, either capturing or even creating the zeitgeist of a new age.

In the agro-industrial era, Chicago first understood the true significance of railroads, the skyscraper and even urban planning. It saw what others couldn't -- and acted on that understanding. That made Chicago the greatest city, indeed the orderer, of its age.

In the late 20th century and continuing to the present day, for cities below the first rank, Portland plays that role. Like Chicago, it is remaking much of America after its own fashion. Light rail, bike lanes, reclaimed waterfronts, urban condos and microbreweries are now nearly ubiquitous, if not deployed at scale, across the nation.

Renn is an agile and interesting thinker on urban issues, one of my favorites to read on big city policy, even when we disagree. While I think the piece lapses into generalization occasionally, he sets up some very interesting contrasts and asks some great questions.

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Whittier Elementary Thu Jun 30 2011

Whittier Update: Two Stories

A story on the on-going fight over the Whittier fieldhouse (La Casita) at the Tribune relays the Chicago Public Schools line that they are being frustrated by left wing ideologues who keep changing their demands, while a piece at the RedEye (by GB contributor Yana Kunichoff) looks at the money involved as they relate to the parents' demands:

$1.4 million: allocated to Whittier by Ald. Danny Solis (25th) from the Tax Increment Financing funding.

$364,000: The money from the $1.4 million TIF fund allocated first to demolish, then renovate the field house.

$564,000: The total amount of money raised to build a new, green field house

$750: Prize money awarded to the Whittier Parents Committee by the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization (PERRO) for the environmentally friendly design of the proposed La Casita.

Priceless?: More than 50 people came out last Friday at 5 a.m. to block the planned construction of the library in the school building instead of the field house and halted the construction for the day.

Reminiscent of the first Mayor Daley blaming all civil disorder on "outside agitators," the Tribune article casts the Board of Education as helpless in the face of irrational leftists:

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Chicago Public Schools Wed Jun 22 2011

CPS Renews the Battle Over Whittier Elementary's Fieldhouse

By Kelsey Duckett

No deal.

Pilsen community members and parents of students at Whittier Elementary School are outraged as Chicago Public School officials have chosen not to honor a deal that would have saved the school's fieldhouse, aka "la Casita."

Whittier Elementary School Chicago - La Casita

The deal, which was reached while Mayor Daley was still in office, would have given community members and parents the chance to meet with officials to devise a plan that would suit both the needs of the students and the school.

"CPS has not been consistent with us, and have most definitely not kept their word," said Carolina Gaete, an supporter and advocate of the Whittier Parent Committee. "With the change in administration, we keep getting shuffled from one person to the next, and no one is listening or allowing us a voice."

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Kelsey Duckett / Comments (4)

Environment/Sustainability Mon Apr 18 2011

Pilsen Residents Lead on Lead

by Cali Slaughter

Online resources providing protection tips against lead poisoning recommend isolating children from sources of lead. As a rule of thumb, this entails opting out of locating the nursery in the room with peeling paint from forty-years ago or choosing to plant grass over lead-saturated soil instead of turning it into the sandbox (the latter typically involving the consumption of large quantities of sand in the form of mud pies.) Recommendations for protecting against lead include efforts as minimal as using duct tape or contact-paper to cover a lead-paint section of the house.

What about when your exposure to lead emanates from a non-isolatable source, let's say, when it saturates your neighborhood from a remote location through our most precious and fundamental compound - the air we breathe? How do we place a shield between ourselves and some as yet unknowable source? Should we duct tape or contact-paper our power plants, construction sites and areas of high traffic?

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Mechanics / Comments (0)

Ward Politics Wed Apr 06 2011

Charts! The Geography of Ward Politics

There are a few assumption I make here and a few things to keep in mind. The first assumption is that voting precincts have some relationship to the community around them; in other words, they reflect pocket neighborhoods whose residents share some common issues and concerns. This obviously doesn't always hold. Another assumption is that the precincts, if perfectly registered and with full participation, would end up near even in numbers. Also not always the case. Something to keep in mind is that individual wards obviously are not like states in the electoral college, so winning precincts is meaningless except as a way to measure popularity/hatred by mini- or pocket neighborhood.

I was confused when I read Danny Solis' quote that he was "surprised" that his contest with Temoc Morfin was so close. After all, it was a run-off, he should have presumed that at least half the voters of his ward were willing to vote against him. Why was he surprised?

Perhaps he was surprised because he didn't expect to do so poorly outside of his base. He actually lost more precincts than he won. Solis' people were certainly reassuring him that his base would keep him far ahead of the upstart Morfin, so unless he completely collapsed elsewhere, victory was assured.

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Ward Politics Mon Mar 28 2011

The 15th Ward

The 15th Ward is the name of a website that I found in the Google Ads here at Mechanics. I had hoped to post about this before the February 22nd municipal elections. I wanted to share this with you now because of the runoff there between Ald. Toni Foulkes and Raymond Lopez.

Here is the introduction on the homepage:

It seems that every four years we come to a decision that we strongly believe may end our misery. We vote. We listen to candidates that pride themselves on Union backing yet neglect creating jobs, pride themselves on involving themselves with youth yet help only a small handful, favor opening businesses solely on racial make-up. We certainly buy into it. Where has that pattern taken us? Absolutely no where. We seem to be going backwards in the 15th ward while the rest of the city of Chicago seems to be moving forward. What's happened and when is it going to finally change?

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Levois / Comments (0)

Police Wed Mar 23 2011

Humboldt Park Residents React to WBEZ Video of "Questionable" CPD Actions

WBEZ broke a big story yesterday, releasing a video that appears to show two Chicago Police Department officers engaging in what the station describes as "questionable" behavior. Standing outside a squad car, the officers allow a large group of men to gather closely around the open back door to hurl insults as well as apparent gang signs and slogans at another man, who is visibly shaken, in the back of the cruiser.

The radio station posted the story yesterday, showing the tape along with some words by staffers Steve Edwards and Robert Wildeboer and the station's Pritzker Fellow Samuel Vega, who first found the clip. (Watch the video at WBEZ's site.)

Vega says he first came across the video on Facebook. Assuming it would be quickly pulled, he ripped the video, downloading it to his computer. As he predicted, the video and the user account did disappear within a few days--leaving Vega the only one known to have a copy of the tape besides its original owner.

The CPD responded to WBEZ's request for comment late last night:

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Micah Uetricht / Comments (4)

Good Government/Reform Mon Mar 14 2011

Time for Participatory Budgeting to Grow?

This article was submitted by Austin Smith.

In most communities, residents who see the need for an infrastructure project must send letters, make phone calls and attend meetings. In the 49th Ward, they simply need to vote.

The North Side neighborhood uses a process known as participatory budgeting, which puts the fund allocation decisions in the hands of the community itself.

In 2007, Ald. Joe Moore first learned about the concept from a presentation by Josh Lerner, director of the Participatory Budgeting Project. Over the next few years Moore further researched the potential to use the process for city funds known as menu money. In fiscal 2010, his ward became the first jurisdiction in the United States to implement participatory budgeting.

SMITH_PB6.JPG

Each ward receives the same amount of menu money, last year that amount was about $1.3 million, and it can be used for any infrastructure projects the Alderman's office chooses. Ald. Moore created a four-step election process whereby any resident who is 16-years-old or older can propose and ultimately vote for expenditures, regardless of citizenship or voting eligibility.

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Aldermen Mon Feb 21 2011

Changes in the 50th Ward: From Devon to the Alderman's Office

This feature was submitted by Alizah Salario

Last summer, Chicago's 50th Ward alderman and Vice Mayor Bernard Stone was contemplating retirement -- until Mayor Richard Daley announced his own.

"I feel it's my duty to come back," said Stone, noting that no matter who is elected, Chicago's next mayor will be a "neophyte."

At 83, Stone is Chicago's oldest and second longest-serving alderman. The days when he chugged throughout the ward in a motor home to speak with voters may be long gone, but Stone's sense of obligation to his constituents hasn't changed in nearly four decades.

Yet the four challengers vying for Stone's City Council seat -- attorney Michael Moses, architect and community activist Greg Brewer, CPA Debra Silverstein, and 26-year-old community organizer Ahmed Khan -- insist he hasn't answered the call of duty during his past term, and that's why they're angling to change the ward's future. Though the candidates up against the 10-term incumbent diverge on the issues, they agree on one thing: the 50th Ward needs change.

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Chicago Fri Feb 18 2011

Stratification and Silver Linings: Chicago's Population Drop

On the face of it, no good can be squeezed out of the official 2010 census numbers that came out earlier this week. Chicago proper saw its population drop about 200,000 from 2,896,016 in 2000 to just 2,695,598. The 6.9% fall seems the topper on a series of pitfalls -- think parking meter privatization fiasco and the lost bid for the Olympics -- that certainly mar the way Mayor Daley had wished to go out. Dig a little deeper into the numbers though and a peculiar portrait of the city emerges, and not necessarily a bad one.

The immediate issue to address when confronted with such unflattering statistics is the problem of perception. Long used as the basic measure of civic health, a shrinking city portends death. Shrinking cities, the thinking goes, are Rust Belt Relics. For Chicago to now hold as many people as it did in 1920, after having grown up as the Chongqing of its day, signals an aura of decline. No city, but especially a city that has worked as long and as hard as to rehab itself into the world's sixth most important center, according to Foreign Policy magazine (and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs), wants to be associated with any form of decay. Decay just doesn't look good.

Yet, looks can be deceiving. America has long associated growth, in all forms, as the common denominator of success. The recession, if it hasn't fully done so already, is teaching us lessons about the fallacy constructed within that reasoning. A whole new school of thought, based upon efficiency, output, and potential, is arising. For many places, the concept of growth (economic) without growth (population) is becoming reality.

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Neighborhoods Thu Feb 10 2011

What Do New Census Figures Mean for Logan Square? An Interview with Neighborhood Activist John McDermott


Photo by Pictofile.

The recently released census data on the changing demographics in Chicago showed dramatic shifts in a number of neighborhoods. The Chicago News Cooperative story last month on the changes focused on a number of striking elements, including an 11 percent loss in the city's African American population on the South and West Sides and the replacement of white ethnics by Latino immigrants in the bungalow belt.

Some of the most dramatic changes in the city, however, were seen in Logan Square on the Northwest Side. The neighborhood, long known as affordable and diverse, has become the "it" 'hood over the last few years, with swanky restaurants, chill coffee shops, and hip bars throwing open their doors faster than you can say "mustachioed fixed gear cyclist."

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Micah Uetricht / Comments (11)

GLBT Mon Jan 31 2011

"A Slap in the Face." Equality Illinois, Rick Garcia & LGBTQ Coalitions

This article was written by freelance journalist Samantha Winslow.

Juan Calderon sips coffee at Café Colao on Division Street in the historic center for the Chicago's Puerto Rican community. This part of Humboldt Park is marked by red and blue metal banners on each end in the shape of the Puerto Rican flag. The café, known for Puerto Rican style coffee and pastries, is a block from where he works at the Vida/SIDA center inside the Puerto Rican Cultural Center.

Calderon begins to talk about why he and fellow Humboldt Park activist Roberto Sanabria published a letter in the Windy City Times, a Chicago publication for the gay and lesbian community, voicing their concern and anger over Equality Illinois firing Rick Garcia, the political director and co-founder of the state's largest advocacy organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality.

"Firing Rick Garcia was a slap in the face to the Latino community," Calderon says.

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Mechanics / Comments (2)

Election 2011 Sat Jan 22 2011

Giving to Chico and Emanuel, by Institution.

Some "people" who give to candidates are not people at all, but institutions. It's a storied tradition in Chicago politics for "people" with names like "29 N. Michigan Ave, LLC" to give tens of thousands of dollars to their favored candidate. Here are some of the institutions that gave big money to Gery Chico and Rahm Emanuel in the race for mayor:

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Election 2011 Wed Jan 19 2011

The Next Mayor's Power Instinct

Miguel Del Valle is being considered the progressive candidate for a variety of reasons. His record of independence from so-called "Machine politics" is considerably free of the spots found in those of Emanuel and Chico in particular; no organizational or professional ties to Mayor Daley. His policy positions on schools and teachers, the environment, and housing position him to the left of the field. While these positions are more liberal, they are also not controversial; meaning that, generally speaking, they are probably not significantly to the left of the average Chicagoan.

But there's something deeper in Del Valle's politics that may warm the cockles of a progressive's heart while simultaneously causing the city's power players, including its media organizations, to tremble with febrile dreams.

Based on his public statements about the relationship of the Mayor to the City Council, Del Valle appears to believe that conflict compels collaboration which leads to stronger results. In other words, by formally decentralizing power so that no one party or institution can simply act-and-make-so, they will be forced to negotiate one with the other on terms equitable to each, and thereby the best feasible solution will emerge.

Del Valle told the Sun-Times this:

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Mayor Mon Jan 17 2011

Who Sends the Somebodies? Building a Mayoral Campaign

The Mayor's race has a settled field. Four major candidates have emerged: Rahm Emanuel, Gery Chico, Carol Moseley-Braun and Miguel Del Valle. Now that they know their opponents, the campaigns are now in a furious infrastructure-building phase based on what their leadership and staff believes is their electoral Path to Victory.

"Path to victory" is a media concept, really, meant as a sort of executive summary of the realism of the strategies of a campaign's communications, field, and fundraising arms (note the absence of research and policy). The realism of a given campaign's path is subjective, and journalists often use poll numbers as a quasi-objective measure of its likelihood.

In big-city politics, these paths to victory are in practical terms processes of growing social, economic and community networks to generate cash and organizing activities -- door knocking, neighborhood meetings, get-out-the-vote (GOTV) volunteers. Each candidate is building their campaigns on these networks, jealously guarding them from other candidates and meticulously cultivating relationships within them.

This isn't about popular support. Candidates will appeal to voters only after they've built campaigns from the ground up; that goes for all the candidates. Despite the simpler narratives, none of these politicians simply flies in with a message and organizational capacity in hand. All of these candidates need to build networks of supporters through outreach to individuals and organizations that will, in the final weeks of the campaign, generate popular support from a voting public that tends to not pay attention until the last few weeks. Despite notions that voters come in foreseeable blocs, they are actually quite discerning, and no one candidate can be pigeonholed into narrative characters.

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Column Thu Jan 13 2011

Children, Too: Chicago HOPES Making a Difference for Homeless Children

By Katherine Tellez, Julie Sammarco and Mollie Zubek

NOTE: Children's names have been changed to protect their identities.

Kindergartner Nina Phillips uses the whiteboard to do her work. Adam Conway says HOPES tries to provide as many learning materials as they can, though says, it's not the ideal situation. Photo by Julie Sammarco

On a typical weekday, Chicagoans will pass dozens of children with their backpacks heading to school.

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Mechanics / Comments (6)

Election 2011 Mon Jan 03 2011

"Old, Racial Games."

Congressman Danny Davis dropped out of the race for the Mayoralty on Friday, endorsing Carol Mosley-Braun, achieving through attrition what Black civic leaders were unable to achieve through acclamation, a "unity" candidate for Black voters.

Greg Hinz, on his blog at Crain's, laments the playing of the "race card" by Black candidates, saying, "Imagine the reaction if a bunch of white ward bosses had met with the stated goal of selecting one white candidate."

This canard stinks enough now for disposing. There are a number of things one needs to imagine before this thought experiment is properly controlled. Imagine first, for example, that white ward bosses represented city residents who made up about 75% of murder victims; imagine next that those white ward bosses represented city residents still living in neighborhoods that were typically 90-98% racially homogeneous as a legacy of segregation; imagine also that those white ward bosses represented wards where the unemployment rate was double that of the other wards. Suppose those white ward bosses were also hearing from their constituents about how the infant mortality rate was approaching Third World levels in their wards. Perhaps those white ward bosses would then have more incentive to work together under a consensus that wasn't merely, "Keep the other race out of power."

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (8)

Mayor Thu Dec 09 2010

Early and Often: Emanuel's Kids and CPS

Chicago's great new local politics reporting site, Early and Often is reporting on the efforts of Mayoral hopefuls Miguel Del Valle and Gery Chico to pin Rahm Emanuel on his commitment to making Chicago's public schools institutions worthy of the ideal of equality of opportunity. Dan Mihalopolous reports:

Almost as soon as mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel balked when asked Tuesday whether he would enroll his three children in Chicago Public Schools, rival Miguel del Valle's campaign fired off a brief news release to emphasize del Valle's "history as CPS father and alumnus."

....

Soon after del Valle's missive...Gery Chico also sought to capitalize on the situation[:] "There is something to be said for leading by example and having a personal stake in the system you seek to reform," Chico said in the statement. "I would never tell a parent what decision to make for their own child, but personally, I wouldn't feel comfortable asking parents of more than 400,000 public school students to do something I wouldn't do myself."

Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

Local Elections Fri Nov 05 2010

Election Day with a Long-shot

There are some longtime rituals on Election Day that politically active American citizens repeat every election cycle. Voters gather in homes or public places on the first Tuesday of November and watch televised up-to-the-second exit poll figures and vote tallies. They arrive at these parties with some basic expectations: their party will win some, and their party will lose some. Hopefully the former will outweigh the latter. If not, they can try again in two years.

A strange atmosphere hangs in the air of such a get-together put on by a party that considers five percent of the vote a victory. No one goes to a Green Party election-watching expecting their candidates to win the majority of the electorate--no one. It's like rooting for the Cubs, except the Greens never even make it to the playoffs.

But Election Day 2010 was different. The party that accepts losing as a way of life thought that maybe they would get to win.

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Micah Uetricht / Comments (2)

Elections Mon Nov 01 2010

Who Cares About a State Representative's Race?

As you may have heard, some people (but probably not very many) are going to be voting on some stuff tomorrow. It's been a wild campaign season locally and nationally, and both will probably see some shakeups. But unlike the fights for governor or senator, there's one tight race that isn't between a Republican and a Democrat and most Chicagoans (particularly those outside of the Northwest Side) know little about: the fight for state representative in the 39th district.

State rep races usually fly well below the media's radar, overshadowed by races for higher offices. This year has been no exception: much attention has been paid to Quinn vs. Brady and Kirk vs. Giannoulias. But the fight in the 39th district between eight-year incumbent Democrat Toni Berrios and insurgent Green Party candidate Jeremy Karpen should be worth watching tomorrow. While the winner will not be the most powerful politician in Illinois, an incumbent loss would result in the only Green Party politician in any state house in the country.

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Micah Uetricht / Comments (7)

Elections Sun Oct 31 2010

No Friends in Politics: Doherty v. Mulroe on the Northwest Side

This article was submitted by David Jordan

It's personal.

Two sons of Irish immigrants, mutual childhood friends from the old neighborhood, are in a close, nasty fight for a state Senate seat on Chicago's Far Northwest Side.

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John Mulroe (next to the young woman) at a party in the North Austin neighborhood in 1979. Photo courtesy of Brendan Egan

Like me, both Brian Doherty - for the past 19 years the city's sole Republican alderman--and his foe in the November 2 election, John Mulroe--appointed to the seat in August after a long-serving fellow Democrat resigned from it--graduated from St. Angela School, in the North Austin neighborhood on the West Side. I am SAS '74, Mulroe is '73 and Doherty, '71.

Neither candidate for 10th District senator--Doherty, 53, a standout amateur boxer as a young man, who started in politics as a volunteer to a Northwest Side state representative 30 years ago; Mulroe, 51, a mild-mannered but tough and tenacious accountant-turned-lawyer, who is a relative political neophyte--is pulling many punches in the bout, which has been heavily financed by both party organizations.

Both candidates, like me, are from big Irish Catholic families.

Mulroe was the third of five children, all boys. The family, like mine, lived for several years in a two-bedroom apartment in a two-flat with relatives occupying the other flat, near tiny Galewood Park, a North Austin neighborhood hangout for countless youths, including me and several of my nine siblings.

Mulroe's father, a longtime laborer with Peoples Gas, often carted a gang of us kids in his station wagon to various sporting events.

On the campaign trail, Mulroe often recounts how he began his work career at age 13 as a janitor's assistant at St. Patrick High School, an all-boys Belmont Avenue institution, where I was a year behind him, just as I had been at SAS, where he later was a director of the St. Angela Education Foundation.

In the 1980s, while Mulroe was working days at Arthur Anderson as an accountant, he attended Loyola University law school at night. Then he served as a Cook County prosecutor for six years before, in 1995, opening a small, general legal practice in an office that is a block from Doherty's aldermanic office, down Northwest Highway in the Edison Park neighborhood, where the senator and his wife, Margaret, live with their two sons and two daughters.

Similarly, Doherty, the third of nine children, was a presence in my youth. My father, the late Jack Jordan (SAS '38), St. Angela's longtime volunteer athletic director, became close to the future alderman while working as a manager for the Chicago Park District boxing program.

At the time, the future alderman was in the midst of his amateur boxing career, in which I remember seeing the slim Doherty out-pound heavier boxers on his way to a 19-2 record and Park District and Golden Gloves championships.

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Mechanics / Comments (21)

Classroom Mechanics Wed Oct 20 2010

Classroom Mechanics Oral History Project: Mark

classroommechanics.jpgAs Mark and I are sitting in a Northwest Side coffee shop, the baristas make the unfortunate choice to blare a Black Sabbath album at a volume that makes it difficult for me to hear myself, much less Mark's stories from teaching. But despite the cacophony in the air around us, Mark is unfazed. A young white science teacher, Mark takes teaching in an all-black South Side high school very seriously; when I comment on the deafening roar of the music, he gives me a look that indicates he barely noticed it. He has given the topic of his school and his students his utmost attention--little can break his train of thought.

A native of a northern suburb, Mark went to school at an elite private university out of state, returning home to teach. He was first hired to teach high school in a rich, mostly-white neighborhood, but was pink-slipped; after substitute teaching for a year on the South and West Sides, he was hired at a high school on the South Side, where he now lives. Several times during his tenure as a sub, he taught at schools where a student had been killed the day before.

In his early twenties, he's about as young as a teacher can be. In conversing about his experiences, however, one could easily mistake his seemingly seasoned demeanor for that of an educator with a decade of experience.

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Micah Uetricht / Comments (2)

Education Tue Oct 19 2010

Where Do We Go From Here on the Education Front?

This editorial was submitted by Valerie F. Leonard

The Chicago Public Schools has been under Mayoral control for the past 16 years. Under the Mayor's leadership we have had School Reform, Renaissance 2010 which called for school closings and reopening them as charter schools, and attempts to qualify for the national Race for the Top (which seems to have been modeled after the local Renaissance 2010 initiative). The changing of the guard in City Hall could have serious implications for the direction of education in Chicago.

The Chicago Tribune ran an interesting article regarding the fact that the State's standardized tests have been made increasingly simpler over the last 5 years. ("Students Can Pass ISAT With More Wrong Answers"). It should be noted that the article does not mention the fact that Chicago Public Schools lobbied the State to simplify the test 5 years ago.

At the same time, the Chicago Tribune's Editorial Board is urging the next Mayor to continue the course that has been laid by the current Mayor, and suggested that the new Mayor keep the current CPS CEO on board to continue the reforms that have been made. ("Reform on the Ropes?").

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Mechanics / Comments (1)

Election 2011 Mon Oct 04 2010

Modeling an Open Chicago: Taking The City Back

This is the first in a series.

They know what's best for you.

cover2.jpgWith an open Mayoral seat, Chicagoans a generation removed from the last competitive election for that office are unsure of their footing. The media is either causing or reflecting that confusion, unsure where to start an analysis of what this election "means," what will determine its outcome, who the players are. Path of least resistance: we focus on the personalities running, the staff they're hiring, the money they're raising. Is this a new chance at democracy? Have we had democracy all along? Does Chicago need a strong hand? Or are we looking for the next Harold? White? Black? Latino? Man? Woman? Gay? Straight? Machine? Progressive?

The cat's away. The mice are frantic.

"Progressives" are eager to make this election a change election, to "take the city back" from what they perceive as decades of corporatist policies under Daley's leadership. Their archenemy is Rahm Emanuel, the insider's insider who has openly mocked progressive leadership nationally and who made a curious insta-fortune on Wall Street after his years in the Clinton White House. And, it should be noted, who made his bones raising money for Mayor Daley. Whet Moser of the Reader directs us to a painfully prescient piece by David Moberg from those days, wherein Moberg by simply looking at Daley the Younger's fundraising deduces that the "new Machine" will be run by big money rather than neighborhood patronage.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Education Tue Sep 28 2010

The Kids Who Fight For a Library

The parents of students at Whittier Dual Language School have been fighting for seven years to get a library built for the school. They learned about Tax Increment Financing (TIFs), they created petitions, they called press conferences. And 12 days ago, after finding out about a demolition order for the field house that parents call "La Casita," the parents decided occupying the field house on school property to prevent it from being torn down, was the only way they may be able to get the library they felt their children deserved. So they've spent the night in the field house to prevent it from being demolished and have started taking book donations (with a great deal of help from Chicago Underground Library) to create the library on their own.

Gapers Block published an article on September 18th and Anne Elizabeth Moore has written more than a week's worth of posts about the parents' fight to save La Casita from demolition.

Most of the attention has been focused on the parents, the sturdiness of La Casita, and the lack of response given by Chicago Public Schools to the parents. But I was curious how much the children at Whittier actually cared about having a library. Statistics show us that kids aren't reading for fun as much as they used to, kids spend more time playing video games than reading, and getting boys to read just isn't going to happen.

So with the permission from their parents, I sat down and talked with four students at Whittier Dual Language Elementary School. Their parents weren't present for the interview and seemed quite comfortable trusting me to talk with their children within eyesight, but not earshot. Most of the parents did tell their children to only talk to me about "la biblioteca." Most of the kids nodded serenely and politely before moving to the playground to talk with me. Raul rolled his eyes when his back was turned to Guadalupe, his mother, and said to me, "It's like she can read my mind sometimes! How did she know I was going to tell you all our family secrets?" He then laughed and said, "I'm just kidding with ya."

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Education Sat Sep 18 2010

Parents and Students Occupy Whittier School Fieldhouse

arms.jpg Several dozen parents and students completed the third night of an occupation of a Pilsen elementary field house Friday night, protesting the planned demolition of the allegedly dilapidated structure. The sit-in has withstood several visits by the police - at one point they threatened arrests then abruptly left after more than 100 students, parents and community members pushed past barricades to support the protesters - and scored the promise of an interview with Ron Huberman to discuss turning the field house into a library for the school.

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The field house of Whittier Dual Language School, at 1900 W. 23rd St., has been used as a center for after-school programs and community meetings. According to Gema Gaete, an activists with Teachers for Social Justice and Pilsen resident, parents found out that the building was set to be demolished in November 2009, when a budget detailing the proposed spending of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) money allotted to Whittier was released.

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Election 2011 Mon Sep 13 2010

Chicago's First Latino Mayor--Gutierrez' Case

Is one of Mayor Daley's legacies ending the city's explosive racial politics?

Given the concerns that the race-based "Council Wars" of the 1980s could boil over again without a strongman at the top, that seems to be a hard case to make. Something that was truly ended wouldn't loom as an existential threat. The Mayor incorporated major identity groups into his ruling coalition using a not dissimilar approach from that of Harold Washington: minority contracting rules, grants and contracts to influential community organizations, and appointments of local leaders to influential city and state boards and commissions. He kept a balance that didn't fundamentally alter Chicago's racial politics, but merely placated the actors most willing or able to intensify those politics.

If identity does come to play an important role in the coming election campaign, years of idle speculation tell us that a Latino is the best placed to win the day. The Latino population has grown significantly in the last two decades--to approximately 25% of the population, when "Hispanics of all races" are computed--while the Black population has dropped by about 10%. Given the Black-brown affinity on economic issues and the prevalence of mixed white-Latino neighborhoods, there is some circumstantial evidence for that view. The candidacies of Luis Gutierrez and Miguel Del Valle could help us walk through whether there is a strong likelihood of a Latino Mayor in 2011.

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Urban Planning Tue Aug 31 2010

Foursquare the Digital Divide

It's been noted that Chicago is perhaps the most studied city in the history of cities. Maybe not in terms of the number of history books per se, but in terms of dissecting the organism that is the City itself. Much of this is due to the development of the "Chicago School" of sociology, where University of Chicago professors Robert Park and Ernest Burgess solidified their branch of sociological study by focusing directly on the urban form. Echoing Aristotle's view of the naturalness of the city, Park remarked, "The city is not...merely a physical mechanism and an artificial construction. It is involved in the vital processes of the people who compose it, it is a product of nature and particularly of human nature."

Park and Burgess fleshed out the above quote to form the basis of study of the human ecology of a place, with the neighborhood acting as the elemental level on which to observe. The Chicago school emphasized, if not an advocacy of the street, a focus on the view of the street, in determining the ways in which cities, and societies organize themselves. In a pedagogical way, Park was trying to examine and exhibit how individuals and their interactions make up a community. If only Park and Burgess had had Facebook to help.

As we fast-forward from Park's work into the present, these individual interactions are literally being broadcast at every second of the day. In an inversion of Park's methodology though, the tapestry of communications is being woven together by the individuals within communities themselves by their various postings on social media sites, blogs, etc., and not so much as an academic exercise in which the interactions of a place are purposely allocated together. As a result, the information doesn't need to be mined necessarily as it simply needs to collated. Take a sample size from a city neighborhood, troll their Facebook/Twitter/MySpace pages, and a good idea may develop of what the individuals' larger community looks like.

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Election 2011 Wed Aug 25 2010

Mechanics on WBEZ

Check out this morning's 848 segment on Chicago Public Radio, on which yours truly appeared and sputtered through an interesting conversation on the upcoming elections.

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Urban Planning Fri Aug 13 2010

Let's Make Parking Policy Fun!

How market-pricing of parking can clear up congestion and make your life better (supposedly): now with fun graphics and cartoons!

SFpark Overview from SFpark on Vimeo.

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Crime Tue Aug 10 2010

The Politics of Watching: Cost/Benefit of the Cop-In-A-Box


[This piece was submitted by freelance journalist Shane Shifflett, photos by Andrew Huff]

Millions of federal dollars have been invested in miles of fiber optics in Chicago and more than 1,000 surveillance cameras to create one of America's most sophisticated crime-fighting networks. There is, however, a problem: No one knows how well it actually works.

Nancy La Vigne, the director of the Criminal Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute, and her team of researchers want to rectify this.

Their conclusion, which has yet to be publicly released, seems unique among the small number of similar studies conducted in other U.S. cities.

"The use of cameras is cost beneficial," La Vigne said.

To reach their conclusion, researchers compared the number and types of crimes in Humboldt Park and West Garfield Park to other neighborhoods that were statistically similar but without cameras. They discovered that for every $1 spent on cameras, the city saves $2 by preventing crimes, she said. By reducing the burden on the legal system society saves money, La Vigne said.

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City Council Wed Aug 04 2010

A Remade City Council and Mayor Daley's Last Term

Is Machine Lite doomed?

Chicagoist's political guru Kevin Robinson reports on rumored aldermanic retirements before the upcoming February 2011 municipal elections, indicating that we may end up seeing as many as nine or 10 new faces in the City Council by next year, to add to the half dozen or so freshmen who came in in 2007. If this scenario plays out, seasoned mayoral allies could be replaced by neophytes, always an unwelcome change for a long-time incumbent executive.

If the Mayor runs again (and I don't see how he can't), he'll almost certainly win, though with a significantly smaller margin, even if he only gets token resistance from a dimly suicidal opponent. That potential challenge will certainly not be what dissuades him; in fact, a challenger emerging will probably whet his appetite and prove he's still got the muscle -- and perhaps more importantly to his psyche, the popular support -- to crush all comers.

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Local Government Tue Aug 03 2010

Introducing the Widget...the EveryBlock Widget

Look to your left. What do you see? Probably the edge of your monitor. Look to your right? And there? Ah! Something new!

It is in point of fact a widget courtesy of EveryBlock, everybody's favorite data liberators. In partnership with Every Block, Mechanics is going to be experimenting with providing hyperlocal news and data for the city and your neighborhoods. We hope that as EveryBlock's ever growing database of, erm, data, uh...grows, Mechanics can provide you with both the microlocal and macrolocal, focusing on longer issue and policy pieces as original content while also giving you the quick local news hits that traditional media was never great at providing.

Currently the widget is set to focus on City Hall, but you can enter your own zip code and get government actions -- such as building permits, liquor licenses, etc. -- and blog and news pieces that mention your neighborhood.

For more on EveryBlock's effort to expand their reach, check out EveryBlock co-founder and friend of GB Dan O'Neil's post at the EB blog.

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Daley Mon Jul 19 2010

A Potential Challenge to Mayor Daley From the 32nd Ward

Scott Waguespack, the 32nd Ward Alderman who took on and beat the fading remnants of the Rostenkowski/Gabinski machine in the Bucktown/Ukrainian Village/Lakeview ward in 2007, told the Sun-Times that he is considering taking a run at the Fifth Floor whether or not Mayor Daley still resides there. (He lives there right?)

Give the man credit. Waguespack has been a City Council pest, voting against the Mayor's budgets, embarrassing the Mayor's staff by doing the actual math on the parking meter lease, and hectoring the Mayor in public about tax increment financing, or TIFs. Management of his ward is another issue; Waguespack has faced on-and-off criticism by his constituents for perceived slips in service in the ward. Still, by announcing a potential campaign to call attention specifically to the Mayor's failings, he's going out on a limb. Plenty of politicians have been ready to criticize the way the city has been run and the "Chicago Way" but rarely call the Mayor out by name. Mayoral pretenders almost universally qualify their interest by adding that those interests are post-Daley.

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Environment/Sustainability Sun Jul 18 2010

Clean Power Ordinance for South Side Plants Gets a National Boost

This article was submitted by Chris Didato.

On Thursday, two national environmental groups, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, joined Alderman Toni Preckwinkle and the Chicago Clean Power Coalition in their effort to pass an ordinance that would limit the emissions of two South Side coal-fired power plants by 90%. At the press conference, held in Pilsen's Dvorak Park, with Midwest Generation's Fisk plant looming in the background, included several aldermen and community supporters, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, and Global Warming Campaign Director Damon Moglen. All gave the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance their support.

The proposed ordinance, introduced by Alderman Joe Moore (49th Ward), would have the two coal-fired power plants in Chicago limit their emissions of "particulate matter" (or soot) and carbon dioxide.

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Urban Planning Fri Jun 25 2010

The Importance of Mobility

Here's a useful follow-up to my previous post, which touched on the influence of segregation on crime and the subsequent lack of political will to attack the problem. The country's most diverse zip code--which is in Seattle--gives planners, activists, and entrepreneurs an idea of what makes a healthy neighborhood, "positive mobility" [via Citiwire]:

It's a big (though frequent) mistake, says Weissbourd, to think of neighborhoods as static places, with a set character to defend at all costs. Even some well-intentioned community development groups make that error, he suggests, constantly working to expand local affordable housing and social services when the growing poverty in America isn't in cities at all -- it's now in suburbs.

The secret to strong neighborhoods, Weissbourd argues, is positive mobility -- understanding that neighborhoods are in constant motion, turning over with people and businesses coming and going. "Neighborhoods need to attract the residents, the businesses, the investments they want -- or they're dying," he insists.

Does the city's planning regime--the zoning ordinance, public transportation plan, etc.--encourage this mobility? Or does it encourage stasis?

This also sounds a bit like a justification for gentrification; but the conclusions are drawn by studying the most diverse--ethnically and otherwise--neighborhoods, not just those with the highest "quality of life". Are we too in love with our neighborhoods, and too willing (or too able) to use the law to keep them from changing?

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Budget Thu Jun 17 2010

Time for Chicagoland Residents to Take Control of the Country's Fiscal Future

An Op-Ed Submitted by Rev. Dr. Clare Butterfield and Herman Brewer

Some experts and policymakers believe our country could do more to prevent problems before they occur. In particular, instead of postponing our response to the nation's budget problems, we should use our resources today to prevent them from becoming worse. New reports show that current patterns in U.S. spending and revenue can't be continued in the long run. Decisions must be made about the goals we want our country to meet and how we raise the money to meet them; there are steps we can take today to prevent fiscal problems from becoming bigger and more costly to fix. The solutions we come up with will be important to all Americans.

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Media Wed Jun 16 2010

What Mick and Ben Said

Ben Joravsky and Mick Dumke, the Readers' star political reporters, had an important piece in the Reader a couple weeks back analyzing the TIF budgets and how exactly the money is dispersed. Much of what they found reinforced the suspicion that a lopsided amount of TIF dollars go to pet projects in non-needy neighborhoods, thus flouting the purpose of the state TIF statute. Interestingly, some of what they found actually overturned some conventional criticisms of TIFs, for example that it was weighted towards the clout-heavy (as an example, Finance Committee Chair and light tenor Ed Burke's 14th Ward received comparatively little from TIF funds).

Here's one important thing about their piece: it revealed no scandal.

In the larger sense of good versus bad government and policy, it certainly could spark outrage. But in the traditional sense of public corruption or betrayal of public trust or even rank hypocrisy, the Reader piece didn't serve the narrative of corrupt politicians swindling the public. Instead, it very methodically made a case that the current policy regime was ill-serving constituents, and did it in a sober (though entertaining) way. Yet even with that sober tone, it was enough to get people's cackles up.

That is the type of reporting that is threatened by the collapse of journalism. Yet, at the same time, the dailies aren't really known for this type of research and journalism--the type that doesn't look for a scandal as a hook, but rather just tries to tell the story of how the city works fundamentally, and make a case for fundamental change. That's not advocacy, that's just stripping the system down, rather than dressing politicians down. It's an important distinction.

At the beginning of the year I wrote a piece, Getting Past Daley, that tried to make the case that focusing on political personalities is beside the point, that the corruption that causes such outrage when it's reported in the Trib or Sun-Times is a result of material conditions and powerful institutions, not the whims of quasi-criminal elites. When we began organizing against the Olympics, we were disheartened by how much people wanted to focus on the Mayor as the problem, when the problem is clearly deeper than him.

Joravsky and Dumke in their analysis of the TIF program actually bust some myths about how the TIF money is spent--it isn't going to the clouted necessarily, it is money luring money, not petty local political clout dominating the process. By breaking down the mechanics of the process, Joravsky and Dumke create outrage out of picayune politics, not sensationalized scandal:

Consider:

About a quarter of all TIF spending, or $358 million, went to a single ward, the Second, which includes much of the Loop and gentrified areas on the near south and west sides. That's more than the bottom 35 wards got altogether.

Approximately $267 million more was spent in the 27th and 42nd wards, which include the Gold Coast and near west and near north sides. Together the three downtown wards received about 43 cents of every TIF dollar spent between 2004 and 2008.

Portions of the Second, 27th, and 42nd wards are in fact struggling economically--but those areas are largely missing out too. Some aren't covered by TIF districts; in other places the TIF districts aren't collecting much money. For example, the 27th Ward reaches into parts of Garfield Park where the landscape is dominated by empty factories and vacant lots, but little TIF money has been spent there.

When we get analysis like this--and it's reasonable to disagree with the analysis itself--then we can start to really figure out how to attack the problem, including the politicians we reflexively blame for everything, despite a rotating cast of characters falling into the same pattern over and over, endlessly repeating.

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Urban Planning Tue Jun 15 2010

The Story at South Works: Malling the Lakeshore?

Op-Ed Contributed by GB Contributing Writer Bob Quellos

Last week, the Chicago City Council approved a $96 million TIF for the South Works development site, the largest ever given to a private developer in the City of Chicago. The plan for South Works calls for the eventual building of over 17,000 dwelling units on the 500-acre site at the location of the former U.S. Steel South Works, near 79th Street and east of U.S. 41. The project is to be run by a development group that includes the Chicago-based McCaffery Interests. The first phase of construction is scheduled for groundbreaking in 2012; located on a 77 acre portion of the site, it will compromise an astounding million square feet of retail space alongside residential dwellings. Decades from now if the project eventually is completed, it will create an entirely new neighborhood along Lake Michigan on Chicago's South Side.

But if you had $96 million dollars to invest in the City of Chicago what would you do with it? Would you build the infrastructure for a new neighborhood, or perhaps take a shot at filling the ongoing budget hole that is wrecking havoc on the Chicago Public School system. Perhaps you would find a way to put the over 1,100 employees at the CTA who were recently laid off back to work and restore transit services that were axed. Or maybe (hold on to your seat, this is a crazy one), reeling with disgust from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico you decide to make a ground breaking attempt to move Chicago away from a dependance on non-renewable resources and invest the $96 million dollars in wind power that would provide free and clean energy to some of Chicago's poorest neighborhoods.

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Education Sat Jun 12 2010

Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE) Takes Over Chicago Teachers Union

A slate for union leadership run by the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) has defeated the incumbent United Progressive Caucus (UPC) leadership in a run-off election, and decisively. Approximately 60% of the teachers voting in the run-off (of a total of about 20,000 votes) chose CORE over the incumbents. CORE also swept all of the "functional Vice President" positions with the exception of one, the VP for "PSRPs", the clerical and support staff in the schools. The mandate for change is clear.

CORE began only two years ago as a caucus of teachers determined to push the union to take a more aggressive and adversarial posture on the issues of privatization, school closures, and to push the union to work more closely with community and parents organizations as a way to protect and improve public schools. CORE's leadership has been especially critical of Ron Huberman and Mayor Daley, indicating that the go-along, get-along posture of the CTU over the last decade will be coming to an end.

CORE forced a run-off after nearly out-polling the UPC in the first round of voting two weeks ago. Despite a contentious election, the other slates--the ProActive Chicago Teachers and the Coalition for a Strong, Democratic Union--quickly endorsed CORE and campaigned among their supporters to ensure an insurgent victory in the run-off. President-Elect Karen Lewis addressed the media this morning at King High School in Bronzeville. The leadership slate is rounded out by Jesse Sharkey (Vice President), Michael Brunson (Recording Secretary) and Kristine Mayle (financial secretary). More video to come.

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Education Fri Jun 04 2010

Chicago Merit Pay Program Was Not Uniquely Flawed

Maybe it was the policy postures of Clinton era--I don't know--but for some reason, this mythology that all social problems can be solved through the awesome force of "markets" and a business ethos has been wholly absorbed by liberals, particularly big city liberals. We can all agree that capitalism has created an awesome amount of wealth and raised the quality of life for many people. Isn't that enough? Do we have to admit the profit motive and corporate governance to every area of human relations? Does it mean corporate CEOs know the solutions to all our problems? Must we be thankful, rather than terrified, that JP Morgan Chase is trying to underwrite our schools?

The little local kerfuffle over the failure of Chicago's pilot teacher merit pay program is another example of petty liberals assuming "seriousness" by just accepting that a corporate approach can solve social problems if only properly designed. Can't it be that some things aren't like profit-seeking entities, and therefore those models can't be transposed onto them? Isn't it possible that some things we as a society want are going to be expensive, big, and not anything like, say, Wal-Mart?

The fact is, Chicago's merit pay experiment failed not because of some illicit design flaw, but because pay for performance for teachers is fundamentally flawed, from its head to its toes. It's nothing new. It's been tried since the 18th Century--yes, the 18th Century--and has failed fairly consistently. In fact as cited in that report, the sole serviceable model--the one in Denver--is even low-rated by its supporters in that school system, who admit that lots of other expensive things are required for even modest improvements.

Here's Cottrell's take:

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Urban Planning Wed May 19 2010

South Shore Developer Lost Property to Foreclosure

Southworks_Field.jpgThe principal developer of the proposed massive redevelopment at the former U.S. Steel South Works site, McCaffrey Interests, lost one of their featured developments, The Market Common Myrtle Beach, to foreclosure last week.

The project--termed, perhaps ominously, The Market Common SouthShore--will feature nearly 14,000 new residential units, 800,000 square feet of retail and residential construction, and a 1,500 slip marina (finally!). Covering nearly 400 acres of a recently industrial zoned lakefront area, the Market Common SouthShore will rely on a massive $96m TIF subsidy and be developed in several phases over the next 20-45 years. The Market Common Myrtle Beach site also used TIF dollars.

Since 2000, McCaffrey Interests has given $27,100 to local campaign committees, including $3,850 to 10th Ward Alderman John Pope, $7,900 to Finance Committee Chair Ed Burke, $2,550 to 7th Ward Alderman Sandi Jackson, and $5,000 to Mayor Daley. Obviously all four of these local pols would have direct input into the Market Common plan.

The City's Plan Commission granted approval to the first phase of the project on April 21st, and the Community Development Commission gave their blessing on May 11--just a couple of days before the Myrtle Beach foreclosure.

Given its scope and cost, the Market Common could end up changing the South Side Lakefront completely. We'll be looking a little more closely at the plans over the coming weeks. A spreadsheet of McCaffrey's political giving is below the fold.

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Urban Planning Mon May 17 2010

Hilarious Change at the Department of Zoning

One of my favorite hyper-specific blogs, the Department of Zoning Oversight Fellowship Forum (DOZ-OFF) reports on a potentially encouraging change over at the DoZ:

Here at DoZ-OFF we were living on a prayer, fed lean from the table scraps left by Zoning, indoctrinated to believe our captors were our saviors. No more! A policy change at Zoning has opened the door for us to get fat off the land, or at least to save us the wait. Zoning no longer accepts walk-in appointments! Since May 1st, zoning plan examination reviews for building permits are scheduled exclusively through the online building permit application process. No more waiting; no more snoozing. No more subversion? Well, two out of three ain't bad.

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TIFs Wed May 12 2010

Midwest TIF Gets a $32 Million Raise

This Op-Ed was contributed by Valerie F. Leonard, a community development consultant on the city's West Side.

The City Council approved an ordinance on April 14, 2010 to increase the redevelopment budget for the Midwest TIF district from $100,500,000 to $132,865,000. This represents a 32% increase from the district's original budget. The City of Chicago's Projected TIF Balances Report 2009-2011 indicates that the Midwest TIF is projected to have a cash deficit of -$6,842,003 at the end of 2010 if every project on the schedule is implememented, and projected 2010 incremental tax revenues of $13,000,000 materialize. The projected deficit is expected to grow to -$7,213,492 by the end of 2011.

Midwest TIF Graphic-Redevelopment Budget.jpg

Midwest TIF Boundaries.jpg

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Aldermen Mon May 10 2010

Alderman Balcer Wins the Muzzle

Last year Aldermen James Balcer covered up a mural that depicted the Chicago Police Department's "cop-in-a-box" lightpole cameras in a critical way. Free speech and public arts advocates cried foul, but Balcer won the acclaim of...well, I'm not sure who, exactly, but probably a lot of people who still use expressions like "damn hippies" and "crumb bums".

Now he's won an actual award for his brave act of censorship: via Edmar of the Bridgeport International, we get this:

3) Chicago Alderman James A. Balcer

The private owner of the property and the artist have a right to some due process before an alderman simply orders troops out."

- Ed Yohnka of the ACLU reacting to Chicago Alderman James Balcer ordering the painting over of a mural on private property.

For claiming the authority to destroy a work of art based on his personal assessment of the work's content, a 2010 Jefferson Muzzle goes to...Chicago Alderman James A. Balcer.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

Education Fri May 07 2010

The Unhelpful Voucher Conversation

Megan Cottrell at True/Slant has decided that the defeated measure to create a pilot voucher program in Chicago has "doom[ed] thousands of poor children to an inferior education." This type of hyperbole, besides being indefensible, has helped make real reform of our schools impossible. No, defeating a voucher program proposed in a vacuum is not what is "dooming" anybody. One reason is that inside of an education regime with high-stakes testing that results in ham-fisted school closures and displacement and punishes rather than fixes problems in our schools, a voucher program only takes students more likely to succeed already out of the system, and--well, should we say "dooms hundreds of thousands of poor children to an inferior education"? No, I think that's too loaded.

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GLBT Thu Apr 08 2010

Won't You Be My Gaybor?

Obit magazine pronounces the death of the Gayborhood.

This is the American gayborhood. If you've never been, I'm sorry to report: It's already dead.

The name is explanatory. It's where gay people lived and hung out, somehow fulfilling stereotypes while simultaneously stimulating social justice. Gayborhoods were born in the second-half of the 20th century in relatively run-down, forsaken parts of cities, away from the establishment that could give a damn about man-on-man P.D.A., and side-by-side with others who found themselves similarly sidelined: the poor, drug addicts, ethnic minorities. Sometimes referred to with the euphemism "artists," gays became the Marines of gentrification, storming and conquering destitute places. Then, unencumbered with the financial burden of Huggie's, ballet classes and lunch boxes, they dropped cash. Disposable incomes turned vacant factories into lofts and abandoned lots into community gardens. They brought a live-and-let-live attitude, a sense of style, and several places to eat sushi.

I have to admit, the two Chicago "gayborhoods" of my youth--Boy's Town and Andersonville--seem to have lost some of their energy, but I'm not up there as much as when I was younger and worked nearby. Are Chicago's gayborhoods dying?

Ramsin Canon / Comments (3)

Budget Thu Apr 08 2010

Participatory Budgeting in Rogers Park Unleashes the Creativity of the People

democracy in real time

The residents of Chicago's 49th ward will vote on Saturday to determine what to use $3.1 million of city money on. The far north side ward was covered with fliers urging residents to vote in what is the first attempt in Chicago to use a democratic process for determining how to use infrastructure funds.

Each ward is given a budget to use for infrastructure, and the money is usually spent by the Alderman's office on permanent items such as street lights and pavement repairs. However Alderman Joe Moore in the far north side ward decided to open the process to the community and to let residents vote on proposals created in open committees.

The Mess Hall, an artist space with anarchist tendencies has a display that highlights the various proposals on the ballot. The space has had extended hours and has been packed with residents hoping to find out about the proposals.

Some of the proposals include: street lights, repaved streets, police surveillance cameras, bike lanes, historical markers, dog parks, decorative and educational bike racks and free wi-fi.

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Education Wed Apr 07 2010

Local School Council Elections

Chicago's system of Local School Councils provide a unique opportunity for residents to democratically participate in the management of neighborhood schools. Unfortunately, they're also one of the most underutilized; LSC elections are often fairly uncompetitive, and public information about their operations is scarce (the Board of Education conspicuously keeps no data on these meetings).

To their credit the relaunched Center Square Journal is inviting residents to get involved and get information about the LSC elections and operations in the Northcenter, Lincoln Square and Ravenswood Manor area:

As Chicago's public schools struggle with tremendous budget issues and as Coonley and Bell Elementary schools are preparing to hire new principals, the next group of LSC members will deal with important issues. Historically, LSC Elections also have low turnout, so your vote can make a big impact on your local school's future.

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Housing Tue Mar 30 2010

Reporter Editor Kimbriell Kelly Breaks Down the Housing Crisis

The Chicago Reporter's editor, Kimbriell Kelly, provided testimony to a joint state and city hearing convened by the Latino Policy Forum and Spanish Coalition for Housing yesterday detailing the Reporter's research on home foreclosure's in Chicago's neighborhoods. Kelly's testimony is a challenging reminder of the depth of the crisis and the long-term ramifications for Chicago's neighborhoods of dysfunctional financial regulations--and not just for homeowners, for renters, as well.

A small portion of her testimony follows; follow the link above, as the text provides links to sources:

Much of the foreclosure crisis that we're seeing stems from subprime lending. Back in November 2007, we broke a story that the Chicago metro area led the nation with the most high-cost loans. We analyzed millions of records from the federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act and found that it was the third consecutive year that the Chicago area held this distinction. Minorities carried the greater burden. Combined, African American and Latino homeowners received nearly 50 percent of all high-cost loans in 2006 compared to nearly 22 percent of prime-rate loans.

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Education Tue Mar 30 2010

Daley Opposes Lifting of Residency Requirement for Teachers

I think the Mayor may have a point about the state legislature's recent action to lift a requirement that Chicago Public Schools teachers live in the city:

"If you say government employees don't have to live here, I guess maybe elected officials don't have to live here, too. You could start a trend. I don't have to live in the ward. I don't have to live in the city. I can work on a contract. I firmly believe that is the essence of keeping neighborhoods strong."

Of course, agreeing with the policy means the city needs to take bolder steps to insure there is affordable housing in Chicago; Chicago has been shedding affordable housing units, bifurcating the city into the upper middle class and the poor. But given the sheer number of city employees, and the fact that city housing will always be more expensive than housing in many bordering suburbs, lifting the residency requirement will result in another exodus of middle class residents--and valuable tax dollars.

I'm not convinced of this position, though--is there an argument to be made that the residency requirement is overly onerous or unfair?

The bill was sponsored by Senator Heather Steans of the north lakefront. Below is the roll call vote.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (5)

Education Fri Mar 26 2010

Jitu Brown and Pauline Lipman on Democracy Now

...and they're talking about Arne Duncan. And they are not particularly fond of him. Jitu Brown of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization is always great. Pauline Lipman is an academic from UIC.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

Labor & Worker Rights Mon Mar 22 2010

Pete's Market and Workers Rights

When Raul Real decided he and his co-workers needed a union, he knew his bosses wouldn't be happy. He didn't realize, however, that his organizing would eventually cost him his job and lead to his arrest at his former place of employment.

Real is one of a number of former workers at the Chicagloand grocer Pete's Fresh Market who are levying charges against the company including firings for union activity, threats based on immigration status, and gender and pregnancy discrimination. Company officials say they have engaged in no wrongdoing, and that the majority of workers have no desire to be represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 881.

But workers who claim the company abused them have begun to speak out, pressuring the company to recognize the union. Real claims his organizing first led to his firing, and that his participation in a recent protest at a southwest side Pete's resulted in his arrest.

IMG_2980.JPG

Continue reading this entry »

Micah Uetricht / Comments (12)

Daley Fri Mar 12 2010

Hell Hath No Fury Like the Reader Scorned

Not long ago, Mayor Daley's press office unceremoniously denied the Reader's entreaties to sit down with them for an interview that might actually force him to answer some of their many, many pieces on his administration and its shortcomings:

Mick,

We respectfully decline your request for an interview.

Thank you.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Urban Planning Tue Mar 09 2010

Why Shouldn't You Pay for Parking?

I've spent the last couple days reading studies and articles on the changing attitudes towards parking policies and zoning regulations, in favor of encouraging sustainability, walkability, and public transit. The case is made over and over again that parking is artificially cheap in big cities--particularly in Chicago--because of the way zoning regulations are written requiring parking be allocated as a ratio to square footage, and the general nature of parking meter costs (i.e., they aren't priced by market forces).

The idea is parking should be more expensive to make it more available (i.e., it'll be easier to find a spot), and to encourage people to make "active transportation" choices. Ideally, the increased revenues generated would be put directly into promoting bikeability and walkability as well as public transportation. This would need to be matched with zoning regulations that take away the incentive to build parking structures that encourage sprawl.

So my question to you all is: should the City of Chicago pursue a policy of making parking prohibitively expensive for most people in order to encourage "better" behavior? Should we encourage "the market" to determine parking costs?

Or would that just piss you off?

Ramsin Canon / Comments (9)

Neighborhoods Mon Mar 01 2010

How to End Cheap Parking

Should government planning policies be aimed at slowly phasing out cheap parking, to force cities to plan for efficiency and redundantly, and drive up demand for public transportation to ensure its continued expansion? Here's what one California legislator is trying to do (via GOOD):

California state senator Alan Lowenthal has stirred up a nest of idiots hornets with his Senate Bill 518. Lowenthal, recognizing that providing lots of subsidized parking is only enabling our addiction to cars, has introduced legislation that would incentivize cities to start reforming their parking rules.

His legislation would work like this: There's a buffet of different parking reforms, and each is worth a different number of points. A city can choose whichever reforms it wants to enact and if their points total reaches 20, it gets an edge in getting state funding. The reforms are wide-ranging. A city could, for example, install parking meters in high-demand areas (five points), raise parking meter rates to reflect market prices (10 points), or entirely scrap the requirements that new residential buildings come with a minimum number of parking spaces (20 points). You can see all the reforms and their point values here.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Economic Development Fri Feb 19 2010

A Real Solution to the Food Desert Problem

Food deserts have become a concern du jour our city's political establishment, as the Big Blue Beast from Bentonville uses their existence as an excuse to bigfoot the retail market in Chicagoland. In previous posts I've argued that while food deserts are a problem, inviting in a corporate actor that tends to drive down wages and liquidate competitors (thus potentially just displacing food deserts) not to mention send profits back out of state isn't necessarily the best solution. Why not use some of that $70-million-for-the-Olympic-bid style muscle to raise funds for a program to encourage local entrepreneurs to step up and fill the need in the market, with proper quality and wage controls?

Turns out, according to Urban Farm Hub, Philadelphia has just done that--and fairly cheaply:

Brianna Sandoval of The Food Trust, based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, discussed the need for understanding the needs of food retailers. In the Fresh Food Financing Initiative, a $120 million funding pool created by public-private partnership provides incentives to operators to open shops in areas where they might not otherwise have done business. Businesses have to be located in low or moderate income census tracts and areas considered underserved based on size of businesses and proximity from other stores.

Programs also aim to improve access to healthy food in existing stores. In one case study, a local store increased sales from five types of fruits and vegetables to 20 types, and moved the fresh food to become the centerpiece of the renovated store. In another example, small refrigeration units for fresh fruit salads were added to a network of 40 corner stores. This change also resulted in new jobs as entrepreneurs moved in to provide the packing and distribution of the fruit salads.

All of these programs demonstrate the financial pay-offs of integrating community food systems into a city or region's economic development plans.

These are the types of solutions that would win the support and involvement of local residents--not to mention that they would likely come from locals if they had a real opportunity to participate in governing their city. Instead, they are just encouraged to beg for whatever meager jobs megacorporations are willing to dole out (that is, when those megacorporations aren't just fabricating that support).

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Chicagoland Fri Feb 05 2010

Now What? Taking on the Southwest Side Machine

I'm not entirely sure how I should feel after Tuesday's elections. Over a year of work on behalf of Rudy Lozano's state legislative campaign culminated in the single most bizarre Election Day I've ever experienced. Being there, at the Strohacker Park Field House at 4am on that snowy Tuesday morning was just the latest in a long list of "being there" days. Being there meant endless meetings plotting strategy, developing platforms, and setting up committees and what not to get the petition drive going. Being there meant the thrill of hearing words I wrote delivered in front of over 300 volunteers and supporters at Little Village High School on a warm August evening. Being there that day also meant having to go to the bathroom for 2 hours while collecting signatures and singing every Billy Idol song I knew waiting for the light at 25th and Pulaski to turn green before I wet myself. Being there meant days when we had big groups of volunteers knocking on doors for signatures and nights when it was just me, my 6 month old in a Baby Bjorn and Manny walking around Archer Heights. It was about late nights updating databases, running over to the Chicago Board elections for data CDs and ultimately, serving as a precinct captain on Election Day.

Continue reading this entry »

Jacob Lesniewski / Comments (5)

Chicago Tue Jan 26 2010

Chicagoist Reporting on Front Group

Hey guys? Why don't bloggers do real journalism? Did you know the end of the world is coming because reporting is impossible to do from your pajamas in a basement? Cell phone reception is terrible in basements, and the footys on your pajamas make it hard to put on shoes.

Yet Kevin Robinson of the Chicagoist decided to not just swallow at face value the suspicious looking pro-Beast of Bentonville "community group" that is agitating for the super retailer to come to town--and which regularly sends commenters out and about to accuse everybody else of being outsiders who don't care about food deserts. He did some digging and voila--found that it was in fact a corporate front group. He also did all this while adhering to self-imposed ethical standards, too.

This revelation could end up undermining the company's claim to organic support for the duration of their fight to take over the Chicago retail market.

Go read Kevin's work, which I don't want to quote at length.

Mechanics

Neighborhoods Mon Jan 25 2010

Digital Divides the Neighborhoods

Htun-Htun Thing (pronounced: toon-toon ting), a 16-year-old refugee from Burma, spent a recent Sunday afternoon chatting with friends online. His friends are in New York and Florida, Australia and Kuala Lumpur -- anyplace that has taken in members of the ethnic Chin population who have fled the country in the face of human rights violations. Communication is filtered through the standard QWERTY keyboard, so not only are Htun Htun and his friends connecting and preserving a sense of community, they're also becoming more literate, strengthening their written and spoken English with every keystroke, whether they realize it or not. He lives on the North Side of the city, in Albany Park, a neighborhood scattered with immigrant populations from Sarajevo to Seoul, and where broadband access is plentiful.

When Htun Htun was done talking to friends on Sunday, his 10-year-old brother Jacob used the computer to stream episodes of "South Park" online. Later, they used Google and YouTube to teach me about Burma and the Chin population there. Like most people reading this, they know how to search for and find information online.

But just a couple miles to the south, in Humboldt Park and Pilsen, the computer access and fiber optic networks that connect much of the North Side to the opportunities inherent in Web 2.0 dry up. Mexican-born Alfonso Vargas doesn't have a computer or an internet connection. More importantly, he doesn't see the benefit to be gained by having either. He travels from the Humboldt Park studio he shares with his brother and cousin to Truman College, in Lakeview, four days a week for English classes and works in a kitchen in the Loop. "The job is good," he says, "but I need something more. More hours, more money." He makes $8 an hour and found the job by walking the Loop and filling out applications; he has no idea there's a website of classified ads listing jobs by the hundreds, or that he could learn and practice English from his couch, saving on the bus fare to Lakeview.

Continue reading this entry »

Danny Fenster / Comments (1)

Education Tue Jan 19 2010

Chicago Board of Ed Hit List Released

Via Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE), the hit list of CPS schools as Ren 2010 marches on (more on that later):

CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOLS TARGETED FOR CLOSING:
* Curtis Elementary, 32 E. 115th
* Guggenheim Elementary, 7141 S. Morgan
* Prescott Elementary, 1632 W. Wrightwood.
* Las Casas Occupational High School, 8401 S. Saginaw.

TARGETED FOR ACADEMIC TURNAROUND:
* Ruggles Elementary, 7831 S. Prairie
* Gillespie Elementary, 9301 S. State
* Deneen Elementary, 7257 S. State
* Phillips High School, 244 E. Pershing
* Marshall High School, 3250 W. Adams

TARGETED FOR CONSOLIDATION:
* McCorkle Elementary, 4421 S. State
* Paderewski Elementary, 2221 S. Lawndale
* Marconi Elementary, 230 N. Kolmar
* Mollison Elementary, 4415 S. King Dr.

TARGETED FOR PHASE-OUT:
* Schneider Elementary, 2957 N. Hoyne

Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

Media Tue Jan 19 2010

Center Square Ledger Launches Today

Last year, political consultant and occasional Mechanics contributor Mike Fourcher and former Chicagoist, TimeOut Chicago, and current Playboy editor (though not strictly speaking a playboy editor) Scott Smith organized the Chicago Media Future Conference to help new and traditional media types get their bearings and at least begin to talk about what the media was going to look like in the future.

Fourcher may know: today, along with Patrick Boylan, he is officially launching the Center Square Ledger, "Your Definitive Neighborhood Guide to North Center, Lincoln Square and Ravenswood Manor".

There are some "microlocal" (or "hyperlocal" depending on your preference) political stories there: specifically about the heated Madigan-Steans state Senate race. As local politics bleeds out of the large media outlets, local media like the Ledger will be the only place to get verified "news" (as opposed to message board or forum gossip) about these kinds of street fights. At least, that's the thinking: the reality is that the Sun-Times and the Tribune haven't been covering these kinds of politics for years, and not without good reason.

Neighborhood papers have always existed, and always provided coverage of these local street level politics that are of interest to a pretty narrow group of people. But as reporting talent drifts away from the big institutions and spreads itself across the web, outlets like the Ledger may end up not only picking up where shrinking traditional political media left off, but actually creating something new: a new strata of good political journalism at a level of focus we've never really had, and infinite availability.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Feature

How Lawsuits, Lobbyists and Parking Meter Deals Led to Ventra

By Jason Prechtel / 2 Comments

Cubic learned early on that if you don't win a contract through bidding, there are other ways to prevail. More...

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Classroom Mechanics Oral History Project



About Mechanics

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Editor: Monica Reida, mr@gapersblock.com
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