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Monday, January 23, 2012

The Logan Square beat

Posted By on 01.23.12 at 11:00 AM

At the beginning of December, Gapers Block made a short, one-sentence post calling out the new Logan Square-focused blog, chiboulevards.com. Being a proud Logan Square resident and supporter, I quickly followed the link to bookmark the page. I've been a regular to the site ever since.

Adrian (AJ) LaTrace, 25, began the blog in mid-November and has been populating it with news about the neighborhood and its immediate surrounding areas. Posts range from quick hits like restaurant openings and photos from the site's Flickr pool to meatier, more-substantial topics like the Logan Theatre renovation and, yes, the brand-spanking-new ward map.

I talked with AJ on the phone last Thursday about his motivations for the blog, the ever-changing neighborhood, and general Logan Square chatter:

I consider myself a kind of Logan Square enthusiast and someone who appreciates knowing what's happening in the neighborhood. You're the same way, I assume? What was your inspiration?

Primarily, I’m the same as you. I'm really interested in general Logan Square activities, but also some of the aldermanic issues.

I've noticed the site has a bit more content on it now.

Yeah, and especially considering the City Council passed a new ward map within the past hour, that’s pretty relevant to what’s going on in Logan Square. But I guess the main reason to do it is just that there’s a lot of other Chicago-centric blogs out there. And then there’s aggregators too, like Windy Citizen, but nothing that was really focusing directly on Logan Square stuff. And it's a neighborhood where there’s a lot going on.

There’s a lot of turnover in the neighborhood, so that’s why the site's worth checking out—something new is always opening.

And not only that, the people who live in Logan Square are very community-oriented people. The folks who move to the area or open a business are there to stay. They’re really investing in the neighborhood. Yeah, so I wanted to focus on the Logan area, but I think as I go on I’d like to incorporate more of Avondale and Humboldt Park.

Those neighborhoods are obviously integral.

Exactly. The main theme of the blog and I guess the initial concept was kind of following the historic boulevard system all the way down. Steve from Grid Chicago asked me, “Do you think you’re actually going to able to integrate all the neighborhoods?” [laughs] So I’m starting with one at a time right now, because it’s just a one-person deal.

Do you have a day job?

I'm actually getting ready to start at Groupon next Monday.

There you go.

Yeah, starting a blog was a good way to stay busy during unemployment.

What was your job before that?

I’ve done a lot of stuff. I’ve worked at a couple different bike shops in Lincoln Park. I worked at Cycle Smithy for a while. I worked at Village Cycle. But I’ve also worked on political campaigns. I lived in D.C. for a year and just got back to the area last April.

How did you like D.C.?

It’s an interesting town, man. I think as a midwesterner, I hold a different set of values, I guess, and it’s just the way I carry myself. D.C. is a super compact cosmopolitan city that's kind of highbrow but at the same time really gritty. The thing that’s cool about Chicago and what always brings me back and why I love it so much is because Chicago is a neighborhood city. D.C. does have a neighborhood feel to it, but I don’t think in the same way as Chicago.

What's your method for tracking down news?

I think at first it was just riding and walking around the neighborhood, looking for signs posted. Before I moved to D.C. I lived in the neighborhood for five or six years, so I’ve gotten to know it really well.

Yeah, and you've seen the neighborhood's transformation over those years.

Exactly. The area has changed fairly fast for Chicago, but it hasn’t changed so fast that you don’t notice stuff. When something does change, you’re able to spot it. Now I’m getting to the point where I’m more on the community side of things. I’ve got contacts at the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, and a couple of the nonprofits in the area. I'm getting e-mails that say, “Hey, this is going on, and I think your readers might be interested in it.”

What are your thoughts on the neighborhood’s progression?

I want to curate some discussion on it with this blog and project. I feel like the neighborhood’s on a pretty sustainable path. We’ve got a lot of small businesses opening. People want to be a part of shaping the image of the neighborhood a little bit. But I think for a long time it was a sensitive subject about gentrification and low-income housing. Remember when Palmer Square was fenced off for like a year? There's a park there now, but the community debate over whether there should be a park in Palmer Square was this real intense thing that maybe didn’t need to be so prolonged, protracted.

Logan Square creates an interesting discussion, especially if you’re living there. It's easy to be all for the influx of small businesses, but it can create a blurry line. The options are great, but then you’re like, really? Another bar? And why aren’t there any affordable dinner places opening?

I’ll never forget walking through the Square one night in the winter of 2010, and this couple, who were clearly coming into the neighborhood from somewhere else, walked up to me and was like, “Hey, can you tell me where, uh, Longhorn and Eagleman is?” And I’m like, “Eagleman? Look at those low rates.” It’s just cool because the new businesses have been attracting folks to the area who normally wouldn't have come. And then there's stuff like the farmer’s market and the summer fests too.

There are plenty of little spaces to get food, but there’s no real convenient grocery right next to the Logan Square or California blue line stations. And as the neighborhood gets more popular and more developed there is going to be an issue at some point with affordable housing.

Has the site been doing well since it started?

I’ve definitely gotten to a point now where there’s a pretty steady amount of returning visitors. I’m still trying to get more folks involved in commenting and participating.

I did a little thing about the Logan Theatre. You know, a lot of people were like, “What’s going on with the Logan Theatre?”

Seriously.

And I was like, "Good question." You know, why not ask? So I sent an email to M. Fishman & Co., who owns the theater, and I heard back from their marketing director. She gave me the whole lowdown, and I put it out there. People were happy to see it.

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