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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Rapper Vic Mensa: Chicago’s newest Black Panther?

Posted By on 08.28.18 at 02:35 PM

Vic Mensa helped give away 15,000 free shoes in Englewood on Sunday. - RICK MAJEWSKI/SUN-TIMES
  • Rick Majewski/Sun-Times
  • Vic Mensa helped give away 15,000 free shoes in Englewood on Sunday.

The timing of Vic Mensa's high-profile response this past weekend to a Chicago police sting operation was more than a little serendipitous.

Remnants of the old Black Panther Party gathered in Oakland on the same weekend of the young rapper's "anti-bait truck" event to mourn the recent death of Elbert "Big Man" Howard, one of the organization's founders. This week also marked the 50th anniversary of Bobby Seale's arrest in Chicago for his role in planning the anti-war protests outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

On Sunday, the 25-year-old Mensa looked ready to assume the Black Panther mantle—and not just because he's got one tattooed on his shoulder accompanied by the words "Free Huey."

Among the many organizations and individuals involved in the giveaway were the New Black Panther Party of Chicago and Fred Hampton Jr., the son of slain Panthers leader Fred Hampton. And over the course of a 15-minute conversation inside a scorching-hot room at the West Englewood Community Center, Mensa quoted Angela Davis and Mao Zedong and dropped the name of Huey Newton. When asked what role he might personally play in police reform in Chicago, he said, "At the end of the day, what we're doing right here is an extension of what we learned from the Black Panther Party, to police the police."

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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

"Everyone's a Designer/Everyone's Design" offers a peek into the heart of some fascinating Chicago homes

Posted By on 08.07.18 at 06:00 AM

Artwork inside Patric McCoy's North Kenwood condo - VAM STUDIOS
  • VAM Studios
  • Artwork inside Patric McCoy's North Kenwood condo

Where you live is, for better or for worse, an expression of who you are. Some people, though, are better at expressing themselves through design than others. The new traveling exhibit "Everyone's a Designer/Everyone's Design," which has its opening reception tonight, celebrates five especially distinctive Chicago homes.

The staff at Illinois Humanities chose the five homes, each from a different corner of Chicago, and one which no longer exists. Jennie Brier, a historian at the University of Illinois-Chicago, sat down with the homeowners for a recorded interview. The interviews will be screened at the exhibition, which will travel throughout the fall and winter to the neighborhood where each of the homes is located before concluding at the Chicago Cultural Center.

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Monday, August 6, 2018

Chicago Printmakers Collaborative puts a steamroller at the center of an entirely different form of Roller Derby

Posted By on 08.06.18 at 06:00 AM

Volunteers reveal Liz Born's print post steamrolling. - MONICA KASS ROGERS
  • Monica Kass Rogers
  • Volunteers reveal Liz Born's print post steamrolling.

There was not a skate in sight at Chicago Printmakers Collaborative’s Roller Derby a week ago last Saturday in Lincoln Square, or fishnets or black eyes, only ink-stained aprons.

Roller Derby was the studio’s second steamroller printing event, a follow-up to Drum Roll Please in 2016. According to founder Deborah Maris Lader, a steamroller printing event is exactly what it sounds like: "We are basically turning a steamroller paving truck into a printing press."

The steamroller was the center of the event: it took up most of the driveway behind the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative and added an element of spectacle not normally present in the quiet, individual art of creating woodblock prints.

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Monday, July 23, 2018

We need a citywide hearing for the Lincoln Yards project

Posted By on 07.23.18 at 06:00 AM

Sterling Bay's proposed $5 billion redevelopment of roughly 70 acres along the Chicago River between North and Webster - STERLING BAY
  • Sterling Bay
  • Sterling Bay's proposed $5 billion redevelopment of roughly 70 acres along the Chicago River between North and Webster

Before the city approves one dime for the massive Lincoln Yards redevelopment project, I propose we have at least one public hearing somewhere outside the north-side community where the project will go.

Ideally, the meeting would take place in a blighted, low-income west- or south-side community that could really use some of the millions that Mayor Rahm's getting ready to throw at Lincoln Yards.

Maybe it would feature speakers from Black Lives Matter, the Fraternal Order of Police, Karen Lewis, or mayoral challengers like Garry McCarthy, Lori Lightfoot, Paul Vallas, or Troy LaRaviere—or anyone who has the fortitude to ask questions the mayor doesn't want to answer.

As in—how much will this sucker cost, and what will we get in return?

Lincoln Yards is the glitzy $5 billion redevelopment project proposed by developer Sterling Bay for 70 or so acres of land between North and Webster on the North Branch of the Chicago River.

To say it's transformational is an understatement.

Sterling Bay is proposing to take a vast industrial land of factories, scrap yards, dumps, and warehouses,and turn it into an upscale community of high-rises, apartments, houses, condos, restaurants, bars, shops, a music arena run by Live Nation, and a 20,000-seat soccer stadium intended for a team owned by Tom Ricketts of the Cubs.

I'm telling you, everyone's getting in on this.

To facilitate the deal, Mayor Rahm already closed the garbage fleet facility across the street from my beloved Hideout—and moved it to Englewood on the south side.

Then he sold that vacant fleet facility land to Sterling Bay. Then he used some of the proceeds from that sale to buy land for police training center on the west side.

You got to learn to connect the dots, Chicago.

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Study: Aldermanic prerogative is reinforcing Chicago’s segregation problem

Posted By on 07.23.18 at 06:00 AM

Aldermen Anthony Napolitano (41st Ward) and Nicholas Sposato (38th) at a 2017 City Council meeting. Napolitano recently invoked aldermanic prerogative to block an affordable housing proposal in his northwest-side ward. - BRIAN JACKSON/SUN-TIMES
  • Brian Jackson/Sun-Times
  • Aldermen Anthony Napolitano (41st Ward) and Nicholas Sposato (38th) at a 2017 City Council meeting. Napolitano recently invoked aldermanic prerogative to block an affordable housing proposal in his northwest-side ward.

A new study published by the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance claims that "aldermanic prerogative"—a customary practice that isn't articulated anywhere in city law—is being used to reinforce the boundaries of Chicago's historically segregated communities.

Aldermanic prerogative is a longstanding tradition: If a local alderman objects to a development in her ward, other aldermen will reject that development as well. The same is true when an alderman champions a particular development in his ward. According to the study, aldermen can use this power to make their ward unappealing for affordable housing development and ultimately reject inclusive housing proposals.

"It's not just influence, it's the power to kill a project." says Kate Walz, vice president of advocacy at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law and a contributor to the study. "[Developers] said it wasn't even worth the effort in many wards because there's a high cost associated with planning and it can be quickly scuttled by the alderman."

The report also highlights aldermen's power to "downzone" in their wards. Downzoning occurs when an area is assigned a lower development density than previously permitted, meaning developers can only propose housing within that limit. Downzoning constrains the number of housing units that a property could bring to the ward, thereby "artificially [limiting] the supply of dwelling units, inflating both housing and land costs in a neighborhood and eliminating the financial feasibility of affordable housing on a broader basis," the study claims. Walz adds that once an area gets downzoned, "developers are put back into the aldermanic machine."

Local zoning committees created by aldermen and made up of homeowners in the ward can also limit and revise proposed plans for affordable housing, forcing developers to invest in new architectural plans and zoning requests. The study argues that aldermanic control over zoning policy has resulted in the disproportionate use of downzoning in predominantly white wards, citing that 55% of all downzonings since 1970 have happened in 14 majority-white wards.

"Since 1970, the average majority-white ward has downzoned or landmarked 0.46 square feet of space for every remaining foot of multifamily zoning in their wards," states the study, whereas "wards with a majority-black and/or Latinx population have downzoned 0.09 square feet for every remaining foot of multifamily zoning [in] their wards" over the same span of time. The use of downzoning in predominantly white and low-poverty wards has created a hostile environment for inclusive housing proposals—particularly affordable family housing—the study claims.

Developers who want to build it thus focus their attention on the few wards that are "safer bets—areas where affordable housing has previously been approved." In segregated Chicago, this means housing suitable for lower-income families is concentrated in lower-income black and Latinx wards.

"On its face, this does not seem problematic," says Patricia Fron, executive director of the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance, "but when we look at it from a historical perspective, it is very clear that the prerogative has been used to restrict access to white communities out of anti-black racism."

The study claims that at the heart of aldermanic prerogative is political reputation. Whether it's dealing with developers, constituents, or even the mayor, aldermen must "navigate a clamor of interests . . . compelling many aldermen to do not what is best for the city of even their ward but what will least damage their . . . chances of reelection."

In a July 17 letter to the Chicago Tribune, Michael Sullivan seemed to confirm this point when he argued against the study's claims. He writes that aldermanic prerogative helps homeowners keep their alderman accountable. "No one should have any zoning authority in my neighborhood except my alderman," Sullivan writes, "Let my alderman wear the collar for the zoning decisions in my ward. Then I can reward or punish him at the ballot box."

The study also claims that the result of constituent influence over zoning and development through aldermanic prerogative is "a culture where aldermen in predominantly white and low-poverty areas erect barriers to affordable housing to preserve the status quo."

Meanwhile, other wards have to build more than their equitable share of affordable housing "because, if it is not built in their wards, it will not be built at all." Fron adds that this struggle to accommodate affordable housing means "the city is unable to fulfill its civil rights obligations."

"This is a matter of constituents controlling the look of the neighborhood, the racial makeup," says Walz. "There is a practice here of essentially not voting, of deferring to the vote of one alderman out of 50. It is depriving the city of Chicago of a fair and objective process. It is allowing one person, or someone under the influence of their constituents, to make that decision, and that appears to be an unlawful delegation of power over land use and zoning in the city of Chicago."  v

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Pullman to get first new residential building in nearly 50 years

Posted By on 07.10.18 at 06:00 AM

A rendering of Pullman Artspace Lofts - ARTSPACE
  • Artspace
  • A rendering of Pullman Artspace Lofts

The historic Pullman neighborhood is getting 38 units of affordable housing inside a new $18 million artists' enclave—some 124 years after Pullman railroad car workers went on strike over the company's refusal to lower their rents after cutting their pay.

The Pullman Artspace Lofts, a new apartment building to be built between two long-abandoned Pullman workers' housing units, sits on three-quarters of an acre on Langley Avenue, just south of 111th Street. The three-story, 32,000-square-foot complex sits on land that's been vacant for 88 years. The construction itself marks the first new residential development built in Pullman in nearly half a century. It's unique because it will house 2,000 square feet of community space intended to be used as an art gallery, meeting place, classrooms, and community room. It's expected to open in early fall 2019.

The Artspace Lofts is a home-grown project in a neighborhood that has more than its share of artists, including painters, musicians, filmmakers, sculptors, and ceramicists, said architect Ann Alspaugh, a board member and past president of Pullman Arts, a neighborhood nonprofit whose volunteers have worked on the development for the past eight years.

"It's [the result of] a lot of hard work by a lot of people," she said, noting that the project required meeting and even exceeding local and state landmark and historic district requirements, obtaining unconventional funding, and conducting detailed feasibility studies.

Alspaugh volunteers as a community member; the project architect is the Chicago firm of Stantec (formerly VOA). Alspaugh said she's satisfied that the lofts fit in with the surrounding historic architecture. The developers modified the plans after residents expressed concerns and after reviews by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

"The first thing we want to do is to start an annual art fair," said Alspaugh, who moved to the Pullman neighborhood in July 2010 with her husband, musician Q Kiser, from Rogers Park. The couple bought a three-bedroom house with a front and back yard, a basement, and a garage for what a condo in Rogers Park would have cost. "It also gives me a door into living amid historic architecture and helping restore historic architecture," she said.

Construction of Artspace Lofts is expected to start in September, with tenant applications expected to start being processed next summer. The rents are set so that they're affordable to families at or below 30, 50, and 60 percent of the area median income, which is $38,370 in Pullman, compared with the citywide median of $53,006. That means a studio apartment would rent for $360 a month for a single person who lives at or below 30 percent of the Pullman average, while a two-bedroom unit would rent for $910 a month for a family at 60 percent of the median income.

The complex will house three studio apartments along with 16 one-bedroom and 19 two-bedroom units, and the development will have 25 bicycle spaces and a parking lot for 17 cars. (Street parking is expected to accommodate another 20 cars.)  The developers and a board made up of neighborhood artists will review potential tenants' applications with an eye toward accepting people involved in creative or artistic work who want to be a part of a community devoted to that.

"It's not about the quality or kind of [art] work a person is doing; it's about seeing a demonstrated commitment to a creative pursuit and wanting to be a part of a community that supports" that goal, says Andrew Michaelson, director of property development for Artspace, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that develops affordable places where artists can live and work.

Pullman Arts, the neighborhood nonprofit, will curate and operate the gallery space for artists' showings, performances, and meetups. The Lofts' hallways and corridors are also intended to be space where residents can create murals and other works, Michaelson said.

The construction is expected to employ 120 people, and the developers have hired a consultant to ensure that women, local businesses, and people of color are hired to help with the work, said Ciere Boatright, director of real estate development and inclusion at the Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, part of the development team for the Lofts project.

The project was not without some opposition. Some residents have objected to the design plans in a neighborhood with strict landmark guidelines but officials said the project is moving forward.

The lofts are expected to generate $13 million in low-income tax credits and another $1.2 million in historic tax credits. Alderman Anthony Beale (Ninth Ward) says they're part of a "renaissance" in the Pullman neighborhood that's seen $300 million in investments and the creation of 1,300 jobs in the past decade. The neighborhood still suffers from the blight of foreclosures—many elderly residents lost their homes during the housing crisis—but more properties are being rehabbed, and some houses are selling for more than $280,000. "The opportunities are growing every day," he says. "I just need more restaurants and hotel chains."

While Pullman's population declined by almost 16 percent between two five-year periods (from 2006-2010 to 2011-2015), the number of people living in poverty also dropped by nearly 16 percent; six-figure households grew by 58 percent, and the number of college graduates jumped by nearly 10 percent, according to the Metropolitan Planning Council's analysis of the latest U.S. Census data.

The most dramatic increases in college graduates and six-figure households took place in an area bordered by the Bishop Ford Freeway to the east, 103rd Street to the north, Cottage Grove Avenue to the west, and 111th Street to the south. The area includes the 180-acre Pullman Park, a $125 million mixed-use site that has created 800 new jobs.

Pullman Park includes a 150,000-square-foot Walmart, a Method soap factory, a new Whole Foods distribution center, a second greenhouse for hydroponic greens grower Gotham Greens, and a Potbelly Sandwich Shop that anchors the Gateway Retail Center. That's in addition to the historic Landmark Inn and Greenstone Church, both renovated, and the iconic Clock Tower and Administration Building, which has been renovated into the visitor center for the Pullman National Monument, which was established by President Barack Obama in 2015.

"Everyone is getting lifted up by the positive things that are coming," Alspaugh said.

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Friday, June 22, 2018

All Hyde Park wants to know: Where’s Bobo?

Posted By on 06.22.18 at 06:00 AM

Karen Bradley has put up more than 250 signs since Bobo's disappearance. - LAUREN SALAS
  • Lauren Salas
  • Karen Bradley has put up more than 250 signs since Bobo's disappearance.

Hyde Park resident Karen Bradley has been asking for her neighbors' help in finding her beloved mourning dove Bobo, who escaped from a window in her home last month.

Bobo's plight gained the attention of the Hyde Park community when hand-drawn signs started popping up all over the neighborhood. Bradley has put up more than 250 of them, sometimes posting them for six hours a day. She doesn't intend to stop until he returns.

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Thursday, June 7, 2018

New documentary Public Park illuminates Chicago's role in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria

Posted By on 06.07.18 at 03:42 PM

Still from of the staging of emergency supplies in Humboldt Park during the 2017 Hurricane Maria relief effort for Puerto Rican evacuees. - JON STATROM- STUDIOTHREAD
  • Jon Statrom- Studiothread
  • Still from of the staging of emergency supplies in Humboldt Park during the 2017 Hurricane Maria relief effort for Puerto Rican evacuees.

When Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico last fall, many of its residents sought temporary and permanent housing opportunities in Chicago. In November 2017, city employees and volunteers assisted evacuees at the Humboldt Park Field House with medical attention, winter supplies, and housing information.

The experience of the evacuees at the Field House was captured in Public Park, the first installment in a documentary series currently in development by Fieldwork Collaborative Projects, a non-profit organization dedicated to exploring the role of public spaces, such as parks and field houses, in the city of Chicago. There will be a public screening at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Friday, June 8.

While Public Park focuses on Humboldt Park, and the events at the Field House, the larger documentary, Park District, will serve as a research tool for collecting and understanding the Chicago Park District's network of cultural real estate.

Ionit Behar, director of curatorial affairs at Fieldwork Collaborative Projects, an interdisciplinary group that explores the potential in underutilized spaces, says the group came across what was happening at the Field House and the services that evacuees were being offered there while they were working on a project to revitalize Humboldt Park's Jensen Formal Garden. "We noticed that the Field House was being used as an emergency site after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico," she says. "So the Field House basically became another kind of space, adapting itself for what was needed. We knew that was a very important thing that was happening, especially for our work in thinking about these public spaces, like the Field Houses, and how they're such a rich resource for the residents here. So we made a documentary, not really knowing what was going to come out of it."

The result was a story about the role of public spaces in the aftermath of a devastating event.

The MCA event will be the first time Public Park will be screened for the public. The screening will be followed by a conversation with members of the Humboldt Park community including activist Eduardo Arocho and Cristina Pacione-Zayas, co-chair of The Puerto Rican Agenda of Chicago, a group that raised funds for Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. It will also include Richard Santiago, an artist who came to Humboldt Park as a hurricane evacuee. Since his arrival, Santiago's family has been able to join him and he has become an artist in residence at the Puerto Rican Cultural Center.

Soon after Santiago's arrival, Arocho approached him about doing an exhibition at the Humboldt Park Boathouse Gallery, his first instinct was to say no: "I lost my studio, I lost my home, I lost materials. I didn't have anything here. I can't just make up a show in a few months."

But things became more emotional for Santiago when news broke that the Puerto Rican government had cremated 911 anonymous Puerto Ricans following Hurricane Maria."They didn't want to admit that those people were victims of the hurricane." he says. "There's a whole process that has been happening about the government denying the amount of deaths. Even the president of the United States is going to Puerto Rico and diminishing the impact." All of this made him change his mind about doing the exhibition.

Santiago's exhibition, "The Frailty of Strength & vice versa," was made up of 911 monotypes, a unique image printed from a polished plate. "The uniqueness of each Monotype intends to reference the human Fingerprint and the fact that its impression afford an infallible means of personal identification," Santiago wrote in his artist's statement.

The exhibition was on display from May 4- 25 and will soon travel to New York, Orlando, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. His story is featured in the documentary.

Although Public Park tells a positive story about Chicago's role in the aftermath of Maria, Behar and Fieldwork Collaborative Projects acknowledge the persistent need for support and awareness of the current situation in Puerto Rico. "The people that arrived here were the lucky ones. We're very conscious of that," Behar says. "There are still a lot of problems. There is no electricity in a lot of places in Puerto Rico."

The continued devastation that Hurricane Maria brings to Puerto Rico in its aftermath came to light last week when a new study suggested that the resulting death toll could actually exceed 4,000, a gross increase from the originally reported 64.

Even though many of the services offered to evacuees are no longer there, the Humboldt Park Field House still operates as an important public space in Maria's aftermath. "If you go the Field House and stay there for a few minutes, you'll likely meet other evacuees," Behar says. "It's their community center. They feel it is their second home."

Public Park. Screening Fri 6/8, 6 PM, Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago, 312-280-2660, mcachicago.org, free.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A look back at a punk club doorman and his buffet of food offerings

Posted By on 05.23.18 at 06:00 AM

Exit at its current location on North Avenue - STRAIGHTEDGE217 VIA FLICKR
  • Straightedge217 via Flickr
  • Exit at its current location on North Avenue

The
Reader's archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we'll dig through and bring up some finds.

Remember clubbing? Before there were cell phones? When you could go out for the night and no one would bother you and you could utterly humiliate yourself on the dance floor or show your boobs to a bouncer and no one would ever know because people didn't carry cameras with them every damned place they went? OK, maybe you don't. Or if you do, you're at that point where you're just happy you managed to drag your creaking old bones through the week as far as Wednesday.

But here, behold this blast from the past—1988, to be precise—a profile of Steve Silver, the weekend doorman at the punk club Exit, then located on Wells Street just north of North. (It's entirely possible that the people who hung out at Exit in those days are still there. The world has changed a lot since 1988.) The piece is called "At the Entrance of the Exit" and it has the completely endearing subhed "Everybody knows Steve. Hey, Steve, have a burrito."

The writer, Greg Beaubien, didn't do the Serious Profile thing of plumbing the depths of Steve Silver's soul. We learn nothing about his hopes or dreams or tortured childhood or even what he does when he's not manning the front door of Exit. Instead Beaubien spends a summer night watching him ply his trade.

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Monday, May 21, 2018

Chicago's next great park? Hardly

Posted By on 05.21.18 at 06:00 AM

A view from Rezkoville - RYAN SMITH
  • Ryan Smith
  • A view from Rezkoville

On a warm afternoon in May, a pair of geese and their gaggle of goslings waddle single file over broken pavement and shaggy patches of weeds on their journey to the edge of the Chicago River. Elsewhere, red-winged blackbirds chirp their nasally songs while yellow butterflies flutter over wildflowers peeking through piles of rubble.

Welcome to the gnarled, grassy glen bounded by the river, Roosevelt Road, 16th, and Clark Streets—land informally known as Rezkoville, after Tony Rezko, the erstwhile developer and political fund-raiser. As has been the case for decades, the land's identity—and future—remains in limbo. Since it stopped serving as a train yard in 1969, it's been vacant but has lived on in the shadow of the city as a kind of forbidden wilderness, accidental nature preserve, homeless encampment, and—until recently—a barren ruin.

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