#962: In Praise of Alleys

August 3rd, 2018 § permalink

Sometimes they’re ugly.

Sometimes they’re dirty.

Sometimes they’re actually streets and once in a while they’re made of wood.

But I sing the alley electric. » Read the rest of this entry «

#959: I Am Chicago’s Newest TIF District

July 27th, 2018 § permalink

TIF districts, that bugaboo of municipal financing that leeches billions from our tax revenues, are in the news again.

I’ve written about TIF districts before, and my Chicago Corruption Walking Tour takes people to the Bloomingdale’s downtown to show how this program meant for blighted, impoverished areas gets turned into mayoral pet projects for the wealthy. Cook County Clerk David Orr recently unveiled his latest TIF report, showing that now one-third of city property tax revenue is poured into these discretionary slush funds.

One in four properties in Chicago is in a TIF district, declared by the city to be so blighted special measures are needed.

How easy is it to get declared TIF-eligible? According to a 2016 Iowa Law Review article “Is Tax Increment Financing Racist? Chicago’s Racially Disparate TIF Spending,” city employees tasked by Chicago City Hall with reviewing whether an area qualifies for a TIF district have never turned in an answer other than yes. Never. Not for the six TIF districts Harold Washington wanted looked at, the one Eugene Sawyer approved, the 163 in place by the time Richard M. Daley left office or the current 143 fewer-but-larger TIF districts under Rahm Emanuel.

There are standards of course, both to be determined “blighted” and eligible for TIF or a “conservation area” that’s not blighted but still eligible for TIF. The reviewers have 13 conditions to review. If they find five, an area is blighted. They only need three for a conservation area, but the TIF will be just as TIF-y. Conditions they look for include structures older than 35 years, an area constructed without a community plan and conditions of dilapidation or deterioration.

Over 35, no real plan, showing signs of age and wear? I could be a TIF district, I joked.

So I decided to see if I could, reviewing the 13 conditions city reviewers have to check through before they can report back to the mayor that any area in Chicago is A-OK, 100-percent TIF-worthy. » Read the rest of this entry «

#956: Who Was Who?

July 20th, 2018 § permalink

The book smells delicious, that combination of wood rot and dust every hankerer after old volumes knows well.

It’s a “Who’s Who in Chicago and Vicinity” (Enlarged to Include the Entire State of Illinois) from 1941. I’m flipping through a pound of pages and decades of history, life stories laid before me in dates, figures and antiquated abbreviation systems.

And I have no idea who these people are. » Read the rest of this entry «

#951: Glitz, Glam and Theater Kids

July 9th, 2018 § permalink

Along Randolph Street, well-clad pairs line up to get The Shot.

Sometimes they’re romantic couples with lips on each other and eyes peering slideways to make sure they’re perfectly framed in the selfie borders. Sometimes they’re parent-child pairs — usually a teenage girl who, after The Shot, wants a solo picture on herself to gesturing Vanna White-ly at the poster gleaming on the outside wall.

Soon these The Shots will flood the internet. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, some other social medians I’m too old and crabby to know about. Then the world will see the eyes-slideways kiss-shot with the theater marquee in background. Then they’ll see the theater kid teen gesturing bravely at the box office. Then they’ll see, like, comment, heart, smiley, OMGLOL that their friend got The Shot that proves they went to a Broadway show.

I think I look fat in mine. » Read the rest of this entry «

#946: First They Came…

June 27th, 2018 § permalink

First they came for the immigrants, and I did not speak out—

Because when they go low, we go high. » Read the rest of this entry «

#944: The Ins of Court

June 22nd, 2018 § permalink

There are certain mornings that are wet, certain ones that are noir.

It’s a day when getting off a rain-blattered train stop at Washington and Wells dressed in smart if rumpled business attire seems like the only natural step, as if taking one step off the safe and well-trod will cast you into a world of intrigue, violence, the guffiniest of MacGuffins and finally learning the difference between a woman and a dame.

What better morning for hunting down a missing street? » Read the rest of this entry «

#943: The S.E.P. Field

June 20th, 2018 § permalink

I don’t know how many times I’ve ridden the ‘L’ around the Loop studying things.

It’s not a deep study nor a particularly insightful one. It’s a simple joy of trundling down the tracks and looking at buildings, staring at passersby and wondering where they’re off to, the delightful daydreaming and examination created by a cityworth of visual stimuli splayed around you at a time you don’t have to worry about getting hit by a car.

But in all these views where I’ve ogled pretty architecture and daydreamed about what would happen if I, like, totally stole that guy’s briefcase and ran off giggling, I had never noticed the blank-faced building. » Read the rest of this entry «

#936: Shameless Self-Promotion Theatre, Part 4

June 4th, 2018 § permalink

It’s summer. The birds are singing, the grass is green, the president is floating a potential Blagojevich pardon either as a form of political distraction or as the word salad that erupts when someone wakes up the commander in chief too early from nap-naps and the Chicago Corruption Walking Tour is ready to go for 2018.

Buy your tickets now at Dabble.co. » Read the rest of this entry «

#925: A Walk in the Rain

May 9th, 2018 § permalink

I want to write about four men of Polish, Ukrainian, Lithuanian or some other ethnicity that meant their words sounded like Klingon head colds.

They hid from the rain under the small alcove created by the locked glass doors of the laundromat that went away more than a year ago. Despite the building owners’ window-posted plans of a luxury bar/restaurant deal filling the space, new suitors never courted the corner lot once the poor people clothes washery was ousted.

Now it’s a glass-walled corner lot, vacant but for the Halloween costume shop that stops by in September. It not being September, the lot’s only purpose is to provide a small alcove for orange-hoodied construction workers to hide from the rain. » Read the rest of this entry «

#924: A Letter to Send

May 7th, 2018 § permalink

If Senate Bill 2562 passes, police in Illinois will be able to use drones to spy on any group of 100 or more people assembling peacefully.

Bill sponsor Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago) sold the measure that would let police spy on protest rallies by arguing it would prevent mass shootings.

The bill will pass if the House approves it.

The following is an edited version of an email I sent my House representative this morning. My hope is that it inspires you to write your own letters to your own representatives about why you feel this bill should fail. To quote James Baldwin, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” » Read the rest of this entry «

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