My Two Cents: The Sun Times Made Awful Transit Advice

I’m not sure what the Sun Times editorial board was thinking when they penned a piece endorsing improvements to Chicago’s transit systems, but from what I read it doesn’t seem like they were thinking all that much. The editorial board endorses and scorns major transit initiatives in the region, but their picks are mostly uneducated and thoughtless and far from pragmatic.

Their endorsements include the Red Line extension south form 95th Street to 130th Street and an extension of the Blue Line west from Forest Park to Yorktown Center in Lombard–okay, not too shabby. But, the board also coldly dismisses a proposed 16-mile bus rapid transit line along Ashland Avenue as “dead for now, for good reason” and endorses a pie in the sky plan to build an express train from the Loop to O’Hare using an elevated track above the Kennedy Expressway and Blue Line O’Hare branch.

The board [kind of] got off to a good start with some endorsements and an acknowledgement that a world-class city can’t rely on cars alone. What’s disappointing aren’t necessarily the projects the board endorses, but the way they dole out their endorsement. Calls for ambitious transit improvements are commendable, but the editorial board failed overall with these endorsements as a group. Most of these projects make up parts of the Center of Neighborhood Technology and Active Transportation Alliance’s ambitious Transit Future campaign.


The Transit Future campaign proposes major expansion of Cook County’s transit network.

The editorial board is clearly well aware of discussions and activism concerning transit in the region, but they’re tone deaf to what these discussions are about and what transit activist and experts are saying. Had the editorial board really listened, it would’ve been clear enough the better endorsement is just the Transit Future as a whole: it provides a clear yet ambitious vision for transit in and around Chicago in the near future, while simultaneously offering policy and funding proposals that could make this vision a reality. Few plans on the books do that.

But they picked and they chose specific projects and apparently with little rhyme or reason. There is sense to the madness for sure: the extension of the Red Line south has been discussed for years now with little to show and ever since former Mayor Richard J. Daley visited Shanghai visions for high-speed express trains from O’Hare to the Loop have danced in planners heads like sugar plums.

Why the board decided to endorse the ridiculous proposal for a “double-decker” express train brought forth by Chicago’s new aviation chief Ginger Evans is a mystery. And why they write off the Ashland BRT proposal without explanation even more so. I guess it must suck just that much (not!)

I cannot say I endorse the Sun Time’s endorsement. And while I feel I’ve made my two cents known, I can’t ignore the Sun Time’s method of picking and choosing specific projects either. Lists are too much fun. As such, I think its worth making one-on-one alternate endorsements for better projects.

Why? To show the truth breadth and thoughtfulness of transit proposals for the region, ignored by the Sun Times.

  1. CrossRail Chicago: Proposed by the Midwest High Speed Rail Association,

    This map shows how CrossRail Chicago would allow for improvements in and out of Chicagoland.

    CrossRail Chicago would roll a number of projects into one. Essentially, a mix of track and infrastructure improvements between O’Hare and Union Station would facilitate the introduction of express trains between the airport and the Loop. Further improvements would allow trains to travel through Union Station to Metra Electric tracks. This is even better, because it allows conventioneers going to McCormack Place to get off at their destination and improve access to O’Hare from the South Side via Hyde Park. Additionally, these improvements would facilitate the introduction of high-speed express trains to the Midwest’s intercity rail system.

  2. The Mid-City Transit Way (Lime Line): Similar to the Ashland BRT, the Mid-City Transit Way (or Lime Line) is a proposed ‘L’ line that would travel north-south without going through the Loop. Built on abandoned rail embankments it would run from Jefferson Park to Midway and potentially east to the Red Line. Just two blocks east of Cicero Avenue it would connect Far West Side communities and a number of ‘L’ and Metra lines as well as both Chicago airports via Jefferson Park. A major improvement to airport access it is logistically the easiest way to build an entirely new ‘L’ line in Chicago. While the Blue Line extensions endorsed by the Sun Times are enticing, this seems like a more realistic option for the near future, and one that still makes a mark.
  3. Commuter Conversions: Commuter Conversions, or turning commuter rail lines (Metra) in to rapid transit lines (the ‘L’), is such an overlooked option for improving transit in Chicago it doesn’t even seem within people’s conceivable imagination. Yet, it’s a cheap option, because it uses existing infrastructure, and can be implemented incrementally over time. Currently, only one major proposal exists for such a conversion and its for the Metra Electric along the south lakefront. If the idea were expanded over the entire Metra system however, it could vastly increase connectivity to the suburbs and eliminate the need for some costly rail lines. It’s cheap and its pragmatic and it’s something other cities are doing at an impressive scale.

At the end of the day, I do feel silly writing something that is essentially bickering about what commendable transit proposal is the best. But there is good reason for such bickering. Chicago has a great transit system, but has a long way to go before things get called “world-class”. But with limited resources its important to pick your battles. Costs, rider needs, logistically realities all play a role in transit planning, and the endorsements made by the Sun Time’s editorial board seems to consider none of this and that’s where the Sun Times fails in their endorsements.

A subtle hand can be as strong as a bold one, and sometimes the bold ones are the most impactful if not the most powerful.


Church Hop Chicago: St. Thomas of Canterbury in Uptown

By: Melissa Redmond and Michael Podgers

Tucked away just off the corner of Lawrence and Kenmore in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood St. Thomas of Canterbury Church is, for a Chicago Catholic church, a rather inconspicuous sight. Built in 1916, the church-school combination could easily be mistaken for a library, school, or other non-religious space. The parish is a rather intrinsic part of a diverse neighborhood with a history that runs the gamut however. A recent Sunday Church Hop to St. Thomas of Canterbury revealed just that, but more so how indicative the parish remains for a constantly changing part of Chicago.


St. Thomas of Canterbury at 4827 N Kenmore St in Uptown

Uptown has been called home by a wide variety of Chicagoans, especially in the decades after WWII when the area’s low rents drew white migrants from Appalachia, refugees from Vietnam and Laos after the Vietnam War, American Indians, East African immigrants, Latino peoples, and many more. This diversity is a keynote characteristic of Uptown and one that is reflected in the culture of St. Thomas of Canterbury. Even in its early years as a parish, this diversity was unique among Chicago’s Catholic churches, despite being commonplace today (it’s far from abnormal to find a church today serving mass in multiple languages). The choice of colonial style architecture was even seen as a reflective of a very “American” outlook rooted in social and cultural diversity when the church was first built. By the 1960s masses were being served in Spanish with Vietnamese following shortly thereafter and the communities being served only growing from there.

Melissa and Carol were enveloped in this unique diversity on one of their recent Church Hops. As Melissa put it:

We were in for a real surprise when we chose the English Mass at St. Thomas of Canterbury in Uptown (Mass Schedule). Unknown to us, we were attending the Mass kicking off the year-long celebration of the 100th  anniversary of the parish [which was established in 1916]. Instead of avoiding the Vietnamese and Lao, Spanish, Tagalog and Eritrean Masses, we were blessed to be attending a Mass celebrated in all the languages of the parish. It proved to be the highlight Mass of all our church hopping.   
Everyone was given a beautifully printed Mass booklet. It was very easy to follow the readings, prayers, and songs, since all the translations for all the languages were included.
During the presentation of the gifts (Info: the Mass explained), members of the Eritrean community, dressed in colorful Eritrean clothing, processed around the church singing an Eritrean song welcoming everyone in the congregation to God’s house. As the wine and hosts passed each pew, the Eritrean women ululated as sign of honor and respect. It was the most spine tingling and unique procession we’ve every been a part of at a Mass in Chicago.
At the end of the Mass, a procession through the neighborhood occurred. The priest leading the Mass that day donned special vestments for the procession and a canopy was brought out to carry the monstrance under. As this community of faithful proceeded through the neighborhood they stopped at each corner, where a prayer was said and a song was sung in the native language of each ethnic community represented at the parish. It showed the neighborhood St. Thomas of Canterbury is a vibrant, available community and resource that is open to all peoples.
For a church that has an unconventionally understated building, such a procession must play some importance to promote its services. In addition to its diverse culture, St. Thomas of Canterbury in Uptown is as much a part of this community because of its social organizing too. Uptown has long been a hotbed of social activism and empowerment of the underprivileged.
In The Archdiocese of Chicago: A Journey of Faith by Edward R. Kantowicz, the guide to each Archdiocese parish includes a brief history, lesson on the architecture, and names one “treasure” unique to each parish. Most of these are stained glass windows, pieces of art, or things like relics. In apt Uptown fashion, the “true treasures of the parish” at St. Thomas of Canterbury are also neighborhood institutions: the soup kitchen and food pantry.
For more information about involvement at St. Thomas of Canterbury follow these links: Volunteering and Donations


Chicago’s Future Pride Parade: Where will the glitter cake the streets next?

chicago-pride-parade-balloonsChicago’s gay Pride march was one of the first to occur in June 1970, a year after the Stonewall Riots broke out in New York City and sparked the contemporary gay [read: LGBTQ*] rights movement. In the 46 years since, Chicago’s Pride festivities have grown into one of the biggest and most popular in the country (2015 photos). This year’s parade, which took place in Uptown and Lakeview and centered on Boystown, is going to be examined closely by organizers and city officials to see if it should be moved to another location next year. Moving it to another part of the city will represent a radical shift in the community’s spatial relationship with the rest of the city as it breaks out into the heart of Chicago in a very visible manner. And there is good and bad to come with that.

The news broke this spring that various parties were discussing the move from Lakeview to the Loop if the crowds that descend on Boystown for the parade don’t keep themselves in check. Aldermen Tom Tunney (44th) and James Cappleman (46th) issued a joint threat statement explaining too much chaos would force a move. This is despite 55% of Lakeview residents supporting the Parade’s continued presence in Lakeview. What happens in 2016 will depend a lot on resident feedback and events that happen this year and in all likelihood the opinions of the politically connected in those two wards. As of today, 52 Pride related arrests occurred on Sunday and early Monday morning, including 2 felonies.

The move would dramatically alter how the LGBTQ* community interacts with Chicago though and the spatial role the Boystown location plays in for the community is worth serious consideration. For decades Boystown has been the focal point of Chicago’s gay community and although not as inclusive as it could be the larger LGBTQ* as a whole it is still synonymous with the larger community in a lot of ways. The numerous bars and shops, LGBTQ* friendly businesses, and organizations in Boystown clearly demarcate this neighborhood as the “gayborhood”. The parade alone does not make Boystown what it is and probably pales in significance when the entire year-long calendar of events in the area is taken into consideration as well as official recognition on the part of the city (those rainbow columns didn’t just appear overnight). But the way the parade and Boystown relate as a community building event is important.


The rainbow pylons in Boystown were part of a place making effort after the neighborhood was officially recognized ‘gay village’ in the United States.

Keeping the highest profile LGBTQ* event in Chicago in Boystown does a lot to maintain a sense of place for the LGBTQ* community among the city’s many neighborhoods and provides local businesses and organizations a chance to rally together and maintain relations via the organizing efforts needed to carry out such a large-scale event. It also provides people on the fringes of the community an accessible introduction to community events, but also the neighborhood itself. And of course there are the economics of holding such a large event in a neighborhood versus the Loop. People will patronize neighborhood bars, shops, and restaurants pre- and post-parade, rather than establishments in the Loop, which are frequently chains and tourist oriented. But the emotional connections to the neighborhood are worth thinking about too. Part of the joy of holding the parade in Boystown is going to the lakefront or bars post-parade or getting beads thrown on you from apartment parties above the street.

There are benefits though to moving the Pride Parade Downtown. The obvious is many Loop streets and sites (State Street or Grant Park) can handle much bigger crowds much easier than the thinner streets in Boystown. Accessibility is increased due to the proximity of so many transit options, it engages more of the city and increases the visibility of the LGBTQ* community to a larger segment of the population, and could provide an opportunity for organizers to do much more (circuit party in Millennium Park or at Soldier Field or rainbow flags on the Michigan Avenue Bridge anybody?) Ironically, a Downtown Pride Parade could follow some historically significant routes. The original Pride March in June 1970 ended at the Civic Center (now Daley Plaza) and the massive anti-Prop 8 march the took place in November 2008 occurred in the Loop and snarled traffic all day as the impromptu march moved throughout the city, including along North Michigan Avenue. And it’s not like Chicago would be unique in having its parade Downtown: NYC Pride covers a huge swatch of Midtown to Lower Manhattan and San Francisco Pride still follows Market Street from Downtown to the Castro.


The opportunity to hang a rainbow flag on a site like the Wrigley Building like the American flag is for the 4th of July would provide a huge amount of visibility of the LGBTQ* community if Pride was moved Downtown.

This however shouldn’t be taken as a free pass to move the parade without deeply thinking about the impacts a move will have, especially taken into historical context for the parade’s inflated crowds the last few years. The decision where to locate the next Pride Parade should of course be done in a way that recognizes the pressures of hosting such a large event in the neighborhoods, but not in a way that ignores the significance of creating and supporting an urban space that has relevance and meaning for the LGBTQ* community as well.

While controlling the size of the parade itself and making sure the organizational structures to maintain control and sanitation during and after the parade play big roles in the determination of where to locate the Pride Parade, taking pressure off Boystown stands apart as a major deciding factor. Event organizers and local leaders would be wise to think about the “gay” geography of Chicago though when thinking about where to host the parade. Keeping events in the neighborhoods should remain the primary goal so as not to move all the benefits of such an event to the already burgeoning Loop. Increasingly Andersonville, Uptown, and Rogers Park are rising as secondary gayborhoods on the North Side and figuring out how to bring them into the fold of summer long LGBTQ* events, especially surrounding the Pride Parade, should be part of this future planning.

As should looking back at an increasingly visible LGBTQ* history.

The recent decision by SCOTUS resulting in the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage will fundamentally change the conversation on LGBTQ* rights in America and Pride events nationwide. The last two Chicago Pride Parades were touted as being the largest ever in part, because the legalization of same-sex marriage in Illinois and nationally brought out extra large crowds. Now that same-sex marriage is no longer a major part of the debate the crowds may decline, because such a major rallying point has been removed. This should be taken as an opportunity to re-ignite conversations about other major issues facing the LGBTQ* community and such conversations should be incorporated into Pride events. This includes becoming more inclusive of women and trans* individuals as well as LGBTQ* people of color. The changing nature of the parade also plays into where to locate one.

In a way moving the event Downtown puts the Pride Parade on neutral ground (which is ironic considering Boystown’s status as a gayborhood), but as the time comes to reinvigorate the LGBTQ* community around other issues it seems appropriate to keep the parade on “home turf”, especially since that “home turf” desperately needs to opened up to more of the LGBTQ* community. It really raises the question of what the ultimate goal of the parade is and who it serves. If the parade is no more than a big party with a very gay theme, then moving it Downtown might be the best choice for security and crowd control, but if maintaining it is a major political event too that seeks to engage the LGBTQ* community in a way that is celebratory, but also promotes important issues, maybe keeping it in Boystown is more important so as to maintain the neighborhood as the cultural and political center of the community and really make it an annual rallying point and coalescing event at the heart of the gayborhood.

Whatever happens, if it does move Downtown, the City better start looking at ways to dye the river rainbow, so as not to be out flanked by St. Patrick’s Day.

Songs of the City (Special Announcement): Geschichten aus dem Wienerwalden

Genau drei Monaten von heute wird Urbanelijk von Chicago nach Wien umgezogen haben. Es freut mich offiziell anzukündigen, dass ich eine Stelle als Englischsprachiger Fremdsprachenassistent bei Gymnasiums in zwei Vororten von Wien nehme. Diese Stelle bietet mir die einzigartige und spannungsvolle Gelegenheit in einem neuen Land und in einer neuen Stadt zu leben und nicht wie einem Austauschjahr während der Unizeit vorstelle ich mir, dass ich länger als ein Jahr dort wohne. Gar nichts könnte mir mehr fantastischer sein. Obwohl ich auf jeden Fall (und fast jeden Tag) Chicago vermisse werde, bin ich überhaupt dankvoll für die Chance diesen nächsten Schritt in meinem Leben zu nehmen und sowieso bereit ihn zu nehmen.

Ja, ab Oktober mache ich etwa totals anders als Stadtplanung. Aber das bedeutet nicht, dass meine persönliche Ausbildung in diesem Fach zum Ende gekommen ist oder der Weg zu einer Karriere in Stadtplanung für mich endet. Ganz im Gegenteil! Ich glaube fest an der Macht von Beobachtung und Erfahrungen aus der ersten Hand. Schon habe ich erfahren erlangt man mehrmals mehr in seinem echten Leben als in der Klassenzimmer. In Wien leben ist eine Chance die Stadt von einer anderen Perspektive zu entdecken. Die ist auch eine Chance mein Deutsch zu verbessern und in einer (spezifischen) Art Lehrer werden.

Es ist die Zeit für neue Erfahrungen und neue Fähigkeiten

Wegen der Natur dieser Ankündigung finde ich passend Wien mit einem Waltz zu feiern. Und kein Waltz wäre ebenso passend wie ein Waltz von Johann Strauss II und insbesondere Geschichten aus dem Wienerwalden.

Exactly three months from today Urbanelijk is moving from Chicago to Vienna. I’m thrilled to officially announce that I am taking a position as an English TA at a pair of high schools outside of Vienna. This position is going to offer me the unique and exciting opportunity to live in a new city and country, and unlike a study abroad year in college I can imagine staying longer than a year. There couldn’t be anything more fantastic. Although I’m going to miss Chicago (and probably everyday) I’m absolutely thankful for the chance to take this next step and ready to do so.

Yes, from October I’ll be doing something totally different from urban planning. But that doesn’t mean my personal education in the field has come to an end or that the path to a carrier in urban planning is over. Au contraire! I firmly believe in the power of observation and first hand experience. Already I know that you can often gain more from real life experiences than time in a classroom. Living in Vienna is a chance to discover the city from a new perspective. It’s also my chance to improve my German and (in a way) become a teacher.

It’s time for new experiences and new skills.

Because of the nature of this announcement it seems right to celebrate Vienna with a waltz. And no waltz would be more fitting than one from Johann Strauss II and particularly Tales from Vienna Woods.

Sounds of the City: Springfield! Springfield!

There are famous cities like New York and London, Tokyo and Shanghai, and then there is perhaps the most absurdly famous of them all: Springfield, USA; or, the hometown of the all-American family, The Simpsons. The fictional city, located somewhere in the United States, is certainly one of the most famous cities in the United States and much of the world even. Characterized by the inaneness of its history (founded by a former pirate named Jebediah Springfield), its lack of culture, the hold a certain billionaire has on the town, the corruption of its mayor, the insanity of its citizens, and the uncompromising pride residents show towards this town (especially when they have to face down the residents of neighbor and rival Shelbyville).

In addition to its fame, Springfield can also boast some of the best music about cities around. This post is an homage to that music, because when it comes down to it, these songs go well beyond being just jokes and satires of American life and pop culture.These songs really speak to the a variety of feelings people develop towards the cities they live in and are from. They’re songs of pride, defense for local institutions, and hopes for the future (be them poorly conceived hopes even).

The songs below, while full of humor, also say something about the special relationships we have with home and the pride we take in our cities because of the good and in spite of the bad. They are songs that honor local institutions, high and low, famous and uncelebrated; these songs poke at the plight of cities looking to rebrand themselves or reinvigorate their economy with grandiose projects, worth it or not; these are songs about cities and everything that is honestly crazy about them.

In the best way possible of course.


Springfield! Springfield! (Season 5, Episode 8 – Boy-Scoutz ‘n the Hood)

We Put the Spring in Springfield (Season 8, Episode 5 – Bart After Dark)

Monorail Song (Season 4, Episode 12 – Marge vs. the Monorail)