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Visit City Chickens!

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This is the 5th year of the Windy City Coop Tour, a free, self-guided event featuring 29 coops in the backyards of Chicago and some suburban locales. The tour runs this Saturday and Sunday, September 20 and 21, but on Saturday only, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., you can visit chickens in our own ‘hood, at the Farmessori at 1110 N Wood Street.  

The Farmessori flock just added three new members: a Buff Orpington, a Silver Laced Wyandotte, and an Exchequer Leghorn; in addition to the fabulous Polish Crested hens. If you’re not a chicken enthusiast, and haven’t visited the Farmessori, it’s worth the trip to see the garden. Farmer Joe Phillips and students and families from the Near North Montessori School will be on hand to welcome you.

The Tour Map and details about all 29 Host sites are on the Chicagoland Chicken Enthusiasts’ website ( and its Windy City Coop Tour page.  It’s an opportunity to see more than fowl: First-time Host Eric Staswick’s urban farm/yard in Albany Park is home to chickens, ducks, dairy goats, and assorted vegetables and fruits. He says, “We keep chickens because we believe it’s important to understand the food cycle and where our food comes from. We want our kids to understand that food is grown, not manufactured.”

Angelic Organics Learning Center and the Chicagoland Chicken Enthusiasts organize the Tour so visitors can browse and learn from practical examples. According to Anika Byrley, whose family keeps chickens in Logan Square, “We love the Tour and look forward to hosting because we enjoy sharing with others how enjoyable, easy, and rewarding keeping backyard chickens can be.” Matt Binns and Margaret Frisbie in the Hermosa neighborhood. “We originally got our chickens because we thought it was good for the planet and a kinder way to get eggs. We found that not only are the eggs wonderful and wholesome, but the chickens are hilarious and fun, and not much effort at all.”

I can attest to that! Visiting the chickens never fails to put a smile on my face. The Farmessori chickens are cared for by a crew of volunteers, of which I am one. It's a great example of the "it takes a village" concept. Check it out!  

Quotes from the press release published on the web as 2014 Windy City Coop Tour PR.

Written by Marjie Isaacson

September 19th, 2014 at 3:57 am

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New report calls region’s transit system “dysfunctional” and “depressing”

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A new report highlights the lack of connectivity in our regional transit system and demonstrates the need for increased investment to avoid falling further behind our peer cities throughout the world.

The report draws further attention to the region’s shortcomings in public transportation on both national and international levels. It’s part of an international series on regional development by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

OECD criticizes the lack of transit connectivity between the city of Chicago and surrounding suburbs, noting that even though 36 percent of Chicagoans work outside of the city and 46 percent of the workers in Chicago live in the suburbs, the current hub-and-spoke transit system does not support many of these regional commuters.

Downtown, the Metra does not always connect well to the CTA, and there are limited bus routes near suburban rail stations. A commuter can get from their suburban station to downtown and vice versa fairly easily, but getting from their house to the station and the station to work is often a difficult trek.

Our transit spending is lagging, too. Compared to Chicago, London spends five times more on transit while New York City spends three times more.

If Chicago wants to remain competitive in the global economy and continue to attract young residents and encourage businesses to grow, we need to reexamine how we fund and plan our transit system. We cannot afford to fall further behind.

Our Transit Future campaign is set to address these issues of connectivity and development highlighted in the report.

In partnership with the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT), our goal is for the Cook County Board of Commissioners to establish a dedicated revenue stream to fund new sustainable transit lines and reinvest in our existing system. It will expand CTA lines within the city and bring them further into the suburbs.

Transit Future will also create bus and arterial rapid transit routes that better serve both suburban and urban job centers, schools and recreational areas. As a result, the region will become more economically competitive while increasing Chicagoland’s environmental sustainability and overall livability.

We need your help! Sign our petition to pledge your support for Transit Future and urge Cook County commissioners to build a more connective Chicagoland. You can also volunteer to help spread our message and help organize transit supporters in your area.

This blog post was contributed by Sydney Prusak, an Active Trans advocacy intern. 

Written by volunteer contributor

September 18th, 2014 at 5:11 pm

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All Hands on Deck: Bringing Universities More into the Fold

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(with Sheryl Verlaine Whitney)  If there was one phrase heard more than any other during our work at HUD, it was "All hands on deck." (Actually, it was second only to "Are you kidding me?”). In virtually every situation, whether it was implementing programs in response to the housing crisis, getting Recovery Act funds allocated and spent, supporting communities struck by natural disasters, or reinventing internal processes within the department, the message was consistent. We faced challenges that demanded significant resources, potentially more than we had at our disposal. We could not afford to leave anyone idle, for fear of coming up short.  This reality is repeated countless times across the country. People working on behalf of the public interest—staff of public sector institutions as well as those of private, nonprofit, and philanthropic organizations with a mission of advancing the public good—often feel as if they don't have enough time or money to complete all the things necessary to achieve their objectives. It is therefore puzzling why a readily available resource—the local university—is not more frequently tapped to support the programs and needs of public sector organizations, local nonprofit and for-profit organizations, and philanthropy.

Written by Rooflines

September 18th, 2014 at 1:00 pm

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Reading staged for bike shop drama

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 Last week, Active Trans was thrilled to be the guest of honor at a reading of a new play by Chicagoan Neil Connelly, "RIDE," at the revered Logan Square bike shop, Oscar Wastyn Cycles.

While the performance was free, the organizers were requesting donations on behalf of Active Trans.

If you have never been to Oscar Wastyn Cycles, it's a standout among Chicago's bike retailers. The shop has been business for over 100 years and functions as much as a museum as it does a place for new bikes and repairs.

Lining the walls are gleaming relics from Chicago's past: track bikes with wooden rims, vintage Schwinn commuters, a world-record-setting tandem from the 1880s, and autographed, framed glossies of Chicago's long lineage of cycling royalty.

A large crowd turned out to see a reading of this drama about a bike shop owner's recent death on his bike and how it affects his family members, the business and two employees.

It’s a cycling-framed, humanist take on death, family tensions and the daily battles of running a small business. Think "Clerks" with more bikes and less profanity, while plumbing harsh philosophical lessons about what defines success.

Characters include a victim-blaming sister who can't figure out why anyone would ride a bike in the street, and the wise shop mascot/wrench who sleeps on a cot in the back. There’s also sly neighborhood intersection references and a mention of Old Style Beer and Chicago-style hot dog breakfasts (no ketchup).

Beneath it all is a strident call for action to make Chicago's streets safer for cycling.

Playwright Connelly said the work reflects his own experiences from the bike lane -- and behind the wheel. While the script is still in progress, Connelly said he's looking forward to more readings -- possibly at other shops, and staging it in the near future.

A heartfelt thanks to Neil Connelly, the directors Jackson Doran and GQ, and the cast for their performance and generosity. Thanks also to the audience for donations to Active Trans to help us continue our work of making the roads in Chicagoland safer for biking.

To learn about possible future readings/stagings of the play, get in touch with Neil Connelly at

Written by Brian Morrissey

September 17th, 2014 at 4:18 pm

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Moving Toward Solutions in Ferguson

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Over the past few weeks, many news accounts have laid bare questionable—and perhaps criminal—police behavior and the subsequent and continuing protests by concerned citizens in and around Ferguson, Mo. On a single day, September 10th, at least three protests happened—one at the state capitol, one outside St. Louis City Hall, and one near Ferguson (a thwarted highway sit-in on an interstate highway). It's not just the conduct of individual officers that is prompting protest. Troubling revelations about the lack of diversity in many police forces and increasing militarization of law enforcement with weapons from the war on terror has upped the ante between law enforcement and justifiably resentful protesters.  Despite these seemingly intractable issues, ever so tentatively, it feels like a new day is dawning in the Show-Me state. Using more effective, community-centered policing, such as COPS recommends, and better hardware, such as body cameras, is at least under discussion. A longer term organizing initiative is the campaign for 100 percent voter turnout. Several groups like Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU), MORE, Jobs with Justice, Missouri Faith Voices and Heal STL are doing what savvy community groups do best—making real change by registering folks to vote and training them to register others. And they're building real power by strengthening permanent, multi-issue grassroots groups here that have a track record in uniting congregations that can confront institutional wrongdoing day in and day out.

Written by Rooflines

September 17th, 2014 at 11:00 am

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Businesses Reap Dividends of “Special” Tax Zone

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 In many ways, Jamie Calvetti’s 20,000-square-foot facility in the former Union Stockyards is a testament to the advantages of doing business in Chicago.

A Special Service Area in the Back of the Yards neighborhood has been credited with reducing crime and improving the appearance of the streets.

Gordon Walek

Easy access to several expressways and his location in a dedicated industrial tract have allowed James Calvetti Meats—the second-generation meat processing operation he oversees as president—to thrive in this section of the Back of the Yards neighborhood. 

But for all of the benefits afforded by his ZIP code, conditions haven’t always been advantageous for business owners in the Stockyards. 

In the transitional years that saw the area transform from a meatpacking mecca to a diversified industrial park, its isolated nature created easy opportunities for break-ins, vandalism and drag racing. City services were often lacking, and police response times were frustratingly slow, as officers prioritized calls to residential districts. 

In 1991, those challenges led area business owners to establish a Special Service Area, or SSA. The locally established taxing district allowed them to impose a small property tax levy on themselves to fund additional services and cultivate a more vibrant commercial district. 

For the area’s business owners who now benefit from private security patrols, maintenance services and landscaping crews, the SSA has paid tangible dividends.

“It’s greatly reduced crime in the Stockyards over the years,” says Michael McMullin, Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council's SSA manager. A security patrol even helped prevent an attempted suicide. 

The wide range of services funded by SSAs have allowed business owners to concentrate on their day-to-day operations. “That’s what a community is,” McMullin says. “People come together, pool their resources and solve problems—that’s what an SSA does.”

Clean-up crews, such as this one on 47th Street, keep Back of the Yards streets clean and tidy.

Gordon Walek

A new day for SSAs

As helpful as an SSA can be, the process to get one established can be complicated. A sponsor agency—usually a local community development corporation or chamber of commerce that will serve as the SSA’s service provider—submits an application to the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning that includes an economic analysis and demonstrated public support from the affected properties. If the city gives the sponsor agency the greenlight to conduct a feasibility study, the sponsor agency works alongside a consultant to gather property ownership information, establish potential boundaries and discuss the community’s specific service needs. The organizations must then host a pair of community meetings and a formal public hearing before an ordinance is submitted to City Council, which ultimately approves the SSA. The entire process takes about 15 months from start to finish, says Mark Roschen, assistant commissioner of the city’s Department of Planning and Development.

LISC Chicago has long supported neighborhood partners’ work to strengthen local commercial corridors. Recently, with the growth of its Business Resource Network, LISC has become a resource to help neighborhoods navigate the process to create an SSA. Neighborhood nonprofits such as the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation and the Quad Communities Development Corporation have taken advantage of the assistance. 

“More groups are interested in what an SSA can provide their local small businesses,” says LISC Program Officer Dionne Baux. “We can come out and talk with them about what it takes, we’ve had a representative from the city present at one of our business roundtables, and we’ve connected local groups to consultants that work on SSA creation.” 

In fact, the city is recommending LISC as a financial resource for local groups interested in an SSA, and Baux says LISC has worked with a number of chambers of commerce that it hasn’t partnered with in the past. 

A street banner on 47th Street.

Gordon Walek

LISC offers interest-free project initiation loans to a CDC or chamber of commerce interested in an SSA to provide funds to do the work to get the district started. In addition, grants are available for business owners to make improvements to their districts before any SSA funds have been collected. 

A recently awarded $25,000 loan from LISC to the West Humboldt Park Development Council helped WHPDC successfully demonstrate the need, benefits and community support to create SSA #63 along West Chicago Avenue. With the new SSA as a springboard, WHPDC has created a substantial rebound in this corridor, attracting significant investments from the Citi Foundation and others. 

“It’s a sustainability mechanism for many of our (partner) organizations,” says LISC Program Officer Dionne Baux. “We want to make sure these groups have the capacity to be successful.” 

Local control

SSAs are initially established for period of 10 years, after which point they can be renewed in 15-year increments. State law caps the tax levy at three percent of the equalized assessed value of the properties within the SSA boundaries, though many groups opt to collect less. 

For instance, the Kedzie Industrial Tract—a South Side SSA bounded by Kedzie Avenue on the east, 47th Street on the north, 49th Street on the South and Central Park on the west—is on the lower end of the tax for local businesses among the city’s SSAs, at 0.98 percent. But that still allows for an annual budget of more than $130,000. 

At the local level, SSAs are overseen by a board of commissioners charged with drafting annual budgets and guiding its overall direction. Day-to-day management is handled by neighborhood nonprofits contracted by the city. This localized organizational structure allows SSA-funded projects to be more easily incorporated into broader community development efforts. 

While SSA funds typically go toward popular services such as street maintenance and the installation of flower planters, the imposition of any new tax is a difficult sell.

Case in point: A recent plan to establish an SSA along 18th Street in the Pilsen neighborhood was quickly derailed by neighbors who objected to the potential increase in their property tax obligations. 

But those with experience managing many of Chicago’s 52 SSAs say the benefits regularly offset the costs. McMullin said that while business owners are understandably hesitant to raise their own taxes, most of the individuals who work within the boundaries of the two SSAs he oversees have come to appreciate the tool. 

Roger Carter, an artist-in-residence at the Bronzeville Artist Lofts, works on a piece during the Aug. 13 Bronzeville Night event hosted by the Quad Communities Development Corporation. The local nonprofit manages a pair of Special Service Areas in the historic South Side community.

Paolo Cisneros

“They’re getting services they couldn’t ordinarily afford on their own,” he said. “They don’t mind paying their dues.” 

To see what an SSA can mean, look to a stretch of 47th Street, where a recurring summer festival, Bronzeville Nights, has been hosted by SSA managing group Quad Communities Development Corporation. 

Over the course of a breezy summer evening, neighbors take in public art displays, dance along to a live jazz quartet and interact with local merchants. There have been two Bronzeville Nights this year, with another scheduled to start at 6 p.m. on Sept. 25 near 43rd Street and Forrestville Avenue.

SSA Manager Christyn Henson says that the events helped residents more easily understand the effect that SSAs can have in terms of beautifying and revitalizing local commercial strips. Because, in the end, a community that has healthy small businesses is a better place to live.

Written by LISC Chicago

September 16th, 2014 at 6:00 pm

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“Nowhere to Live Safe”: Moving to Peace and Safety

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We all experience stress in our daily lives, whether financial worries or problems at work or at home. Few of us escape some exposure to “adverse childhood experiences.” But many low-income families have to live, day in and day out, with corrosive fear for their children’s basic safety. A new policy brief, authored by researchers from Princeton University and published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), offers sobering data on just how prevalent children’s exposure to violence may be. The brief summarizes findings from RWJF’s Fragile Families Study, involving 5,000 children born in U.S. cities in 2000, and a longitudinal examination of a range of factors known to be associated with children’s health and development. Nearly a quarter of the mothers in the study reported witnessing or having been the victim of violence. But this figure masks wide racial and ethnic disparities in neighborhood conditions. More than 40 percent of black mothers reported exposure to neighborhood violence, almost three times the level reported by white mothers and immigrant Latina mothers. As though the prevalence of violence is not sobering enough, the researchers found that exposure to neighborhood violence was highest when children were three to five years old. A mounting body of evidence tells us that children’s exposure to chronic adversity and toxic stress during critical periods of early childhood years is harmful to cognitive development and lifelong health: What happens in early childhood can matter for a lifetime. That is what the research shows, but what do low-income families have to say about the stress that they experience living in some of the most disinvested neighborhoods in America?

Written by Rooflines

September 16th, 2014 at 11:00 am

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Help make bicycling count

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The Chicago Department of Transportation's Complete Streets program needs volunteers for the Fall 2014 Downtown Bike Count.

The fall count is scheduled for the following dates and times:

Tuesday, Sept. 23, 7 a.m. - 9 a.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 23, 4 p.m. - 6 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 27 12 p.m. - 2 p.m.

According to Bicycling Magazine's recent rankings of the top 50 U.S. cities for bicycling, Chicago is the second best city in America for riding a bike! We are up from fifth place in 2012.

During last year's fall bike count, volunteers recorded over 15,500 bicycle trips and helped document the need for more innovative bicycle infrastructure to help make Chicago an even better place for bicycling.

To volunteer, contact David Smith, CDOT bikeways planner, at or Katie Gallagher, CDOT bikeways planning intern, at

Written by TedVillaire

September 15th, 2014 at 8:37 pm

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Literary charades game night to benefit West Town library

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By Gladys Alcazar-Anselmo

Gather your team now for the East Village Association's second library fundraiser, a Sept. 25 charades competition. Teams of four will “act out” book titles without speaking, while other members of their team try quickly to guess the title.

“West Town Literary Charades Madness” runs from 6 to 9pm at Roots Handmade Pizza, 1924 W. Chicago Ave. The final four teams, with the fastest completion times, compete for the crown of 2014 West Town Champions.

Winners will receive prizes from local businesses and sponsors, plus bragging rights for the year. Proceeds from this evening’s event will be directed to future programming at the West Town Branch Library.

Event proceeds help library staff offer free programming that would not be possible without local fundraising efforts.

This year’s programming goals includes expansion of a children’s chess program that teaches beginners and pairs intermediate and expert players to challenge one another. The branch plans more hands-on events like last year’s spice workshop by Steven Tobiason, owner of Epic Spices; documentary film screenings; book readings with local authors, historians and documentarians; and music performances for young children, teachers and parents.

The West Town Branch offers monthly book discussions for adults and tweens, and conducts a regular toddler story time for ages 18 to 36 months and a lap-sit story time for children 6 to 18 months.

On the ground floor of the historic Goldblatt's building at 1625 W. Chicago Ave., the library opened Sept. 11, 2010 and is an integral part of East Village and the West Town community. It occupies 13,300 square feet of the building in a beautiful, loft-style space that houses more than 50 computers for adults, teens and children, and a group study room.

Children's and adult reading areas provide a comfortable, contemplative space overlooking busy and bustling Chicago Avenue. Their collection reflects the diverse and multi-cultural population with books in Spanish, Polish and Ukrainian.

Literary Charades

This branch circulates more than 9,000 materials every month and serves an average of 2,500 patrons each week in person. Direct services to early childhood, school-age and teen children total nearly 1,800 participants a year and the programs continues to grow.

For more information on the event, write Register a team, purchase tickets or make a donation here.

Written by Webmaster

September 15th, 2014 at 4:29 pm

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Regions Can’t Live By Oxygen Alone

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Jack Jensen, an affordable housing and green builder in Ithaca, N.Y., is grumpy about Smart Growth. Specifically, he's pissed off at the assumption that urban infill preserves green space. As  he wrote in his post on "oxygen-based development" on Friday: Every time a downtown project is announced, the developers and officials announce loudly and proudly that they’ve preserved open space. Hooey. The owners of green space are still free to do with it as they please. Unless downtown developers are required to buy and hold enough open space to absorb the carbon dioxide from, and provide the oxygen for, the occupants of their urban unit, they have preserved nothing. That's a fairly good point. Dense development only actually preserves green space if we assume the total amount of development is fixed, which it is not, or if it explicitly preserves the greenfields it's not sprawling into. I can be pretty down with the idea that if we're serious about open space preservation and climate change and such, then pairing development with required open space preservation should be worth considering, something like Jensen's suggestion. I also sympathize with his idea that rural areas are bound up with their cities and offer them benefits beyond agriculture for which we should be grateful. (His closing comment about how much the rural areas should bill city dwellers for the oxygen their land is producing reminds me of the flip version of my Metroland column The Unapologetic City, which discusses the various unpaid-for benefits suburban residents get from their core cities.) Unfortunately, these cogent points get a bit lost in Jenson's desire to defend rural living against the urban scourge—an American impulse if there ever was one, but misplaced for several reasons.

Written by Rooflines

September 15th, 2014 at 1:00 pm

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