Category Archives: StreetScene

Happenings in the city

It’s not a garden. It’s a revolution.

Big picture, little plant


I was sitting at The Peterson Garden Project one day with my friend, Xan. We were tired, understandably. It was June 6th, a month ago. We were thick in the midst of dealing with logistic challenges to getting the garden going–compost for our beds was repeatedly delayed. The fence was repeatedly broken, then repaired, then broken, then repaired. We weren’t sure how long it would take to build the 140 raised beds that we needed to create gardens for our initial gardeners.     

So we sat, tired, under a beat-up tent that had been partially destroyed by the latest compost delivery. LaManda, the garden’s founder, had been teaching classes on planting earlier in the day. Because it was raining, she’d used a pan, some dirt, and miscellaneous seeds and seedlings to demonstrate basic planting techniques to a dozen or so new gardeners–we like to call them “grewbies”–underneath the dilapidated tent.  

So Xan and I sat, talking, about what we were doing with the garden, and in a flash, she said the words that encapsulated all our efforts, intentions, and wishes. She said, “It’s not a garden. It’s a revolution.” And in true Xan style, she followed that up with, “We’ve got to find a pen and write that down! That’s it, but my memory is crap. I’ll forget it. Where’s a pen?”     

I found a pen. She wrote it down. And we may as well have chiseled it in stone: The Peterson Garden Project IS a revolution. It’s a revolution in gardening, in community, in food and hopefully soon, in eating, too.     

140 boxes awaiting compost


Two months in, we are well on our way. We’ve broken ground, built the garden, built 140 raised beds. Then, we built 17 more because we had room and there was demand. We’ve held a fabulous Re-Dedication Party; I’ll write about that soon. It’s all been part of making a community garden, which is simple enough. But I do think we’re part of a much larger movement, and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of it.     

I’ve always been looking for a great revolution. Finally, I’ve found it. 

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Victory Garden Revival

In the 1940’s, Chicago was home to one of the most vibrant Victory Garden cultures in the country. With post-war families growing rapidly and food in short supply, Chicagoans took to community gardens to grow vegetables and put dinner on their tables.

Today, community gardening is once again gaining momentum, but for different reasons. Personally, I became interested in urban gardening for two reasons. First, because I like the flavor of fresh, organic vegetables. And second, because I am looking for ways to contribute to a more sustainable future for my city. Turns out, there are lots of people doing the very same thing… in my own neighborhood.

This weekend, I was introduced to the Peterson Garden Project. It’s a local effort led by one of my neighbors, a blogger who writes at The Yarden. She began doing research on Chicago Victory Gardens, and decided it was high time to revive the tradition. So: she found a site, talked to Alderman O’Connor, rallied her troops, and… voila! A reborn Victory Garden breaks ground this Friday, May 21 at 11 a.m.

My plan for my plot at the Peterson Community Garden

Naturally: I had to be a part of it. So here’s my plan for what will be my first foray into community gardening. Now that my own square foot garden is firmly in place in my own back yard, I’ll use the community garden space for a few things. First, to meet my neighbors. Second, to learn about gardening from people who know a heck of a lot more about it than I do. And finally, to grow some unusual veggies to share with my friends. If you’re hungry & willing to help me weed a little now and again, come on out to the garden and dig in!

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The Chicago Climate Action Plan: you can be a part of it

The City of Chicago has launched a Chicago Action Climate Plan that includes a multitude of ways for Chicagoans to join together in making Chicago the most environmentally friendly city in the world. Programs target individuals and organizations alike; there’s a way for every Chicagoan to take part. Check it out, and join!

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Actions: What You Can Do for the City

The Graham Foundation continues its interactive exhibition “Actions: What You Can Do For The City” with a lecture next Wednesday night by Amy Franceschina. The description of her work includes politics, urbanization, urban gardening, public space and installation art–which piques my curiosity. Here’s the link; the lecture is Wednesday, March 10 at 6:00 at The Graham Foundation, 4 West Burton Place, Chicago.   

Actions: What You Can Do For The City


City Films II

News flash: the Gene Siskel Film Center will be showing Jacques Tati’s films this February, including the masterpiece Play Time.

When I was in architecture school at the University of Kentucky in the ’80s, our dean was Jose Oubrerie, who spent significant time working with Le Corbusier. So when I was a fledgling architect, modernity wasn’t something we laughed at; we worshipped at its altar.

That’s precisely why I find this film so hilarious.

Tati manages to create a film whose dialogue is largely a silent one, between the affable, bumbling Mr. Hulot and his equally baffling environment: modern architecture. As The Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips eloquently puts it in his review:

“This one will forever divide audiences in the best possible way: despite the title, Tati’s sense of play takes on a graver tone, despairing of modern life and modern spaces yet reminding us that even here, in an impersonal dream city, there are glancing opportunities for poetry.”

I certainly won’t miss the opportunity to see Play Time on the big screen. (3 p.m. Feb. 20 and 6 p.m. Feb. 24,

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Ode to the Neighborhood Bar

All cities have vices. New York has impatience. LA has superficiality. Chicago? It’s a city that drinks. Lots. And the up side of that is: we have spectacular neighborhood bars.

What makes a neighborhood bar? It’s small. The bartenders know the patrons. They don’t serve food or mixed drinks that are too fancy. But: everything is delicious. Neighborhood bars are where you’ll find true Chicago, not the fakely-polished, overly-peppy craziness of River North or Rush Street. You will see real Chicagoans from every walk of life at neighborhood bars. Here are a few of my personal favorites.

First, the friendliest bar in the world: The Whirlaway. Maria and Sergio, the owners, know their neighbors and serve them mighty fine drinks. If you live nearby and invite them to a barbeque, they’ll come. And on Tuesdays, Maria cooks up food for everyone that stops by. The Whirlaway is not fancy in any way, and that makes it all the more loveable.

Lately, I’ve been loving the Fireside. It’s almost too big to be a neighborhood bar, but somehow, it manages its scale well. They have an enormous menu, so you can offset your drinking with good bar food. They also have an above-average assortment of beer on tap. You can play darts here, watch sports, or even sit outside on a year-round patio with sparkly lights. And if you’re a night owl, you can stay here until 4 a.m.

The quintessential Chicago neighborhood bar must be the Charleston. It’s in Bucktown, and it was there long before Bucktown became hip. I remember hearing someone play the fiddle at the Charleson back in the early 1990’s. It’s friendly, out-of-the-way, and just a great place to hang out and drink. I’m not sure why, but it seems to attract lots of architects. Every Chicago neighborhood has a great local bar. That’s where you really get to know this city.

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January in Chicago

Honestly: what do you do in January in Chicago? The weather is awful, and there’s really no hope for it turning soon. Travel is precarious, because you just never know if you’ll get in or out of O’Hare. So… what to do?


Get the hell out of Dodge–virtually. You simply must go to the movies. I can recount the fantastic movies I’ve seen in Chicago in January, from Indochine to Short Cuts. They’re out there, but this year, you have to look a bit harder to find them.

My favorite movies this year were both animated, which is a first. The second-best movie of the year is Avatar, because it’s visually stunning. I can’t remember a movie so long that felt so short, or feeling quite so sad at the end of a film when I realized that the world I’d been engrossed in wasn’t real. Sigh.

And the best film of the year is Up. Not Up In The Air–just Up. It’s another animated film that came out over the summer, and it is lyrical, gorgeous, and touching. If you didn’t see it, I hope you have a very large, very hi-res LED TV so that you can get at least a glimpse of this film’s aesthetic superiority. Its animation is simply stunning.

In closing, in January in Chicago–don’t go outside. Dream of other places, and other times. Spring will be here soon.

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