Do You Deserve to Live in Chicago?

“Who deserves to live in Chicago?” Amisha Patel, a panelist at the Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards asked.

This question shocked me. I’m not from here. Most of my friends are not from here. But, I live in Chicago because it is my favorite city in the world. I choose to live in Chicago.

Just because you want to live in a city, doesn’t mean you have that option.

Living in Chicago is a privilege. Every year, people are asked to leave their homes in what is well-known as gentrification.

Architecture + Community Development Chicago Projects:

In February, world-class, affordable housing projects are reviewed and awarded at the Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards (CNDA).

Not only do these projects add aesthetically to neighborhoods, but they also enrich poorer or neglected Chicago neighborhoods with community resources and meeting areas. They help keep communities together, rather than transplanting them.

It’s projects like these that make Uptown the safer neighborhood that it is becoming, that provides greener hospitals, and introduces one of the first senior living facility for gays in America.

At this year’s 22nd Annual CNDAs, 1500 community developers, architects, business leaders, advocates, and Mayor, Rahm Emanuel  came together on February 18, 2016, at the Chicago Hilton & Towers (720 S. Michigan Ave.). They recognized Chicago community leaders and developers and provide fervor to continue their important work in creating a more diverse, tolerant, and affordable city.

What’s Your Perspective? Panel Discussion:

Before the CNDA ceremony, there was a panel discussion with Brandis Friedman of WTTW’s Chicago Tonight to discuss how we can handle issues of gentrification, diversity, and community resources in various Chicago neighborhoods like Humboldt Park and Pilsen.

CNDA Panelists included:

  • Jack Markowski, president of Community Investment Corporation and former city housing commissioner
  • Amisha Patel, executive director of The Grassroots Collaborative
  • Raul Raymundo, executive director of The Resurrection Project (TRP), a Pilsen-based community development corporation

One of the most interesting parts of the discussion touched on how neighborhood improvement projects like The 606, a 2.7 miles Bloomingdale Trails project, can disrupt communities.

Amisha Patel spoke about gentrification in Humboldt Park because of projects like The 606. Currently, families are being asked to leave their homes, as their real estate becomes more valuable.

The 606 and Gentrification:

The Onion wrote a satirical article  in August 2015 about Humboldt Park being too safe to live.

“We’d love to stay here, but with our finances the way they are, the minute we stop needing the second bolt on the back door we’ll have no choice but to go out looking for a neighborhood that’s more terrifying,” said Humboldt Park resident, Kirsten Healy to The Onion.

DNAinfo dug deeper to seek the truth in The Onion’s satire through interviews with Humboldt Park residents.

“You don’t win either way,” said 35-year-old Eileen Reyes to DNAinfo, a lifetime resident of Humboldt Park.

“Yeah, it’s getting rid of these gangs, but it’s pushing people who have lived here the longest out,” Reyes said.

A Reddit thread was also started in September 2015 titled, “The Bloomingdale Trail or: How Humboldt Park Residents are Complaining About Community Investment,” after a ChicagoReader article on the matter.

As the CNDA panelists spoke about neighborhood improvements, they also acknowledged the very real problems that it causes, like displacing communities.

In both the CNDA panel discussion and the Reddit thread, finding the balance between creating safer Chicago neighborhoods and keeping communities together is a long-time struggle.

“I can’t afford to live in my childhood home. I am not upset about it. However, I am only second generation in the US, so while I feel ties to my hometown, I understand that I can’t live there…

I completely acknowledge the issue…but I don’t see how to make them happy. Either their neighborhood gets investments and developments, or it stagnates over time. That’s reality,” one person in the Reddit thread responded.

Are people supposed to move to the next bad neighborhood until there are no more in the cities?

It will be interesting to see how the new silicon valley type startup hub in Harlem, New York will change the neighborhood. The startups receive funding, but they have to stay in Harlem for four years.

Raul Raymundo and Jack Markowski offered insights into rebuilding neglected neighborhoods like Pilsen and Edgewater, respectively.

Chicago Youth Lead Civic Projects:

Have you seen the signs promising that we are building a better Chicago?

Well, we actually are.

One of the projects that won a CNDA was a youth community project, Chicago Youth Health Activism Initiative – Mikva Challenge.

The Mikva Challenge in Chicago, one of the three programs in this national organization, brings together 130 teachers and 6,000 students in Chicago to help students lead civic projects and become part of decision-making during Chicago policy changes.

“Oh, I’m just a student they’re not going to listen to me,” said Kaadeejisha Walton, Senior at Chicago Military Academy at Bronzeville in the Mikva Challenge video. But, she noted that she gained confidence when she talked with her school principal and she said “‘oh, that’s a great idea!’

Community Invests in Youth:

Having a place to dance, to play basketball and to be active is vital for kids.

The Salvation Army Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center project looked at one of the most under-served Chicago communities and transformed it into a safe and active space for Chicago youth to grow up.

“[It was] definitely rough growing up, definitely known for a lot of gang violence and…kids getting shot,” said Christopher Dillard, KROC Community Center assistant, who grew up down the street from the Chicago community center.

The Salvation Army Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center  opened on June 16, 2012 in the West Pullman area on the south side of Chicago.  The community center is complete with a chapel, educational center, swimming pool, a training center for sports, and an arts academy.

Learn more about this south side Chicago youth spot and how it is building community in the CNDA video below.


One of the First Gay Senior Living Communities:

Another project that was highlighted at the 2016 CNDAs is one of the first gay senior living communities in America, Town Hall Apartments.

The 79-unit affordable housing complex at Addison and Halsted is not only a place to live, but a place for seniors to build community. Town Hall Apartments was designed by architects at Gensler and includes community areas like computer rooms, conference rooms, fitness areas, and community kitchens, all wrapped inside a green and blue metal, sleek exterior.

“One of the most wonderful things that’s happened in my life living here, is that for the very first time in 71 years of my existence, I have a family,”said Gary Sargent, a resident at Town Hall Apartments on Halsted, in the awards video.

Gensler for Town Hall Apartments accepts CNDA . Photo: LISC


Chicago Neighborhood Development Award Winners 2016:

  • The Chicago Community Trust Outstanding Community Plan Award Winner: Little Village Quality-of-Life Plan – Enlace Chicago

Recognizes the development and successful implementation of a community plan or strategy within Cook County that improves quality-of-life or addresses a specific need, opportunity or issue through a comprehensive planning and implementation model.


  • The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation for Outstanding Non-Profit Neighborhood Real Estate Project Award Winner: The Salvation Army Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center

Recognizes a community development corporation for a specific real estate project that has contributed significantly to the enhancement of the community.


  • The Polk Bros. Foundation Affordable Rental Housing Preservation Award Winner: Oakley Square – The Community Builders

Recognizes a for-profit or non-profit developer for a real estate project that has preserved affordable rental housing at risk because of expired subsidy contracts or physical deterioration.  


  • The Outstanding For-Profit Neighborhood Real Estate Project Award Winner: Method Products’ Southside Soapbox

Recognizes a for-profit developer for a specific real estate project that has contributed significantly to the enhancement of a community.


  • The Woods Fund Chicago Power of Community Award Winner: Chicago for All Campaign – ONE Northside

Recognizes the value of community organizing, community engagement, and advocacy as important and effective ways to transform neighborhoods or empower communities that have experienced significant social or economic inequities.


  • The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois Healthy Community Award Winner: Chicago Youth Health Activism Initiative – Mikva Challenge

Recognizes a successful community-based effort to address the health of a low-to-moderate income neighborhood in the Chicago metropolitan area through creative and collaborative strategies. *Note: This is a new award. 

  • Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Architectural Excellence in Community Design Winners are:
    • 1st Place – Northeastern Illinois University – El Centro – JGMA
    • 2nd Place – Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative – Landon Bone Baker
    • 3rd Place – Town Hall Apartments – Gensler

LISC Chicago:

The CNDAs are organized by Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), a national nonprofit that provides grants, loans, technical assistance and other resources to more than 70 partner organizations in low- and moderate-income communities across Chicago.



Chicago Open House Brings Hidden Architecture Wonders October 17-18, 2015

Have you ever passed a building and wondered, “What does it look like inside?”

Well, I came up with this intro, and it happens to be Open House Chicago’s mantra, as well.

So, here’s my new intro.

Tomorrow, I am going on a yacht. I know it’s fall, so I can’t sunbathe, but I can have my Titanic moment. I have never been inside a yacht. So, I am going to soak in the opportunity. I will touch the steering wheel and prance down the dining hall.

Third Largest Building in Chicago:

I am going to leave and go to the third largest building in Chicago, the Aon Center. I am going to get an exclusive 360 view of the city. A new perspective. One that I have never seen before.

Saturday at the Office:

I am going to the office on a Saturday. It’s not my office. But, I have access. I will take in the green marble and stainless steel columns. I will appreciate the energy-efficient modern design at Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture.

Penthouse Overlooking the Chicago River:

After work, I am going to a penthouse. Yes, a penthouse. I don’t expect to see my favorite hip hop artists, but like a museum, I will see how they live. Well, it’s not that type of penthouse. It’s a penthouse dedicated to sustainable solutions and DIRTT’s (“Doing It Right This Time”) ideas about how to build better.

And I am not telling you this to gloat. I am telling you that you can see these exclusive places this weekend on October 17, 2015 and October 18, 2016 from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm.

Plan Your Trip:

You don’t even have to plan. It’s as simple as clicking.

Visit Open House Chicago to start.

All of the places open to the public exclusively for this weekend are listed with pictures. Click on one of them for more pictures and descriptions. Add the place to your itinerary. Keep finding places and add them to your itinerary. At the end, you will have a complete listing, map included.

Do something for yourself this weekend and see all of the places you never knew you wanted to see.

There are 200 places for you to explore for free in and around Chicago.

Have fun exploring Chicago.


Chicago Ideas Week Recap: Unlock Your Creativity in 90 Minutes or Less

“When did we ever do anything because it was useful?,” Eugenia Cheng Scientist-in-Residence, School of the Art Institute of Chicago asks. “If I told you I really want you to meet this friend of mine, he’s really useful—would you want to meet him?”

Cheng spoke about mathematics and how it’s silly that we only tell people to do it because it is useful. Useful like finances and like waking up early.

She was great and probably the only reason I liked my first talk at Chicago Ideas Week.

My first Chicago Ideas Week event was “Unlock Your Creativity in 90 Minutes or Less” on Monday, October 12, 2015 at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership (610 S. Michigan Ave.).

The session promised to help attendees understand the creative process and learn secrets behind it.

It’s hard to do that. Let’s be honest. The talk felt more like writing a paper and then getting the link to the edited piece. You don’t see all of the red ink with all of the corrections. You just see the polished piece. Even though this talk aimed to show us the red ink, I still didn’t see the corrections. I didn’t understand how we make great music or great poems.

Comic and Radio Host, Brian Babylon led the discussion as each of the six creative professionals took the stage in different segments of the evening. Babylon spoke for all of us in the audience. He was a nice, comic relief and added liveliness.

Six Creatives:

  • Eugenia Cheng, Scientist-in-Residence, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
  • Anthony “The Twilite Tone” Khan, Producer & Songwriter
  • Tal Peleg, Visual Artist
  • Lemon Anderson, Poet and Actor
  • Christopher Marcinkoski, CIW Artist-in-Residence, Director, PORT Urbanism
  • Andrew Moddrell, CIW Artist-in-Residence,  Director, PORT Urbanism

Visual Artist Uses Eyelid as a Canvas:

When I walked in, Babylon was interviewing Tal Peleg, a Visual Artist from Israel who uses her eyelid as a canvas. She draws ornate images on her eyelid.

“I paint on my own eye,” Peleg tells Babylon.

I am thinking, how can she really see if her eye is closed when she is painting? How does she do it.

Babylon heard me and asked Peleg, “When you do this, are you super still or can you go and eat a sandwich and come back?”

We started laughing.

She tells Babylon that she only takes short breaks. When she’s done, she photographs her work, but doesn’t go out wearing her art.

“It’s not something to walk around in because it looks more like a black eye.”

Though, she said it will make people curious, “It’s a good way to get people to come closer to you.”

During the session, as other speakers came up, Peleg worked on a model to paint the Chicago skyscraper.

She informs, “You can’t make a mistake.”

“It’s like diffusing a bomb,” Babylon clarifies.

Eye Art at Chicago Ideas Week 2015 Photo: Amanda Elliott Chicago Skyline Eye Art at Chicago Ideas Week 2015 Photo: Amanda Elliott Eye Art at Chicago Ideas Week 2015 Photo: Amanda Elliott

Three Parts to a Good Story:

Lemon Anderson, Poet and Actor, took the stage and he recited a poem. The one part of the poem I caught was, “Watch me take my lemons and make the best god damn lemonade.”

After his poem, he told us that the secret to telling a good story is three parts—geography, history, and economy.

And just like that, he left the stage.

He Produced for Common:

Anthony “The Twilite Tone” Khan was up next.

The audience was really excited for him to speak.

“You produced for Common “Can I Borrow a Dollar?” Those that made Common on the Mount Rushmore of hip hop,” Babylon welcomed him.

We listened to a few songs as Khan tried to explain his creative process.

I learned two things.

The first is that things take time.

How long do you have to listen to it (the song)?,” asked Babylon.

“It’s not fast food. It’s slow cooking. I listen for days, if not weeks. I don’t want it to be contrived. I want to feel it.”

The second thing I learned is that Khan likes to listen to music really loud. He kept on insisting, “louder”. I loved him for that.

But, I still don’t understand how he produces.

Architects Talk Goose Island:

The architects were my favorite part of the night. They came to the stage.

“This is the grad school talk. We’re sorry. It’s just going to happen,” they said after following Khan’s music.

Christopher Marcinkoski and Andrew Moddrell are the creatives behind the sculpture at Pioneer Court.

They informed that the sculpture uses a spectacle to create conversation.

To begin the talk, they pulled up a picture of legos.

They asked the audience to raise their hands if they are architects.

“Be nice to these people. They don’t have many friends. They work really hard,” they shared.

“Less than 5 percent of all building around the world are designed by architects,” Marcinkoski and Moddrell shared.

They showed us project ideas that they had such as dramatizing and amplifying the given. Things that blow your mind like a heated pool surrounded by an ice skating rink in Helsinki Harbor.

They showed us a park in Denver that created a half mile loop so that people would be more active in between the play areas.

Then, they brought ideas to Chicago. They showed us Goose Island. Currently, they informed us that there is an either or conversation happening around Goose Island.

“Keep it a planned manufacturing district or focus on opening up the island to market rate development,” Marcinkoski and Moddrell informed.

Math is More Creative Than You Think:

The liveliest speaker of the evening was actually talking about math.

Yes, we were getting excited about math.

Eugenia Cheng took the stage in a bright red dress and opened with how math is like cooking.

She told me things I would never know about math.

  • Math is the logical study of how logical things work.
  • Nothing is logical.
  • You have to ignore the details.

This was so exciting for me. I compared math to coding, where if you make one mistake it can ruin everything. I thought it was all about the details.

“When did we ever do anything because it was useful?,” Cheng asks. “If I told you I really want you to meet this friend of mine, he’s really useful—would you want to meet him?”

She illustrated the creative aspects of math in two ways.

She played us Bach and said that it was a very complicated piece because it uses four lines of music at the same time. In order to understand it, she needed to draw it out using math.

She then compared math to cooking.

If you put sugar and egg yolk together and then milk, you get custard.  If you put milk and sugar together first and then add egg yolk, you don’t get custard. She frowned.

The same is true for formulas.