Tuesday, July 28, 2009

More Hoops in More Hoods

While B-Ball on the Block is taking Little Village by storm, Back of the Yards is also getting in on the basketball action. Over at the Neighborhood Sports Chicago web site, Cristobal Martinez has a report with photos from last Friday night's action at 48th and Marshfield. This is the first year Back of the Yards has had a full-scale Hoops in the Hood Friday night basketball league with food, fun and introductions to service agencies visiting different blocks all summer long.

Speaking as a neighborhood resident, I'm delighted to see this getting off the ground in Back of the Yards. I was out there myself last Friday night and can say firsthand that it was a lot of fun and clearly a new experience for kids and families. Many of the kids couldn't believe they could just go up and get a hot dog, an icie or a bag of popcorn for free. Neighbors not just from the target block but from a three-block radius stopped by. Some of the kids on my own block played for a team sponsored by the UNION Impact Center. Part of the point of the effort is to bridge the various divisions of the neighborhood--race, ethnicity, language, gang territories--and I'm very proud that my neighbors on the UNION Impact team were part of one of the few where a diverse group of kids were playing on the same team.

In recent years the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council has gone through some transition in leadership and focus, and "Hoops" is helping the council raise its profile in the neighborhood in a new and positive way. Martinez's story quoted BYNC executive director Craig Chico giving a key stat to measure the impact to date: "If you want to measure our success with a number, we've served over 600 hot dogs each week."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Youth Noise: B-Ball on the Block Is Back

Got an email from Cesar Nuñez this morning turning me on to a $500 fundraising challenge for Beyond the Ball, the group that's using basketball and soccer to bring youth onto the streets on Friday evenings in Little Village and North Lawndale.

BBall on the Block has been going for three years now and it's great to see that they're still innovating – adding soccer, for instance – and that they've connected with Youth Noise and Nike on this fundraiser. They need another 32,600 clicks to get that $500, and you can click all you want, so get on over there and help make it happen.

Trina Chiasson, Chicago blogger for Youth Noise Play City, caught some great quotes in that video above. Here's one of them:

"I grew up in this neighborhood, I've seen a lot of violence and poor choices," says Ken Alvarado, soccer director. "And then just getting older, you see that there aren't that many opportunities to escape those places."

BBall on the Block provides that opportunity: "You know you're safe, you know there is nothing to worry about, we have food, you have nice people working here too, so it's just a blessing for the community. And I'm definitely taking it as a blessing for myself as well."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What's a Portal? Pilsen Shows the Way

Mayor Daley was in Pilsen yesterday promoting "digital excellence," but what does that mean? The hope is that in the four demonstration communities of Pilsen, Englewood, Chicago Lawn and Auburn Gresham, use of digital tools and the internet will become commonplace for residents young and old, well-off and poor. It won't be easy because so many residents lack broadband access and don't have experience with on-line tools, but that's all included in the digital excellence plans that the communities are beginning to implement.

One thing is certain. A community will use the web more if there is relevant local content that is of value to residents, businesses and other stakeholders, and that's where the Pilsen Portal comes in.

Launched last week and still in beta form, the portal is intended to be a place where many, many local people contribute content, find content, and comment about what others are putting up. Already about 20 beta users have signed on as contributors and they're starting to fill up the calendar and the directory (check out the listing for Studio One Tattoos). Jaime Guzmán, on organizer for the project, is putting his videography skills to work profiling local businesses (Kristoffer's Cafe) and even the churches are getting involved putting up the schedules of masses and kermeses (summer festivals).

A dynamic community-created web portal won't bring digital excellence all by itself. But my hunch is that if the portal can engage scores of local people in the telling of the Pilsen story, circa 2009, that will be an important step on the road. And once Pilsen does it, others will follow.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Planting Seeds of Health in Humboldt Park

I just love the idea of urban farming. I can't think of a better way to use our city's empty lots than to plant gardens in them. Chad Bliss and his crew teach teens about farming, sustainable agriculture and healthy living, all while giving them that needed summer job. What's not to love?

Produced by Tu Multimedia.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Contest: "What Makes your Place Great"?

Placemaking Chicago is having a neat little contest for the best photo/250 word essay on what makes your place great. I love little contests like this and want to encourage other entrants. For more info, click here. Here was our submittal:

West Haven is a proud community on the Near West Side. Over the summer a group of students from Crane High School are working to restore our community garden. Led by their high school teacher, the garden will be dedicated to a local community hero of ours, Mable Manning. Mable helped save our community from being wiped out in the 1980s for a new NFL stadium.

What makes our place great are all of the community members working hard to improve West Haven everyday. We got together to create a quality-of-life plan called West Haven: Rising Like the Phoenix and are now in the process of implementing this plan. The community garden is adjacent to our library (the Mable Manning Public Library) and runs along our cultural corridor. Touhy-Herbert Park, the Boys and Girls Club and Major Adams Community Committee are all down the street.

The students responsible for all of the hard work are responsible for the garden design as well. Many of the design principals that Projects for Public Spaces advocates for are taken advantage of. Flower beds, vegetable beds and even benches will be part of a good garden made great with helping hands.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Report on the Economy, via the Hair Salon

There's a price war going among the hair salons and barber shops on Clark Street in Rogers Park, and that's bad news for Alicia, the woman who's been cutting my hair for the last 10 years.

When I stopped in at La Bella Unisex today, she got right to the point. Business is bad. It's not just that people have lost jobs and are pinching pennies; it's the price competition. The place right next door has a big sign in the window: Hair Cut $5. And there's another down the street charging the same amount.

I asked how anyone can make money charging only $5. They can't. With storefronts renting for $1,200 a month, she said, even if you could fill the chairs all day long it would be hard to make it. And the chairs are rarely full.

Alicia asked when I thought the economy would turn around. I told her I've been working on a foreclosure-response project and the experts aren't optimistic; they are worried, in fact, that things could get much worse in some areas as the hundreds of boarded and abandoned buildings trigger a free-fall in what's left of the market.

Why a free fall? Alicia's husband had good work for years doing construction on condominium conversions. But no work lately. Her son, just out of high school, is an apprentice at an auto repair shop on Jarvis. It's a good opportunity but the pay isn't there. And her own business is way down. She's nervous about the family scraping together enough money to pay the mortgage on their own condominium . . . and it's a good bet that the people working next door, at $5 a cut, are having similar troubles.

As Alicia finished up with the razor, trimming the wild hairs off my ears, a man walked in and asked "How much for a haircut?"

"Ten dollars for a normal haircut," Alicia replied, sizing up the potential client. She hesitated a split second, then added, "and if you need just a simple cut, five dollars."

"Yes, just a simple cut," he replied.

So that's the view from Clark Street, where people are hurting.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Community Forums This Week on New School Proposals

As usual, the Chicago Public Schools is holding public meetings on an important topic with no advance warning. This week, 11 meetings are being held in neighborhoods around the city regarding proposed new schools that would be part of Renaissance 2010, the mayor's initiative to create 100 new schools. Whatever you think about this initiative, which has sparked plenty of controversy, if your neighborhood is potentially getting a new school, you might want to hear what the designers have in mind.

Three meetings were held yesterday--I'm sorry I didn't catch this sooner. Here's the complete list of meetings this week:

South Chicago, Villa Guadalupe, 3201 E. 91st St., Tuesday July 7, 6-8p.m.
Rogers Park, Rogers Park Public Library, 6907 N. Clark St., Tuesday July 7, 6-8 p.m.
West Town/Humboldt Park, Erie Charter School, 2510 W. Cortez, Tuesday July 7, 6-8 p.m.
Austin/North Lawndale, Austin Public Library, 5615 W. Race, Wednesday July 8, 6-8 p.m.
Pilsen, Lozano Public Library, 1805 S. Loomis, Wednesday July 8, 6-8 p.m.
Southwest, Garfield Ridge neighborhood, Archer Heights Public Library, 5055 S. Archer, Wednesday July 8, 6-8 p.m.
Englewood, Rust Memorial Church, 6400 S. Stewart, Thursday July 9, 6-7:30 p.m.
North Center/Northwest, Irving Park YMCA, 4251 W. Irving Park Road, Thursday July 9, 7-8:30 p.m.
Kenwood/Grand Boulevard, Little Black Pearl Art and Design Center, 1060 E. 47th St., Thursday July 9, 6-8 p.m.
Far South, Washington Heights, Roseland neighborhoods, Glenwood (suburb), Neighborhood Housing Services, 11005 S. Michigan, Thursday July 9, 6-8 p.m.
Riverdale, Chicago Housing Authority, 951 E. 130th St., Saturday, July 11, 10 a.m.-noon.

Just to be clear, these forums will present preliminary proposals for new schools that, if approved, would open in the 2010-2011 school year. The 32 design teams presenting "school design frameworks" this week must submit full proposals by August 10 and will go through further review after that time. The winners will probably be announced in early 2010.

For somewhat more information, you can read the full press release here.