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Showing posts from 2014

Chicago flashback: How Daniel Burnham, redivivus, inspired the Chicago Tribune's New Plan of Chicago

(Print version of this long 3800 word post)

Ever wonder what goes on in that tiny ornate octagonal room at the very top of the Tribune Tower on Michigan Avenue? 


Well, it's reserved for seances. Back in the 1920's, legendary Tribune owner and Tribune Tower builder Colonel Robert McCormick found himself caught up in the backward-looking spirituality of the Gothic Revival, of which his Tribune Tower is a world-famous example. Convinced that great figures from Chicago's past could provide wise guidance and counsel to current Tribune editors whenever the city's present was so troubled or degraded as to defy all mortal comprehension, the Colonel fancifully topped off his Tower with an ornate, eight-windowed, private-access room and furnished it with a massive octagonal table equipped, at its center, with a funny-looking electronic device that somewhat resembled an old Chicago parking meter.



But this was no ordinary device. Once illuminated, it zapped out time-transcendin…

Hooray for Yesterday's Tutor/Mentor Institute Conference!

Yesterday's day-long Tutor/Mentor conference was a great event. 18 great workshops, a hundred great attendees, a great keynote speaker, fine conference organization, and a good Panera lunch. Here's the full group with dedicated conference organizer Dan Bassill at the podium:


I especially enjoyed connecting with seven participants from St. Joseph's Youth Services on the West Side Chicago neighborhood of Austin, where I've have worked for years with The Austin Voice newspapers. Three cheers to Austin for send a contingent that was perhaps the largest group at the conference. Guys, here's the picture I promised:

Participants at the Illinois Mentoring Partnership workshop presented by Cheryl Howard Neal

And here's Cheryl Howard Neal (top left of photo) presenting to the full group:

Dan Bassill urged conference participants to spend time after the conference looking at images of maps to be found by searching Google (and Google images) for the words "tutor ment…

Incremental Vrs Systemic Change: A message to Chicago's Foundations.

Hullo John D. and Catherine T.  Every year around this time you roll out your genius awards, and every year,  including 2014, I find myself wondering why on earth so many of these coveted awards go to established artists, poets, musicians, novelists and scientists - and why so few go to the little-known sociologists, city planners and community activists whose big ideas, duly recognized, could go far to helping cities like Chicago define and solve, at long last, the set of youth-victimizing problems that over the past fifty years have destroyed the lives millions of young Americans. If this number sounds unrealistic, just take a look at America's prison population today:


Setting this graphic next to your list of 2014 awardees, I can only think that MacArthur has its priorities wrong: that its finger is more on the pulse of an American cultural elite than that of the nation itself. I know you won't agree. At your website, you proudly assert that four of this year…

Providers or Predators in Austin? A research project for Austin students.

This offbeat post opens with a photograph of something you see in Chicago's poorest neighborhoods: prosperous-looking auto title lender at 5200 west North Avenue and Laramie: Using screen shots taken from Google Maps street view photos, here's image of the 24 hour Check Cashing service across the street from Illinois Title:
If signage size is any indication, these are hugely profitable businesses. I pass them on my to THE AUSTIN VOICE at 5236 W. North Avenue. So why these photos of them?

Last week the New York Times (registration required) ran a fascinating story about a related type of lender: the buy here, pay here car dealer/lenderslike the nearby Value Auto Mart at 2734 N. Cicero:

Value Auto is one of many dealer/lender carlots on Cicero. In Spanish it's compra aqui, paga aqui. The Times story centered on use of the computerized shutdown devices - starter interrupter devices - that dealers can trigger by remote control whenever a borrower is so much as a day late with…

Austin Renewing Itself

The Parents Political University of Austin, convened by Rep La Shawn K. Ford, was on the case September 20. Meeting minutes are here. Other PPU materials are here.

The meeting's major outcome: the formation of four issue-centered committees, with agendas and tasks, for transportation, education, seniors and re-naming the West Chicago Library Branch.

The Spirit of Austin?

I'm wondering what the poem below captures of the true, unseen spirit of troubled Chicago neighborhoods like Austin, Chicago's largest neighborhood - and one of its most violent. It was written some years ago by a Freshman at Marshall High School, Shannon Phillips:
I'm an English teacher. The poem below, I tell my students, is precisely the kind of poem that Emily Dickinson might have written when she was 16. Its revolutionary insight, expressed flat out in its last three lines, goes far towards explaining why real literary genius is so often suppressed in its own time.

Shannon Phillips wrote this poem about poetic liberation - actually, about liberation obstructed by fear of liberation - on a piece of scrap paper during a meeting to create a school newspaper at Marshall High. It that would have been tossed out with a pile of unwanted papers had I not spotted it on the way to the wastebasket. (At the time I was working with The Austin Voice to help students create this n…

Yo MacArthur: Dan Bassill of Chicago's Tutor/Mentor Connection Deserves Your Genius Award

Hullo John D. and Catherine T.   Every year around this time you roll out your genius awards, and every year,  including 2014, I find myself wondering why on earth so many of these coveted awards go to established artists, poets, musicians, novelists and scientists - and why so few go to the little-known sociologists, city planners and community activists whose big ideas, duly recognized, could go far to helping cities like Chicago define and solve, at long last, the set of youth-victimizing problems that over the past fifty years have destroyed the lives of so many young Americans.

So who's my choice to receive a MacArthur Genius award in 2015? It's Dan Bassill, a big-picture systems thinker from Chicago who over the past twenty years has quietly developed a massive, interactive online database which, fully implemented, would connect and empower thousands of talented Chicagoans (including city leaders) to give 200,000 at risk Chicago youngsters the educational skills t…

It Happened Sep 6 in Austin

There are public meetings and then there are public meetings. This one in Austin on September 6 was convened by a politician - State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford - who said it's up to Austinites to reshape Austin. Things get done, Ford said, when the community weighs the issues and tells its elected representatives exactly what needs to be done. The next Town Meeting is September 20. It will be the first of many and the goal, if I understand it right, is a New Austin.


The meeting opened and closed with a prayer. In between were three hours of open mike, breakout sessions (on education, youth issues, homelessness, and youth violence), and a final plenary session in which the thirty participants who stayed for the full three hours shared ideas and were promised that this meeting was the first step in an ongoing process. Below are some shots of the breakout sessions.