WBEZ | Curious City http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Fare Game: When do CTA Buses Break Even? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/fare-game-when-do-cta-buses-break-even-113884 <p><p>The midnight ride started it. Actually, it was about half past midnight. That&rsquo;s when Fred Pineda, who moved to the city seven years ago to attend the University of Chicago, would climb aboard the #6 bus to take him back to Hyde Park once he was done partying downtown. Fred says he made the trip often and &ldquo;usually there would only be about four or five of us on that bus, especially during weekdays. I was thinking, &lsquo;There&rsquo;s no way the CTA is making money off this route.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>Fred has since moved to the North Side, and hasn&rsquo;t taken that trip in a while. But a question from those days has stuck with him, the same question he&rsquo;s posed to Curious City:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>How many fares does it take for a bus to get to the break even point?</em></p><p>The &ldquo;break even point&rdquo; is that sweet spot where the amount of cash coming into the farebox on a given bus line matches what is going out to cover the bus&rsquo;s operating costs.</p><p>This is a big question for the second-largest public transit system in the country. Just in the first half of this year, about 869,000 weekday trips were taken on CTA buses. The agency spends $764 million to maintain that service, with a good chunk of that amount coming from public funds.</p><p>Technically, the CTA <em>could</em> break even &mdash; &nbsp;at least on paper. To get at exactly how, we ran a two-part thought experiment. The first looks at what the break even point actually is, while the second investigates what the CTA would have to change in service, pricing, and access in order for bus operations to pay for themselves.</p><p>In laying out the serious financial gymnastics required to create a wholly self-sufficient CTA bus service, we realize this story is more complex than finding a magic price point: There&rsquo;s often an impulse to make people who use a service pay its full cost, but when it comes to public transit, even some fiscal watchdogs agree that the goal of &ldquo;breaking even&rdquo; is not all it&rsquo;s cracked up to be.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Breaking even</span></p><p>To answer Fred&rsquo;s question, we have to determine what CTA buses earn, and compare that to what it costs to run the system. Most of the CTA&rsquo;s expenses fall into one of two categories: 1) overall costs (fuel, driver salaries, maintenance, and administration); and 2) capital costs (the price tags for new buses). According to transportation figures which the agency reports to the federal <a href="http://www.ntdprogram.gov/ntdprogram/">National Transit Database</a>, the CTA lines up fare collection data against its overall operating costs and excludes capital costs, since operating costs are where the bulk of the annual budget is directed.</p><p>The CTA&rsquo;s overall bus costs added up to $764,280,757 in 2013 &mdash; the latest year for which data are available.</p><p>In that same year, CTA buses earned $298,824,494 just in fares, or 39 percent of what it spent on its overall costs. The remaining 61 percent was mainly paid for with state and city subsidies deriving from sales taxes and Chicago&rsquo;s real estate transfer tax.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/fareboxrecoverycomparison.PNG" style="height: 388px; width: 620px;" title="" /></div><p>Although the CTA prefers not to look at its bus service through the &ldquo;break even&rdquo; lens, some of its buses do cross that threshold in certain circumstances, according to Yonah Freemark, a city planner who specializes in transportation and development policy for the <a href="http://www.metroplanning.org/people/staff-member/?id=67">Metropolitan Planning Council</a>.</p><p>Freemark bases his calculations on RTA data, as well as figures from the National Transit Database. He says it costs about $132 per hour for the CTA to operate a bus. Therefore, Freemark figures, in order to cover the full cost of its operations over a single hour, one bus would have to earn $132 per hour at the farebox. That covers costs for the driver, gas, administration, and maintenance. (Again, it leaves out capital costs, such as the bus itself.)</p><p>With a <a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/">full fare set at $2 per person</a> &nbsp;(<a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/">o</a>r<a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/"> </a>$<a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/">2</a>.<a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/">2</a>5<a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/"> </a>i<a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/">f</a> <a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/">y</a>o<a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/">u</a> <a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/">p</a>a<a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/">y</a> <a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/">c</a>a<a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/">s</a>h)<a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/"> </a>a CTA bus would seemingly need just 66 passengers to come aboard during that hour in order for that bus to break even. But in 2013, the <em>average</em> rider only paid about a dollar per trip. This is because, in compliance with state and federal regulations, the <a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/travel_information/fares/reduced.aspx">CTA offers a large number of riders free or reduced fares</a>, including students, seniors, people in the military, and disabled passengers. There are also unlimited ride passes, and multiple rides taken via transfers.</p><p>&ldquo;Given the fact that the average passenger on a bus is only paying about $1 per trip,&rdquo; says Freemark, a bus needs about 132 riders over the course of an hour in order to cover its costs.</p><p>With 128 bus routes operating throughout Chicago and 35 suburbs, it seems that if you add up all of the service hours throughout the entire CTA bus system (math that the CTA has been reluctant to do or share, citing considerations of staff time), you are likely to find that (a) most buses most of the time do not break even, and (b) breaking even is most prone to occur during peak hours, and not on every line.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">The cost of breaking even</span></p><p>The CTA has not announced plans to raise fares any time soon, and actually, a thought experiment may help understand why: What if the CTA wanted to break even? That is, what if the agency paid for all of its bus operating costs solely with what it earns from bus passengers?</p><p>According to Freemark, the fare price would have to skyrocket. &ldquo;You would need to increase the fare to $5.12 per trip,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s an increase of 156 percent.&rdquo;</p><p>That new $5.12 figure would be the equivalent of today&rsquo;s &ldquo;full fare&rdquo; price of $2.00. Under this scenario, reduced fares for veterans, seniors, and children would also rise proportionately, and Freemark&rsquo;s math accounts for the effects of free transfers and monthly passes. The bottom line, though, is that higher sticker price would fetch enough bus fares to cover the bus system&rsquo;s operating costs.</p><p>Freemark&rsquo;s take on this: &ldquo;Doing that would immediately result in a significant decline in the number of people taking the buses.&rdquo;</p><p>Freemark points to the <a href="https://hbr.org/2015/08/a-refresher-on-price-elasticity">concept of price elasticity</a>. As the price of something goes up &mdash; a candy bar, or a gallon of gas &mdash; the number of people willing to pay goes down. Transit elasticity, Freemark says, has a formula that&rsquo;s about -0.4, meaning every time fares increase by 10 percent, the number of riders drops by 4 percent. A full fare of $5.12 would equate to a price hike of 156 percent; Freemark expects CTA bus ridership would fall by 62.4 percent.</p><p>To test this thought experiment, we run our hypothetical price hike by Chicagoan Quinn Naughton, a regular bus rider who says &mdash; thought experiment or not &mdash; the CTA should never consider such a dramatic increase in fares.</p><p>&ldquo;People should protest, people should actually revolt,&rdquo; he says, adding that under our scenario, he would have to move &mdash; probably out of Chicago.</p><p>If the CTA wants to break even, Freemark says, the agency has a couple of other options, like increasing ridership. But, he warns &ldquo;if we more than doubled the number of people riding the bus everyday, you&rsquo;d need many, many more buses, so you&rsquo;d dramatically increase the cost of operations of the bus system.&rdquo;</p><p>Translation: You&rsquo;ll just end up spending more than you recover in fares. Freemark says faster buses with dedicated lanes and traffic signal priority would certainly boost ridership, and may bring the buses closer to breaking even. But that scenario would require political changes as well as new capital funds to adapt infrastructure.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Fending for itself</span></p><p>So far, our experiment&rsquo;s gone into the mechanics of what policy-makers and transit planners call the &ldquo;<a href="http://publictransport.about.com/od/Transit_Funding/a/The-Basics-Of-Transit-Funding.htm">farebox recovery ratio</a>,&rdquo; which compares the money collected from transit riders and operating costs. Again, CTA&rsquo;s recovery rate for its bus system was close to 39 percent in 2013. Why doesn&rsquo;t the agency try to break even?</p><p>Some of the answer has to do with the consequences Freemark laid out: If CTA hiked bus fares, it might actually lose riders. But another part of the answer is that the agency&rsquo;s not required to break even. The state of Illinois requires agencies under the Regional Transportation Authority &mdash; including CTA (bus and rail combined), Metra, and Pace &mdash; to collectively meet a 50 percent farebox recovery ratio, meaning that those agencies earn at least about half of their operating costs just through fares.</p><p>The farebox recovery ratio was originally established to prevent transit agencies from building more train and bus lines than the public would use.</p><p>Laurence Msall, President of the <a href="https://www.civicfed.org/">Chicago Civic Federation</a>, a nonpartisan research group that studies fiscal sustainability, says the recovery ratio mandate also ensured that the CTA, along with the other agencies, &ldquo;wasn&rsquo;t running significant deficits, that it was collecting as much as it could in terms of the farebox, and that we weren&rsquo;t giving away the system.&rdquo;</p><p>In recent years, the region has consistently met or surpassed the state-mandated minimum, but on occasion there are calls for CTA to adopt plans to boost recovery rates. (Just one example: During the transit funding crisis of 2007, representative <a href="http://ilga.gov/house/transcripts/htrans95/09517001.pdf">Dave Winters of Rockford argued for fare increases and higher recovery rates</a> in Chicago-area transit agencies: &ldquo;The users of those services need to carry their own weight.&rdquo;)</p><p>As for the CTA&rsquo;s own take on the &ldquo;break even&rdquo; idea, agency spokeswoman Tammy Chase says &ldquo;that&rsquo;s not a calculation that we ever make or would. It&rsquo;s moot for us.&rdquo; She says the agency regards public transportation as a public service, &ldquo;not just providing customers service from Point A to Point B. It&rsquo;s broader than that; there&rsquo;s a broader economic good, for all of the public. It&rsquo;s more than a ride to us.&rdquo;</p><p>Still, the agency does pay attention to basic laws of economics. For example, Chase says CTA determines bus routes based on the projected needs of riders: &ldquo;We pay attention to ridership demand, where the most riders are.&rdquo;</p><p>That translates into a metric the agency calls &ldquo;productivity,&rdquo; or the average number of passengers on a bus during one hour. &ldquo;You want to be ideally between 35 and 55 customers on a bus,&rdquo; Chase says. The CTA&rsquo;s most common buses seat around 35 passengers. &ldquo;If you&rsquo;re getting to above 50 riders, some are standing. It&rsquo;s still a comfortable experience. If you&rsquo;re getting to around 70 people, that&rsquo;s a crowded bus.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/cta/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/CTA%20productivity%20screen%20grab%20embed2.png" style="height: 413px; width: 620px;" title="" /></a></div><p>Chase says CTA adjusts schedules, the number of buses and even the size of buses to hit a standard for normal service hours. The overarching goal, she says, is to have no passenger in the city wait more than 30 minutes before the next scheduled bus arrives. (Disruptions in these routes can often lead to <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/why-buses-arrive-bunches-110941" target="_blank">&quot;bus bunching,&quot; which is tough to tackle.</a>)</p><p>Adjustments only go so far, though, and the agency does keep run some low-productivity lines. Chase says those examples exemplify how the CTA emphasizes public service over bottom line considerations like breaking even. Several buses provide essential transportation, if only to relatively few people: say, to those who might have no alternative for getting to school, to work, a pharmacy or grocery store.</p><p>Interestingly, even the Civic Federation&rsquo;s Laurence Msall says the break even idea is &ldquo;not a reasonable expectation,&rdquo; and the government needs to subsidize public transit in some form.</p><p>&ldquo;There is a very strong argument to be made that if Chicago, if the State of Illinois was in better financial shape, that it should be investing more in the public transportation system,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;We basically should be reducing even more the cost of riding the CTA to attract more riders or to expand the system.&rdquo;</p><p>Msall says the CTA has struggled with inefficiencies in the past, but right now, he thinks, the system can&rsquo;t get cheaper. It just costs too much to operate. It&rsquo;s worth the price, because CTA buses earn their keep everyday by cutting rush hour traffic and improving air quality.</p><p>Chicagoan Sarah Erwin, who relies almost solely on the CTA system to get around, agrees.</p><p>&ldquo;If you could have really great public transportation, you wouldn&rsquo;t have to have as many cars,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;We don&rsquo;t own a car. We specifically chose Lakeview where we can walk or get public transit or a Zipcar to where we need to go. So, it&rsquo;s vital to us.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">More about our questioner</span></p><p>Fred Pineda got his doctorate at the University of Chicago in medical physics. Now he works at the university developing MRI technology. It makes sense that a science guy would ask such a numbers-heavy question. But Pineda, a native of Mexico City, also regularly rides the CTA, where he spends about two hours on his daily commute. &nbsp;</p><p><em>Christopher Johnson is an independent producer and reporter based in Chicago.</em></p></p> Fri, 20 Nov 2015 17:20:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/fare-game-when-do-cta-buses-break-even-113884 Mold-A-Rama-rama! The secrets behind Chicago's plastic souvenir empire http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/mold-rama-rama-secrets-behind-chicagos-plastic-souvenir-empire-113794 <p><p><em>&ldquo;Jack put the coins in and I remember standing with him at the machine saying, &lsquo;Look at how f---king cool this is! Look at those dials moving! This is so bad--s!&rsquo;&rdquo;</em></p><p>How often do you hear a story about a rock star freaking out at a museum? According to Ben Blackwell, head of production at Third Man Records, this was Jack White&rsquo;s reaction when he purchased a John Deere tractor mold from the Mold-A-Rama machine at Chicago&rsquo;s Museum of Science and Industry, which they visited together during some downtime on the White Stripes&rsquo; 2005 tour.</p><p>That&rsquo;s right, Mold-A-Rama: that space-age looking vending machine found at most major Chicago tourist spots, including both zoos, the Willis Tower, and the Field Museum. Here how it works:</p><p>You insert two bucks, and hydraulic arms under a plastic bubble press two halves of a metal mold together.</p><p><img alt="" src="https://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-dailygraphics/moldarama/moldgif11111.gif" style="width: 479px; height: 270px;" /></p><p>After 60 seconds of histrionic gadgetry, the contraption spits out a polyethylene tchotchke that smells like melted spatula.</p><p><img alt="" src="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-dailygraphics/moldarama/moldgif222.gif" style="width: 480px; height: 270px;" /></p><p>It&rsquo;s an old-school 3-D printer, except it&rsquo;s faster, clunkier and makes only one thing.</p><p><img alt="" src="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-dailygraphics/moldarama/moldgif333.gif" style="width: 480px; height: 270px;" /></p><p>White and Blackwell liked Mold-A-Rama so much <a href="http://archive.tennessean.com/VideoNetwork/2196183966001/Third-Man-Records-shows-off-its-Mold-A-Rama" target="_blank">they bought a machine for their record shop in Nashville</a>.</p><p>Julie Piacentine, a Californian who became enchanted with Mold-A-Rama when she moved to Chicago, lacked the funds to do that. So instead, she sent us this question:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>I heard that Chicago has the most Mold-A-Rama machines. Is that true? How did we get so lucky?</em></p><p>As it turns out, the first part of Julie&rsquo;s question is easy to answer because nearly every Mold-A-Rama machine in a public space is owned by one of two companies: Unique Souvenirs in Lake Wales, Florida, and Mold-A-Rama Inc., in Brookfield, Illinois.</p><p><a name="locations"></a>Here&rsquo;s a tally of Mold-A-Rama machines by metro area:</p><table border="1" cellpadding="1" cellspacing="1" style="width: 620px"><tbody><tr><td><p><strong>MIDWEST: &nbsp;66 total</strong></p><p>Toledo, Ohio - 12</p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/mold-rama-rama-secrets-behind-chicagos-plastic-souvenir-empire-113794#tally"><em>Chicago-area, Illinois - 27*</em></a></p><p>St. Paul, Minnesota - 4</p><p>Dearborn, Michigan - 10</p><p>Milwaukee, Wisconsin - 13</p></td><td><p><strong>FLORIDA</strong></p><p>Miami - 12</p><p>Ft. Lauderdale - 1</p><p>Tampa - 21</p><p>Sarasota - 1</p><p>Orlando - 6</p></td><td><p><strong>TENNESSEE</strong></p><p>Knoxville - 8</p><p>Nashville - 1</p></td><td><p><strong>TEXAS</strong></p><p>San Antonio - 8</p></td></tr></tbody></table><p>Clearly, Chicago wins, with 27 machines. But it was the second part of Julie&rsquo;s question that&rsquo;s intriguing: How did we get so lucky? To answer that, we need to find out how the Mold-A-Rama business in Chicago came to be, and what makes it tick.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">The heart of Mold-A-Rama</span></p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="550" src="//cdn.knightlab.com/libs/timeline3/latest/embed/index.html?source=1N635WIZN1DsMH_aD-AGuRdAS9U7RvaFFMGLZ_82zEQY&amp;font=Default&amp;lang=en&amp;initial_zoom=2&amp;height=550" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>&ldquo;Surrounding Lake Michigan is pretty much the heart of Mold-A-Rama,&rdquo; says Paul Jones, who co-owns <a href="http://mold-a-rama.com/" target="_blank">Mold-A-Rama Inc.</a> with his father, Bill Jones. The company is based out of a small storefront in west-suburban Brookfield, just five minutes from the zoo, and they maintain most of the Mold-A-Rama machines in the Midwest.</p><p>Julie&rsquo;s use of the term &ldquo;lucky&rdquo; is apt, since Bill Jones essentially founded the local company on a whim in 1971. He was a Michigan State grad with a high-paying, but dull job in accounting. His secretary was married to the Mold-A-Rama operator who owned all the machines in Chicago. When she revealed that she and her husband wanted to retire, Bill offered to buy their business.</p><p>&ldquo;At the time my dad made that comment, he did not really know what the business was,&rdquo; says Paul, &ldquo;and having a successful job with five kids, my dad&rsquo;s family kind of looked at him like he was out of his mind.&rdquo;</p><p>The gamble paid off, though, with the business surviving spikes in the price of plastic, sales slumps and the 2008 recession. They&rsquo;ve also been able to raise prices here and there. The figurines originally cost 25 cents; for the past four years, the price has been two dollars. Paul says it will stay there until the price of oil goes up again.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re not really movers and shakers, out to take over the world with Mold-A-Rama,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re here to maintain and make a living. I have three college-age kids.&rdquo;</p><p>Paul adds that &ldquo;family&rdquo; is part of the operation&rsquo;s longevity.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/paul%20and%20dad%202015.jpg" style="height: 408px; width: 620px;" title="Paul Jones and his dad, Bill, who co-own Mold-A-Rama Inc. (Photo courtesy Paul Jones) " /></div><p>&ldquo;I get to work with my dad every day, who&rsquo;s one of the coolest and nicest guys you&rsquo;d ever want to meet,&rdquo; he says, adding some of his favorite memories involve early-morning maintenance work at places like Brookfield Zoo. &ldquo;You can walk and watch the animals, and talk to some of the keepers, and you get treated a little differently because you&rsquo;re the son of the Mold-A-Rama man.&rdquo;</p><p>The mold boat is kept afloat by more than family ties, though; it also happens to have a specific business strategy.</p><p>Mold-A-Rama competes with other souvenirs: flashy toys, plush animals, educational videos, reusable mugs and shot glasses. The secret to Mold-A-Rama is that it avoids zoo and museum gift shops altogether. The company has profit-sharing agreements with its hosts, and the machines are scattered throughout client locations, often offering figurine likenesses very near their real-life counterparts. At the Brookfield Zoo, for example, the gorilla figurine is on sale inside the ape house. Clever parents will avoid taking their children to the gift shop for fear of spending too much, only to succumb to a cute, two-dollar figurine.</p><p>Paul claims this strategy was part of Mold-A-Rama from the beginning. &ldquo;The more points of sale you have, the better the retail is,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s an impulse.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/moldfactory.jpg" style="height: 348px; width: 620px;" title="The Mold-A-Rama warehouse in Brookfield, Illinois. (WBEZ/John Fecile)" /></div><p>Another reason why Paul is able to stave off competition is that no new Mold-A-Rama machines have been manufactured since the 1960s. Mold-A-Rama, Inc., and Florida operator Tim Striggow are essentially maintaining the original stocks of machines: cleaning them, making repairs, and adding new parts on occasion. Every Mold-A-Rama machine you can see &mdash; in Chicago or Florida or in Jack White&rsquo;s record store &mdash; is at least a half-century old.</p><p>This is only possible because the machines &mdash; manufactured in Chicago, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/jackpot-chicagos-hold-pinball-industry-and-artistry-110175">along with pinball machines</a> &mdash; were so well-built in the first place.</p><p>&ldquo;In today&rsquo;s world, vending machines are meant to last three to four years,&rdquo; Paul says. &ldquo;They take &lsquo;em out, &nbsp;junk &lsquo;em, make new ones. I think they would laugh if you told them to make you a machine that was gonna last 50 years.&rdquo;</p><p>During a recent walk-through of his warehouse, Paul shows off has a dozen machines in various states of repair. He&rsquo;s nervous about us or anyone else taking photos, though, and maybe he&rsquo;s right to worry; if someone got the details of how his machines function, he says, they could build their own, and that would blow this whole thing wide open. A Disney &ldquo;imagineer&rdquo;, James Asher, <a href="http://ashermade.com/2015/08/07/mini-molder-finished-photos/">actually reverse-engineered his own mold machine</a>, and, while he maintains the project is just a hobby, it&rsquo;s possible to imagine mouse-shaped clouds on the horizon.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">The future of mold</span></p><p>What does the future hold for this niche of all niche industries? Costs are low, Paul says, and the strategy is already laid out: keep selling figurines at two dollars a pop. According to him, sales this year are better than ever.</p><p>He feels the company will keep up the momentum, since people just enjoy seeing something tangible made right before your eyes.</p><p>&ldquo;Mold-A-Rama machine is America 20 years ago, maybe 30 years ago, when we were all about manufacturing,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;It just brings people back to probably a simpler time.&rdquo;</p><p>We&rsquo;ve been learning that there are more reasons behind the souvenir&rsquo;s longevity, though. An active online community shares photos and stories about the figurines, and our own call for Chicagoans&rsquo; experiences with Mold-A-Rama show people notice &mdash; and even love &mdash; the figurines&#39; quirks: the colors, the designs and, of course, the smell.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/moldarama/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/roundupembed.png" style="height: 378px; width: 620px;" title="Click to explore Curious City's Mold-A-Rama roundup." /></a></div><p>As you can see in the responses, nostalgia&rsquo;s part of the souvenir&rsquo;s ongoing success. Mold-A-Rama fans are a multigenerational bunch, from grandparents who encountered the machines decades ago to grandkids experiencing it for the first time. Collectors often shell out <a href="http://www.ebay.com/itm/VTG-Weeki-Watchee-Florida-Springs-Mermaid-MOLD-A-RAMA-Mold-A-matic-Souvenir-/121794113040?hash=item1c5b7eae10:g:G-EAAOSwrklU9MWs">more than $200 for a rare figurine</a>, and some pay up to $15,000 for their own machine, like Jack White.</p><p>Fifty years of accumulated memories is part of the Mold-A-Rama legacy and a major reason that Mold-A-Rama&rsquo;s &ldquo;luck&rdquo; is unlikely to run out any time soon.</p><p><span style="font-size: 24px;">About our questioner</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/qaskerandmoldville.jpg" style="height: 413px; width: 620px;" title="Questioner Julie Piacentine and Mold-A-Rama Inc. co-owner Paul Jones at the businesses' headquarters in Brookfield, Illinois. (John Fecile/WBEZ)" /></p><p>University of Chicago librarian Julie Piacentine grew up in California, but lucky for us, she moved to the Mold-A-Rama heartland as an adult.</p><p>&ldquo;I first learned of them in Michigan,&rdquo; she recalls, &ldquo;but it was really in Chicago where it occurred to me that they are thing.&rdquo;</p><p>After telling coworkers that she was heading to the Brookfield headquarters of Mold-A-Rama, Inc., to help report this story, co-workers flew out of their offices with Mold-A-Ramas in hand to share their own stories.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s clearly this persistent love for Mold-A-Rama machines,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>Julie herself may have missed out on this quirky regional obsession as a kid, but now she says that she finally has that childhood memory she was looking for, albeit in adulthood.</p><p><em><a name="tally"></a>Special thanks to coin-op history wizard Dave Slabiak for research help.</em></p><p><em>Correction: An earlier version of this report misspelled the name of a farm implement manufacturer. The correct spelling is John Deere.</em></p><p><em>John Fecile is writer, filmmaker, and current intern at Curious City. Follow him @johnfecile.</em></p><hr /><p>*Our count of Chicago&rsquo;s Mold-a-Ramas included <a href="http://mold-a-rama.com/index.php?p=1_17_Molds-in-Production" target="_blank">machines operated by the Jones family in the city proper and the Brookfield Zoo</a>, as well as privately-owned machines at the <a href="http://volocars.com/">Volo Auto Museum</a> and the Chicago toy boutique <a href="http://rotofugi.com/">Rotofugi</a>, featuring <a href="http://www.roto-a-matic.com/">molds designed by artist Tim Biskup</a>.</p><p>If you know of any other Mold-a-Rama machines in public places that we missed, please notify us by leaving a comment on this page or by emailing <a href="mailto:curiouscity@wbez.org" style="font-size: 10px;">curiouscity@wbez.org</a>.</p></p> Fri, 13 Nov 2015 17:18:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/mold-rama-rama-secrets-behind-chicagos-plastic-souvenir-empire-113794 Blacksmiths: The 'plastic surgeons' on Chicago's payroll http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/blacksmiths-plastic-surgeons-chicagos-payroll-113688 <p><p>Our questioner, Joel, describes himself as a nerdy, curious guy who likes playing with data. When the City of Chicago <a href="https://data.cityofchicago.org/Administration-Finance/Current-Employee-Names-Salaries-and-Position-Title/xzkq-xp2w">published its payroll data</a>, he thought it would be fun to look and see what was there.</p><p dir="ltr">And he did find a surprise.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I was just scrolling through, and I saw &lsquo;blacksmith,&rsquo;&rdquo; he recalls. As in, the city employs one. &ldquo;Like, did my eyes deceive me?&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">A couple of mouse-clicks later, he found out how many blacksmiths the city employs. Then, he posted on Curious City:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>The city just released their budget and employee info on the open data portal. I noticed that Chicago has 20 blacksmiths! What do they do?</em></p><p>The word &ldquo;blacksmith&rdquo; conjures up an image of glowing-hot metal getting pulled from a big furnace and pounded into some usable shape &mdash; maybe a horseshoe &mdash; on an anvil. Maybe the light in this image comes from the furnace flame, since blacksmithing thrived for millennia before electric lights. The whole scene seems ancient, or at least old-fashioned.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/ss_eac_fa_a235_large_0.jpg" style="height: 452px; width: 620px;" title="A 1914 depiction of a blacksmith from a James Wallace painting titled Blacksmith, Midday in the Smiddy. (Photo courtesy East Ayrshire Council)" /></div><p>So, why would the notoriously cash-strapped City of Chicago employ more than 20 of them, at salaries of about $90,000 a year?</p><p>That&rsquo;s the essence of the question we got from Joel. He&rsquo;s asked us not to use his last name because he works for local government, and his boss, understandably, thought the question might make political higher-ups uncomfortable. Again, Joel promises he wasn&rsquo;t being snarky, just curious. Still, the city&rsquo;s mounted police unit only has about 30 horses: How many horseshoes could they need?</p><p>It turns out, there&rsquo;s a perfectly-reasonable story &mdash; or, almost-perfectly-reasonable &mdash; and it has nothing to do with horseshoes. (The city hires a farrier for that trade).</p><p>In pursuing it, we did find a living link from the ancient art of blacksmithing to the city&rsquo;s operations.</p><p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size:24px;">The city&rsquo;s plastic surgeons</span></p><p dir="ltr">So, then: What do the city&rsquo;s full-time blacksmiths actually do?</p><p dir="ltr">To find out, I visit blacksmith Luke Gawel at his work &mdash; a city plant at 52nd Street and Western Avenue, with two giant repair bays for trucks.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/WIDE%20shop%20FOR%20WEB.png" style="height: 397px; width: 620px;" title="A plant at 52nd Street and Western Avenue houses the city vehicles that need some blacksmith repair work. (WBEZ/John Fecile)" /></div><p dir="ltr">Here&rsquo;s how Gawel describes the job: &ldquo;We are like the plastic surgeons of the City of Chicago. The only difference is we haven&rsquo;t gone to medical school.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Their patients are the city&rsquo;s trucks: garbage trucks, ambulances, and fire trucks. But like people, these patients don&rsquo;t take off-the-shelf parts.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Every truck is almost custom,&rdquo; says Gawel. &ldquo;The city has them custom-built for their specs. When they get smashed, when they get damaged, you can&rsquo;t just go online ... [to] Amazon and get a panel. You have to build it, and then you have to install it.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">On the day I visit, Gawel has picked a small job to demonstrate what he does: welding a step back onto a garbage truck &mdash; the kind a worker rides on, at the back.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/welder1.jpg" style="height: 414px; width: 620px;" title="City blacksmith Luke Gawel welds a step back on to a garbage truck. This is one of the smaller jobs a city blacksmith can do, he says. (WBEZ/John Fecile)" /></div><p dir="ltr">He grinds off some paint and grime, and sets up his MIG welder. &nbsp;Then he applies the heat.</p><p dir="ltr">Less than a minute later, he&rsquo;s done. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s good to go,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;You can hang on it.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Except: Grease on the bottom of the newly-welded step is on fire.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It&rsquo;s probably a little warm to touch,&rdquo; Gawel admits. &ldquo;You can fry an egg on it, but &mdash; you let it cool off, throw some paint on it, and that&rsquo;s it.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">This is a small job, but Gawel spends a lot of time on bigger ones: replacing the sides of trucks, the floors, the big mechanical elements in back of a garbage truck that smush the trash. If you can&rsquo;t repair these big, basic parts, you&rsquo;d have to junk the whole vehicle.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;At the end,&rdquo; he says, &ldquo;we do save the city a lotta money.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">With a city fleet that includes 477 garbage trucks, 203 fire engines, 101 street sweepers, and 122 ambulances, Gawel and his colleagues have plenty to do.</p><p dir="ltr">In the winter, the city adds 333 salt spreaders and snow plows to the fleet &mdash; what Gawel&rsquo;s boss calls &ldquo;wear items&rdquo; &mdash; and twenty full-time blacksmiths isn&rsquo;t enough. <a href="https://data.cityofchicago.org/Administration-Finance/Employee-Overtime-and-Supplemental-Earnings-2014/9xua-tabs">The overtime numbers</a> are insane: more than $65,000 just for February 2015.</p><p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size:24px;">Is &lsquo;blacksmith&rsquo; the right word?</span></p><p dir="ltr">Given that the city&rsquo;s &ldquo;blacksmiths&rdquo; clearly spend the vast majority of their time welding, why not dispense with calling them such? After all, the number of workers employed as blacksmiths is clearly on the downswing.</p><p dir="ltr">The number of full-time blacksmiths in the U.S. peaked about a hundred years ago, when the U.S. Census Bureau counted 235,804.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/blacksmith%20chart%20edit.png" style="height: 333px; width: 620px;" title="The number of blacksmiths started declining when other old-line trades, like carpentry, were still growing. By 1920, the number of people working in modern, competing occupations — like machinist and electrician — surpassed the number of blacksmiths. (Source: U.S. Census)" /></div><p dir="ltr">Forty years later, in 1950, the <a href="http://www.bls.gov/mlr/1999/05/art2full.pdf">Bureau of Labor Statistics found that fewer than one in five of those jobs remained</a>. Following another thirty years of decline, the BLS found that three-quarters of those jobs were gone too, and it stopped counting.</p><p dir="ltr">Until he came to work for the city, Luke Gawel would not have counted himself among this ancient and dying breed, although the work he did in previous jobs was quite similar to what he now does for the city.</p><p dir="ltr">In fact, he stumbled onto this job because he found the job title just as incongruous &mdash; just as curious &mdash; as Joel did.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;One day, I was just scrolling through the city&rsquo;s website, and I saw a blacksmith,&rdquo; Gawel recalls. &ldquo;I was like, &lsquo;What? Blacksmith!?&rsquo; I couldn&rsquo;t believe it.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">He clicked on the job description and, as it happened, it described the work he was already doing in a private shop: using plasma cutters, acetylene torches, and welding tools.</p><p dir="ltr">Actually, <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/dhr/supp_info/JobSpecifications/JobSpecName/BLACKSMITH_6605.pdf">the job description also mentions heating metal in a forge</a> &mdash; a blacksmith&rsquo;s furnace &mdash; but the city hasn&rsquo;t owned a forge for years.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We had one downtown, when I first started,&rdquo; says Gawel&rsquo;s colleague Chuck Miggins, a city blacksmith since 1999. &ldquo;But we never used it, and it&rsquo;s obsolete.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">So, why does the City of Chicago still use the title &ldquo;blacksmith&rdquo;?</p><p dir="ltr">Leo Burns, Managing Deputy Commissioner for the Human Resources Department agrees it&rsquo;s a good question. But, he says, it&rsquo;s still the official job title.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It&rsquo;s in our bargaining agreement. We have an agreement with the <a href="https://www.boilermakers.org/">International Brotherhood of Boilermakers.</a>&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">You could translate that answer as: bureaucratic inertia. Changing it hasn&rsquo;t come up, and could be a hassle.</p><p dir="ltr">However, Burns says the outdated title is not causing the kind of problem that would get his attention. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t remember anyone saying we need a new title because we&rsquo;re not attracting candidates,&rdquo; he says.</p><p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size:24px;"><a name="pozniak"></a>Last of the real city blacksmiths?</span></p><p dir="ltr">I did talk with someone who worked the &ldquo;obsolete&rdquo; forge that city blacksmith Chuck Miggins remembers &mdash; a person who connects Miggins and Luke Gawel with the ancient image of a man (or a <a href="http://www.britannica.com/topic/Vulcan" target="_blank">Roman god</a> or <a href="https://www.google.com/search?q=goddess+brigid+blacksmithing&amp;espv=2&amp;biw=1600&amp;bih=791&amp;tbm=isch&amp;tbo=u&amp;source=univ&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0CDYQsARqFQoTCM-Doa_R-sgCFQEmHgodDHgGRg">Celtic goddess</a>) pounding on glowing-hot metal.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We always had somebody working on the fire, who worked the forge,&rdquo; says Richard Pozniak, who retired from the city&rsquo;s blacksmith force in 1993. The man on the fire would &ldquo;do things like straighten bumpers, make chains, special hooks,&rdquo; he says.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/poZcollage2.png" style="height: 414px; width: 620px;" title="Richard Pozniak, now 85, was the last City of Chicago blacksmith to work on the forge. Pozniak kept forging in his own shop for years after he retired, though, and has become a bit of a Chicago legend. (Photos courtesy New York State Designer Blacksmith newsletter archives and Peter Clowney) " /></div><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I was one of the last ones working on the fire.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">When Pozniak signed on with the city in 1950, old-school blacksmiths were already almost gone.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;By that time they only had one blacksmith,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;One real blacksmith &mdash; that worked on the fire.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Just one &mdash; out of what he remembers as 30 or 40 city blacksmiths. The rest were already doing basically the same work that Luke Gawel and Chuck Miggins do today: cutting pieces with gas torches, joining them with welds.</p><p dir="ltr">That&rsquo;s how Richard Pozniak spent his first ten years as a city blacksmith, but working on the fire had always been his goal. When his chance came, about ten years into his service with the city, he took it, and kept it till he retired.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/poZorama.jpg" style="height: 136px; width: 620px;" title="A panoramic photo of Richard Pozniak's basement. (Photo courtesy Peter Clowney) " /></div><p dir="ltr">A few years afterwards, the city idled its forge, but Richard Pozniak kept working his own fire &mdash; in a shop in his basement &mdash; making decorative items and tools.</p><p dir="ltr">Until now. At age 85, he&rsquo;s closing up shop.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I can no longer even get down to the basement to get around,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s an inevitability I had to accept.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Over the years, peers in the blacksmithing world had referred to him as a master. Among the tools that Richard Pozniak made are tongs of his own design, which artisan blacksmiths and hobbyists around the country now make and use. They&rsquo;re known as Poz tongs.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/poZdiptych.png" style="height: 332px; width: 620px;" title="A sample of Pozniak's work, left, and a few pairs of legendary 'Poz tongs,' right. (Photos courtesy Peter Clowney) " /></div><p dir="ltr"><em>For more about Richard Pozniak, check out <a href="http://www.studio360.org/story/117544-artsmith/">this story about him from the show Studio 360</a>, by his son-in-law, radio producer Peter Clowney.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em><a href="http://danweissmann.com/">Dan Weissmann</a> is a reporter and radio producer in Chicago. Follow him <a href="https://twitter.com/danweissmann">@danweissmann</a></em></p></p> Fri, 06 Nov 2015 16:18:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/blacksmiths-plastic-surgeons-chicagos-payroll-113688 'Poland elsewhere': Why so many Poles came to Chicago http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/poland-elsewhere-why-so-many-poles-came-chicago-113578 <p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/can-chicago-brag-about-size-its-polish-population-113490">We&rsquo;ve already broken the news that Chicago proper is not home to more Poles than any city outside Poland.</a> Chicago-boosters and braggarts may be disappointed in this demographic insight, but it&rsquo;s still undeniable that Chicago has a strong Polish presence and feel.</p><p>After all, didn&rsquo;t legendary football coach <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3KfqgX4y80">Mike Ditka call his Chicago Bears a &ldquo;Grabowski team&rdquo;?</a> Isn&rsquo;t it the case that there&rsquo;s a first-rate <a href="http://www.polishmuseumofamerica.org/">Polish history museum in the city</a>? And, isn&rsquo;t every observant Catholic in the Chicago area (Polish-speaking or not) aware that Mass is celebrated in Polish in dozens of local parishes each and every Sunday?</p><p>Add up all that Polish-ness and you&rsquo;ve got grounds to agree with questioner Todd Leiter-Weintraub that it&rsquo;s worth knowing more about how this came to be. Here&rsquo;s the full question Todd asked us to tackle:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>How did Chicago become such a magnet for Polish immigrants in particular? What is it that brought them to our town? Was it a particular industry?</em></p><p>The Chicago metro&rsquo;s large, dense Polish population suggests there must be a specific reason so many Poles came here. Todd suspects an industry unique to Chicago drew Poles in particular &mdash; just as hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers came to California to build the railroads in the 19th century.</p><p>As it turns out, the answer has more to do with timing &mdash; a perfect convergence of broad historical processes &mdash; rather than an industry specific to Chicago Poles. We won&rsquo;t aim to compete with the <a href="http://www.goodreads.com/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&amp;query=polish%2C+chicago">many books that have addressed this convergence in depth</a>, but we can summarize what happened during the major waves of Polish migration from the 1860s through today. Chicago-based historian Dominic Pacyga (himself Polish-American) sets the scene for each, and personal accounts round out the story of why so many Poles chose Chicago above other options in the U.S. and around the globe.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">The 1860-1924 Za Chlebem &ldquo;For Bread&rdquo; migration</span></p><p>According to Pacyga, Chicago received a trickle of migrants from Poland beginning in the 1830s. But it really got going in the 1860s. By the mid-1800s, Poland had been annexed and divided by more powerful neighbors Russia, Prussia (which later evolved into the nation of Germany), and Austria-Hungary. Polish peasants had not been much better off than slaves until the 1860s, when the peasants were &ldquo;liberated&rdquo; in all three <a href="http://www.encyclopediaofukraine.com/display.asp?linkpath=pages/S/E/Serfdom.htm">partitions</a>. Practically, this meant Polish peasants could now own land and had some civil rights, but even the liberated Poles found life difficult under what to them was foreign rule.</p><p>One immigrant who lived through the tail end of this period was John Gapinski, who recorded his account for the <a href="http://chsmedia.org/media/fa/fa/M-O/OHACP-inv.htm">Chicago Polonia Project</a> during the 1970s. Gapinski remembered that expressions of Polish identity were repressed in the German partition. As he explained:</p><blockquote><p dir="ltr"><em>Nobody could teach Polish. Some noble ladies tried to teach Polish in their homes. The police found out. They capture them and took away the books and put the ladies in jail. The only way to learn Polish was at home. </em></p></blockquote><div>Liberated Polish peasants were free to leave their respective countries. Pacyga says &ldquo;American fever swept through all three partitions&rdquo; as hundreds of thousands of peasants sought jobs in America. Some wanted to earn enough to buy land in Poland, while others came with the intention of becoming American.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Migrating Poles had several options in the United States. There were jobs available in New York, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and many smaller cities and towns.</div><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/gapinski2.png" style="float: right; height: 262px; width: 300px;" title="" />But no American city at the time was booming like Chicago was. Pacyga compares the environment to that of today&rsquo;s Silicon Valley.</p><p>&ldquo;Chicago was the Cupertino of the 19th century. This is where people came with ideas and tried technology out,&rdquo; he says, adding that the city also benefitted from being the connection point between eastern and western railroads. &ldquo;This of course created hundreds of thousands of jobs, and brought millions of people to these shores and especially Chicago.&rdquo;</p><p>Between 1860 and 1910, Chicago&rsquo;s population grew twenty-fold, from a little over 100,000 to more than two million.</p><p>This massive urban growth, converging with nearly three million Poles leaving Europe, forms part of the answer to our question: Chicago&rsquo;s Polish population is so large because the city&rsquo;s growth occurred at just the right time to attract hundreds of thousands of Poles who happened to be looking for new homes and opportunities. Those Polish immigrants established a culture and built institutions that would attract more Poles in succeeding generations. The Archdiocese of Chicago played a part by creating Polish-friendly parishes and schools.</p><p>Many of the Poles who originally intended to return to Poland decided to stay in the U.S., sending home for wives, girlfriends, children and other relatives.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/map2.png" style="height: 569px; width: 620px;" title="Courtesy Polish Museum of America, from the book Chicago's Polish Downtown" /></div><div><p>Albina Deptuch, recorded by the <a href="http://chsmedia.org/media/fa/fa/M-O/OHACP-inv.htm">Chicago Polonia Project</a>, remembered that her father came to Chicago around 1905, when she was a little girl. A tailor, he first tried Canada but as Deptuch said, &ldquo;He couldn&rsquo;t find any place to be a tailor.&rdquo; In Chicago he found work for the clothier <a href="http://www.hartschaffnermarx.com/about-1/">Hart Shaffner Marx</a>, and &mdash; one by one &mdash; he brought family members to the city.</p><p>Deptuch remembered that in 1914, rumors of war swept through Europe, and her father spent all he had to bring her and her mother to Chicago. He didn&rsquo;t have enough to bring her two brothers and another sister, who had to fend for themselves during the tribulations of World War I.</p><p>After World War I, Poland regained its independence and by the 1920s Polish migration to the U.S. began to slow. Some Polish-Americans, swept up in the optimism of the times, moved back to Poland. In the U.S., isolationism and anti-foreign sentiment brought about the passage of the 1924 Immigration Act, which drastically restricted immigration from Eastern Europe. This ended the first great migration of Poles to Chicago.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">1948-1950s Displaced persons migration</span></p><p>World War II devastated Poland. During the war, Nazi Germany occupied much of the nation and, according to Dominic Pacyga, a staggering one quarter of the entire population was killed. Millions were enslaved in Nazi work camps, and when the war ended, Poles found their country controlled by the Soviet Union &mdash; considered a hostile occupying force by many Poles. In theory, Poles displaced in the war could return to Soviet-controlled Poland, but many worried they would be oppressed or persecuted.</p><p>The story of<a href="http://lightning-and-ashes.blogspot.com/"> Polish-American poet John Guzlowski</a> and his family illustrates the dilemma faced by displaced Poles. Guzlowski explains he was born in a displaced persons camp in West Germany in 1948. He says his father, displaced during the war, tried to return to Poland but was shot at by the Soviet Army at the border. His uncle returned to Poland, but was immediately arrested as a possible troublemaker by Soviets and sent to Siberia, where he lived the rest of his life in exile.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/guzlowski.png" style="height: 181px; width: 620px;" title="" /></div><p><a href="http://www.uscis.gov/history-and-genealogy/our-history/agency-history/post-war-years">The Displaced Persons Act of 1948</a> allowed Poles to immigrate to the U.S., but Congress made few provisions for actually moving people from Europe to America. Regardless, Dominic Pacyga says about 450,000 Poles arrived as refugees anyway they could. Many headed for Chicago, where they could unite with relatives from previous migrations.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/B10 Parents in park, Chicago 19751.png" style="height: 454px; width: 300px; float: left;" title="John Guzlowski's parents circa 1975, probably at the Caldwell Woods forest preserve. (Photo courtesy John Guzlowski)" />John Guzlowski&rsquo;s family spent years in different camps until a farmer in upstate New York paid for their passage from Germany to New York. The family spent a year on the farm to pay off the passage. After that year, his father chose to relocate to Chicago, even though the farmer offered the family a home and jobs on the farm. Guzlowski says his family arrived in Chicago with nothing but a steamer trunk to hold everything they owned.</p><div class="image-insert-image ">&ldquo;We settled in Chicago and there was so much work to do,&rdquo; he says. His father worked double shifts at a factory, and his mother worked, too. Within three years, he says, &ldquo;My parents had worked enough so they could buy a five unit apartment building in the Humboldt Park area.&rdquo;</div><p>According to Pacyga, this story of hard work and economic success was common among displaced persons. Not everyone could buy apartment buildings, he says, but Poles found they could make a decent living in Chicago even if they only worked in factories.</p><p>&ldquo;You work eight hours a day, you go home, you watch television, you relax a bit,&rdquo; Pacyga says. &ldquo;You have Sundays and Saturdays off. It&rsquo;s a better deal. That&rsquo;s what Chicago represented to most Poles in all of the migrations, a better deal.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size: 24px;">1981-1989 The Solidarity Migration</span></p><p>Immigration to Chicago slowed to a trickle after the 1950s because of the Cold War. Poles had a difficult time leaving their Soviet-block country, and Polish-Americans were rarely allowed to visit family and friends back home. Ironically, it was a protest movement against the Polish Communist government, and the ensuing crackdown, that led to a loosening of restrictions.</p><p>In 1980 a dockworkers union in Gdansk went on strike to protest working conditions. This seemingly minor event touched off a nationwide protest &mdash; an expression of decades of pent-up frustration of a government understood to be controlled by the Soviet Union.</p><p>The government declared martial law in 1981, and it harassed, arrested, and blacklisted Solidarity activists. During the following years, many Poles sought to leave the country. In many cases, the Polish government granted exit visas, taking an attitude that &ldquo;troublemakers&rdquo; who didn&rsquo;t like life under Polish socialism could go ahead and leave.</p><p>Janusz Majewski took the Polish government up on that offer in 1983. Majewski, now 70, tells us he sought political asylum after his involvement with the Solidarity movement. An immigration officer found a family willing to host him in Chicago. He still lives here today.</p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="349" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/PDppCDMt3R4?showinfo=0" width="620"></iframe><p>Thousands of such political and economic refugees arrived in Chicago, again taking advantage of family connections, as well as secular and religious institutions that had developed in Polish neighborhoods.</p><p>Kasia McCormick tells us her father had been an engineer connected with Solidarity. She was eighteen months old in 1981 when her family left Poland for a refugee camp in Austria. At the camp, other nations offered them permanent residence, including Australia, Denmark, and South Africa. Some countries offered generous refugee benefits.</p><p>&ldquo;My mom said in Denmark, if you had two kids, they had to give you the same standard of living of every Danish person who had two kids,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;America didn&rsquo;t give you anything, just the visa.&rdquo;</p><p>But McCormick says her father had already been to Chicago a few years earlier, and knew there were ample jobs for Polish immigrants.</p><p>&ldquo;He was like, &lsquo;I already knew that nothing was stopping me in Chicago. I knew that if you worked hard enough, you were going make it,&rsquo;&rdquo; she says. &nbsp;</p><p>Dominic Pacyga says many Poles realized Chicago not only had jobs, but a Polish-American community.</p><p>&ldquo;This guy knows there are people who will talk to him in Polish,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;People who will say, &lsquo;You know, I&rsquo;ll get you the job around the corner, they need somebody.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Chicago as &lsquo;Poland elsewhere&rsquo;</span></p><p>After the 1989 collapse of Communist rule in Eastern Europe, Poland once again became an independent nation. With the end of the Cold War, that has meant that thousands of Polish-Chicagoans have had the opportunity to return to their home country to visit friends and family &mdash; something many thought they would never have a chance to do.</p><p>Since then, Poles have continued to immigrate to Chicago. For some, the draw is to reunite with family members, as is the case with Monika Galuszka, now the Polish coordinator for Chicago&rsquo;s Board of Elections. (Galuszka describes her experience in the video below).</p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="349" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ZOnhlxv3w44?rel=0&amp;showinfo=0" width="620"></iframe><p>For other Polish arrivals in the post-Soviet era, a major draw is the opportunity to earn more than they can make in Poland. In some cases, Poles come for months or years to earn money and then return home. Dominic Pacyga says the current era constitutes a distinct migration period, albeit smaller than the others discussed above. The number of arrivals from Poland to Chicago is slowing, largely because the U.S. is not as <a href="http://voicesofny.org/2015/05/fewer-poles-win-visa-lottery-and-even-fewer-immigrate-to-us/">open to Polish migration as it has been in other eras</a>. (As we explored in<a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/can-chicago-brag-about-size-its-polish-population-113490"> our previous story on Chicago&rsquo;s Polish population,</a> many more Poles are choosing to migrate to the United Kingdom instead of the United States.)</p><p>That said, the Polish institutions and Polish culture that were established beginning in the 1860s are still strong in Chicago and the metro area. Take the case of Malgorzata Cieslak, a Solidarity refugee who came to the U.S. with her husband in the 1980s. She settled in a small town in Minnesota, where she says &ldquo;The people were beautiful. They were friendly, helpful. And I&rsquo;m happy that we were there for five years. But it became a little boring after a while.&rdquo;</p><p>When she lived in Minnesota, Cieslak and her husband often visited friends in west-suburban Oak Park, loading up on Polish bread and sausage for their freezer. As much as they liked their community in Minnesota, she says something was off.</p><p>&ldquo;We missed being connected to Polish people and Polish activities &mdash; Polish media and bookstores, and [movies] from Poland.&rdquo; So when their friends in Oak Park found a house they could afford, she and her husband moved, and she now helps Polish-speaking patients navigate the hospital at <a href="http://www.advocatehealth.com/luth/body.cfm?id=141&amp;action=detail&amp;ref=381">Lutheran General</a>.</p><p>Dominic Pacyga says the experience of Polish-Americans choosing Chicago over other perfectly nice places continues to this day, and will continue. They know there are other Polish-Americans here, he says, and that in itself is a strong draw.</p><p>Chicago, he says, is &ldquo;Poland elsewhere. Chicago has provided a garden for Polonia to grow in.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="https://www.flickr.com/search/?text=chicago&amp;group_id=364903%40N23" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/flickrcollage2.png" style="height: 299px; width: 620px;" title="Photos of Chicago's Polish landscape show the many ways the city's become 'Poland elsewhere.' Click to see the collection on Flickr. " /></a></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><em>Special thanks to Dan Pogorzelski for connecting us with so many Polish-Americans, as well as translation help.</em></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><em>Correction: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect spelling of an interviewee&rsquo;s name. The correct spelling is Monika Galuszka.&nbsp;</em></div></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 30 Oct 2015 16:32:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/poland-elsewhere-why-so-many-poles-came-chicago-113578 Can Chicago brag about the size of its Polish population? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/can-chicago-brag-about-size-its-polish-population-113490 <p><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: This story about the number of Poles and folks of Polish ancestry has a related <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/poland-elsewhere-why-so-many-poles-came-chicago-113578" target="_blank">companion piece, which explains what drove successive waves of Polish migration to Chicago in the first place</a>.</em></p><p>Chicago is a proud city. We have a lot to brag about:<a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/building-skyscrapers-chicagos-swampy-soil-111658" target="_blank"> amazing architecture</a>, an expansive<a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/how-has-chicago%E2%80%99s-coastline-changed-over-decades-104328" target="_blank"> lakefront park system</a>, and <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/beyond-deep-dish-exploring-chicagos-other-native-foods-112815">distinctive cuisine,</a> to name a few. This year, we even had opportunities to brag about the Chicago Cubs.</p><p>Sometimes, though, we brag about things that may not actually be true. Questioner Todd Leiter-Weintraub wonders about one such boasting point.</p><p>&ldquo;It was something my father told me,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;He&rsquo;s a smart guy, but he likes to remind people how smart he is so he was like &lsquo;You know, Todd, Chicago has the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw. I bet you didn&rsquo;t know that.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>Todd does know, because he&rsquo;s heard it a half-dozen times already. But recently, he&rsquo;s been wondering if it&rsquo;s actually true. After all, Chicago has changed a lot since the 1980s, when his dad enjoyed trotting out that impressive &ldquo;fact.&rdquo; His question for Curious City:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>Is it really true that the Chicago is the largest Polish City outside of Warsaw?</em></p><p>Todd&rsquo;s dad, Jay Weintraub, is not the only one who thinks so. Curious City has six other queries about whether or not we are actually No. 1 outside of Warsaw. We thought it would be simple: Just find a demographer who knows the answer. Bam. Done. But the question of who is No. 1 outside of Poland turns out to be surprisingly complex. For one thing, the answer changes over time, and it depends on what you mean by &ldquo;Chicago.&rdquo; There are also different metrics for measuring &ldquo;Polish&rdquo; in different time periods, and in other countries.</p><p>In taking it on comprehensively, we&rsquo;re breaking new ground: As far as we can find, nobody has conducted a study that compares the leading candidate cities and metropolitan areas over the decades. Read on for an evaluation of who gets bragging rights in the contest for demographic &ldquo;Polishness&rdquo; between cities, and the separate and perhaps <a href="http://america2050.org/pdf/beyondmegalopolislang.pdf" target="_blank">more relevant </a>contest between metropolitan regions.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Ancestry city to city</span></p><p>Questioner Todd Leiter-Weintraub says he&rsquo;s sure his father was referring to the city of Chicago, not the Chicago region, when he repeated his claim, so we&rsquo;ll start there.</p><div class="image-insert-image ">Right away, we can say Chicago is not the largest Polish city outside of Warsaw because there are two cities, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Łódź" target="_blank">Łódź</a> and<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wroc%C5%82aw" target="_blank"> Wroclaw</a>, that at any given time, appear to have a&nbsp;<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cities_and_towns_in_Poland" target="_blank">larger population</a> (by definition Polish) than Chicago&rsquo;s Polish ancestry. But if we reframe the question to find the largest Polish city outside of Poland, that sets up a nice rivalry between Chicago and a couple of other major cities you&rsquo;ve probably heard of. In this contest, sticking to the city limits is, well, limiting, but Chicago is still a strong contender. After all, Chicago is famous for welcoming tens of thousands of Polish immigrants in the 19th century. According to Chicago historian Dominic Pacyga, Poles saw Chicago as a land of opportunity.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/city limits category usa.png" style="height: 349px; width: 400px; float: right;" title="(WBEZ/Logan Jaffe)" /></div></div><p>&ldquo;If you can&rsquo;t make it in Chicago, you can&rsquo;t make it anywhere,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;You had the stock yards, you had the tanneries, you had the steel mills, tremendous industrial growth in the 19th century just attracted people.&rdquo;</p><p>By 1920 there were 151,260 Polish-born people living in Chicago, and by 1930 &mdash; six years after the federal government drastically <a href="http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/st/english/publication/2008/03/20080307112004ebyessedo0.1716272.html#axzz3pOVmnds4" target="_blank">limited the number of Poles who could immigrate</a> &mdash; there were about 400,000 people of Polish &ldquo;stock&rdquo; as measured by the census. In the 1950s, Chicago got a boost as tens of thousands of Poles displaced by WWII settled here. And we got yet another boost in the 1980s, when Chicago welcomed Polish political refugees during the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/13/opinion/the-rise-and-fall-of-solidarity.html" target="_blank">tumultuous Solidarity period in Poland</a>.</p><p>However, as early as the 1950s, successful well-established Polish-Chicagoans have done what other immigrant groups in Chicago do: move out to the suburbs. And while Chicago certainly received many Poles over the years, other American cities also saw their share of Polish immigrants during all of those migrations, particularly Detroit, Pittsburgh and New York. When immigration to Chicago started to taper off back in 2007, newspaper accounts reported that <a href="http://voicesofny.org/2012/02/new-york-dethrones-chicago-as-the-largest-polish-city-outside-of-warsaw/" target="_blank">Chicago had been passed</a>&nbsp;by New York City. Unfortunately, these accounts were only half-right.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/chicagonycpolishchart4.png" style="height: 357px; width: 620px;" title="New York City surpassed Chicago's Polish population sometime before 1940. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)" /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">Based on the best information we can find, New York has been ahead of Chicago for at least 35 years, and possibly much longer than that. Currently, a quick search of the U.S. Census American Factfinder reveals that, as of 2014, the city of Chicago is behind New York in its Polish ancestry population. That survey puts Chicago at about 150,000 and New York at about 205,000. But when you look at the historic census data, it&rsquo;s clear that if New York &ldquo;passed&rdquo; Chicago, it was much earlier than 2007.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/nyc-chicago-population.png" style="height: 230px; width: 350px; float: right;" title="Source: American Community Survey 2014 estimates" /></div></div><div class="image-insert-image ">The U.S. Census Bureau provides reliable &ldquo;Polish-Ancestry&rdquo; data back to 1980, and New York was ahead then. Before that, the U.S.Census Bureau measured &ldquo;foreign stock,&rdquo; which includes immigrants and second-generation Polish-Americans. According to the data we could find, New York&rsquo;s Polish &ldquo;stock&rdquo; was ahead of Chicago&rsquo;s at least as far back as 1940. Chicago may have been ahead of New York around the turn of the century, but New York has definitely been No. 1 since 1980 &mdash; and likely decades earlier.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">How could this be true? Joseph Salvo, a demographer in New York&rsquo;s Department of City Planning, says it&rsquo;s not so surprising.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&ldquo;I want to be fair to Chicago here. New York is three times the size of Chicago. Our sheer size gives us a large volume of people,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;For that reason, we can surprise people when it comes to the size of groups.&rdquo;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Salvo points out that while there may be more people of Polish ancestry in New York, they&rsquo;ve always been more diffuse and spread out than in Chicago. And, because it is a smaller city, Chicago has a much higher percentage of people with Polish ancestry &mdash; 20 percent compared to just over two percent in New York. While New York has always had a handful of predominantly Polish neighborhoods, it has never had anything like Chicago&rsquo;s &ldquo;Polish Downtown,&quot; which has twice the area of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York&rsquo;s biggest historically Polish neighborhood.</div><p>Salvo also thinks the long misperception might have something to do with other differences between the Polish populations in New York and Chicago. He observes some of the largest Polish ancestry neighborhoods in New York tend to be heavily Jewish and believes New York&rsquo;s Polish population probably includes large numbers of Jews of Polish descent. Chicago also has Jews with Polish ancestry, but not as many as New York.</p><p>Salvo says when comparing New York to Chicago, Chicagoans may not take into account Jews of Polish ancestry, because of the historical significance of the Polish Catholics: &ldquo;My wife works at a school that is run by the Sisters of the Resurrection, a Polish order with very very deep roots in Chicago. I&rsquo;m always hearing stories about the nuns and how they [visit] Chicago. So I want to give Chicago some credit, the Polish Catholic population in Chicago is quite legendary in some ways.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/city%20limits%20category%20global.png" style="float: right; height: 349px; width: 400px;" title="(WBEZ/Logan Jaffe)" /><span style="font-size:24px;">But what about Europe?</span></p><p>Legendary or not, it&rsquo;s a bit hard to accept we&rsquo;re No. 2 to New York. And there may be worse news. We&rsquo;ve been focusing on the U.S., but immigration from Poland to the U.S. has declined in the last 10 years. Poland, on the other hand, is still losing many young, talented workers to other countries. If they&rsquo;re not coming here, where are they going?</p><p>Pick up any European newspaper for the answer. You can read about Poles migrating all over Europe: Ireland, Germany, Sweden, and most of all, the United Kingdom. Because of that, we estimate London passed New York and Chicago as the biggest Polish city outside of Poland sometime between 2011 and 2014.</p><p>Here&rsquo;s why we think that&rsquo;s the case. In 2004 the U.K. opened its borders and labor markets to the European Union, and hundreds of thousands of Poles took the opportunity to migrate. Since the 1990s, Poles have learned English in school, and the wages and standard of living in the U.K. are much higher than those in Poland.&nbsp;Richard Butterwick-Pawlikowski, a Polish-Briton and a Professor of Polish-Lithuanian History at University College London says that Poles were initially quite welcome, but over time, things changed. &ldquo;Reaction to Polish migration has become more hostile in the last few years,&rdquo; he says, pointing to pressures put on education, social and health services.</p><p>Butterwick-Pawlikowski says Poles are scapegoats &mdash; <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/business-29910497" target="_blank">studies show they pay more in taxes</a> than they receive in social benefits. And despite complaints from British-born workers, he says, Polish migrants remain welcome in the eyes of employers.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;If you&rsquo;re a British employer and you&rsquo;ve got the choice between an educated polite immigrant from Poland, with really very good English, and a great work ethic, and a local born person who is uneducated, unqualified, unwilling, unable to treat customers properly, then it&rsquo;s a no-brainer: You&rsquo;re going to go for the immigrant,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Whether they&rsquo;re welcome or unwelcome, most of the Polish migrants have stayed, and many have become citizens.</p><p>Does London actually have more Poles than New York and Chicago? The most recent reliable numbers come from the 2011 British census, which indicated there were about 150,000 people in London who were born in Poland, still fewer than New York or Chicago. But since then, the total number of Polish people in the U.K. has grown by<a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2856046/Britain-home-1-3m-eastern-Europeans-Poles-KRAKOW.html"> 75 percent or more</a>. If you assume that London has maintained its share of the overall growth, then London&rsquo;s Polish population would be over 250,000, nearly 50,000 more than New York. Again, no expert we encountered knows the exact number, but Richard Butterwick-Pawlikowski agrees our estimate is plausible.</p><p>Which means, Chicago is the city with the third largest Polish population outside of Poland. Bad news for anybody who wants to boast about Chicago.</p><p>If you&rsquo;ve ever succumbed to buying the urban legend yourself, you shouldn&rsquo;t feel too bad. According to <a href="http://www.robparal.com/" target="_top">Rob Paral, a Chicago-based demographer</a>, it&rsquo;s easy for a city to love the legend of identifying with a group and then exaggerate the numbers &mdash; and that goes for Polish-Americans as well as much smaller groups.</p><p>&ldquo;There are a number of groups where people will tell you &lsquo;There are about a hundred thousand of us in Chicago,&rsquo;&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;Unfortunately, if you added up all the 100,000 groups, we&rsquo;d be a city of 10 million or something.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metro%20category%20global2.png" style="height: 349px; width: 400px; float: right;" title="(WBEZ/Logan Jaffe)" /><span style="font-size:24px;">Let&rsquo;s compare metros for a change</span></p><p>We may not be a city of ten million, but our metropolitan area is almost that big. And if you think about it, &ldquo;Chicago&rdquo; has come to mean more than &ldquo;the city of Chicago&rdquo; to most people in the area. The city might be the economic heart of the region, but<a href="http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/323.html" target="_blank"> hundreds of thousands</a> of people commute into the city from the suburbs. And if you look at Polish ancestry census figures, provided by demographer Rob Paral, you see that the number of Chicago residents with Polish ancestry began to decline in the 1980s, all the while growing in the suburbs. Dominic Pacyga says Polish-Americans in the region are now &ldquo;mostly suburban.&rdquo;</p><p>The Chicago metro is actually more suburban than the New York metro. About half of the people in the New York metro live outside of New York City. In our metro, it&rsquo;s more like two-thirds, and people of Polish ancestry are five times more likely to live in the suburbs than the city.</p><p>Which means, that when it comes to comparing Polish ancestry of metropolitan areas, we win! The Chicago area has a Polish ancestry population of just less than 900,000. New York&rsquo;s is closer to 800,000, and London&rsquo;s is much smaller. Translation: The Chicago metropolitan area is the largest Polish metropolitan area outside of Poland.</p><p>That large Polish and Polish-American population has had a real impact. You can r<a href="http://www.chicagoelections.com/po/about-the-chicago-election-board.html" target="_blank">egister to vote</a> in Polish. You can get a Polish interpreter<a href="http://www.advocatehealth.com/luth/body.cfm?id=141&amp;action=detail&amp;ref=381" target="_blank"> if you go to the right hospital</a>. There are fifty-two Catholic Churches in the Archdiocese of Chicago that offer Mass in Polish, and there are 104 priests who speak Polish. We have <a href="http://www.polskieradio.com/" target="_blank">Polish radio</a> and <a href="http://www.polvision.com/" target="_top">Polish TV</a>.</p><p>For a more personal spin, take the story of Kasia McCormick and her family, the Krynskis. She came with her parents as a baby in the 1980s, political refugees from the Soviet-controlled Polish government. Her father worked construction at first, and her mother taught pre-school, but now the family has a<a href="http://domitp.com/electric-potato-grater" target="_blank"> business importing goods from Poland</a> to sell in Chicago. They bring in Polish clothing, China, and Christmas ornaments, among other goods. She says there are so many Poles and Polish-Americans that one of their best-selling imports is an appliance only used to make potato pancakes.</p><p>&ldquo;If you ever grated potatoes by hand,&rdquo; she says, &ldquo;you would probably look for an electric potato grater your second time because it&rsquo;s so much work. I think we&rsquo;re one of the only places in the states that actual carry that.&rdquo; The Krynskis rely on a large Polish community here for their livelihood.</p><p>That Polish community has also influenced Chicago&rsquo;s sense of itself. Paral says Chicago likes to identify with Polish working-class culture. He cites a phrase used by Mike Ditka, the legendary Polish-American football coach.</p><p>&ldquo;Ditka used to say the Chicago Bears were a &lsquo;<a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1986-01-19/features/8601050626_1_chicago-magazine-sunday-s-super-bowl-mike-ditka" target="_blank">Grabowski team&rsquo;</a>,&rdquo; referring to a typical-sounding Polish name. &ldquo;It was his way of saying we don&rsquo;t finesse things. We&rsquo;re not fancy. We&rsquo;re just kind of tough and we get the job done. Chicago was always kind of proud of that and reveled in it.&rdquo;</p><p>According to historian Dominic Pacyga, Chicago&rsquo;s Polishness is legendary in Poland itself, and it doesn&rsquo;t matter whether Chicago&rsquo;s is the largest Polish city or not.</p><p>&ldquo;It is the Polish home in America. And it&rsquo;s a symbol of opportunity for most people, a place where you know where you go and talk to people and people will understand you. I&rsquo;m not just talking about language here,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;That will remain for the foreseeable future. Unless the next wave of immigrants are from Mars.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/ToddWeintraub%20Photoedited.jpg" style="height: 201px; width: 270px; float: left;" title="Questioner Todd Leiter-Weintraub with his wife, Sharon. " /><span style="font-size:24px;">More about Todd &ldquo;I know, Dad, because you already told me six or seven times&rdquo; Leiter-Weintraub</span></p><p>Our questioner Todd Leiter-Weintraub grew up in Highland Park and now lives in the suburb of Western Springs. As far as he knows, he is not Polish-American, but he claims to be an &ldquo;Eastern-European mongrel&rdquo; with Czech, Russian, and German ancestry. He writes catalog copy for WW Grainger, and uses the Oxford comma in his<a href="http://www.grainger.com/category/compressed-air-treatment/pneumatics/ecatalog/N-c94?ssf=3" target="_blank"> descriptions of compressed air treatment</a> solutions. He says his father, Jay Weintraub, will get a kick out of this story, even if it means he&rsquo;s only half right.</p><hr /><div><p dir="ltr"><a href="https://docs.google.com/document/d/1AvOb6ZXA4k6bjebQbYwf9ehJyaKLCWYb_6OayDUgdJA/edit?usp=sharing" name="notes" target="_blank"><span style="font-size:10px;"><em>Notes and citations for demographic data</em></span></a></p><p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size:10px;"><em>FN 1 Whenever possible, we use Polish &quot;Ancestry&quot; as documented in the U.S. Census Bureau since 1980. &ldquo;Ancestry&rdquo; is self-reported, which means anybody who claims they have Polish ancestry &mdash;immediate or quite distant &mdash; counts. For periods before 1980, or cities outside the US, we use different metrics, which we explain in the relevant sections</em></span></p><p dir="ltr"><em style="font-size: 10px;">FN2: &ldquo;Stock&rdquo; is a different measurement than ancestry. It refers to anybody who was born in Poland, or who has a parent born in Poland. As such, it excludes third generation Polish-Americans or people whose ancestry goes back even farther.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em style="font-size: 10px;">FN3 Since &quot;foreign stock&quot; only includes first and second generation Polish-Americans, it&#39;s possible Chicago&#39;s Polish &ldquo;ancestry&rdquo; population &mdash; as measured in today&rsquo;s terms &mdash; might have been higher than New York&#39;s from 1940 to 1980 if Chicago had more third or fourth generation Polish-Americans in that period.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em style="font-size: 10px;">FN4 FN: The UK census doesn&#39;t measure ancestry, but it does measure both Polish language speakers, and the number of people born in Poland. These are both tools we can use to obtain a conservative estimate of the number of Britons of Polish heritage. Anecdotally, we understand that there are tens of thousands of Polish-Britons who emigrated in earlier periods, including following World War II. This would suggest the &quot;ancestry&quot; population in 2011 would be higher than 150,000 but we can&#39;t say how much higher.</em></p></div><p><em>Corrections: An earlier version of this story misstated the point of comparison between the&nbsp;Chicago metropolitan area and areas within Poland. The most appropriate comparison is: The Chicago metro area&nbsp;is the largest Polish&nbsp;</em><em>metropolitan area&nbsp;</em><em>(Polish immigrants and people of Polish ancestry) outside of Poland.&nbsp;</em></p><p><em>We regret we misspelled Kasia McCormick&#39;s maiden name. The proper spelling is Krynski.&nbsp;</em></p></p> Mon, 26 Oct 2015 09:28:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/can-chicago-brag-about-size-its-polish-population-113490 Don't believe the height! Why Chicago suburb names flat out lie about their elevation http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/dont-believe-height-why-chicago-suburb-names-flat-out-lie-about-their-elevation <p><p>Picture it. The majesty of Chicago suburbia.</p><p>The ridges of Park Ridge like waves of a tumultuous sea! The grandeur of Arlington Heights and the sweeping sublime of Palos Hills. And beyond, the bold peak of Mount Prospect rises in the distance like Olympus itself!</p><p>Name-wise, the Chicago suburbs sound like the most romantic landscape this side of the Mississippi.</p><p>But if you&rsquo;ve actually set foot in the place, like our questioner John Leahy, you know the terrain is hardly reminiscent of a <a href="https://www.google.com/search?q=thomas+cole&amp;espv=2&amp;biw=1777&amp;bih=905&amp;source=lnms&amp;tbm=isch&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0CAYQ_AUoAWoVChMI2pW5ge_CyAIVRZyACh21NgRr&amp;dpr=0.9" target="_blank">Thomas Cole painting</a>. Feeling the discrepancy between place names and actual geography, John sent us this question:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>In notoriously flat Chicago, why do so many suburb names imply elevation?</em></p><p>The irony runs deep.</p><p><a href="http://www.disruptivegeo.com/2015/08/the-flatness-of-u-s-states/" target="_blank">A recent nationwide flatness study</a> suggests Illinois is the second-flattest state in the country (number one being Florida, <a href="http://choices.climatecentral.org/#8/25.933/-80.681?compare=scenarios&amp;carbon-end-yr=2100&amp;scenario-a=unchecked&amp;scenario-b=extreme-cuts" target="_blank">which will be under water pretty soon anyway</a>), but you definitely don&rsquo;t get that impression from the names of Chicago suburbs.</p><p>For real:</p><blockquote><p>Highland Park, Park Ridge, Arlington Heights, Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights, Palos Heights, Chicago Heights, Ford Heights, Barrington Hills, Palos Hills, Rolling Meadows</p></blockquote><p>And before you say: &ldquo;But wait! There is some elevation out in the &lsquo;burbs!&rdquo; Let&rsquo;s make something clear: <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/sweet-spot-top-chicago-107897" target="_blank">You&rsquo;re not wrong</a>. Chicago&rsquo;s Loop is at about 500 feet above sea level, and <a href="http://peakbagger.com/map/BigMap.aspx?cy=42.124567&amp;cx=-88.237406&amp;z=13&amp;l=CT&amp;t=P&amp;d=6431&amp;c=0&amp;a=0&amp;sx=-999&amp;sy=-999&amp;cyn=0" target="_blank">the high point of Cook County is in Barrington at 900 feet</a>. That height difference is about 400 feet, and that&rsquo;s spread over 40 miles. If we were talking about any other state in the country (besides Florida) you&rsquo;d barely notice the difference. In other words, in Illinois, the default standards are low for what&rsquo;s considered high.</p><p>Besides, getting muddled in the numbers takes some of the most interesting curiosities out of John&rsquo;s question. Because the answer to why suburbs&rsquo; names involve height involves a melding of a broad cultural trend and a specific psyche present in Chicago-area real-estate marketing. I&rsquo;ll move through three theories, each getting a little closer to sweet home Chicago.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Theory one: Flatness doesn&rsquo;t feel good</span></p><p>Picture the flattest place you can possibly imagine. Maybe it&rsquo;s miles of desert under a hot sun, or it&#39;s a view from a lone sailboat on a windless day. Or maybe it looks more like this:</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Cumulus_Clouds_over_Yellow_Prairie2.jpg" style="height: 412px; width: 620px;" title="(Wikimedia/Wing-Chi Poon)" /></div><div class="image-insert-image "><p>Whatever you&rsquo;re picturing, it&rsquo;s likely you&rsquo;re confusing flatness for expanse, according to geographer Josh Campbell, who&rsquo;s studied perceived flatness versus actual flatness.</p><p>&ldquo;I think people associate flatness with that sense of being able to look in 360 degrees and feel wide open,&rdquo; Campbell says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s that feeling of openness.&rdquo;</p><p>Flat is a feeling, he says, a perception that&rsquo;s triggered by the absence of features that would otherwise disrupt the sense of expanse. For disruptors, think: mountains, bluffs, a dense forest of trees or even a visible coastline.</p><p>Campbell believes he has convincing evidence for this cultural trend. When he surveyed people about <a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/03/140314-flattest-states-geography-topography-science/" target="_blank">what they thought the flattest state is</a>, a common answer was Kansas. The correct answer? Florida.<a href="http://isgs.illinois.edu/sites/isgs/files/maps/county-maps/cook-ga.pdf" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/elevation chart.png" style="height: 405px; width: 300px; float: right;" title="There is a bit of elevation in the south and northwest Chicago suburbs. But Illinois is the second-flattest state in the country. (Source: ISGS)" /></a></p><p>That&rsquo;s because Florida has the visual relief of a coastline, he says. Even though Florida is the flattest state in the country, its coastline disrupts the human feeling of endless, repetitive, boring landscape.</p><p>&ldquo;Somehow relief in the terrain seems to be more exciting,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>And that creates a special challenge for the part of the country people feel is the flattest: the prairie states.</p><p>&ldquo;Prairie landscapes don&rsquo;t seem to hold the attention of people like white sand beaches and rocky mountains do,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Campbell says if people feel prairie states are the most boring places on Earth, how do you convince people to move there, or travel there? Especially when it comes to Illinois, <a href="http://www.statesymbolsusa.org/symbol-official-item/illinois/state-nickname/prairie-state" target="_blank"><em>the </em>Prairie State</a>?</p><p>He&rsquo;s not too surprised to hear about all the height-inspired names of Chicago suburbs. He says names like Arlington Heights and Mount Prospect make sense, in a way.</p><p>&ldquo;I think that&rsquo;s the best evidence I&rsquo;ve seen that people correlate flat with boring,&rdquo; he laughs. &ldquo;You&rsquo;d name these suburbs anything &mdash; you&rsquo;d tell a lie and call it a Mount &mdash; to differentiate it.&rdquo;</p><p>And a &ldquo;Mount&rdquo; just sounds like a more exciting place to be than a field full of cows, no?</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Theory two: Impact of historic scenic imagery</span></p><p>Just look at this painting.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" among="" class="image-original_image" nevada="" sierra="" source:="" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/maxresdefault_0.jpg" style="height: 348px; width: 620px;" the="" title="Albert Bierstadt's 1868 painting, " /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Does this look like flat to you? No.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">In the mid-19th century, there&rsquo;s a broad, cultural awakening of romantic, dramatic landscape, says Chicago historian Ann Durkin Keating. Flatlands, she says, just didn&rsquo;t make the cut.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">For evidence, she points to countless paintings of settlers on horseback traversing mountain ranges, tourists gazing at waterfalls at sunset, or people standing before the bluffs of the Colorado River.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Keating says artists, poets, and writers from the East Coast or from Europe had decided what &ldquo;scenic&rdquo; meant. Midwestern farmers didn&rsquo;t play as much a part in defining the newfound cultural infatuation with scenery, much less creating art depicting it.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">And be honest: The last time you took a road trip, wasn&rsquo;t Kansas the state you slept through?</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Bringing this back to Chicago suburb names, flatness just wasn&rsquo;t fashionable in the 19th century media market. It was unlikely you&rsquo;d want to look &mdash; much less live &mdash; in a place that evoked flatlandia.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><span style="font-size:24px;">Theory three: Local practicality</span></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Keating says in 19th century, Chicago&rsquo;s city center was ridden with filth and contagious diseases like Cholera and Typhoid. Those diseases were often transmitted through contaminated water, and the more low-lying, still water there was around, the easier these diseases could spread.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">In the 1870s, the northwest railroad&rsquo;s commuter line gained popularity and provided an easy, accessible route to the slightly more elevated suburbs. Many wealthy Chicagoans moved out of the city and into the highlands.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Simply put: Higher places meant healthier places, and they were marketed as such.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">There you have it, three theories that led to the oh-so-flat Chicago area having a plethora of names indicating elevation. To recap:</div><blockquote><div class="image-insert-image ">1. Flatness is generally boring (people notice and like topographic features)</div><div class="image-insert-image ">2. Flatness isn&rsquo;t worth looking at (19th century prairies and grain fields weren&rsquo;t scenic, apparently)</div><div class="image-insert-image ">3. Flatness is where the diseases are (screw Typhoid, people, let&rsquo;s stay out of low-lying Chicago)</div></blockquote><div class="image-insert-image ">If you put these trends together, it makes sense that if a Chicago-area town could be anything other than flat, it would aspire to be that other thing. And when it came to marketing and selling land in the early Chicago suburbs, many residents and realtors took that to heart.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><span style="font-size: 24px;">A tale of two neighbors</span></div><p>Chicago suburbs end up with names that imply elevation in these two ways: crowd-sourced rebranding and straight-up marketing.</p><p>In the crowd-sourcing camp, we have Arlington Heights, one of the first &ldquo;successful&rdquo; suburbs that sat along the northwest railroad line out of Chicago. It didn&rsquo;t always have that namesake, however. About 20 miles out of the city, and mostly made up of German farmers and the occasional small business or trading post, the place was actually named Dunton, after founder William Dunton. (Go figure.)</p><p>When William Dunton died in the 1870s, residents saw an opportunity to rebrand.</p><p>&ldquo;The people who are living there are saying, &lsquo;Hey, we don&rsquo;t want to be known as Dunton for rest of time. We want a more progressive name,&rsquo;&rdquo; says Keating. &ldquo;They&rsquo;re looking out and saying &lsquo;What will look good to encourage people to come buy land here and settle here?&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>After a bit of soul searching, they came up with (drumroll, please!) Arlington Heights.</p><p>Why the Arlington? Keating says no one knows for sure. But the Heights? It wasn&rsquo;t just inspired by the tiny bit of elevation.</p><p>According to Keating, the name switch allowed the community to change its image &mdash; and its reputation &mdash; &nbsp;from a place people associated with farmland to a place people associated with trade and commerce.</p><p>But what about so many other Chicago villages and towns, the ones that had elevation built into the name from the start?</p><p>For that, consider the case of Mount Prospect, which, unlike Arlington Heights, got an elevated name the first time around, before it was incorporated.</p><p>According to Jean Murphy, vice president of the Mount Prospect Historical Society, realtor Ezra Carpenter Eggleston bought a hunk of land along the railroad between Arlington Heights and Park Ridge in 1871. Hoping to make some money, Eggleston anticipated the place would prosper if he could convince the railroad to build a stop there. He named the place Mount Prospect.</p><p>&ldquo;The &lsquo;Mount&rsquo; part was because of the elevation,&rdquo; Murphy says. &ldquo;And the &lsquo;Prospect&rsquo; was because he thought the town had high prospects for the future.&rdquo;</p><p>But, Eggleston&rsquo;s own high prospects fell flat, and quickly; Eggleston failed to convince the railroad company to build a railroad station in Mount Prospect and the realtor went bankrupt from all the unsold lots. Basically, he abandoned ship (er, Mount). There&rsquo;s little known about him after that.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/mtprospecttrain.jpg" style="height: 440px; width: 620px;" title="Mount Prospect Railroad Crossing, circa 1925. Not a mount in sight. (Source: Illinois Digital Archives)" /></div><p>Mount Prospect eventually got its own railroad stop in 1886, but the place didn&rsquo;t boom until after WWII.</p><p>As for the name? Murphy suspects Eggleston was trying to &ldquo;one-up&rdquo; other towns with height-related names. And Mount Prospect does sound higher than, say, Arlington Heights. Still, Murphy says Eggleston deserves some credit.</p><p>&ldquo;Back in 1874 this might have seemed like the highest point. It was all just prairie,&rdquo; Murphy says. &ldquo;But Eggleston was obviously just trying to sell lots.&rdquo;</p><p>And today, the Mount Prospect Historical Society is doing its own bit of Eggleston-inspired marketing.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/prospectshirt.jpg" style="height: 465px; width: 620px;" title="Embrace the irony with a Mount Prospect Historical Society T-shirt. (WBEZ/Logan Jaffe)" /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">Funny, right? The Society&rsquo;s self-aware shirt is a popular high school graduation gift.</div><p><span style="font-size:24px;">&lsquo;A placeless society&rsquo;</span></p><p>By the 1930s, it was possible to live in a Chicago suburb named after another Chicago suburb &mdash; or, actually, two suburbs. Example: Prospect Heights, its name being the offspring of nearby Mount Prospect and Arlington Heights.</p><p>But we can&rsquo;t end this story without taking the example of Ford Heights, just south of the city. Because if you think the whole suburb-name-marketing thing is something of a historic relic, it&rsquo;s actually quite the opposite.</p><p>Ford Heights was originally named East Chicago Heights, a spinoff of its neighbor Chicago Heights. According to Edward Callary, author of <a href="http://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/33nxw6km9780252033568.html" target="_blank">Place Names of Illinois</a>, Chicago Heights was named to evoke the association of modern, city lifestyle. (Surprise! Neither Chicago Heights nor Ford Heights are much higher than Chicago&rsquo;s low-lying Loop.)</p><p>Because in 1987, East Chicago Heights decided it needed to rebrand.</p><p>According to <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1987-03-27/news/8701230729_1_ford-heights-park-forest-south-east-chicago-heights" target="_blank">an account in the Chicago Tribune</a>, Village Clerk Edna Mason said: ``We just felt we needed a change in the image. It sounds better. I thought it would be a nice name.``</p><div class="image-insert-image ">The reason? Callary suspects the move was to publicly woo the Ford Motor Co. plant, which sat on an unincorporated piece of land outside of the village boundaries, into annexation. Speaking on the name change, a surprised Ford spokesperson said it was &ldquo;flattering,&rdquo; but that&rsquo;s all.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://www.dunakin.com/projects/suburb-generator/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/evergreen%20hills.PNG" style="height: 240px; width: 620px; border-width: 1px; border-style: solid;" title="Think you know where Evergreen Hills is? It doesn't exist. Click to take the Chicago Suburbs Name Generator for a spin, though. " /></a></div></div><p>One-hundred years ago we named places very differently, Callary says. Places were named after a town founder, or family member, or after something that indicated the place&rsquo;s actual, physical presence in the world. Today, it&rsquo;s more common to name a place after what you want it to be, rather than what&rsquo;s actually there.</p><p>&ldquo;When we talk about community naming it&rsquo;s all image,&rdquo; Callary says. &ldquo;And that&rsquo;s why developers spend time and money into playing into what our hopes and our dreams and our desires are.&rdquo;</p><p>If you buy his argument, here&rsquo;s a question for you: Is it okay to continue naming physical places after feelings?</p><p>Keating, our Chicago historian, says yes. But she also says there&rsquo;s a downside.</p><p>&ldquo;What I see is a loss of roots. We are a mobile society, and being able to move is a critical part of being American,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;These &nbsp;generic names have to do with our caution about real estate investment. &nbsp;And really, it&rsquo;s a middle class American caution. The names of these places can&rsquo;t be so specific that it will be a bar to selling property at the end of all this.&rdquo;</p><p>That lack of specificity, Callary says, suggests people care less and less about having a sense of place at all.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re a placeless society,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;The place we live can be practically anywhere.&rdquo;</p><p>And while placemaking once depended on external realities &mdash; geography, landscape, history &mdash; today, placemaking is a bit more amorphous. It&rsquo;s a hologram of words, feelings and associations. A reality without roots.</p><p>Which leads Callary to conclude, that when it comes to making places &ldquo;it&rsquo;s all in our minds.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/leahy.jpg" style="float: left; height: 400px; width: 300px;" title="Questioner John Leahy scales the heights of Mount Prospect with a newly-acquired mug that indicates otherwise. (WBEZ/Logan Jaffe)" /><span style="font-size:24px;">Questioner John &ldquo;It-started-as-a-joke&rdquo; Leahy</span></p><p>John Leahy grew up in Elk Grove Village (<a href="http://www.triblocal.com/elk-grove-village/2012/04/25/elk-herd-longtime-area-residents/" target="_blank">which does actually have an elk population,but one imported in the 1920s</a>). But, he says, whenever he&rsquo;d drive with his family through Chicago&rsquo;s northwest suburbs, it was always an excursion of height jokes.</p><p>&ldquo;My dad has a very dad-like sense of humor,&rdquo; Leahy says, &ldquo;And when we&rsquo;d be heading up north and coming back we&rsquo;d say things like &lsquo;Oh, yeah, just trekked up Mount Prospect, came down Arlington Heights.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>But the joking led to a genuine curiosity about why the names didn&rsquo;t match up with the actual geography. And he suspected it wasn&rsquo;t just a coincidence.</p><p>What&rsquo;s he learned?</p><p>&ldquo;Its pretty clear at a certain point that elevation was a way to signal to people that these communities were out of the swamps, that they were healthy and they have good land,&rdquo; Leahy says. &ldquo;That people could move out there for a better life. And to some degree, it seemed like it worked.&rdquo;</p><p>But, Leahy says, knowing the answer isn&rsquo;t going to spoil the family joke: &ldquo;It&rsquo;s still really ridiculous, but it makes sense now.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Logan Jaffe is a Curious City producer. Follow her on Twitter for more of these kind of shenanigans <a href="http://twitter.com/loganjaffe" target="_blank">@loganjaffe</a>.</em></p></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 16 Oct 2015 15:47:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/dont-believe-height-why-chicago-suburb-names-flat-out-lie-about-their-elevation Shadow city: How Chicago became the country's alley capital http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/shadow-city-how-chicago-became-countrys-alley-capital-113279 <p><p>When&rsquo;s the last time you paid attention to alleys?</p><p dir="ltr">Chances are, unless you&rsquo;re taking out garbage or trying to squeeze a U-Haul back there, you rarely think about the narrow lane that can cut through a block.</p><p>Here&rsquo;s at least one reason to take note: Chicago is the alley capital of the country, with more than 1,900 miles of them within its borders. (If you left Chicago by plane and flew southwest for that distance, you&rsquo;d end up just shy of Mexico City.)</p><p dir="ltr">Chicago architect Dan Weese would never take <em>his</em> alley for granted. To him, the alley is a many-splendored thing. Dan grew up in Lincoln Park, a North Side neighborhood with plenty of alleys, and he spent a lot of time playing in the alley behind his family&rsquo;s rowhouse. As he puts it, the alley was the &ldquo;rec room of the block.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;I remember on Saturday mornings, all the garage doors would open up, and people would be working on cars, or working on a woodworking project, or taking the garbage out, and you could have a relationship with them,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;It was very different than the people you would meet on your street.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">For Dan, alleys aren&rsquo;t just utilitarian service lanes. They&rsquo;re an important social gathering place &mdash; an informal parallel to the street out front. He&rsquo;s been thinking about them so much, that he sent us this question:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>How was it decided that Chicago should have alleys?</em></p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-81fba680-53c1-436f-eefe-33254711a1b9">Well, the answer to Dan&rsquo;s question got us more than we bargained for. It involves a story that spans centuries, and that same story not only explains Chicago&rsquo;s enormous network of alleys but also why some parts of the region are conspicuously alley-free.<a name="map"></a></p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/alleys/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/MAPEMBED1.png" style="height: 497px; width: 620px;" title="" /></a></div><p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size:24px;">Hip to be square</span></p><p>What gives? Why all the alleys &mdash; and why the divide between Chicago communities with and without them?</p><p dir="ltr">According to Michael Martin, alley expert and professor of landscape architecture at Iowa State University, the &ldquo;why alleys&rdquo; question is easy to answer. You just have to go back to the late 1700s, decades before Chicago was founded. America was young, and had hardly touched any of its newest territories to the west.</p><p>&ldquo;There&#39;s one thing you can do without having to explore all of it,&rdquo; says Martin. &ldquo;Lay a grid over that giant swath of land, and divide it up in ways that you can then take that land and you can sell it, you can deed it over to people.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">The federal government&rsquo;s National Land Ordinance of 1785 imposed a massive grid over everything west of the Ohio River, dividing uncharted territory into square townships, each 36 square miles in size. Those townships were then sliced into progressively smaller sections, all the way down to the city block.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;As you think about finer and finer scales of design, what&#39;s happening is those squares are being infilled and infilled,&rdquo; says Martin. &ldquo;The big grid was always the framework within which people developed things, and that leads to towns having square blocks, and ultimately the alley inside of that block.&rdquo; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">This expanding grid eventually hit the Chicago area.</p><div class="image-insert-image ">According to cartographer and Chicago history buff Dennis McClendon, alleys had become so commonplace in the American West that the Illinois General Assembly &ldquo;simply expected it to happen in Chicago.&rdquo;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/yjGmPNP.png" style="height: 443px; width: 620px;" title="Thompson's plat map of Chicago in 1830, showing alleys. (Source: Alfred Theodore Andreas, 1884. History of Chicago.)" /></div></div><p dir="ltr">The particulars came into play with the Illinois &amp; Michigan Canal. In the 1820s, the U.S. Congress had granted the state of Illinois enough land to dig a canal to connect Lake Michigan and the Illinois River. The state planned to finance the construction by establishing towns along the canal and selling the land to developers.</p><p>The I&amp;M Canal Commission hired surveyor James Thompson to lay out Chicago at the eastern end of the canal in 1830. To attract prospective land buyers, the General Assembly ordered that the new town of Chicago be &ldquo;subdivided into town lots, streets, and alleys, as in their best judgment will best promote the interest of the said canal fund.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Thompson was apparently a law-abiding man: His town plan for Chicago had 58 blocks, and every single one had an alley.</p><p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size:24px;">The practical side </span></p><p>As it turns out, it&rsquo;s a good thing that Thompson planned Chicago with alleys. The city was a filthy, stinky, disease-ridden place in those days. Rear service lanes were essential for collecting trash, delivering coal, and stowing human waste &mdash; basically, keeping anything unpleasant away from living quarters.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;This was one of the reason why alleys have this dark and nasty reputation,&rdquo; says Martin. &ldquo;They were very much the grimy service part of daily life. It wasn&#39;t expected that this would be a well-maintained landscape; it was kind of a landscape of raw utility.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">In that same vein, McClendon theorizes that widespread horse ownership in the West translated into a lot of horse dung in the city, which would&rsquo;ve encouraged city planners to include alleys. &ldquo;The horse has the inflow and outflow problems,&rdquo; McClendon says. &ldquo;You have to bring in a lot of hay, you have to muck out a lot of manure. ... That&#39;s one of the reasons that you want to have a service lane that&rsquo;s segregated from where the womenfolk of the town are walking, or other places that you want to be more tidy and well-kept.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size:24px;">Riverside and the beginning of the end of Chicago-area alleys</span></p><p>For its boom years in the 1800s, Chicago was an alley monster; it planned new blocks with alleys, annexed towns with alleys, and added territory to its alley-riddled gridiron. But all grid things must come to an end, and soon communities started popping up <em>without</em> alleys.</p><p dir="ltr">The first of those communities arrived in 1869. That year, Frederick Law Olmsted &mdash; the father of landscape architecture (and who <a href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/chicago/filmmore/ps_olmsted.html" target="_blank">later played a huge role in Chicago&rsquo;s landscape</a>) &mdash; planned the community of Riverside, which was situated on what was considered to be the far western outskirts of the Chicago region. It was the first planned suburb in America, and the earliest sign of divergence from Chicago&rsquo;s alley trend.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/riverside3.png" style="width: 620px;" title="Olmsted's Riverside community was intentionally designed without alleys. " /></div></div><p>Constance Guardi, from the Riverside Historical Commission, takes me on a walking tour of the town. As we stroll down winding, tree-lined streets, she points to old, beautiful houses set back behind lush, rolling lawns. Guardi explains that <a href="http://www.snre.umich.edu/ecomgt/pubs/riverside.htm" target="_blank">Olmsted wanted to create the town of the future</a>: a community that combined the peacefulness of the country with the luxury of the city.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The plan was so that it would meander, rather than that hustle and bustle,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;This was to be relaxed. ... So that you would be able to really just have a quiet and lovely life.&rdquo;</p><p>She says Olmsted&rsquo;s master plan for Riverside didn&rsquo;t include alleys, because they just weren&rsquo;t necessary in the wide open spaces of the Illinois countryside. It so happens that Guardi is exactly the kind of person Olmsted had in mind when he planned Riverside. She grew up in a Chicago neighborhood with alleys, and she never cared for them.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I&#39;ll tell you why I didn&#39;t like alleys,&rdquo; she says. &quot;They were dirty! ... Everybody&#39;s garbage was out there all the time.&rdquo;</p><p>For years after it was established, Riverside was an outlier. Other suburbs that popped up around it in the years to come &mdash; like Berwyn and Cicero &mdash; followed Chicago&rsquo;s lead with alleys and a grid. Look at a map of the area today, and <a href="https://www.google.com/maps/@41.8274292,-87.8140036,4839m/data=!3m1!1e3" target="_blank">Riverside is a squiggly green island in a sea of squares</a>.</p><p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size:24px;">Where the alley ends</span></p><p>By the turn of the century, though, more city planners jumped on Olmsted&rsquo;s bandwagon and began designing communities to be beautiful and clean &mdash; counterpoints to the density and industry they wanted to avoid.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Instead of the old boring grid of the national survey and of the old town,&rdquo; Martin says, &ldquo;we&#39;re now going to do curving streets because they&#39;re modern and they&rsquo;re different.&rdquo;</p><p>As a sign of the times, a 1913 development competition in the suburbs of Chicago yielded almost no designs with alleys; instead, the proposals featured curvilinear streets, and blocks with interior courtyards. (The <a href="http://labs.libhub.org/dallaspl/portal/Being-a-disquisition-upon-the-origins-natural/r0AULVUK/" target="_blank">account is contained in a book</a> authored by alleys scholar Grady Clay.) In one proposal for the contest, <a href="https://chipublib.bibliocommons.com/item/show/310167081" target="_blank">Frank Lloyd Wright advocated for the abolition of alleys</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Martin says the death of the alley came about from this shift in urban planning principles, but other factors contributed, too, including improvements in sanitation technology.</p><p>&ldquo;Once you have systems like sanitary sewers or garbage collection that can be done in an efficient way, you don&#39;t really have to have an alley,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;So we decided that the street was capable of handling all that stuff.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Then, the automobile came along. In 1920 there were about 8 million car owners in the country; by the end of the decade that number jumped to 23 million. Widespread auto ownership meant there were fewer stables and less horse poop in the city. More importantly, the automobile increased the mobility of working Americans, allowing people to live way out in the sparse suburbs, where the house lots were spacious and streets didn&rsquo;t have to conform to a dense city grid.</p><p>&ldquo;Now it becomes possible to build cities at lower densities, [with] bigger lawns, and bigger landholdings for each house,&rdquo; says McClendon. &ldquo;And that allows you to have a side garage or a side driveway. You no longer have to have the vehicle access through this service lane in the rear.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/4suburballeys.png" style="height: 465px; width: 620px;" title="As you move further away from the city, alleys start falling away. " /></div><p dir="ltr">The move away from alleys in the early 20th century &mdash; combined with <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/gulp-how-chicago-gobbled-its-neighbors-109583" target="_blank">the end of Chicago&rsquo;s growth via annexation</a> &mdash; solidified the divide between alley places and non-alley places in the Chicago region. While new suburban towns and outlying communities forged bravely into an alley-free world, Chicago&rsquo;s historic core and the older suburbs were stuck with their alleys.</p><p>You can see the effects today. Within the Chicago city limits, 90 percent of residential blocks have alleys. But as you move from the city center, alleys begin to fall away. Not immediately, mind you. Suburbs like <a href="https://www.google.com/maps/place/Oak+Park,+IL/@41.883979,-87.7844989,468m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x880e34ba3f1db787:0xdf588d7dd5d4aea8!6m1!1e1" target="_blank">Oak Park</a>, <a href="https://www.google.com/maps/place/Evanston,+IL/@42.0309362,-87.6892455,409m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x880fcffd34e80a77:0x6f21a10d05c0671a!6m1!1e1" target="_blank">Evanston</a>, and <a href="https://www.google.com/maps/place/Blue+Island,+IL/@41.6589961,-87.6852451,348m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x880e235fa95f5f05:0xff39e83b04f67cb4!6m1!1e1" target="_blank">Blue Island</a> are chock-full of alleys, but in suburban communities like <a href="https://www.google.com/maps/place/Naperville,+IL/@41.7539285,-88.1657724,1137m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x880e5761e216cd07:0x87df9c2c7f203052!6m1!1e1" target="_blank">Naperville</a> and <a href="https://www.google.com/maps/place/Tinley+Park,+IL/@41.5707306,-87.7919136,728m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x880e158c05a8f865:0xeeefdc310816d898!6m1!1e1" target="_blank">Tinley Park</a>, alleys are much harder to find.</p><p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size:24px;">Repurposing a relic</span></p><p>The role of Chicago&rsquo;s alleys has obviously changed; even though the city doesn&rsquo;t need alleys for the same reasons it did back in the 1800s, they&rsquo;re still essential parts of the city environment. Today, residents put recycling back there instead of piles of horse dung. And, utilities deliver phone service and electrical power through alleys rather than coal.</p><p dir="ltr">Plus, after centuries of building up around them, alleys are pretty hard to get rid of. A few American cities have instituted &ldquo;alley vacation&rdquo; programs. They&rsquo;re not so fun as they sound: The programs basically involve vacating the alley as a public service lane. For the program to work, however, every alley-abutting homeowner has to agree to extend their property line into the middle of the alley. Not many cities have followed through with the administrative nightmare.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/green%20alley.jpg" style="height: 414px; width: 620px;" title="A Chicago alley retrofitted with permeable pavers that prevent flooding and allow water to seep into the soil. (Flickr/Center for Neighborhood Technology)" /></div><p>Instead of eliminating them, Chicago is reimagining its alleys. In 2006, Chicago became one of the first cities in the country to conduct a <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/provdrs/street/svcs/green_alleys.html" target="_blank">&ldquo;green alley&rdquo; program</a>, resurfacing alleys to prevent runoff and decrease solar heat absorption. In the last several years, the Chicago Loop Association has been experimenting with alleys as social spaces, <a href="http://loopchicago.com/ACTIVATE" target="_blank">using them to host pop-up art events</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Martin says Chicago&rsquo;s current approach holds promise for the future, and many contemporary urban planners and architects agree. The <a href="https://www.cnu.org/" target="_blank">New Urbanist school of thought</a> considers them to be both useful infrastructure and an important part of the cultural landscape.</p><p>&ldquo;Now you see people designing and building things where the alley is actually a functioning social space, a gathering space, where the neighbors can actually connect with each other in their own somewhat intimate urban narrow space instead of on the street,&rdquo; says Martin. &ldquo;So you have a two-sided situation in these neighborhoods, and I think that&#39;s a very positive development.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/dan%20weese%20%2801%29.jpg" style="float: left; height: 240px; width: 320px;" title="Questioner Dan Weese" /><span style="font-size:24px;">More about our questioner </span></p><p>&ldquo;My curiosity about the alleys came about because it&#39;s part of the landscape and it&#39;s one of these things that you don&#39;t really think about,&rdquo; says Dan Weese. &ldquo;It&#39;s in the background, but it actually forms a really important part [of the city].&quot;</p><p dir="ltr">As for any takeaways from our reporting? He says it&rsquo;s especially interesting that the alley hasn&rsquo;t become entirely irrelevant.</p><p>&ldquo;There was this structure that apparently came about because the folks in the canal commission thought it was a good idea to put in alleys, and then human behavior adapts to that and morphs it,&rdquo; he says.</p><p dir="ltr">Architecture happens to run in Dan&rsquo;s veins. His uncle is none other than renowned architect Harry Weese. (Curious City profiled one of Harry Weese&rsquo;s buildings, the <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/real-estate-and-religion-tale-seventeenth-church-christ-scientist-110980" target="_blank">Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist.</a>) Most of Dan&rsquo;s cousins are architects or designers and his parents founded an award-winning architecture firm &mdash; <a href="http://www.wlwltd.com/" target="_blank">a firm that he now works for</a>.</p><p>When he was a kid, Dan played kick-the-can and raced go-carts in the alley behind his house. He also broke a lot of stuff back there.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;You could do more destructive, less socially acceptable things in the alley,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;It was just a little more rough and ready, and you could kind of let your hair down a little bit.&rdquo;</p><p>Now 50 years old, Dan lives with his wife and three children, just three blocks from the rowhouse he grew up in. Unfortunately the couple lives in a highrise, and the alley isn&rsquo;t nearly as good for playing as the one he remembers.</p><p>That is, Dan&rsquo;s all grown up, and he prefers nerding out about alleys and their history, rather than destroying things in them.</p><p><span style="font-size:20px;"><a name="data"></a>Download our data</span></p><p>Want to make your own alley map? <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/maps/downloads/chicago_alleys.zip" target="_blank">Click here to download the data</a>.</p><p dir="ltr" style="line-height:1.38;margin-top:0pt;margin-bottom:0pt;"><em>Steven Jackson is an independent producer living in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/_sbjackson" target="_blank">@_sbjackson</a>.&nbsp; </em></p><h2 class="ProfileHeaderCard-screenname u-inlineBlock u-dir" dir="ltr">&nbsp;</h2><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p></p> Sat, 10 Oct 2015 16:55:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/shadow-city-how-chicago-became-countrys-alley-capital-113279 How strictly do Chicago police enforce bike traffic laws? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/how-strictly-do-chicago-police-enforce-bike-traffic-laws-112992 <p><p>If you ride a bike, ask yourself: Do you stop at every stop sign? How about every red light? If the answer is no to either of those, well, technically you&rsquo;re breaking the law.</p><p>But it&rsquo;s the more egregious behavior from cyclists &mdash; weaving through cars, cutting people off, running red lights despite oncoming traffic &mdash; which our questioner,<a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/how-strictly-do-chicago-police-enforce-bike-traffic-laws-112992#lowy"> Chicagoan Ron Lowy</a>, sees all too often.</p><p>Sometimes he&rsquo;s even looked on as cyclists bike the wrong direction down a bike lane, no hands on the handlebars, while text messaging. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m not making this up,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Lowy is a cab driver, usually considered the sworn enemy of bicyclists. But here&rsquo;s the thing: Lowy is also a dedicated cyclist. He commutes by bike almost everyday and rides for pleasure and exercise. But what he sees around him, at times, looks incredibly dangerous, enough for him to ask Curious City:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>How strictly do Chicago police enforce bike traffic laws?</em></p><p>Getting an answer to Lowy&rsquo;s question matters because, for one, Chicago streets are not as safe as they could be. <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-bike-deaths-illinois-met-20141027-story.html">A 2014 safety report found that Illinois</a> had the fifth-highest number of bicyclist fatalities in the nation, a total of 29 in 2012, a steady increase from previous two years. In Chicago, the number of deaths of bicyclists has<a href="http://www.redeyechicago.com/news/local/redeye-fatal-bike-crashes-chicago-20150111-story.html"> surged in the past two years</a>, from three in 2013 to eight in 2014. It&rsquo;s a troubling shift the city&rsquo;s transportation commissioner calls &ldquo;significant.&rdquo; If one aim of bike traffic law is to prevent dangerous behavior on the part of bicyclists, it&rsquo;s fair to ask how often police nab offenders.</p><p>But here&rsquo;s another reason to consider how strictly the city enforces its bike rules: The city&rsquo;s encouraging residents to ride bikes and even commute by bike. If those long-term plans pan out, Chicago could see more and more bicyclists on the road, competing with cars and pedestrians for space.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Measuring enforcement</span></p><p>First, some bad news. Ideally, it would be best to answer Lowy&rsquo;s question with precise figures about how many bicyclists are on Chicago streets, then follow with an apples-to-apples comparison of how often police ticket riders versus how often they ticket motorists. The data we have in hand can&rsquo;t tell that story, but &mdash; and here&rsquo;s the good news &mdash; we did obtain data on how often the city enforces bike traffic laws and what types of behavior attract tickets.</p><p>Responding to<a href="http://llnw.wbez.org//bike%20laws%20CPD%20FOIA%20response%201.pdf" target="_blank"> our Illinois Freedom Of Information request</a>, the Chicago Police Department reports issuing 13,150 traffic-related tickets to bicyclers between 2006 and August of this year. &nbsp;(<a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/how-strictly-do-chicago-police-enforce-bike-traffic-laws-112992#trends">Here are the trends</a> and <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/how-strictly-do-chicago-police-enforce-bike-traffic-laws-112992#type">breakdown by ticket type</a>)</p><p>What to make of this figure, though? Have the thousands of tickets issued by the CPD translated into an awareness of bike traffic enforcement?</p><p>To get a better sense of this, we head to <a href="https://www.facebook.com/ChicagoCriticalMass">Critical Mass</a>, a monthly mass ride through downtown Chicago that doubles as a rally for greener modes of transport. There, we ask folks their impressions of bike laws and how the city enforces them.</p><p>Among the crowd, we ask a cyclist named Lily whether she&rsquo;d ever gotten a ticket on her bike.</p><p>&ldquo;No, you can get a ticket? I didn&rsquo;t know you could get a ticket,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>When asked what she thinks might warrant a ticket for a traffic violation, she provides a short list: &ldquo;Improper crossing? Improper turning? Running stop signs. Running over people?&rdquo;</p><p>(Yup, yup, yup, and yup. These are all ticketable.) &nbsp;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/TICKET%20DUO%20FOR%20WEB.png" style="height: 465px; width: 620px;" title="Michael Gilewicz got a $70 ticket at the intersection of Addison and Clark streets and carries it around with him. (WBEZ/John Fecile)" /></div><p>At the same Critical Mass event, we manage to find Michael Gilewicz, who got a $70 ticket at the intersection of Addison and Clark streets. The ticket is such a novelty to him that he carries it around, almost like a trophy. Whipping it out, he explains that he&rsquo;d gotten pulled over for speeding, biking against the flow of traffic and disobeying red lights. Michael says when the judge read off the list of infractions, he looked at her and laughed.</p><p>&ldquo;Yeah, I was,&rdquo; he laughs.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://llnw.wbez.org//bike laws indesign.pdf" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/rulestobikeby.png" style="height: 225px; width: 300px; float: right;" title="Continue to see our own version of Chicago's bike rules" /></a></div><p>The apparently low level of awareness of tickets or ticketing comes as no surprise to Ron Burke, the executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, a local organization advocating for better biking, walking and transit.</p><p>&ldquo;There is too little enforcement of traffic policies across the board in Chicago and even in the suburbs,&rdquo; Burke says. &ldquo;Whether that&rsquo;s the case for people driving, walking and even riding a bike.&rdquo;</p><p>Burke says that while well over 90 percent of traffic injuries and fatalities are caused by motorists, bike behavior factors in, too. It&rsquo;s important, he says, that we encourage good behavior across the board. And that, he adds, is done by enforcing the road rules and issuing hefty fines for those who don&rsquo;t follow them.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;"><a name="type"></a>When city police enforce bike laws, what are they targeting?</span></p><p>In Illinois, traffic laws apply to cyclists, so when CPD targets cyclists, it&#39;s for those state statutes as well as city ordinances that apply to bikes.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Number_of_reported_bicycle_violations_by_type%2C_2006-2015-__chartbuilder.png" style="height: 299px; width: 620px;" title="" /></div><p>Within the 9 years of CPD data available to us, &nbsp;the most frequent violation is <a href="http://www.amlegal.com/nxt/gateway.dll/Illinois/chicago_il/title9vehiclestrafficandrailtransportati/chapter9-52bicycles-operation?f=templates$fn=altmain-nf.htm$q=[field%20folio-destination-name:%279-52-010%27]$x=Advanced#JD_9-52-010">9-52-020, &ldquo;Riding bicycles on sidewalks and certain roadways.&rdquo;</a> (The ordinance covers riding on certain non-bikeable roads like Lake Shore Drive, but the vast majority of infractions involve sidewalks). Similar data obtained from Chicago&rsquo;s Department of Administrative Hearings show that over the past year, tickets for riding on the sidewalk are way up. In fact, between 2013 and 2014 sidewalk-riding violations more than doubled, to 4,467 from 2,082.</p><p>Burke says that while enforcement is lacking everywhere, when cyclists do get ticketed it&rsquo;s usually the riders who are doing the most dangerous types of riding.</p><p>&ldquo;Riding fast on a sidewalk in a crowded pedestrian environment,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;Blasting through an intersection and potentially hitting a pedestrian.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;"><a name="trend"></a>A trend in Chicago&rsquo;s bike enforcement</span></p><p>In recent years, as the number for cyclists rise, Chicago and other cities around the country have started to ticket more frequently.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Number_of_reported_bicycle_violations_by_year%2C_2006-2015-_Amount_chartbuilder.png" style="height: 349px; width: 620px; border-width: 1px; border-style: solid;" title="" /></div><p>The Chicago Department of Transportation and city police have been conducting stakeouts around the city, targeting intersections with high crash rates. There, they crack down on risky behavior of bicyclists and motorists.</p><p>CDOT and the police are conducting more and more of these safety stakeouts. According to CDOT data, they&rsquo;ve already hit a record so far this year: 126 stakeouts, with more than 2,000 warnings given to cyclists. The first year the city began recording the events, in 2011, they conducted just 62 such stakeouts. &nbsp;</p><p>Incidentally, some Chicago-area suburbs are seeing the same trend in enforcement. Several North Shore communities have also started cracking down on group cycling. This summer, from late July and into August, the <a href="http://www.cityhpil.com/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=429">Highland Park Police Department joined forces with four other city police departments</a> to conduct enforcement and education stops for cyclists and motorists. The action came after the departments received numerous citizen complaints about cyclists&rsquo; behavior along several well-traveled North Shore paths.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Fostering a cycling culture</span></p><p>As Chicago ramps up its bike enforcement, it&rsquo;s also encouraging more residents to bike. It&rsquo;s busy building a better cycling infrastructure with two-way bike lanes with their own traffic lights. It also launched <a href="https://www.divvybikes.com/about">the bike sharing program, Divvy</a>, and placed bike borrowing stations across the city.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/flickr-chicago%20bicycle%20program%20infrastructure%20making%20FOR%20WEB.jpg" style="height: 414px; width: 620px;" title="Chicago bicycling infrastructure is improving, but cyclists are often confused about bike laws. (Flickr/Chicago Bicycle Program)" /></div><p>Still, all this momentum raises the question: If the city is investing so much in a better biking culture, shouldn&rsquo;t it be even more explicit and consistent about what type of behavior it expects from cyclists?</p><p>Burke says it should and he credits the city for conducting the high-profile stakeouts. He says he&rsquo;s impressed with how much the city has increased them while at the same time including the ATA and their <a href="http://chicagocompletestreets.org/your-safety/education-encouragement/ambassadors/">Bike Ambassador program</a> in the stakeouts. This approach, he says, makes these enforcement actions educational as well.</p><p>But Burke also predicts that over time, more and more cyclists will follow the rules of the road. He chalks it up to &ldquo;pack mentality.&rdquo;<a href="http://www.ucdenver.edu/about/newsroom/newsreleases/Pages/More-cyclists-on-road-can-mean-less-collisions.aspx"> As more people bike, they are more likely to comply</a> with common sense safety and less likely to be influenced by the few rogue cyclists who choose to ignore the law.</p><p>&ldquo;You get more people on bikes. You actually start to get better behavior on average of cyclists,&rdquo; Burke says.</p><p>What&rsquo;s more, data suggest that<a href="http://www.cpr.org/news/story/some-cyclists-obey-laws-some-dont-cu-denver-researcher-wants-know-why?utm_source=Facebook&amp;utm_medium=Social&amp;utm_campaign=FBCPR5434"> better biking infrastructure also builds more complaint riders</a>. Just six months after the city built the two-way protected bike lanes on Dearborn Street, complete with their own traffic signals, compliance with red light traffic laws<a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-06-10/classified/ct-met-getting-around-0610-20130610_1_cyclists-signals-bike-traffic"> was up 161 percent</a>, according to the city.</p><p><a name="lowy"></a>Our questioner, Ron Lowy, says he thinks despite the shiny new bike lanes, some folks will always choose to break the law. That is, until Chicago takes a stand.</p><p>&ldquo;They ride carelessly because they know they&#39;re not going to get fined for it,&rdquo; Lowy says of reckless cyclists. &ldquo;But the bottom line is you can&#39;t blame anybody but the city of Chicago.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/question%20asker%20FOR%20WEB_0.jpg" style="height: 394px; width: 300px; float: left;" title="Questioner Ron Lowy at WBEZ. " /><span style="font-size:24px;">About our questioner</span></p><p>A self-described &ldquo;man about town dude&rdquo;, Ron Lowy is a musician, cab driver and bicycle advocate.</p><p>Lowy lives in Uptown, but drives his cab all around the city. And over the years, he&rsquo;s seen quite a few accidents of bicyclists hitting cars, cars hitting cyclists, cyclists hitting pedestrians. &ldquo;A majority of them,&rdquo; he says, &ldquo;was not the car&#39;s&rsquo; fault.&rdquo;</p><p>Lowy agrees with the ATA&rsquo;s Ron Burke; more enforcement would make cyclists, pedestrians and motorists safer. But he is also more nuanced about whether bikes and cars should be treated as equals&mdash;subject to all of the same rules of the road.</p><p>&ldquo;Depending on the situation, bikes are a different story than cars,&rdquo; Lowy says. He believes crowded and highly trafficked thoroughfares should be tightly enforced. But side streets, during off peak hours when there is little traffic, not so much. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I&#39;d be lying if I said I never disobeyed the law,&rdquo; Lowy says. &ldquo;[But] I don&#39;t run red lights. I&#39;ll run neighborhood stop signs, but I slow down dramatically and look&hellip;common sense is a big part of this.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Meribah Knight is a freelance journalist in Chicago and reports for WBEZ&rsquo;s Curious City. Follow her at<a href="http://meribahknight.com"> meribahknight.com</a> and on Twitter at <a href="https://www.twitter.com/meribah">@meribah</a>.</em></p><p><em>Curious City intern John Fecile provided research and reporting for this story.</em></p><div>&nbsp;</div><p>&nbsp;</p><div>&nbsp;</div></p> Fri, 18 Sep 2015 16:45:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/how-strictly-do-chicago-police-enforce-bike-traffic-laws-112992 Updates, what we're up to, and how you can help http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/updates-what-were-and-how-you-can-help-112945 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Facebook_logo_overlay.png" alt="" /><p></p> Wed, 16 Sep 2015 12:04:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/updates-what-were-and-how-you-can-help-112945 The design of the Wrigley Scoreboard: Revolutionary, retro or both? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/design-wrigley-scoreboard-revolutionary-retro-or-both-112916 <p><p>Wrigley Field got a lot of press last spring when it debuted the much-anticipated (or much-dreaded) mammoth-sized video board. On opening day, Cubs fans &mdash; some grinning, some grunting &mdash; feasted their eyes on 39,000 square-feet of instant replays, player stats, and pitch speeds. In other words, the works.</p><p>But if you do the math, this Jumbotron and its right-field counterpart (a smaller screen that lists each team&#39;s batting lineup) didn&rsquo;t add up to two ways to track games at Wrigley Field. It made three.</p><p>Because, tucked in the back of the center field bleachers, sits the same, rinkydink hand-operated scoreboard that&rsquo;s sat there for 78 years. And, amid Wrigley&rsquo;s newfound displays of digital data, that old, middle board still makes an impression.</p><p>&ldquo;I was more struck by the scoreboard than the action on the field, to be honest with you,&rdquo; says Tom Foust, whose Curious City question was inspired by his first and only Chicago Cubs game last season.</p><p>Tom says he found himself lost in a daygame daydream, imagining what impressions that board must have left on Cubs fans in 1937, the year it debuted. And he asked us this:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>Was the Wrigley Field scoreboard a revolution in information design for 193</em>7?</p><p>Assessing whether a new technology amounts to a revolution is tricky. The cotton gin revolutionized agriculture, and television forever changed the way we consume entertainment.</p><p>But what&rsquo;s a <em>scoreboard</em> ever done? Or, as Tom wants to know, should <em>this </em>scoreboard join the ranks of the pie chart and the emoticon as a revolutionary piece of visual communication.</p><p>For an answer, we delve into how the board was shaped, and we evaluate whether the design holds up today. And we get some extra-inning goodness: Regardless of its innovations (or lack thereof), the board tests the idea that everything old can indeed become new again.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">The crafting and cobbling together of &lsquo;beautiful&rsquo; Wrigley Field</span></p><p>The story of the Wrigley Field scoreboard starts with a vision for the entire stadium.</p><p>Philip Knight Wrigley inherited the Cubs from his father, the chewing gum magnate who ran the team as a hobby. PK Wrigley promised to keep the Cubs in the family business, though, and was intrigued with the idea of filling seats more than actually running the team.</p><p>In fact, PK Wrigley didn&rsquo;t even like baseball.</p><p>&ldquo;He loved art. He loved flowers,&rdquo; says Stuart Shea, who wrote a book about Wrigley Field&rsquo;s history. &ldquo;He was a tinkerer, an idea guy. Not a great people person. A strange bird.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/AP_770412037.jpg" style="height: 241px; width: 320px; float: right;" title="Philip K. Wrigley, left, poses with Charles Grimm at the Chicago Cubs training camp on Catalina Island, California in 1934. (AP Photo)" /></div><p>But being a man of marketing and aesthetics, Wrigley set out to expand Wrigley Field&rsquo;s audience. In a redesign he first considered for the 1937 season, he wanted to attract new fans: women, children, and men more like himself. And the way to do it, he thought, was to make the place irresistible.</p><p>&ldquo;One of PK Wrigley&rsquo;s most brilliant thoughts was this idea of you can&rsquo;t guarantee whether a team will win or lose, but you can guarantee whether the park is going to be clean, and the food is going to be good and the facilities are going to be adequate,&rdquo; Shea says. &ldquo;He said, &lsquo;I&rsquo;m going to pour my money into making this a place where people want to spend the day.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>Wrigley branded the place &lsquo;Beautiful Wrigley Field.&rsquo; He advertised it all over radio stations and newspapers well before anyone ever set foot in the place before the 1937 opening day.</p><p>He hired Otis Shepard, the famous corporate artist behind the success of Wrigley Gum, to reimagine the place with a soft, Art Deco flair. Together, they established the forest green and off-white color palette you see today, which was inspired by Wrigley Gum products and the baseball diamond itself.</p><p>The outside marquee, the ticket booths, the concession stands were designed with noticeable intention. The scoreboard was to be the crown jewel that tied it all together.</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="300" scrolling="no" src="http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1937/09/12/page/39/article/new-wrigley-field-blooms-in-scenic-beauty-and-scoffers-rush-to-apologize" width="620"></iframe></p><p>(Interestingly, the board was one of the last things to come together, and it barely met the opening day deadline. For details see <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZQRb1eh9lE&amp;feature=youtu.be">here&rsquo;s Bill Veeck&rsquo;s account</a>. <em>Know though, that this man was known to exaggerate!</em>) &nbsp;</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Putting the scoreboard to the 1937 (beta) test</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/today.jpg" style="height: 433px; width: 620px;" title="(Flickr/Antonio Delgado)" /></p><p>Remember that Tom Foust wants to know whether the board was revolutionary, not majestic. With the backstory in hand, here&rsquo;s the board, followed by an inventory of the information fans were confronted with on opening day:</p><ul><li><strong>The left and right sides:</strong> The board displays scores from concurrent games running across the National and American leagues. While today it&rsquo;s expected to be able to access the scores of games across the country (there are even dozens of baseball apps to choose from), Tom wondered if having all of that information accessible and displayed in 1937 was particularly revolutionary. Shea says &hellip; nope. Most big-league baseball scoreboards did have that information. Why? Baseball fans or not, people liked to gamble, and scoreboards that showed simultaneous games not only offered more options for where to place your bets, but also drew more people into ballparks.&nbsp;<em>Verdict: This content was expected. Not revolutionary.</em></li></ul><ul dir="ltr"><li><em>​</em><strong>The middle:</strong> The number of balls, scores, and outs (as well as other other doodads like the uniform number of the batters and umpires) are all displayed in the middle of the scoreboard. It&rsquo;s run on a system of electromagnetic relays that control grids of small, painted eyelets (think of them as physical, manual pixels), that flip to form the numbers you see on the board. Relay technology was nothing new in 1937, but it hadn&rsquo;t been applied to scoreboards before. As a result, though, the middle numbers are actually bigger than the manually-operated numbers displayed on the left or right, because the simpler technology worked with the push of a lever &mdash; not the work of, say, three men updating scores by hand. The larger numbers made the game easier to follow for new baseball fans. <em>Verdict: The mechanisms are neat, but were actually common. Larger numbers are an improvement in user-experience, but not enough to make it revolutionary.</em></li></ul><ul dir="ltr"><li><strong>Overall layout:</strong> Wrigley and Veeck were on to something when they decided to rethink the board&#39;s layout for the 1937 season. Most scoreboards at the time were either narrow and vertical, or narrow and horizontal. Veeck&rsquo;s design arranged all of the scores in a large, rectangular shape and placed it above eye-level in the centerfield bleachers. Most other scoreboards were located at ground level near the infield, where not everyone could see it. <em>Verdict: The new format was an improvement in designing a point of entry. At least it was at eye level and graspable at a quick glance.</em></li></ul><p>​What to make of it all? Here&rsquo;s where we come down on it: In 1937, the Wrigley Field scoreboard was a hands-down improvement of the user experience, but, even with all of its improvements considered together, the board fell short of being revolutionary.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">But if it&rsquo;s not revolutionary, what is it?</span></p><p>The board&rsquo;s survived several rounds of technological progress, including the streamlining of all-electric scoreboards during the 1950s. For that, it deserves some applause. But how does it hold up by today&rsquo;s standards of technological interfaces?</p><p>Marie Hicks, who teaches the history of technology at the Illinois Institute of Technology, is willingto provide her first impression: the classic Wrigley Field scoreboard is a mess.</p><p>There&rsquo;s just too much information, she says. It&rsquo;s not user-friendly. There&rsquo;s not a single point of entry.</p><p>She&rsquo;s confident that board wasn&rsquo;t revolutionary, but not for the reasons you might think.</p><p>Hicks says that for something to be revolutionary, it&rsquo;s got to make a fundamental change in the way people do things from that point on. If it were revolutionary, the Wrigley scoreboard would have inspired copycats across the country. And in a broad movement towards mainstream replication, Hicks says, the original (the one at Wrigley) would lose value. It just wouldn&rsquo;t be that special anymore.</p><p>&ldquo;If it were revolutionary then everything after it would have been just like it and there would have been less of a reason to keep it around,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>That&rsquo;s not the case with Wrigley Field&rsquo;s old scoreboard. In fact, the thing was special enough to receive landmark status from the City of Chicago in 2014. Which means, not only was the scoreboard decidedly worth historic preservation, it was also worth keeping up and running. Why? People love it.</p><p>&ldquo;In a strange way the love that a lot of people have for the scoreboard is another hint that it wasn&rsquo;t really revolutionary,&rdquo; Hicks says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s both foreign and completely familiar. It&rsquo;s representing all the stuff you expect to see in a modern scoreboard but in a sort of janky, simpler way that makes us nostalgic.&rdquo;</p><p>Even though the scoreboard was built in an era very different from our own, it&rsquo;s still relatable. And Hicks says that relatability is key to understanding why the board was not so much revolutionary as it was a harbinger of an increasingly data-driven and information-rich society. One in which numbers pervade daily life and even entertainment.</p><p>&ldquo;The technology that for a while was developed for business or defense are now seeping into our lives in all sorts of ways,&rdquo; Hicks says, citing the popularity of fitbits and algorithm-driven entertainment like Netflix or Spotify. &ldquo;The way that technology has changed our view of how to entertain ourselves and be in the world in off hours has so much more to do with quantification.&rdquo;</p><p>The Wrigley Field scoreboard, Hicks says, is one beautiful example of an early shift towards an world more like our own. That part where we see ourselves in the past ... That&rsquo;s what nostalgia&rsquo;s made of.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">In with the new, but make it look old</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Wrigley_Field_Panorama.png" style="height: 351px; width: 620px;" title="A panorama of Wrigley Field taken August 8, 2015, shows the three boards Cubs fan can use to follow the game. (Photo By TaylorSteiner (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons) " /></p><p>Nostalgia, it turns out, can be quite the utility. Today, as Wrigley Field&rsquo;s newly-installed Jumbotron hovers over left field, it could be flashing animated letters that tell you when to cheer, when to do the wave or when to kiss the stranger next to you.</p><p>Instead, between the instant replays and inning wrap-ups, you see digitized films of Harry Caray at Wrigley Field singing &ldquo;Take me out to the ball game,&rdquo; or bits of Cubs history trivia &mdash; all digitally designed with the same, deep-forest green and off-white art deco details Cubs fans have enjoyed for decades. It&rsquo;s as if the new video boards had the same art director as the old scoreboard.</p><p>Although that old scoreboard ages by the day, it stays trapped in a twisted time warp, somewhere between old and new. A radical, retroactive anti-revolution.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">About our questioner</span></p><p>Tom Foust says when he sat in the Wrigley Field bleachers for the first time, his level of nerd-dom became utterly clear to him.</p><p>&ldquo;I am decidedly not a baseball guy, but I am a bit of an information nerd,&rdquo; he says, adding that the Cubs game itself became kind of secondary.</p><p>He says he had even ventured an answer to his own question about the board&rsquo;s status as revolutionary: &ldquo;I would probably guess, Yes, this was something that was really unique and encouraged the growth of even more.&rdquo;</p><p>Tom has been spot-on when it comes to one observation: Yes, the Wrigley Field scoreboard is unique. But he was spot-wrong in the part about the Wrigley scoreboard encouraging the growth of more like it. In fact, learned that the Wrigley scoreboard is one of a kind, and that&rsquo;s exactly what makes it decidedly non-revolutionary. &nbsp;</p><p>But as a middle school music and technology teacher, he&rsquo;s come up a follow-up question: How would a modern professional of information design create the same scoreboard using the technology of 1930?</p><p>Well, Tom, we&rsquo;ll leave that to your students to take up!</p><p><em>Logan Jaffe is Curious City&#39;s web producer. Follow her on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/loganjaffe">@loganjaffe</a>.&nbsp;</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 11 Sep 2015 17:02:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/design-wrigley-scoreboard-revolutionary-retro-or-both-112916