WBEZ | Chicago http://www.wbez.org/tags/chicago Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Chicago SRO owners say proposed city ordinance is 'hostile' http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-sro-owners-say-proposed-city-ordinance-hostile-110775 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/SRO ordinance.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-6a96fd4e-5c8e-a95a-a0fa-12b9a087e263">A new City Hall plan to preserve <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/slow-disappearing-act-chicago-sro-105836">fast-vanishing</a> affordable housing units in single-room occupancy (SRO) and residential hotels has some Chicago SRO owners upset.</p><p>The Single-Room Occupancy and Residential Hotel Preservation Ordinance, to be introduced at Wednesday&rsquo;s City Council meeting, includes incentives to induce building owners to maintain a certain threshold of affordable units in their buildings. There are few specifics about those incentives, but much of the measure focuses on financial penalties that owners would face if the number of affordable units in their buildings falls below a mandated percentage.</p><p>&ldquo;Essentially what has happened is the city wants to change the rules in the middle of the game,&rdquo; said Eric Rubenstein, Executive Director of the Single Room Housing Assistance Corporation, which works with building owners, operators and tenants to preserve SRO housing in Chicago. &ldquo;The properties are going to be dropping substantially in value because of the proposed ordinance, as now written,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Under the proposal, owners who wish to demolish or convert their properties to market-rate rentals would be required to maintain at least 20 percent of the building&rsquo;s units as affordable, or else pay a $200,000 &ldquo;preservation fee&rdquo; for every unit that falls short of that threshold. Additionally, if an owner wishes to sell a building, it would allow non-profits first crack at purchasing it and would require the owner to engage in good-faith negotiations with those organizations. If no sale occurs within six months of notifying non-profits, then the owner may attempt to sell the property to private developers.</p><p>&ldquo;The private market often moves too quickly for these non-profits to pull together the financing,&rdquo; explained Michael Negron, Chief of Policy to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, &ldquo;and so we wanted to make sure that there was enough period of time for these organizations to actually&hellip; know a sale is coming, and then work with potential lenders, work with the city, work with the state. There are different parties that could potentially help put together a deal like that, but they just need the time to do it.&rdquo;</p><p>The proposal would allow building owners to bypass this process altogether, and to approach the private market first, if they pay a fee of $200,000 on each unit for 30 percent of the units in the building. But many current owners fear that these fines will drastically undercut the selling price of their buildings.</p><p>&ldquo;The property values will have plunged based on the market being so restricted, that the only option essentially for a current owner when he or she is ready to sell is to turn to a non-profit,&rdquo; worried Rubenstein, &ldquo;and the non-profit could offer nickels or dimes on the dollar.&rdquo;</p><p>All fees collected through the proposed ordinance would go to a preservation fund, which the city would use to assist SRO owners with defraying the cost of maintaining, developing or improving their properties. Negron said, additionally, that the city already may have existing resources to preserve at least 700 SRO units through the end of 2018. He said owners may call the city&rsquo;s Department of Planning and Development to discuss rental subsidies from the Low Income Housing Trust Fund, and financing from TIF districts and low-interest loans, to maintain affordability.</p><p>Rubenstein said he and other building owners had hoped the city would employ more incentives than penalties to encourage affordability. He said SRHAC submitted a list of 15 suggested incentives for the city to consider in its ordinance, including exemptions from sales taxes, water fees, and the proposed minimum wage ordinance. Negron said many of the suggestions were impractical.</p><p>A broad coalition of advocates for the homeless, and low-income tenants around Chicago, praised the proposal.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s a great ordinance,&rdquo; said Adelaide Meyers, a former tenant of the Norman Hotel and affordable housing advocate. &ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s exactly what Chicago needs to maintain SROs throughout the city, because if we lose all our SROs we&rsquo;re going to have a lot of homeless people.&rdquo;</p><p>Meyers was herself displaced from the Norman Hotel when Cedar Street Co. bought the North Side property and converted it to upscale rentals within its <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/flats-chicago-developer-weighs-housing-affordability-debate-110475">FLATS portfolio</a>. Meyers now shares an apartment in the Rogers Park neighborhood with a friend, and with some rental assistance from her father.</p><p>&ldquo;I never thought that I would end up living in an SRO to start off with, but I lived in a few different ones for several years,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;So I could definitely end up back in an SRO.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 09 Sep 2014 17:33:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-sro-owners-say-proposed-city-ordinance-hostile-110775 Study: Chicago cabbies earn average of $12/hour http://www.wbez.org/study-chicago-cabbies-earn-average-12hour-110726 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Cabs_140829_oy_lo res.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">A <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/mayor/Press%20Room/Press%20Releases/2014/August/Chicago_Taxi_Fares_Study_Final_Aug2014.pdf">city-commissioned study</a> on cabbie incomes has found Chicago&rsquo;s taxi drivers, on average, earn more than $12 an hour. The report stands in sharp contrast to the argument by many cab drivers that they take home less than the state&rsquo;s $8.25 hourly minimum wage.</p><p dir="ltr">The study, conducted by outside consulting firm Nelson-Nygaard, is more than a year in the making, and is the first truly comprehensive, scientific analysis of how much cabbies make in Chicago.</p><p>The study combines data collected from taxi credit card machines with cabbie feedback on a survey, to calculate revenues and costs in the profession. Ultimately, it looked at more than 10.6 million trips by cabs that were equipped with Creative Mobile Technologies taximeters over an eight month period, starting January 2013. A more limited analysis was also done on Verifone credit card machines, which confirmed that earnings calculations between the two technologies were similar.</p><p>&ldquo;We wanted a thorough, complete study,&rdquo; said Maria Guerra Lapacek, Commissioner of Chicago&rsquo;s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. &ldquo;A scientific look at what was the reality.&rdquo;</p><p>Lapacek said the report validates some of the controversial industry reforms enacted by the city in 2012. &ldquo;With the study we did learn that about 43 percent of the drivers are making more than $13 an hour,&rdquo; she noted.</p><p>The study found that if cabbies work 50 weeks in a year, full-time drivers who hustle 51 hours each week net an average $111 per day, or $31,397 per year. Extended-time drivers who work 75 hours each week netted $120 a day, or $46,614 per year. Part-time cabbies, who would still have to drive close to a full work week -- at 31 hours a week -- would only net $57 a day, or $15,374 per year.</p><p>The averages mask a broad variation in incomes. At the low end of the scale, the study reveals that 20 percent of drivers net less than $30 a day, while at the other end the most productive drivers may be earning upward of $187 in a day.</p><p>Additionally, the study found that one-sixth of Chicago taxi drivers are, in fact, not breaking even each day. &ldquo;It is somewhat puzzling that drivers continue driving a taxi if they are losing money or making nearly nothing,&rdquo; the report states.</p><p>&ldquo;Because of the city&rsquo;s low fare, one-sixth of the workforce actually loses money in their chosen profession? That&rsquo;s a huge problem for the city,&rdquo; said Michael Persoon, an attorney with law firm Despres, Schwartz and Geoghegan. Persoon is helping to represent Chicago cab driver Melissa Callahan in her <a href="http://www.wbez.org/cabbie%E2%80%99s-lawsuit-against-chicago-moves-forward-104355">federal lawsuit</a> against the city, which claims that she should be considered an employee of the city, and thus entitled to the minimum wage.</p><p>In a separate, more limited study that Callahan&rsquo;s lawyers commissioned, University of Illinois Professor Robert Bruno used data from 689 taxi drivers&rsquo; Verifone credit card machines to calculate driver incomes. In contrast to the Nelson-Nygaard study, Bruno found that the drivers netted, on average, $8.11 an hour &mdash; less than Illinois&rsquo;s minimum wage. This has been a critical part of her team&rsquo;s argument that Chicago should raise taxi fare rates, which have remained unchanged since 2005.</p><p>Persoon says the new study does not undermine Callahan&rsquo;s case.</p><p>&ldquo;What it shows is that there are people who aren&rsquo;t earning the minimum wage,&rdquo; he said. The report shows between 30 and 40 percent of drivers are netting less than $8.25 an hour.</p><p>The Nelson-Nygaard study also found that by far, the biggest cost for drivers are their vehicle leases &mdash; accounting for nearly 40 percent, on average, of gross income. The lease burden increased dramatically for drivers under the 2012 reforms, when the City allowed cab companies to increase the maximum amount they could charge drivers for the use of their vehicles.</p><p>&ldquo;Certainly the lease rates are something we&rsquo;re looking at,&rdquo; said Guerra Lapacek, who added that her office plans to announce several changes in the coming weeks to taxi regulations. &ldquo;We are and have been working on reforms that are going to help with the taxi driver profit.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Cab drivers, of late, have become increasingly vocal about changes they&rsquo;d like to see. Despite several attempts over the years to organize, only recently have a significant number of cabbies begun to come together under the umbrella of AFSCME Local 31. The labor group has pushed City Hall to revisit policies pertaining to maximum fines for taxi violations, lease rates, and credit card processing fees, among other issues.</p><p>Guerra Lapacek would not say at this time whether she will consider recommending higher fares.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 28 Aug 2014 23:57:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/study-chicago-cabbies-earn-average-12hour-110726 Chicago's urban farms have yet to harvest sustainable jobs, better health http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/chicagos-urban-farms-have-yet-harvest-sustainable-jobs-better-health-110709 <p><p>On a recent hot summer day on the city&rsquo;s South Side a group of farmers and reporters gathered to tour a new two-acre farm enjoying its first harvest in the shadow of the old Robert Taylor Homes.</p><p>Safia Rashid is growing a diverse crop of kale, chard, tomatoes, onion, zucchini and several peppers in hopes of selling the produce to the local Women Infant and Children feeding program.</p><p>She&#39;s one of the new agriculture entrepreneurs benefiting from a $750 thousand, three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It&rsquo;s aimed at putting graduates of The Botanic Garden&#39;s Windy City Harvest training program on track to start their own small farming businesses. &nbsp;</p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s urban farming movement has always held out the promise of sustainable employment. But more than a decade after it first took root, why aren&rsquo;t there more well-paying jobs? &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;Thats not realistic,&rdquo; says Angela Mason the director of Botanic&rsquo;s Windy City Harvest, which trains ex-offenders in agricultural skills as a path toward employment. &ldquo;Our intention in launching the incubator program, and what most family farms do now, is [provide] supplemental income. It&rsquo;s not their only income. A lot of people romanticize farming but that&rsquo;s very challenging in this day and age. We don&rsquo;t support local food in a way that makes it economically viable for a person to go out and only farm for a living.&rdquo;</p><p>The fact is, most of these programs can&rsquo;t survive without outside funding.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s so much more you need to do than put fresh produce in a grocery store,&rdquo; Mason says. &ldquo;To get people interested in even buying the produce, you need to get people excited about it and learning how to prepare food with it. There are &nbsp;a lot of people who&rsquo;ve never seen kale grow or seen Swiss chard grow and don&rsquo;t know what to do with it.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p>Indeed, lack of demand and knowledge about what to do with the produce still hampers sales in these communities. In the produce business margins are slim and product that doesn&rsquo;t move can go bad very quickly. Even one of the nation&rsquo;s biggest retailers has run into snags.</p><p>At a White House meeting in 2011, Walgreens promised to build 50 &ldquo;food oasis&rdquo; stores in Chicago by summer 2013. &nbsp;By July 2014, the retailer had only installed fresh produce in 26 local food desert stores, according to Crain&#39;s Chicago. In the last month, however, the store finally met its original goal, according to a Walgreens spokesman.</p><p>Smaller projects have also run into problems. The much praised Farmers Best Market in Bronzeville opened in 2008 but was closed within a year. The Englewood Farmers Market on 63rd called it quits after a few tough seasons. And, last summer, the Fresh Moves buses that brought fresh produce markets to the people <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/advocates-say-whole-foods-may-struggle-find-customers-englewood-108608">turned off their engines indefinitely</a>.</p><p>So why has it been so hard to successfully sell produce in Chicago&rsquo;s food deserts? Mari Gallagher is a researcher who specializes in food access.</p><p>&ldquo;You can have a great idea and you can put your whole heart into it, but you still have to figure out how to make it viable,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;So there are lots of different reasons why some of these programs fail. But unfortunately, because people feel so closely tied to these outcomes, it&rsquo;s hard to get at the truth [to analyze what lessons can be learned].&rdquo;</p><p>Although they rarely speak about it on the record, several urban ag experts across the city confided that the demand for full-priced, high quality produce isn&rsquo;t strong enough to support the businesses that sell it. As Whole Foods prepares to open its Englewood store in 2016, it&rsquo;s counting on building that demand. But today, observers say, it&rsquo;s just not there.</p><p>So does that mean inner city farmers markets, mobile produce programs and viable urban farming jobs are doomed for now?</p><p>&ldquo;When we talk about [greening] the food desert we&rsquo;re really trying to keep costs down and quality high and that&rsquo;s tricky,&rdquo; Gallagher says. &ldquo;But I wouldn&rsquo;t write off any of these options. I would say that the market conditions need to be right and the operators need to be very, very good on a number of fronts to pull it off successfully.&rdquo;</p><p>One of the only urban farmers who seems to have figured it out, is the the tall, lanky and perpetually muddy Ken Dunn. The founder of the Resource Center and City Farm has practiced urban ag in Chicago for more than 40 years. The philosophy PhD also operates what he says are four profitable farms in Englewood.</p><p>&ldquo;You have to start with what has always been the food cycle,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;We have a process where food scraps go back to the production of the next crop. We&rsquo;ve tapped into selling two-thirds of our crop to high-end restaurants, picking up the food scraps from all of their product and turning them into compost to bring back to the field.&rdquo;</p><p>Got that? First Dunn sells his vegetables to fancy restaurants. Then the restaurants give him back food scraps which are used to make compost. This ultra-rich growing medium, he says, produces 10 easy crops a year, and food so tasty that restaurants are happy to pay his high prices. And these premium prices, Dunn says, make it possible to pay a living wage, and sell cheaper veggies from kiosks on the farm.</p><p>Dunn believes this model could expand up to three times and still not saturate the high end restaurant market. But he hopes that by the time we reach that saturation, there will be other funding models in place.</p><p>His dream is for municipalities to recognizes the larger public benefits of urban ag on crime, health and education and to fund them as part of local budgets. These less tangible benefits are part of the reason Safia Rashid is out working on her quarter-acre plot nearly every day. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;When the children are eating properly, guess what happens?&rdquo; she asks. &ldquo;The violence goes down. So if we continue to feed them whole foods without the pesticides and GMOs, we will continue to see real change in our community. So it&rsquo;s just really that simple.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/DJ%20Cavem.jpeg" style="float: left; width: 161px; height: 206px; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" title="DJ Cavem travels the country preaching the gospel of organic urban farming to inner city youth. (Photo Courtesy of DJ Cavem)" />While Dunn sells mostly to restaurants and Rashid hopes to sell to WIC, DJ Cavem has a different plan. &nbsp;He wants to grow food<em> in</em> the community<em> for</em> the community. He&rsquo;s a rapper, educator, midwife and urban farm advocate based in Denver. He stopped in Chicago earlier this year to spread his gospel of home grown organic produce for all.</p><p>&ldquo;The same way gangsta rap promotes drug dealing, I am an environmental hip hop artist, eco hip hop artist who promotes gardening,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I have been teaching for 11 years now. I teach young people how to grow food, how to prepare the food, how to create a green job. I&rsquo;m setting up gardens in inner city communities and showing people how to keep the nutrition in their food.&rdquo;</p><p>He says that urban youth have largely lost touch with their grandparents&#39; food and growing skills. Still, he knows that history can cut both ways.</p><p>&ldquo;Because of slavery and Jim Crow, a lot of inner city African Americans do not want to talk to young people about growing food,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;They really think that &nbsp;going to the grocery store is the best for them. And they felt that they were forced to have to do this work. So there is that neglect of young people having access to the inter-generational dialogue that needs to happen around food preparation.&rdquo;</p><p>DJ Cavem&rsquo;s goals may be lofty, but he claims his message can reach these young people. Last year he got a whole summer camp of urban youths to remix the popular ode to <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YLy4j8EZIk">&ldquo;Hot Cheetos and Takis.&quot;</a> They dubbed their version <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MO3zE2XqEUo">&ldquo;Brown Rice and Broccoli.&rdquo;</a></p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="349" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/MO3zE2XqEUo?rel=0" width="620"></iframe></p><p>&ldquo;You can watch the video on YouTube and Tweet it and let your friends know that that&rsquo;s what young people really want: Healthy food, foods that are fresher than the shoes on their feet.&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Between Dunn&rsquo;s decades of urban ag experience and DJ Cavem&rsquo;s youth-friendly message, there may come a time when produce from urban farms will not only nourish local residents but also grow their bank accounts.</p><p>Beginner farmer Rashid certainly hopes so. Despite her optimism for her newfound occupation, she knows she&rsquo;s got a tough row to hoe.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s a lot to cover,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;Especially in my case since I don&rsquo;t have a business partner. It&rsquo;s a lot to do alone. But I know that things are gonna change.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the Chewing The Fat podcast. Follow her at</em><a href="https://twitter.com/monicaeng"> <em>@monicaeng</em></a> <em>or write to her at meng@wbez.org</em></p><p><em>WBEZ reporter Natalie Moore contributed to this story. </em></p><iframe width="100%" height="450" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/playlists/48706770&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;visual=true"></iframe></p> Wed, 27 Aug 2014 07:49:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/chicagos-urban-farms-have-yet-harvest-sustainable-jobs-better-health-110709 Uptown Theater: How could it be repurposed? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/uptown-theater-how-could-it-be-repurposed-110707 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/uptown thumbnail.png" alt="" /><p></p> Tue, 26 Aug 2014 18:17:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/uptown-theater-how-could-it-be-repurposed-110707 Remembering 'Annoying Music Show' and 'Magnificent Obsession' host Jim Nayder http://www.wbez.org/sections/health/remembering-annoying-music-show-and-magnificent-obsession-host-jim-nayder-110595 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Nayder.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Last summer Chicago Public Radio listeners were shocked by the death of WBEZ radio personality Jim Nayder. As host of both The Annoying Music Show and the addiction-focused Magnificent Obsession, Nayder was a complex character.</p><p>To millions, he was was the master curator of annoying musical oddities that ventured so far into the land of bad, that they were almost good--almost.</p><p>They included Lorne Green singing &ldquo;As Time Goes By,&rdquo; Tiny Tim and Bob Dylan singing &ldquo;I Got You Babe&rdquo; and Sammy Davis Jr. singing the theme to Hawaii 5-0. Who knew it had words?</p><p>Nayder&rsquo;s 3-minute show appeared on more than 100 public radio stations across the country; and his regular appearances on NPR&rsquo;s Weekend Edition with Scott Simon expanded the wacky Annoying Music brand all over the country. The show would eventually spawn CDs, live concerts and more.</p><p>But to many early-morning listeners, Nayder was the voice of another very different show, one that focused on wrenching journeys from addiction to recovery.</p><p>Using nothing but hand-picked music and first-person narrative, Magnificent Obsession presented &nbsp;tales of desperation and hopelessness that were bearable only because you knew, that by the end the show, the speaker might make it to the other side.</p><p>In Chicago, most episodes aired in the predawn hours of the weekend. But longtime Nayder friend and former radio producer Craig Alton says the timing was by design.</p><p>&ldquo;To us in the radio business that might seem like dog time,&rdquo; Alton said. &ldquo;But God&rsquo;s honest truth was that&rsquo;s exactly when you want to hit that drinking audience people who are loaded sitting up all night, they listen to this, and right when they&rsquo;re most drunk you hit them with this guy&rsquo;s story.&rdquo;</p><p>Typical stories would feature confessions like &ldquo;And it suddenly dawned on me that I was sitting there shooting dope;&rdquo; or, &ldquo;I envied people that looked normal to me...and I wanted to feel that sense of peace. I wanted the turbulence to stop but I didn&rsquo;t want to give up drinking.&rdquo;</p><p>Nayder often scored these long first-person narratives with love songs whose themes of despair applied equally to heartbreak and addiction.</p><p>Even in the last few months of his life, Nayder was still delivering weekly shows to WBEZ. But what most people--including close friends--didn&rsquo;t know, was that Nayder was dying of the very disease his show was meant to help heal.</p><p>His daughter Blair Botti tried to explain.</p><p>&ldquo;Many people didn&rsquo;t know,&rdquo; Botti said. &ldquo;And I think his way of being public with it was through Magnificent Obsession. &nbsp;What we always said was that he would have loved to be a guest on his own show if he ever were able to recover; because that would have been the ultimate success.&rdquo;</p><p>Despite enrolling in multiple addiction programs, Nayder never did achieve recovery. And he&rsquo;d never get tell his story of finally making it to the other side.</p><p>But today his wife of three decades, Laurie Nayder, and Botti are working to digitally release the stories Nayder gathered from so many others. It&rsquo;s an effort, they say, to help all those struggling with the same demons that eventually took the man they loved.</p><p>And today we tell his story.</p><p>Jim Nayder was born in 1954 on the South Side of Chicago to a large Catholic family. The tall lanky teen played high school hockey for Quigley South. And he spent his summers on his grandfather&rsquo;s Wisconsin farm where he developed a love of ham radio and wild animals.</p><p>In 1974 Jim enrolled in the seminary at Chicago&rsquo;s Loyola University. But soon after arriving, things changed. The priest-in-training fell in love when he went to a party and met a self-identified, &ldquo;nice Jewish girl&rdquo; named Laurie Brown.</p><p>&ldquo;l had some friends that were in the seminary that took classes at Loyola,&rdquo; Laurie [Brown] Nayder remembered. &ldquo;They had really good parties and that&rsquo;s why I hung out with them. Jim came in his junior year to the seminary and he was next door to a really good friend of mine,--Father Wayne, now, but Wayne at the time--and that&rsquo;s how I met him&hellip;&rdquo; she recalled. &ldquo;He had a jukebox that played 78s in his room and I thought that was very cool. But I thought he was just a riot, extremely quirky and really funny.&rdquo;</p><p>Jim and Laurie married in 1977 and by 1980 they gave birth to a future Chicago Public School teacher named Blair. For her, Jim&rsquo;s sense of humor meant things like surprise chocolate sundaes that would magically appear from under her bed during storytime.</p><p>&ldquo;Which, I&rsquo;m sure my mom was pleased about, because it was right before bed,&rdquo; she remembered. &ldquo;But that&rsquo;s just how he was. He would make up all these crazy bedtime stories with elaborate ways my bunny blanket would save the day and he was just a really funny, great, kind dad.&rdquo;</p><p>That sense of wacky spontaneity would also end up birthing the now legendary Annoying Music Show one Saturday morning in 1996. Laurie Nayder, WBEZ engineer Mike Gilmore and Craig Alton shared their collective memories on how it all started.</p><p>&ldquo;He used to do the breaks for WBEZ on the weekends...&rdquo; Laurie started</p><p>&ldquo;As I remember it, there was a band that was delayed. The producer asked me if I needed more time. I asked her to tell Jim Nayder, who was in another room, if he could kill 3 minutes,&rdquo; Gilmore added. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;We had nothing to put on, so he grabs a record and the only thing next to him was Slim Whitman. He puts it on,&rdquo; Alton added. &nbsp;</p><p>Laurie remembered Slim Whitman singing &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a Small World,&rdquo; too. &ldquo;And oh my goodness! Anyway, he put it on and said &lsquo;that was the Annoying Music Show,&rdquo; Laurie recalled.</p><p>&ldquo;The people answering the phone said the people calling want to know what&rsquo;s on The Annoying Music Show next week and that&rsquo;s when Jim told us that he&rsquo;d played Slim Whitman&rsquo;s &lsquo;It&rsquo;s a Small World,&rsquo;&rdquo; Gilmore added.</p><p>Alton said it was the largest response the radio station received for anything. &ldquo;And we all agreed that whatever it was it was big and it really got people&rsquo;s response going,&rdquo; Alton remarked.</p><p>Laurie said she thought it lit a fire under him--and the rest, was history. &nbsp;</p><p>The show was quickly, picked up all over the country and drove sales on at least four Annoying Music CDs, including a Christmas CD,The Annoying Music Show Presents Songs for People and You Can&rsquo;t Handle This Annoying Music Show. But, as Nayder explained to Simon, the featured music couldn&rsquo;t just be bad music...it had to be seriously wrong.</p><p>&ldquo;He took a particular delight in finding music that people really recorded earnestly,&rdquo; Simon said. &ldquo;I mean they really wanted to put themselves across; and on the other hand there was something elemental about it that just misfired and didn&rsquo;t serve the best purposes. And that&rsquo;s where the humor was.&rdquo;</p><p>While much of the music came from scouring garage sales and wary friends&rsquo; record collections, eventually Laurie says the public started to help.</p><p>&ldquo;People would say &lsquo;Oh, I have something&rsquo; and they&rsquo;d send him things,&rdquo; she recalled. &ldquo;I know he was always upset that he gave Scott Simon his Leonard Nimoy album and I don&rsquo;t think he ever got it back. So he had to find a new one to play.&rdquo;</p><p>For nearly two decades--even as he took on other jobs--Nayder would spend his week&rsquo;s producing two different shows--collecting stacks of quirky songs for one and stacks of heartbreaking recovery tales for another. &nbsp;</p><p>And while Jim accepted, and even enjoyed the wild popularity of The Annoying Music Show, he told This American Life in 1998, his heart belonged to Magnificent Obsession. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;The experience of Magnificent Obsession in a week, to me, is much more moving on a bunch of levels,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Someone will make contact with me to be on the show. And, in the course of a couple of hours, they told me their deepest, darkest, funniest, most-uplifting experience. And I&#39;ve never met this person before.&rdquo;</p><p>As Laurie and Blair listen to the old episodes of Magnificent Obsession in preparation for launching them as a podcast later this year, they says it&rsquo;s some of Jim&rsquo;s musical choices that touch them most. He used a lot of Leonard Cohen and Lucy Kaplansky but also Aerosmith and Madonna.</p><p>&ldquo;I think the first song he used on the show was Pink Floyd&rsquo;s &lsquo;Comfortably Numb,&rsquo;&rdquo; Blair recalled.</p><p>&ldquo;Also, he would take a lot of songs that you would think were love songs and if you in the right place in your head you realize the love was the love of your addiction,&rdquo; Laurie said. &ldquo;And the song was even more powerful than a love song.&rdquo;</p><p>Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg, whose has engaged in a very public struggle with alcoholism himself, was featured as one of the few fully-named guests on Magnificent Obsession. Most remained anonymous or only offered their first names.</p><p>That taping session Steinberg did with Jim was his first and last encounter with the radio host. Still, he says the news of Jim&rsquo;s death last year shook him.</p><p>&ldquo;It gave me a chill,&rdquo; Steinberg said, &ldquo;because I&rsquo;m writing another recovery book and I am very attuned to the idea that here Jim was trying to help by sharing these stories while the thing was coming back. And that&rsquo;s the insidious part of addiction. I call it the beast in the basement. Some days it&rsquo;s very quiet and some days you can just hear that door crack as it&rsquo;s throwing itself against it.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p>Although Steinberg never heard a predawn airing of the episode others clearly had. He said he heard from friends and readers every time it aired.</p><p>&ldquo;Someone must be listening at 5:00 a.m. on a Sunday, or whenever it played, because I would hear from people that it would move them every time,&rdquo; Steinberg said.</p><p>Although he was very private about it, Nayder also heard from many listeners who had been helped and moved by the program, according to his friend Craig Alton.</p><p>&quot;There were many cases where people would call him a year later and say you know if it wasn&rsquo;t for that show I wouldn&rsquo;t have cleaned myself up,&rdquo; Alton said.</p><p>In retrospect, friends also wonder how much Jim used the shows as a way to preserve his own sobriety--almost forcing himself to attend weekly meetings as part of his job. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve thought about that a lot in the year that&rsquo;s gone by,&rdquo; Simon said .&rdquo;I do think that he thought he might be able to find something that would help him by doing the show. And, by the way, all of us can. You don&rsquo;t have to be fighting a particular substance abuse problem to find something in that show that&rsquo;s filled with wisdom and insight and helps you live a better life.</p><p>&quot;But I think he also thought it was a way of giving something to others whose struggle he understood in a personal and important way--giving something to them even if he couldn&rsquo;t always accept those lessons himself. And I think he wound up accomplishing something very important with that.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p>Simon, like most friends, learned of Jim&rsquo;s alcoholism very late. And even his closest friend, Alton, said he discovered Jim&rsquo;s problem only after a decade of friendship.</p><p>It was Christmas Day. Jim had been taking medication designed to stop alcohol use. But he drank anyway and ended up the hospital.</p><p>&ldquo;He wasn&rsquo;t an ugly drunk,&rdquo; Alton said. &ldquo;He was a happy guy but he drank in a different way than I have seen anybody drink. He would go 10 years without taking a drink and then down a small bottle of vodka in a single gulp. His goal was to drink and pass out; drink and pass out.&rdquo;</p><p>This struggle would go on for decades Laurie said.</p><p>&ldquo;But he maintained a life for years and years with the struggle,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;He was still Jim. He was still able to function pretty much fully. His show went on. His life went on. And until the very end he was the nicest man in the world. He was a nice man with a horrible, horrible problem.&rdquo;</p><p>In his final months Jim and Laurie divorced and he ceased contact with almost everyone he knew. &nbsp;Laurie, Blair, Simon and Alton shared the accounts.</p><p>&ldquo;I left; and that&rsquo;s hard because I had to leave,&rdquo; Laurie said. &ldquo;And then when he died, well, I wasn&rsquo;t with him--so I feel guilty.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;There were indications I got in that final year that he was on and off the wagon,&rdquo; Simon said. &ldquo;There were times when you&rsquo;d talk to him and he seemed upbeat even chipper and &nbsp;then there would be times when he would text you in the middle of the night and you knew something was wrong.</p><p>&ldquo;He made it to Blair&rsquo;s wedding which was huge,&rdquo; Laurie said. &ldquo;He was fine at the wedding and you got the father-daughter dance, and then I think that was kind of the peak, but that was it.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;It certainly was beyond him to surrender,&rdquo; Alton said. &ldquo;I think he really was just sucked into it. I came out of the apartment one day and I sat in my car and I just cried because you knew it was the end. You knew, this was the last time I&rsquo;d ever see Jim. I thought I should&rsquo;ve taken a picture with him because maybe this was the last time I&rsquo;d see Jim. And, in fact, it was the last time I&rsquo;d ever see or hear from him again.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;He would text a lot to say &lsquo;I&rsquo;m sorry&rsquo; and &lsquo;I love you&rsquo;&rdquo; Laurie said.</p><p>&ldquo;He got to meet Freddy, his grandson, twice--and that was great,&rdquo; Blair remembered. &ldquo;But he just struggled so much for years and, as you put it, he was like a 95-year-old man in a 59-year-old body.&rdquo;</p><p>But family and friends say that Jim would like to be remembered differently.</p><p>&ldquo;I think he&rsquo;d like to be remembered as a loving husband and father,&rdquo; Blair said. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m sure it would be in a funny way,&rdquo; Alton said. &ldquo;He&rsquo;d probably want people to put records on his gravestone. He&rsquo;d want photos of him and kids coloring all over them and making a coloring book of Jim Nayder&rsquo;s life--good and bad all included. Just something bizarre and eccentric. He would want people to hold hands around his grave and sing &#39;kumbaya.&#39; Just something really off-the-wall. He would love it.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;I hope he knew we thought of him as a good man,&rdquo; Laurie said. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t think he maybe thought that sometimes. But I&rsquo;ve always thought of him as a good man.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;He gave so much more into this world than those of us who loved him,&rdquo; Simon said. &ldquo;And I think of that that love and humor...He makes me laugh every week, even today, and he&rsquo;s been gone a year. I &nbsp;think that is going to happen for the rest of my life. I think our children are going to grow up laughing at what he did; and that puts a lot of laughter into this world.&rdquo;</p><p>You can still hear Jim on archived shows of <a href="http://www.npr.org/programs/weekend-edition-saturday/archive">Weekend Edition </a>and Laurie and Blair hope to have select episodes of Magnificent Obsession available in podcast by the end of the year.</p><p>&ldquo;It may not have been the more popular of the two shows but it was definitely the show he was most proud of, and obviously it hit close to home,&rdquo; Blair says. &ldquo;But I think he would have been really happy that even in his death, if he was able to help people with their life now he could still do that.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of WBEZ&rsquo;s Chewing the Fat podcast. Follow her on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/monicaeng">@monicaeng</a></em></p></p> Fri, 01 Aug 2014 17:35:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/sections/health/remembering-annoying-music-show-and-magnificent-obsession-host-jim-nayder-110595 California drought renews debate on regional food systems http://www.wbez.org/series/front-and-center-water/california-drought-renews-debate-regional-food-systems-110497 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/DROUGHT MIDWEST.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>At a Chicago area farmers market in July you won&rsquo;t see many signs of the California drought. This is the time of year when produce lovers can pretty much gorge on all the local cherries, blueberries and zucchini they want.</p><p>But this wasn&rsquo;t the case in January.</p><p>&ldquo;What we saw was extremely high prices on kales, leafy greens etc in the first part of the year,&rdquo; said Bob Scaman president of Goodness Greenness the Midwest&rsquo;s biggest distributor of organic produce.</p><blockquote><p><strong>Related: <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/front-and-center-water/drought-drives-drilling-frenzy-groundwater-california-110483">Drought drives drilling frenzy for groundwater in California</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>And as the year wore on, Scaman says, the effects of the drought only got worse. Farmers had to decide which crops they were going to water and which they weren&rsquo;t resulting in what he called the California &ldquo;cherry season that didn&rsquo;t exist in 2014.&rdquo;</p><p>Luckily, the Washington State cherry crop was booming this year. And today Michigan cherries have filled any other gaps. But Scaman warns that this bounty will last for only about another 100 days in the Midwest.</p><p>&ldquo;But going into the late fall, early winter when we are relying again on California we are going to be right back where we were on these drought supplies,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;and we will be negatively affected back here in the Midwest.&rdquo;</p><p>One Arizona State University study says that the California drought is likely to push items like avocados and lettuce up 28 to 34 percent.&nbsp; And the USDA expects drought and other factors to push domestic food prices for meat and produce up 3 to 6 percent this year.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>Business professor Timothy Richards who conducted the Arizona State study noted that the pricier California crops could drive more retailers to source their produce from Mexico and Chile. But others think we should go the other way and reestablish more regional food systems again.</p><p>&ldquo;This is the ideal storm for the local food network in the Midwest,&rdquo; Scaman said. &ldquo;It really brings home what people have been talking about for years: the need to grow more local food, stabilize the food supply and build the local market.&rdquo;</p><blockquote><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="20" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/158677537&amp;color=ff5500&amp;inverse=false&amp;auto_play=false" width="100%"></iframe><strong>Related: <a href="https://soundcloud.com/morningshiftwbez/water-issues-in-the-west-could">What water issues in California mean for the Midwest</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>Adding to the drought problems this year were high summer gas prices that further argued for more localized food production.<br /><br />&ldquo;So not only is there less product but we are paying more to transport it from California,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;You&rsquo;ve got a double whammy coming at us. So when you look at local food supplies, we&rsquo;ve got a little more stability in getting it to the marketplace, lesser freight costs and we are growing our local economies.&rdquo;</p><p>Terra Brockman founded the Land Connection, a local non-profit that helps train Midwest farmers. She says that while the drought hasn&rsquo;t made big waves among local farmers so far, it has revived important questions.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;Like, &lsquo;Why do we have plenty of farmers market farmers and CSA farmers but not enough people growing at a slightly bigger scale that could produce quantities of fruits and vegetables that could go into our grocery stores and school cafeterias and other institutions where people are shopping and eating,&rdquo; Brockman said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a question of building infrastructure and putting together policies and funding to make that happen.&rdquo;</p><p>Brockman says that Land Connection has recently applied for grants to teach Midwest farmers techniques for extending the notoriously short growing season.</p><p>Bob Borchardt of Harvest Moons Farm in Wisconsin says he is already using some of them and investigating others.</p><p>&ldquo;Some kind of controlled environment growing is really the answer,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;whether it be greenhouses or hoop houses or inside and vertical gardens. Anything that we can do to push more local product into the non-conventional farming months here in the Midwest I think are things that need to be on top of our list as producers.&rdquo;</p><p>Brockman notes that farmers can also extend the seasons by planting varieties of vegetables that mature early or late in the season.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s like an early broccoli and a late broccoli,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;One that comes to fruition earlier and later. Just not putting your eggs in one basket or not just planting one kind of broccoli you can sort of insure yourself from whatever the season might be.&rdquo;</p><p>But she says the drought isn&rsquo;t the only water related issue causing debate in Midwest agricultural circles.</p><p>&ldquo;If you&rsquo;re concerned about water then you have to be concerned about agriculture because the thing that affects our water quality the most of anything in this state is agriculture,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>&ldquo;So that&rsquo;s everything from erosion and soil washing into our rivers and silting them up and making them inhospitable for river life, and especially the run off. So in Illinois the main source of pollution in our waterways is industrial farming, and the amount of nitrogen fertilizer that runs off that becomes a dead zone the size of Delaware in the Gulf of Mexico is due to runoff from Illinois and Midwest corn fields.&rdquo;</p><p>Brockman hopes that concern for our waterways will prompt Midwest farmers to swap synthetic fertilizers for crop rotations that take longer but can fertilize the soil naturally.</p><p>Scaman, however, has aspirations that go one step further. Given the growing demand for local produce and the richness of Illinois soil, he hopes the drought might convince some corn and soy farmers--whose harvests go primarily to processed food, animal feed and ethanol tanks--to grow crops suitable for local human consumption.</p><p>&ldquo;Years and years ago, Illinois as an example was one of the largest vegetable growing states in the country,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We don&rsquo;t necessarily need to just grow soybeans and corn. There is a need for vegetable production here in the Midwest to supply Chicago and other cities. And it provides a lot of economic opportunities for rural communities. So [the drought] has really brought that need to the forefront. You are seeing more and more farmers every year and more local produce. And the demand for local is off the charts.&rdquo;</p></p> Tue, 15 Jul 2014 13:48:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/front-and-center-water/california-drought-renews-debate-regional-food-systems-110497 Meet the CTA's super-friendly conductor http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/meet-ctas-super-friendly-conductor-110466 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/157991456&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false; show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><em>Editor&rsquo;s note: The podcast episode available above includes two stories. The first looks at <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/passing-through-chicagos-union-station-amish-transit-hub-110453" target="_blank">why Chicago is a transit hub for the Amish</a>. The profile of CTA conductor Michael Powell begins at 7 minutes, 36 seconds.</em></p><p>The idea for Caroline Eichler&rsquo;s Curious City question first came to her in 2011, shortly after she had finished college and first arrived in Chicago. She didn&rsquo;t know anyone except her roommates and co-workers. &ldquo;And this is the first city I&rsquo;ve ever lived in, too,&rdquo; she says. It&rsquo;s little wonder that she felt &mdash; by her own admission &mdash; &ldquo;pretty terrified and overwhelmed.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p>One of the first people Caroline came to recognize in the city was the voice of a certain chatty train conductor during her commute on the CTA&rsquo;s Red Line from Rogers Park to the Jackson stop downtown. She remembers the conductor reminding passengers to grab their umbrellas if it was raining, or he&rsquo;d jokingly advise passengers to take their children with them when they left the train. &ldquo;One time he said &lsquo;May the force be with you.&rsquo; That really cracked me up,&rdquo; she says. Since Caroline only knew a handful of people in the city, even the more reserved announcements such as &ldquo;I hope you&rsquo;re having a great day!&rdquo; were really nice, she says.</p><p>All of this interest in a comforting voice led Caroline to send us this question:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>Who is the super-friendly train conductor on the Red Line?</em></p><p>While tracking down an answer, we learned that the man behind the kind words used the daily commute to comfort himself, too.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">&lsquo;I just started talking&rsquo;</span></p><p>The conductor is Michael Powell, who began working for the CTA in 1978. Getting a job with the CTA was &ldquo;like a dream come true,&rdquo; Powell says. He&rsquo;s always loved trains, and he even had toy trains when he was growing up.</p><p>Talking over the train&rsquo;s PA system came naturally to Powell. &ldquo;I just started talking,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s spur of the moment, I really don&rsquo;t rehearse them. If it feels like I can say something silly or something half-serious, I&rsquo;ll say it.&rdquo;</p><p>Powell is not shy about sharing difficulties he had early in life. The oldest of four children, Powell says his mother &ldquo;had a rough time raising four children, not having a college degree or any education formally.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I could never make her happy,&rdquo; Powell remembers. &ldquo;I didn&rsquo;t like myself because I didn&rsquo;t get any compliments.&rdquo; Eventually Powell went to counseling. &ldquo;I just had to get over my fear or rejection, I think that&rsquo;s everybody&rsquo;s problem,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;When I started getting attention from the train it was like: Hey, I&rsquo;m getting the love or the attention that I didn&rsquo;t have growing up.&rdquo;</p><p>Powell&rsquo;s philosophy about relating to the passengers is straightforward. &ldquo;I just try to make everybody feel good,&rdquo; he says. Knowing people aren&rsquo;t always happy to be on their way to work, he would sometimes give a morning pep talk. &ldquo;Some people feel like they&rsquo;re down in the dumps. They&rsquo;re like &lsquo;Wow-wee, I had to come to work today.&rsquo; And I sometimes say, Yeah, you know, it would be nice to stay home today, but we have to work. What&rsquo;s for dinner tonight? Make sure you have everything with you! Just, you know, look on the bright side of life,&rdquo; he says.</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/MichaelPowell%20for%20WEB.jpg" title="Michael Powell, a CTA conductor for 36 years, was known by commuters for his cheerful quips. (Photo courtesy Katie Klocksin)" /></p><p>Over the years Powell has made an impact on his passengers, and he&rsquo;s been written about many times. When I first introduce him to Caroline, he presents a large binder full of his press clippings, print-outs of mostly-positive comment threads on articles featuring him, cards passengers had sent him, and comments people sent to the CTA. Caroline says she&rsquo;s impressed with how much Michael&rsquo;s comments resonated with people &mdash; enough that many people actually wrote to the CTA with positive feedback.</p><p>&ldquo;He brings out a good side of Chicago,&rdquo; she says.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">End of an era</span></p><p>Fans of Powell and his conversational style as a train conductor may be disappointed to learn that he retired at the end of 2013. He still spends time with a group of friends he calls &ldquo;train club.&rdquo; They get together once a week for breakfast, and they also run model trains and watch train movies together. Michael also became a grandfather this May. He misses seeing his passengers every day, &ldquo;yet it&rsquo;s nice to be a grandfather. It&rsquo;s nice to spend more time at home,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Caroline asked Powell if he had a fantasy train he&rsquo;d like to drive. &nbsp;&ldquo;Not really,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;I feel like I&rsquo;ve done enough driving in my life. Let someone else do the driving.&rdquo;</p><p>As their time together ends, Caroline tells him: &ldquo;The Red Line community of train riders will miss you.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ll miss them too,&rdquo; he replies. &ldquo;I had fun.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Caroline%20Re-Touch%20for%20WEB.jpg" style="float: left; height: 242px; width: 200px;" title="Caroline Eichler, who asked about the super-friendly Red Line conductor. (Photo courtesy Caroline Eichler)" /><span style="font-size:22px;">Our question comes from: Caroline Eichler</span></p><p>Caroline Eichler moved to Chicago in 2011, after graduating from Kenyon College. She quickly noticed Michael Powell&rsquo;s distinctive style on the Red Line&rsquo;s train announcements.</p><p>&ldquo;He was one of the first people in city I&rsquo;d recognize,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;I didn&rsquo;t even see him, I would just would know he was there from his voice.&rdquo;</p><p>Powell was a topic of conversation among her roommates as well. They would text each other when they caught Powell&rsquo;s train on their morning or evening commutes. &ldquo;I think I&rsquo;m the most excited about it, but we&rsquo;re all in on it together,&rdquo; Caroline says.</p><p>After three years, Caroline is more settled in the city; she&rsquo;s involved in several musical endeavors, including working as the Music Librarian for the <a href="http://cso.org/Institute/CivicOrchestra/Default.aspx" target="_blank">Civic Orchestra of Chicago</a>. She&rsquo;s also a violinist, and she sings with the vocal ensemble <a href="http://www.lacaccina.com/" target="_blank">La Caccina</a>.</p><p><em>A <a href="http://chirpradio.org/podcasts/person-of-interest-michael-powell" target="_blank">version of this story </a>originally aired on ChirpRadio.org. Katie Klocksin is a freelance radio producer. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/KatieKlocksin" target="_blank">@KatieKlocksin</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 09 Jul 2014 12:03:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/meet-ctas-super-friendly-conductor-110466 NEIU expansion invokes eminent domain http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/neiu-expansion-invokes-eminent-domain-110461 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 6.17.23 AM.png" alt="" /><p><p>Northeastern Illinois University is taking a big gamble: that if it finally builds on-campus housing, it can reverse declining student enrollment. But the way the university&rsquo;s going about this has upset some neighbors. The university plans to acquire the properties through eminent domain, leaving owners on one block of W Bryn Mawr Ave. with little say in the matter.</p><p>Depending on who&rsquo;s speaking, the 3400 block of W Bryn Mawr Ave. could be described as &ldquo;sleepy,&rdquo; &ldquo;stagnant,&rdquo; or &ldquo;depressed.&rdquo; But nearly every storefront is occupied. On the south side sit a Chinese restaurant, dental clinic, hair salon, and hookah cafe. On the north side, a travel agency, real estate agency, bank, and 7-11.</p><p>On a recent morning, two surveyors were casing the street. They said they were there for &ldquo;the university,&rdquo; measuring the dimensions of the buildings and their properties. The information could go into an appraisal of the properties&rsquo; values.</p><p>&ldquo;My grandfather developed this building in 1954 and built it from the ground up,&rdquo; Dolly Tong said, about her family&rsquo;s property at 3411 W Bryn Mawr, which now houses a Chinese restaurant called Hunan Wok. Tong and her siblings were raised in the apartment above the restaurant space, and she still lives there with her elderly mother, whom she describes as severely disabled.</p><p>Tong said she and her siblings are only able to care for their mother with the rent they receive from leasing out the restaurant. So last winter, when they received a letter from NEIU stating that it intended to acquire the property for some compensation, she was devastated.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re already feeling now this impending doom that they&rsquo;re going to take away our family&rsquo;s legacy,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s really hard.&rdquo;</p><p>Five other property owners are facing the same prospect, including the parents of John Boudouvas. His family owns the parcels just east of Tong&rsquo;s. Boudouvas said when his family received their letter from NEIU, he accompanied his parents to speak with a university lawyer about it. They told the lawyer they didn&rsquo;t want to sell.</p><p>&ldquo;And he goes, &lsquo;well, the university wants it, and they&rsquo;re going to eventually end up getting it,&rsquo;&rdquo; Boudouvas recalled. &ldquo;And that&rsquo;s when I paused and I looked at him and I said, &lsquo;well, how can you guys use eminent domain?&rsquo; And as I said that I realized the university is owned by the state.&rdquo;</p><p>Eminent domain is the right of a government to take private property for its own use. It has to offer those property owners compensation. But Boudouvas, Tong, and other property owners say NEIU&rsquo;s offer was pitiful. And they all want to know the same thing: Why won&rsquo;t the university build on property it already owns?<br /><br />&ldquo;I think it is a really good question,&rdquo; said Dr. Sharon Hahs, President of NEIU. Hahs said a 2008 student housing feasibility study identified a second site for student housing, in addition to the block on Bryn Mawr Ave. It sits on Foster Ave., on the south end of the campus, by the athletic fields.</p><p>&ldquo;The answer lies somewhat in what is the most help to the community sooner,&rdquo; said Hahs.</p><p>The university is planning two large multi- use buildings -- one on each side of Bryn Mawr.&nbsp; The ground floor would feature new retail and restaurants.&nbsp; Above those, enough dorm rooms would be built to fit 500 beds. Hahs hopes the project will set off a domino effect of revitalization, extending east down Bryn Mawr.</p><p>&ldquo;We need to change the character of the neighborhood,&rdquo; Hahs said. &ldquo;It is economically depressed. And something will have to change for that to occur.&rdquo;</p><p>While the university frames its decision as a desire to inject some economic pep into the slumbering Hollywood-North Park neighborhood, it&rsquo;s also about the school&rsquo;s survival. Last fall, NEIU enrollment dipped below 11,000 for the first time since 2001. Hahs is focused on reversing that by recruiting a greater number of students from more than fifty miles away. But she said that won&rsquo;t work if the university does not offer housing for them to live in, or the amenities of a lively, young neighborhood.</p><p>The plan threatens to split the community into two camps. For Janita Tucker, who owns a home several blocks west of NEIU, this has been a long time coming.</p><p>&ldquo;My husband and I purchased the property here in part because it was so close to Northeastern and North Park University,&rdquo; she said, &ldquo;and we wanted that university town vibe.&rdquo;</p><p>But many other residents, who live in closer proximity to the proposed development, fear student dorms could change the character of their neighborhood for the worse.</p><p>Both sides have hired lawyers, and Tong is spearheading a coalition of business and property owners against the property takeover. Litigation could mean it will be years before anything really happens. But quietly, many property owners concede that unless NEIU voluntarily backs off the plan, they suspect this will be a losing fight.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 09 Jul 2014 06:35:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/neiu-expansion-invokes-eminent-domain-110461 Passing through: Chicago's Union Station as Amish transit hub http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/passing-through-chicagos-union-station-amish-transit-hub-110453 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/157991456&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: In producing this story, producer Katie Klocksin quotes several people of Amish background. In a deviation from most journalistic practice, Klocksin and editor Shawn Allee chose not to publish the sources&rsquo; names out of respect for the Amish culture&#39;s longstanding premium on humility, as well as possible social consequences for participants. The decision was made in consideration of comments on the issue made by Dr. Steven Nolt, Professor of History at Goshen College and author of numerous books on the Amish.</em></p><p>Paul Vaccarello of LaGrange, Illinois, sees Amish people when he passes through downtown Chicago&rsquo;s Union Station &mdash; the nexus of several Amtrak and Metra commuter rail lines.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve just always been curious about where they&rsquo;re going, why they&rsquo;re here, if they&rsquo;re actually coming to Chicago or if this is a stop on their way to somewhere else,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>This led him to ask Curious City:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>Is Chicago a large transportation hub for Amish travelers?</em></p><p>Reporting an answer provided Paul an opportunity to hear from people that Chicagoans and suburbanites don&rsquo;t ordinarily cross paths with. Members of the religious group seek to maintain a close-knit rural lifestyle and, though there are Amish settlements sprinkled throughout the Midwest, the nearest one lies 90 miles from downtown Chicago. As we approached an answer &mdash; by checking in with experts and Amish travelers themselves &mdash; we couldn&rsquo;t help but feel we were meeting our regional neighbors for the first time.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">A separate pattern of life</span></p><p>Dr. Steven Nolt, Professor of History at Goshen College and author of numerous books on the Amish, reminded us that adherents belong to a Protestant religious community that is &ldquo;sometimes referred to as &lsquo;the old order Amish,&rsquo; which means they have tried to maintain what they consider the old patterns of life.&rdquo; Typically, they limit their use of modern technology and their communities tend to be in rural areas. These &ldquo;old patterns of life,&rdquo; Nolt said, &ldquo;would be things that encourage community and cooperation and collaboration.&rdquo;</p><p>Nolt noted, though, that there are few technologies that the Amish consider wholly bad. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s their attempt to try to control technology or engage technology on their own terms,&rdquo; he said. &nbsp;</p><p>Relevant to Paul&rsquo;s question, Amish people generally don&rsquo;t own or drive cars, although some will hire a vehicle and driver for transportation. It&rsquo;s common for the Amish to travel on trains or buses. &ldquo;The problem isn&rsquo;t the <em>thing</em>,&rdquo; Nolt said. &ldquo;The problem is when we own and control something, then, that heightens our sense of individual autonomy.&rdquo;</p><p>Nolt described an aspect of Amish life that posed a problem for reporting this story: &ldquo;Amish people, when speaking to members of the media, almost always decline to be identified by name or photographed in ways that would highlight them as an individual. Their concern there is one of humility, of not appearing to present oneself as a spokesperson for the whole group, not wanting to call attention to themselves.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Traveling by train<a name="map"></a></span></p><p>Paul and I made several trips to Union Station and found Amish people each time. Most were happy to talk with us, provided my large microphone was turned off. Most people, as predicted, declined to give their names. Everyone we talked to confirmed our theory: Chicago <em>is</em> a hub for transportation among the Amish. The people we interviewed at Union Station were all waiting to switch trains. One woman put it succinctly: &ldquo;A lot of Amish travel from one state to the other on Amtrak. &hellip;Every train comes into Chicago and leaves Chicago.&rdquo;</p><p>Our map can clarify this: There, you can see how Amtrak lines cross near or through midwestern Amish communities. Nolt added, too, that more than 60 percent of the Amish live in Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania: states with Amtrak lines. So Paul was onto something: Amish people, by avoiding cars, travel by train throughout the Midwest and the country. Many Amtrak trains converge in Chicago, thus Amish regularly wait for trains and transfers at Union Station.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe align="middle" frameborder="0" height="400" scrolling="no" src="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/amish/index.html" width="620"></iframe></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><em><strong>Map: U.S. counties with extant Amish settlements as of 2010, overlaid with unofficial map of Amtrak rail system lines.</strong> Amish population data: <a href="http://www.rcms2010.org/index.php" target="_blank">Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies</a>.&nbsp;Rough Amtrak line map: <a href="https://www.blogger.com/profile/17241478144408980328" target="_blank">Rakshith Krishnappa</a>.</em></span></p><p>Nolt points out that Amish people aren&rsquo;t likely to use the word &ldquo;vacation.&rdquo; Instead, he says, they talk about trips. &ldquo;I think on one level it&rsquo;s because &lsquo;vacation&rsquo; suggests leisure type activity that doesn&rsquo;t fit with their rural way of life,&rdquo; he said, adding, &ldquo;Their worlds are not as neatly divided as many of the rest of ours are between work and leisure, home and work. There&rsquo;s much more fluidity and overlap between the domains of their life.&rdquo;</p><p>Nolt says it is common for a long-distance trip to be centered around business travel. There are all-Amish trade shows, for example, which are similar to standard trade shows except they are hosted by a local community and attendees stay with local families. &quot;Most people bring their whole family and it kind of turns into a reunion of visiting,&quot; he said.</p><p>For the most part, though, Paul and I met people traveling to visit family members in other states. We met a large family returning home to Kansas from a wedding in Indiana. An Amish woman from Ohio was traveling with several of her grandchildren to visit her cousin and see the Grand Canyon.</p><p>A few Amish people we met were seeking medical care, including a man from Kentucky. &ldquo;We were in Mexico for medical purposes,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t like to see it, but medical expenses in the States anymore are so phenomenal that an ordinary person cannot afford it.&rdquo; He was returning from Tijuana after a successful operation.</p><p>Another medical traveler, an Amish man with a salt-and-pepper beard and a constant grin, cracked jokes with us for a while. After we parted ways with him, though, we ran into him throughout our stay at Union Station. It&rsquo;s not an exaggeration to say he seemed to know every Amish person there that day, which perhaps reveals a benefit of Union Station&rsquo;s being a hub: For the Amish, it provides a space to serendipitously meet far-flung neighbors.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Paul%20Vaccarello%20-%20courtesy%20of%20Paul%20FOR%20WEB.jpg" style="float: left; height: 254px; width: 190px;" title="Paul Vaccarello asked Curious City about the Amish at Union Station. (Photo courtesy Paul Vaccarello)" /><span style="font-size:24px;">Our question comes from: Paul Vaccarello</span></p><p>Paul Vaccarello told Curious City he visits Union Station about twice a month, adding that &ldquo;pretty much every time, I see groups of Amish people.&rdquo; While he was curious about whether the Amish travel by train, he also wondered if Chicago was ever the destination for Amish people on the road. &ldquo;It was interesting to hear they sometimes stop in Chicago to sightsee, go to the Sears Tower and John Hancock building,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Paul said he&rsquo;s not someone who would normally talk to strangers in the train station, and striking up a conversation with someone from a clearly different background can feel like crossing a barrier.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s cool to see they&rsquo;re so willing to talk, and that they don&rsquo;t even really see the barrier,&rdquo; he said.</p><p><em>Katie Klocksin is a freelance radio producer. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/KatieKlocksin" target="_blank">@KatieKlocksin</a>.</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 07 Jul 2014 15:51:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/passing-through-chicagos-union-station-amish-transit-hub-110453 Chicago’s top chefs join Ald. Ed Burke to urge limits on antibiotic use http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago%E2%80%99s-top-chefs-join-ald-ed-burke-urge-limits-antibiotic-use-110406 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/BURKE-photo.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>When you see a gathering of white coated chefs around Chicago it&rsquo;s usually as part of a food festival or some gala dinner. But Tuesday morning some of the city&rsquo;s top cooks and restaurateurs gathered at City Hall to voice their concerns about public health and the way animals are raised in this country.</p><p>They were there to support a non-binding City Council resolution to support long-stalled Congressional bills on antibiotics. Known as <a href="http://www.louise.house.gov/the-preservation-of-antibiotics-for-medical-treatment-act">PAMPTA </a>and PARA, they would stop American farmers from using certain classes of antibiotics on healthy animals. The practice is meant to promote growth and prevent disease.</p><p>The world&rsquo;s leading health authorities believe that overuse of antibiotics in hospital and farm settings is leading to the rise of &ldquo;superbugs&rdquo;, or bacterial infections that can no longer be cured with antibiotics.</p><p>Long-time Chicago restaurateur and co-founder of the <a href="http://buygreenchicago.org/">Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition</a> Ina Pinkney introduced the long list of scientists and doctors who would speak at the finance committee hearing on the resolution later that day.</p><p>But she also shared a personal story of a friend who recently gave birth to twins.</p><p>&ldquo;One baby went home and the other one was sick and they found MRSA in her nose as a nine-day-old,&rdquo; Pinkney said. &ldquo;Then you have to say that things are not OK.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p>The <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/about.html">Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports</a> that over 2 million Americans are infected by so-called superbugs each year and and more than 23,000 die.</p><p>&ldquo;The antibiotic issue is just out of control,&rdquo; said Dan <a href="https://www.sopraffina.com/dolce/homepage.htm">Rosenthal, whose restaurant group </a>owns seven Chicago eateries including Sopraffina and Ciccheti.</p><p>&ldquo;We are creating, in our industrial meat complex, the perfect environment to create antibiotic resistant bacteria...They are found in our meat and water supply and system and what happens is we get to a situation where antibiotics are no longer effective.&rdquo; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>Rosenthal is so concerned over the issue that since 2012, he&#39;s sourced all 800,000 pounds of meat he serves in his restaurants each year from farms who don&rsquo;t use antibiotics on their healthy animals.</p><p>It was also Rosenthal who, last April, urged Alderman Ed Burke to introduce the proposed resolution to the City Council.</p><p>If passed tomorrow, the resolution can&rsquo;t force Congress to do anything, but Burke says it can &ldquo;call the attention of the Illinois delegation to what we believe is an important public health initiative.&rdquo;</p><p>But the measures face considerable opposition. The biggest players in the livestock industry have long resisted any mandatory restrictions.</p><p>&quot;We are opposed to those bills because we really believe they are out of date with the current Food and Drug Administration regulatory activities,&rdquo; said Illinois Pork Producer Association spokesman Tim Maier, who is based in Springfield.</p><p>He&#39;s referring to recent voluntary guidelines that prohibit using antibiotics to make animals grow faster. But preventative uses are still in a gray area and critics say the situation is much too grave to solve with voluntary guidelines. They further argue that the government doesn&rsquo;t collect enough data to know if any farmers are choosing to comply. &nbsp; &nbsp;</p><p>But while health activists cite the rise of antibiotic resistant infections and antibiotic resistant bacteria on supermarket meat as as threat to public health, Maier says it&#39;s the restrictions proposed in the legislation that would cause a threat.</p><p>&ldquo;We think they would actually harm animal health and by extension food safety by limiting the antibiotics that are available for farmers to use when they want to treat their animals,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Denmark, which is one of the largest pork producers in the world, banned the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics in livestock in 2000. The move required some adjustments and saw some outbreaks of disease, but within a decade the World Health Organization &ldquo;found that the ban reduced human health risk without significantly harming animal health or farmers&#39; incomes,&rdquo; according to the<a href="http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2010/11/01/avoiding-antibiotic-resistance-denmarks-ban-on-growth-promoting-antibiotics-in-food-animals"> Pew Charitable Trust</a>.</p><p>So why are chefs and restaurateurs involved in this legislative discussion?</p><p>&ldquo;Because they understand that a meat supply that produces killer bacteria along with the meat is an unsustainable system and it has to be changed,&rdquo; said Rosenthal. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s why these chefs are standing up for meat raised in a sustainable fashion without antibiotics to provide a better source of supply of meat both at the restaurant level and in the grocery store.&quot;</p><p>At grocery stores like <a href="http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/about-our-products/quality-standards/animal-welfare-standards">Whole Foods Market, </a>meat raised without antibiotics has served the baseline standards for a few years. Jared Donisvitch oversees the butcher counter at the store&rsquo;s Lincoln Park location, where, he says, the antibiotic issue on shoppers minds.</p><p>&ldquo;It comes up fairly often with our interactions with customers,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;and so we are a well-trained group here and try to help customers with any questions they have on that.&rdquo;</p><p>Representative Louise Slaughter of New York State is Congress&rsquo; only microbiologist and the sponsor of PAMPTA. Last week, she sent a letter to the Chicago City Council, saying &ldquo;It is only through local, grassroots efforts like yours that we will make a difference in public health on a national level.&quot;</p><p>If the City Council resolution passes this week, Chicago would join the ranks of Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Seattle and others. But even if all the cities in the nation adopt such resolutions, they can&rsquo;t pass an act of Congress.</p><p>Still, Susan Vaughn Grooters of <a href="http://www.keepantibioticsworking.com/">Keep Antibiotics Working</a>, a nationwide coalition that aims to pass legislation to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics, says the local resolutions add a new voice to the usual Congressional debates. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;If we could get the groundswell from city councils across the nation to help support the federal legislation it could really help what&rsquo;s happening in DC now,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s essential that they hear from other people, not just inside the beltway in DC.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p>Burke also notes that municipal resolutions have played a part in creating national momentum on issues in the past. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;One issue that comes to mind is the effort we undertook a number of years ago to ban trans fats from food products,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Now you can&rsquo;t walk down the aisles of the grocery store without seeing notations on boxes, &lsquo;no trans fats&rsquo;.&rdquo;</p><p>The City Council is expected to vote on the resolution Wednesday afternoon.</p><p><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the Chewing The Fat podcast. Follow her at</em><a href="https://twitter.com/monicaeng"> <em>@monicaeng</em></a> <em>or write to her at meng@wbez.org</em></p><p style="margin-left:.5in;">&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 25 Jun 2014 08:31:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago%E2%80%99s-top-chefs-join-ald-ed-burke-urge-limits-antibiotic-use-110406