By Mark Konkol, Sun-Times
Photo by Brian Jackson
There's an orange cone near the tennis courts at Clarendon Park marking a sinkhole big enough to swallow a small Labrador.
Despite complaints and 311 calls, Uptown neighbors say the hole -- about four-feet deep, exposing an old sewer line -- has been there more than a year.
It's the kind of thing -- like overflowing Dumpsters, guys peeing in doorways, brawls under the L tracks, aggressive panhandlers and so many vacant stores -- that aggravates a lot of Uptowners.
For an anonymous Uptown blogger, those nagging gripes inspired him to start airing his neighborhood's dirty laundry at Uptown update.com.
"It seemed there's no Uptown coverage in the major news media at all, and most people just pass through Uptown on the way to Lake View or Lincoln Park," the man who calls himself the Uptown Updater says. "This neighborhood is starved for attention, and people are starved for information. I wanted to get people more engaged and more aware about what's happening right in their neighborhood."
You'll have to forgive him for not revealing his identity. He's just a regular guy working a regular job who doesn't want to get hassled for blowing the whistle -- or taking shots at Ald. Helen Schiller (46th). Besides, Uptown Update is a community service, not a money-maker. He's not interested in local fame.
So the 29-year old and a few of his pals stalk Uptown streets with point-and-shoot cameras and an eye for irony -- like the flags marking the Uptown Chamber of Commerce's 85th anniversary next to a row of vacant storefronts. They attend community meetings, check up on building permits and zoning changes and chat up folks for the local scoop to share online.
Uptown Update has become a popular neighborhood Web site, at times logging 4,000 page views a day. Often, problems they post about -- illegal peddlers, guys pounding beers on the sidewalk, pesky heroin junkies who used to shoot up on Winthrop -- get quick attention. Other times -- like rants on crumbling viaducts or loiterers outside the Wilson Club Hotel -- not so much.
"It's frustrating when things don't get fixed, but I think we make a difference," the Uptown Updater says.
His readers have lots to say about the state of Uptown, too. They provide a hefty dose of news for the blog, which has become the new way for neighbors to vent.
Local gadfly Pamela Merema submitted pictures of the Clarendon Park sinkhole along with her own diatribe on how long it takes to get even the simplest problems fixed in the neighborhood.
"Here's a medium that is cheap, that doesn't rely on advertising dollars, that can really get to what's going on in the neighborhood," Merema says. "The blog points out that city services belong to everyone."
There's that, and complaints about Uptown's longtime ward boss, Ald. Schiller, who says her staff keeps tabs on local blogs.
"There's a couple people in the office tooling around, checking the blogs. If they find something that needs attention, I'm confident they take action and raise it with me. . . . My goal is to solve problems." That's what the Uptown Update guy says he wants, too.
"I don't think Helen Schiller is the root of all evil in Uptown," he says. "The idea is to get people to realize they deserve to have problems solved."
Like that pesky sinkhole in the park.
Update: Check out "Jump Local" from the Sun-Times for a list of great Uptown bars and restaurants.
Update #2: A reader just sent us a photo of the infamous Clarendon Park sinkhole that appears to have been miraculously fixed today after over a year. Funny how that works.
Update #3: Sun-Times reporter Mark Konkol added this entry to his "Neighborhoods" blog.