Friday, April 4, 2008

Blogging For Uptown

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

"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.


  1. All Hail the Uptown Update.

    Nice story.

    Let's see if we can keep the hit counter rising.

  2. This blog has to steam Shiller.

  3. Thanks Sun-Times. What an interesting story that captures the flavor of this blog and of Uptown. Let's hope we see some more hard-hitting stories in addition to the human interest ones.

    And, to Uptown Updaters, congratulations on the good press. I have one critique though. On the pieces that connect to other news stories, could you do the "click here for more" a bit sooner to condense the length of the blog entries? I come back often to read the comments (so much that I remember if we are on comment 5 or comment 6 right now) and there is a lot to scroll through. It would be helpful if some of the entries were shorter visually. I realize that is not always possible when you have your own content and pictures, but with some other stuff it is. Thanks & keep up the good work!

  4. I appreciate very much what you guys do - I think it's extremely useful, and a medium that Shiller didn't plan on. Keep up the good work!!!

  5. Thanks to the Sun Times for mentioning what many of us have come to really enjoy.

    Uptown Updater Thanks for getting so much info out there I feel so much better connected to issues that are in a different part of the ward. This site often gives people the information they need to make some calls and get requests made. When I moved here four years ago it took a year to figure out some of the basic things you talk about regularly. The Neighbors of Uptown are very fortunate to have this site. Local Alderman and Public Officials not so much!

  6. Great story! Viva the Uptown Update and the invaluable service it provides to residents of our community! It makes taking political and social action easy, and in this ward, it is needed. Knowledge is power and the Uptown Update. Finally, a major Chicago paper starts listening. Let's hope that with enough bad press and exposure, Ald. Shiller will finally start too.

  7. THANK YOU for giving Uptown residents a voice in their community.

    THANK YOU for revealing what's really in the hearts and minds of Uptowners.

    THANK YOU for uncovering the deep rooted politics and lame decisions that are made behind closed doors at City Hall without an ounce of public process input.

  8. Why don't you reveal who you are?

  9. anon 11:10: Oh, yeah, that is a good idea given how people who cross the machine then end up with all kinds of property inspections, etc. And, if that court case does not go in favor of the bloggers, Uptown Updater might be faced with a range of lawsuits all for just exercising his right to free speech and using technology to help other people do the same. I never want to know who runs this blog. Viva la liberte!

  10. Anon 11:10: "Why don't you reveal who you are?"

    Says the anonymous poster. Sheesh.

    But given how vindicitive Shiller is towards her perceived "enemies," it is quite prudent to maintain an alias. Retaliation from Shiller is a very real possibility.

    UU could find himself the target of a frivolous lawsuit from Brendan (like they did with the guy they asssumed was the owner of the old, a targetted inspection (like Cappleman's campaign manager), the denial of a permit (like Unique So Chic recently), etc.

  11. Anonymous 11:33 to the best of my knowledge there was no lawsuit against What the Helen. Since I blogged(blog) there I might know.

    There was a letter meant to intimidate that could be taken to imply possible legal action if Shiller lost. After Shiller won the election, all praise to da Mare, Jesus People and the major media, nothing more was said.

    Now there were some minor acts of vandalism against Cappleman supporters on the glorious night Saint Helen was re-elected to yet another term. My guess is that the Alderbeast herself had no knowledge of such naughty activity. She was probably just thinking about how to raise money to pay off her big campaign debt.

  12. UU could find himself the target of a frivolous lawsuit from Brendan (like they did with the guy they asssumed was the owner of the old, a targetted inspection (like Cappleman's campaign manager), the denial of a permit (like Unique So Chic recently), etc.

    Who's Brendan?

  13. Brendan Shiller, spawn of the alderbeast.

  14. That column was by Konkol was good, but he should know how to spell Helcha's name. There's no "c" in Shiller.

  15. Thank you UU for giving Uptown residents a VOICE! Now the world can see what we have had to deal with for years with an alderman who truly has no idea how to help create a balanced, productive, safe and healthy community.

    You rock!!!!

  16. you residents have no voice unless you are part of the machine

  17. But if we were part of the Machine, that would be used against us by Shiller and the press like it has been used against anyone who has opposed Madame Alderbeast in the past. You know, that last liberal on the Lakefront who needs to be protected from the Daley Machine spin.

  18. What has the machine done for you lately?

    Increased the sales tax to the highest in the country.

    Increased the property transfer tax to assure people think twice before they buy.

    Protected themselves from ever questioning the stupid decisions that other alderman and da mayor make like spending $480,000 per unit in a recession.

    Driving Cook County hospital into the ground with the worst management in history.

    Hiring incompetent people to pay off their obligations for political favors.

    The machine has got some serious problems.

  19. You tell it, 7:00 PM. We probably can't stop them by ourselves but we can certainly stand up and say, enough! We're watching and taking notes and in time there will be too many of us watching at taking notes for you to hide!

    Again, Cook County Republicans? If you held an event on the "liberal" northside, you might have a surprising turnout!

  20. Ding Dong the hole is gone...the hole is gone..Ding Dong the witch is...

    Oh, I guess I am getting a bit ahead of myself now, aren't I?

  21. Fine, yes, it was a threat of a lawsuit, not an actual filing.

    But something DID come of it. You fail to mention that the recipient was sufficiently intimidated to immediately stop posting and then take down the site entirely for a time.

    Given Brendan's history, for example his filing Federal lawsuits against cops accusing them of murders and cover-ups, it was a perfectly reasonable fear.

  22. I wouldn't call it a threat of a lawsuit, more of a suggestion and based on election law. Between posting the tapes of the debate on Youtube and that email I got the impression What the Helen and the various videos posted drove the Shilleristas within centimeters of being totally off the wall batshit crazy.

    As for your suggestion that What the Helen immediately stopped posting that is factually wrong. Posts continued that day. I actually posted more stories that day just because that's the kinda cat I am. I believe it was the Friday prior to the election and after the Capplemaniac mentioned "What the Helen" dot com on WTTW, Channel 11.

    In fact the day prior an "anonymous" person even asked in a comment how many hits a day What the Helen got. I suspect I know the identity of that individual.

    The email was sent to the Capplemaniac campaign, What the Helen, BPN Board members and myself.

    What the Helen didn't disappear until the night of the election when the results came in. I think that was based more on the creator just being tired and disappointed than anything else.

    Now "Unique" was clearly denied a permit for a sidewalk cafe whether that is political I dunno. Could be as Bugs Bunny might say.

    I know nothing about any inspection at the residence of the Capplemaniac's campaign manager. May be true. May not be.

    There are always rumors out there and sometimes people just plain get things confused or wrong.

    Some people actually thought I was Cappleman's partner or various other people. When I am actually Batman and even live at the North Pole with Santa and Elvis.

  23. Let's set the record straight.

    First, nobody sued us.

    Second, we never received a threatening letter from anyone.

    Third, we heard through the grapevine that a threatening letter was drafted and sent to the board members of BPN regarding their now nearly defunct message board.

    Fourth, we heard that at least one local business that displayed a Cappleman poster in their window was threatened. We tried to interview this business owner, but they refused to comment on the record. We will keep that business name confidential. Incidentally, and perhaps unrelated to any threats, the business has since moved out of the neighborhood, and as far as we know, is still in business elsewhere.

    Fifth, we cranked out tons of posts and posted tons of videos made by local residents all the way up to election day. Irish Pirate was a big part of that, as he made for a great partner. We all fed off of what the others were doing.

    Sixth, we stopped posting because we were damn tired. Between Pirate and us, we recall having one month, either January or February 2007, were we published something on the order of 200+ posts. If you recall the types of things we id, you'd know how much time and effort was put into true investigative reporting. We dug up all sorts of data, linked to reports and stories from other news sources, and connected all kinds of dots amongst and between Uptown special interest groups.

    We literally did not work a paying job from about August of 2006 through part of January of 2007. When it literally got to the point where it was not possible to pay the rent in December of 2006, we asked Pirate to help us out so that we could go make money by day and blog by night.

    We were just exhausted and quite literally broke. The effort was so big and so intense, we had absolutely nothing left in the tank come March of 2007. We completely ditched the site, probably in reaction to our emotional states at the time. If you use the way back machine, you can probably find some of that old stuff to read.

    So please excuse us for not keeping up the fight. We did and are doing the best we can.

    But in reality, the torch has been passed, and UU has our blessing and prayers. The purveyors of this blog have achieved much more than we ever could have, and we are delighted to have had an impact.

    This is as good a time as any to announce that WhatTheHelen dot com will again cease publishing. Pirate - if you want the domain name, it's yours.

  24. WWW.UPTOWNUPDATE.COM Campaign time!

    Spread the word with your neighbors, especially those living along the lake and at the south end of the ward who have no idea why they have to shop in Lakeview or choose not to walk west with their dogs, "cause its not safe."

    Tell all your neighbors to tune in to and find out what's really going on in their ward.

  25. As someone who lives in Bucktown Wicker Park (A neighborhood that has sold out) I have to appreciate what UU is doing in fighting for it's hood!

    From a grass roots forum blogging and photo blogging are great ways to show and tell the rest of the city and the world about the decadence that runs through Chicago politics.

    Development of the neighborhood should not just be used to make the chamber of commerce and aldermen rich, or the community overpriced for young and 1st time homeowners. A neighborhood should be a safe community that helps develop Chicago as a progressive global city.

    Good luck and I hope to join your mini revolution soon!

  26. Awww...8:43, I am sorry I just slammed Wicker Parkers on another part of this blog. That was the Uptown nasty coming out in me! XOXOXO