Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 In Uptown: Looking Back

The Elections
  • Three lame duck aldermen in Uptown resulted in candidates! candidates! candidates!  Five in the 48th Ward; five in the 47th Ward (four of whom made it onto the ballot); and 15 in the 46th Ward (11 of whom made it onto the ballot, along with a write-in candidate). There were a bevy of debates, forums, meet & greets and get out the vote rallies. Really, you couldn’t walk out your front door without tripping over an aldermanic candidate.
  • When it was all over:  Harry Osterman won in a landslide (81.36% of the vote); Cinderella candidate Ameya Pawar won in a squeaker that surprised even him (50.79% of the vote); and James Cappleman won after he and Molly Phelan went into an April run-off election. We’re still exhausted – the campaigning officially began back in 2009.
  • Three new aldermen representing Uptown were sworn in on May 16th… the first changes in representation since 1989. Now we get to go through ward redistricting. Whee.
The Good
  • Uptowners attended forums, and wrote and pestered the CTA to do something about Uptown’s long-neglected CTA stations.  In October, Sen. Durbin found $6 million for the Wilson L; much rejoicing was had.  But it paled in comparison to November, when Mayor Emanuel and Ald. Cappleman announced $135 million to completely rebuild the Wilson station.  We’re talking better L tracks, the dismantling of the old unused North Shore Line (which will considerably lighten up Broadway as the old concrete supports come down), and (finally) an ADA-compliant station and filled retail spaces.  Work is scheduled to begin in the spring and go on until 2014.  It’ll be inconvenient, but it’ll be worth the wait.
  • The election of three shiny new aldermen has resulted in all sorts of weekly newsletters, town hall meetings, ward nights, public meetings, updates and responsiveness to the constituency.  It’s hard to remember those dark days when a monthly or yearly newsletter was the norm, when Saturday office hours were announced but never happened, and violations of the Open Meeting Act were common.  We salute the new openness and availability of all three aldermen.
  • President Obama visited Uptown on his 50th birthday for a party/fundraiser at the Aragon.  Politics aside, seeing Marine One land at the Wilson Skate Park was something you don’t see every day, along with snowplows blocking off streets in August.
  • Illinois passed a law legalizing civil unions, primarily sponsored by Uptown's State Rep., Greg Harris.
  • The Uptown Theater strutted its stuff in November, when Uptown United held a fundraiser that included tours of the grand old building.  It’s still got it and we were thrilled to finally see the inside of this fabled palace, which did not disappoint.  It is our number one hope that funding comes through this year for its restoration.
  • Words to thrill any Uptowner – the new mayor asking the question: “We have a downtown theater district. Should there be an Uptown music district, given our history with labels as well as the club scene, which is truly, truly unique around the country?”
  • A row of new storefronts opened on Argyle to replace the ones that burned down in 2008 and were boarded up for years.
  • The scaffolding surrounding the Sheridan Plaza came down after nearly five years, and the building ended up being one of the better looking rehabs around.  Something to be proud of.
  • The Buttercup Playlot received a million dollars for a rehab to make it a safe, gang-free zone for children, which is well underway.  The first phase of renewing Gill Park into a safe place was also begun. We look forward to seeing the completed projects.
  • The New Admiral senior housing complex at Foster and Marine was begun and construction was completed in October.
  • The Black Ensemble Cultural Center took less than a year to complete and has dressed up a formerly shabby block of Clark Street.  Here’s to more, as Jackie Taylor has even bigger plans for that part of Uptown.
  • Lawrence Avenue was repaved, a huge improvement to the Swiss Cheese Style pavement that was there for so long.  Brighter, history-based street lights went up along Wilson.  And the Clark Streetscaping was completed as well.
  • Both the Weiss/Uptown Farmer’s Market and the Windy City Ribfest returned for a second year.
  • Residents formed a committee, held some fundraisers, and took on the challenger of reviving Challenger Bark.  On a similar note, “Clarendon Bark” opened just east of Marine Drive, at Sunnyside.
  • Chicago Book Expo held its first ever weekend in Uptown, highlighting our past (Charlie Chaplin, speakeasies) and utilizing our historic buildings (Uptown Broadway Building, Borders).  It was awesome.
  • Peoples Music School won a $45,000 grant, thanks to community votes and comments.
  • New businesses came to town:  Petite Pita, Caravan, Tolotzin, Real Kitchen, Spoil Me Hair Salon, Hair Cuttery, Weight Watchers, Uptown Soda Bread, Purple Cow Ice Cream Parlor, The Dock At Montrose Beach, Rokito’s, Zesty Bites, Mink & Arce Gallery, and Xxpress Cleaners,
  • We said farewell to too many retailers, some of which we liked very much:  Nick’s on Wilson, Cupcake Gallery, Borders, Kahawa House/The Broadway, Fresh Harvest Market, TCF Bank at Wilson and Broadway, Joy Cleaners, International Cleaners, Taco del Mar, and Manhattan Liquors.
  • We look forward to the arrival of these businesses, which have announced they're opening in 2012:  Razon (4250 N Marine), Reservoir (844 N Montrose), Baker & Nosh (1303 N Wilson), and CorePower Yoga (at Wilson Yard).
The Gangs
  • Brian Green was murdered on Wilson on January 4th right in front of an undercover police officer. Brayant Rogers, himself a shooting victim in July 2010, is currently in custody and awaiting trial for the murder.
  • Brian Gill was murdered at Racine and Sunnyside on August 28th.
  • Edward Clark was murdered near Winthrop and Lawrence on December 4th.
  • Operation “Sugar Magnolia” and Operation “Uptown Girl” disrupted gang drug sales and put several significant players behind bars.
  • We started to do an accounting of the number of shots fired, the number of people shot, and the riots and street violence that were reported, but it got too depressing. Suffice to say, it was too much and too many.  As one of the Big Cheeses who attended the 2312 CAPS meeting said, “Hearing gunfire is not normal. Looking out your window and seeing people shot is not acceptable.”  Remember that. We live in a lakefront community, not at the OK Corral.
  • We continue to encourage you to call 911 if you see anything suspicious, if you hear gunshots or see gang activity.   It is only when residents are active and communicate with the cops and elected officials that pressure will be brought to get the habitual troublemakers out of Uptown.
  • It’s only been this year that we’ve realized how small and dedicated a group it is that continues to bring trouble to our community.  It’s not hoards of troublemakers; it’s a small number of miscreants who decided to live on the wrong side of the law.  They are far outnumbered by people who work hard at making Uptown better, which is the opposite of what the gangbangers want.  They thrive in chaos.
  • Five murders, three gang-related.  Certainly less than some parts of the city, but not acceptable and not normal.  We refuse to let the antisocial activities of a few urban terrorists define our community.
In Other News
  • We haven’t heard much since August, but we were rocked when Sonic proposed opening its first Chicago store on Wilson.
  • Maryville and its potential developer, Sedgwick Properties, remained a hot topic.  Residents overwhelmingly voted down a proposal for the TIF-assisted “Lake View Station” project in May, and Sedgwick came back with a streamlined plan for the TIF-assisted “Lighthouse at Montrose Harbor” in November. Expect the controversy to go into a third year as Ald. Cappleman’s Zoning and Planning Committee considers the most recent proposal in 2012.
  • The seemingly endless construction of the Truman Parking Garage finally ended, freeing up parking in the neighboring streets for the first time in nearly three years.
  • Uptown enjoyed a spell of neighborliness and camaraderie after the Groundhog Day Blizzard.  People snowmobiled and skied down our main streets, Lake Shore Drive became a dog walk, neighbors pitched in together to shovel out cars and sidewalks, and the Aragon parking lot and newly opened Truman Garage invited residents to park there while the snow was being cleared.
  • We thought the weirdest crime story of the year would be the MacGyveresque acid bombs left in the alley behind McDonalds in March.  Or maybe the guy who had rifles, grenades and gunpowder in his apartment on the 4200 block of Broadway.  Or the idiot who thought it was fun to shoot BBs at passersby and parked cars at Leland and Malden.   That was until December, when three heavily armed accused murderers from South Bend, Indiana, escaped and went to the home of a relative in Uptown.   The resulting barricade situation was something right out of the movies, with ATF, SWAT, Illinois State Police, and local police stopping the Red Line for hours and putting snipers on rooftops and in nearby homes.   Amazingly, it all ended with no loss of life.  Not so amazingly, it was gang-related.
  • Even out of office, Helen Shiller remains a polarizing figure.  After she, her son and office staff were featured in a Chicago Magazine article linking politicians and gang members, her supporters and her detractors squared off about the veracity of the report.  It was the fourth most-commented-on post of the year.   (The first two stories were right before the run-off election between Phelan and Cappleman; and the third was reactions to the Maryville/Sedgwick meeting.)
  • The Jade Buddha visited the Truc Lam Temple during its year-long tour promoting world peace, leading to a week of festivities at Ashland and Wilson.
  • The never-occupied building at 4720 N Clarendon was acquired by Chicago Lakeshore Hospital, who worked with the community on its reconfiguration.   It will become an extension of CLH, currently located at Gunnison and Marine.
  • An Uptowner, Kevin Byrne, was selected from over 1000 applicants to live for a month at the Museum of Science and Industry.
  • There were two murders that do not appear to be gang-related:  Marvin Baker was bludgeoned and found in Clarendon Park in August, and in November, Maria Santiago’s body was found in her garage after an evening of partying with her upstairs neighbor, who has been charged with her murder.
  • The nuns who own the Maryville property decided to stop allowing the community to park in the lot they own, putting 125 more vehicles onto crowded streets of Clarendon Park.  Many, including us, saw this as retaliation for the community’s rejection of Sedgwick’s plans to buy the property.  WWJD, Sisters?
It's been a crazy year, but on the whole, a very good one for Uptown.  What will the upcoming year bring?  Check this space on 12/31/2012.  One thing we'll guarantee:  it won't be boring.


  1. And here I thought the oddest crime story of the year was the Phantom/Random Pooper!

    Happy New Year, UU!

  2. Oh my gosh....almost forgot about the Jade Buddha and those forums....heheh....

    !!Happy New Year Uptown and UU!!

    Bonne anne!

    .......that jade Buddha was the deepest green color........biggest chunk of jade I've ever seen....

  3. Isn't it nice that those videos out of "Blood Alley" have mostly disappeared in the past year? Great news not only for us that live her permanently, but those that live in the shelter there transitionally... Safety is a right that everyone should expect... no matter where you are on the path of life..

  4. Thanks for a great post! It is clear you put a lot of work into this. Happy New Year!

  5. Great summary of the year. I would only add that Uptown also had two hometown contestants on HGTV's "Design Star" - Kevin Grace, and Karl Sponholtz. (who was a finalist)