March 2009 Archives

Gardens: Getting your hands dirty

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Spring is here; the rain, the crocuses, and green grass tell me so. It can be hard to find space to grow (plants), feel nature in the city, but there's lots of community groups out there doing it. Dig your hands in the earth - get muddy connecting to nature and community.  Check out 61st St Community Garden at Risk - a thought provoking essay by Jamie Kalven.

MIT has ROBOT GARDENERS! - UChicago: the gauntlet has been thrown down.

The image below is a detail from's map of South Side Community Gardens.

Woodlawn Gardens.JPGSome Local Community Organizations that run Gardens:
Citywide Resources:
My favorite local environmental & community development organization:
University Resources:

The times they are a-changin'

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Sears_Tower_ss.jpgAre you upset that the Sears Tower is changing its name to the Willis Tower? If so, you're not alone. Thousands of Chicagoans have been so moved by this turmoil that they've turned to Facebook protest groups to voice their concern. Members of Chicagoans against Willis Tower, presently the largest group at 5,344 members, express their feelings through wall postings criticizing the "HORRIBLE!!!!!!" "absolutely oppressive" and "gay as hell" nomenclature. Some members favor positive action, suggesting that "if they adamant about keeping the name willis, we will have to do something like get everyone to call it BIG WILLY. : )."

Will these Facebook rumblings turn into the next Grant Park protest or police riot? Only time will tell. As one Chicagoan against Willis Tower puts it, "SEARS TOWER! THIS NAME CHANGE SHOULD BE ILEGAL PPL SHOULD GO TO JAIL FOR THIS! lol."

(Image source: Life Magazine)

Students find treasures at the Brown Elephant

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The Brown Elephant is not your grandmother's thrift store. Located in the heart of Boystown, the shop sells everything from flower-printed ottomans to picture-frames and leather jackets. Their best items walk a fine line between shabby and chic, and would be absolute gems to find in any consignment outpost. But the Brown Elephant is consigning with a conscience--its proceeds go directly to the Howard Brown Health Center, the Midwest's largest healthcare provider dedicated to the LGBT community.

This social consciousness makes the Brown Elephant exactly the kind of place I want to shop, and the same should be said for other students looking for apartment furniture on the cheap or a fun place to hang out north of Hyde Park, too.

I forgot to bring my wallet with me last month when I volunteered to reorganize the store--an enormous warehouse bursting from ceiling to floor with sofas, trinkets, books and clothes--but you can bet I'm going back soon for one of the colorful (and cheap!) necklaces hanging at the check-out counter. 

Bradan Litzinger came to the store with me, and other members of our community service group, but he first visited the Brown Elephant in the Fall, looking for a Halloween costume. He was dressing as Jake Blues of the Blues Bros, and needed an inexpensive black tie and suit coat.

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    Bradan (right) and a friend pose in Blues Bros. costumes from the Brown Elephant thrift store

"It really wasn't that difficult to find those clothes," Bradan said, "but the Brown Elephant really has things that you wouldn't get anywhere else. I got a Yoda poster that was framed; it was pretty awesome. I go there when I want something that's a little bit unusual."

Of course, Bradan said it didn't hurt that the store was raising money for a great cause. The Howard Brown Health Center has been offering its services to Chicago's Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Transgender community since 1974. Now, they offer free, anonymous STD and HIV screenings, primary care services and substance abuse programs to more than 28,000 adults and youth each year.

Spending just a couple of dollars here can provide someone with a free flu shot or safe-sex kit. Maybe I don't need a cookbook dedicated to pizza recipes (my dorm room kitchen just isn't equipped), but I can't think of many better reasons to spend a little extra when my budget is tight.

Click here to read about the Center's interesting history, and founders--the Chicago Gay Medical Student's Association:

The Brown Elephant has three locations: Lakeview (3651 N. Halsted), Andersonville (5405 N. Clark), and Oak Park (217 Harrison). I took a bus to the one in Lakeview, and rode the red line home.

Where do you go for cool, thrift-store finds in Chicago?

Hyde Park businesses face economic downturn

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You haven't lived in Hyde Park until you've eaten at the Med and shopped in the Seminary Co-op Bookstore. And it's exactly this neighborhood loyalty that could keep these local businesses and others alive during the economic recession, says a Chicago Maroon article published last Tuesday:


"Loyalty could be the saving grace of Hyde Park institutions, including Divine Creations Beauty Salon, on East 55th Street and South Cornell Avenue, where barber Mario Mitchell works. 

"It's okay. Clients still come in, but they don't come as often..."

Keep reading the Maroon article,

or check out these related links...

Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce

Local First Chicago's "Top Ten Reasons to Shop Local"

...and an article I published in today's Maroon about how real estate in Woodlawn is looking up, despite the financial downturn.