Competitive picnic at Millennium Park

At dusk on a glorious summer evening in downtown Chicago, it’s almost obligatory to throw down a blanket and enjoy your evening meal under the inviting twilight skies.

It can be as simple as picking up a sandwich at a nearby eatery and finding a spot to sit on the grass. But if you really want to amplify your picnicking skills, consider participating in this year’s Picnic Contest on the Great Lawn in Millennium Park.

The contest will be held on Saturday, August 6, before the world premiere of American composer Michael Gandolfi’s The Cosmic Garden in Bloom along with Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor. Carlos Kalmar will be conducting the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus, so your ears will enjoy the treat just as much as your stomach.

Criteria for the contest will include incorporating the themes of A Picnic in the Cosmos. Judges will consider creativity of décor, imaginative menu, presentation of food and drink, and clever team name. Get a group together and contemplate how to bring these themes to life picnic-style.

Prizes include Macy’s Gift cards, Macy’s Stonewall Kitchen gift basket, dinner for four at Columbus Tap, and a 2-gallon tin of assorted popcorn.

Picnicking doesn’t have to be complicated, though. New Eastside resident Phoung Pihlträd has been picnicking at Millennium Park every summer.

“It depends if you want to make it fancy or simple. If fancy, plan ahead. Choose three things to do (that are) easy to carry with you,” says Phoung.

Most people will agree that picnic foods should be easy to eat and not too messy. Whether you dine perched on comfortable lawn chairs or even the latest inflatable furniture, you should be able to carry your spread to the park without pulling a back muscle.

“For me, a picnic is on the lawn,” says Pihlträd. “The only thing between me and the ground is a blanket.”

Even if you don’t score a winning prize at this year’s contest, your picnicking efforts will offer a tangible consolation: the opportunity to relish your meal, however simple or fancy, in the warm summer air as the sun goes down.

Angela Gagnon | Staff Writer

Millennium Pokémon meet up

Who says that today’s young adults only communicate through their smart phones? On a recent Sunday afternoon, thousands of Millennials got to know one another in person while enjoying what may have been the country’s largest Pokémon Go Meetup in Millennium Park.

It began at 2 p.m. on July 17, when a legion of enthusiasts transformed the area near the Bean into a temporary Pokémon Go community. As a series of impromptu break dances broke out among the crowd, they held spontaneous rallies for the individual Pokémon teams — Instinct, Mystic, and Valor —while small groups pealed away to play the game.

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Scott Chau

Viewing an augmented digital version of the real world through the screens of their smart phones, the individual competitors — known as “trainers” in Pokélingo — searched for the animated monsters that the application pops in their paths.

With names like Charmeleon, Squirtle, and Butterfree, the monsters are, literally, the Pokémon. Named after the words “pocket” and “monsters,” the animated insect-like creatures can be subdued and apprehended with the Poké Balls that are controlled by the players’ thumbs. Besides adding points to players’ scores, the monsters are also stored for later team competition in the Poké gyms.

Unfortunately, none of that really happened because Nintendo’s servers were down for most of the afternoon. But the glitch did not appear to diminish anyone’s enthusiasm for playing the game or enjoying the park.

“People just download it and get together and play,” said Derrick, a UIC grad student studying bio statistics. “You know, it’s free.”

Derrick got into the game as a kid with a Pokémon Red — a Game Boy cartridge released in the United States in 1998 — and has “played ever since.” He came to the meetup with his friend Scott Chau, who has achieved an impressive Pokémon level 27 by accepting and embracing his Pokémon obsession.

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Derrick and Scott Chau

“Just no-life this game,” he jokes. “Pretend you don’t have any real word responsibilities and devote your life to, like, a phone app.”

In truth, Mr. Chau is an interviewer with Dev Bootcamp, a professional school that trains people in web development. He also launched and dominated the breakdancing spectacle. His introduction to Pokémon came through the trading cards that he collected in grade school. “Everyone had a holographic Charizard,” he remembers.

He caught the majority of his monsters by “sitting in a park for, like, six hours in a row,” in downtown Libertyville. “A billion Pokémon show up,” he said. He increased the effectiveness of his trainer and his Pokémon with Lucky Eggs to help make it happen.

Lucky Eggs double the amount of experience points (aka “XP”) rewarded to the trainer for a 30-minute duration. This helps the process of evolving to higher levels. They are one of the extras that can be purchased with Pokécoins, a virtual currency that trainers earn for free while playing the game or acquire with real money by buying them through the app.

A bundle of 100 Pokécoins goes for 99 cents. 14,500 cost $99.99. According to a recent Forbes article, Pokémon Go earns $1.6 million every day from the US alone.

Susan Densa, an Art Director at CareerBuilder, earns her Pokécoins exclusively by playing the game.

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Tony Valdivieso and Susan Densa

She works across the street from a PokéStop, a digital location near a physical landmark where the gettin’s good. But on one day, when a menacing turtle with built-in water canons called the Blastoise 1450 was drawn to the stop by a Lure Module, which attracts Pokémon, her performance suffered from circumstances beyond her control.

“I used up like all my Poké Balls and then the game froze and I lost it,” she says.

Although a similar snafu occurred Sunday afternoon, she nevertheless enjoyed the occasion with coworker Tony Valdivieso, a Social Media Manager who suspects that the game satisfies more than an urge for recreation.

“It definitely appeals to, like, the OCD / collector kind of anal-retentive element of my personality,” he says. “I just can’t stop.”

Like Ms. Densa, he has been looking forward to the augmented reality of Pokémon Go since he began playing the traditional version in grade school.

“You always had that idea in the back of your mind of, like, what happens when you’re in the game,” he says. “What happens when you walk and a character walks, when your, like, movements control a character’s movements.”

“You are playing in real time,” Ms. Densa adds. “There are different Pokémon in different areas of the city. Like, the water type Pokémon are by the water. The technology is amazing.”

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CJ “Kai” and Cahron “Cam” Cross

Millennium Park’s Pokémon population tempted half-brothers CJ “Kai” and Cahron “Cam” Cross — who were separated at the age of six and reunited more than a decade later — to journey from Chicago’s south suburbs and hunt for pocket monsters in the park.

“The city has a lot of Pokeymon and I’m able to level up pretty fast,” said CJ. “The best spot would probably be by the Bean because they put a lot of Lure Modules there.”

The brothers also enjoyed the meetup because it offered a break from their professional responsibilities as the singer / songwriter duo KaiXCam.

But for Chanel Ro, a private wealth banker, the event reminded her of downtime at the office. “The cubicle I sit in is actually right by a Pokeystop,” she says. “There’s constantly Pokémon coming up, even while I’m working.” But, she is quick to add, “I still get all my work done.”

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Chanel Ro and David

She and her friend David were among the players who wore costumes to the meetup. “We literally go on night walks, sometimes for, like, four hours, catching Pokeymon,” she said.

“A lot on Michigan Avenue,” David added.

Chanel laughed. “We actually walked into the middle of traffic yesterday.”

“I wasn’t even playing,” explained David. “They were the ones playing and I was the one that was supposed to guide them and I led them into a car.”

As of press time, no injuries related to the Millennium Park Pokémon Meetup have been reported.

Better Safe Than Sorry: Urban Preparedness Tips

Today’s news headlines often make for dismal reading. Global economic challenges. Social and political unrest. New, virulent diseases show up suddenly, or the next superstorm may strike massively and without warning.

Those of us who live in the concrete jungle we know as Chicago and want to prepare for emergencies face unique considerations, including limited space to store food, water, and other supplies, and having to evacuate among large crowds. Below are some preparedness tips adapted from 72hours.org and Ready.gov.

TIPS0003-01Emergency Kits

Ready.gov advises people to consider two kits, one containing everything you will need to shelter in place and the other a lightweight, portable version for the purpose of evacuation. It is recommended to store one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, as well as a three-day supply of nonperishable foods. According to the Red Cross, a basic emergency kit could also include the following:

Family Emergency Planning

While making your plan, consider the requirements of children, seniors, non-English speakers, and pets in your household. Family members should also familiarize themselves with the emergency plans at places where they spend the most time: school and work.

Networking

If you haven’t already, start building a network of people you can rely on for help – and who you would be willing to help—in an emergency situation.  Ask if your local community center, school, or church group has a preparedness group you could join. These groups often have space and resources that individuals might not be able to access.

Evacuation

Familiarize yourself with your building’s evacuation plan. Identify the exits in your building and note the various stairways in case one is blocked by fire.

Dealing with huge crowds of people, many of whom might be panicking, is an issue when disaster strikes in cities. In a worst-case scenario, you may have to use some self-defense techniques to protect yourself or your family. Speak with local law enforcement officials to determine a suitable course of action for your safety and that of your family.

Locate your gas main and utilities

Make sure the entire household knows where your utility shut-off values (gas, electric, and water) are and how to operate them. Make sure your home is as safe and secure as possible.

First Aid

Get some basic first aid training and have a good stock of supplies on hand for sheltering at home. Basic items include bandages, tweezers, any prescribed medications, and over-the-counter medicines, as well as cleansing and disinfecting wipes and triple antibiotic ointment.

Especially if you live several floors up in a high-rise, have a plan for getting injured family members or neighbors out of the building.

Copies of all important documents

Keep copies off-site in a secure location and include passports, birth certificates, Social Security cards, wills, deeds, driver’s licenses, financial documents, and insurance information.

Knowing how to balance regular precautionary measures with the need to be ready for worst-case scenarios ensures that you and your family will not only survive, but also thrive, no matter what the elements throw your way.

— Shanti Nagarkatti

Summer means free music in Chicago

One of the joys of summer for the Lakeshore East neighborhood is the Grant Park Music Festival. It is completely free, conveniently located, and replete with quality performances.

Upcoming concerts include works by Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Berlioz. The Great Lawn is a five minute walk from Columbus and Randolph and it’s a great spot to picnic with friends while being serenaded under the geometric spider web of speakers.

As the sun goes down and the city lights emerge, you are immersed in an experience that you could never have in a concert hall.

If crowds aren’t your preference, you can always show up for the far less attended rehearsals, which typically occur around lunch time.

I once stood on the serpentine BP Pedestrian Bridge watching a Joffrey Ballet performance. During one of the solo dances, the music suddenly cut out, leaving the entire park in utter silence.

Unperturbed, the dancer continued his movements, leaping gracefully around the stage as thousands of onlookers held their collective breath. A few minutes later, the speakers flared back to life, revealing that the dancer hadn’t missed a beat, and as he finished his awe-inspiring number, the audience stood and cheered. They knew they had witnessed something very special.

In 2008, the Chicago Opera Theater staged a unique performance of Don Giovanni. The opera was performed in the nearby Harris Theater, and it was projected live onto a large screen at the Pritzker Pavilion.

It was a chilly evening in late April, but the production was so engrossing that we stayed until the end.

For the bows, the company saluted the Harris Theater audience, then ran thru a connecting tunnel to emerge in person on the Pritzker Pavilion stage.

They deservedly received two standing ovations. Afterward, my group went to the Gage for a drink; a few minutes later, in walked the cast of Don Giovanni. We told them that we had watched them from the Great Lawn and bought them a drink.

The events of the entire evening served to make the arts more accessible to the citizens of Chicago, a worthy legacy for the Grant Park Music Festival.

— Matthew Reiss

Spinway bike rental opens at Aqua Radisson

Spinway, an Australian bike rental company, began peddling its pedals in front of the Aqua Radisson in June. Offering eight bikes from a station near the hotel’s front entrance, the service is designed to accommodate tourists visiting the city and Chicagoans looking for a leisure ride.

IMG_7598bAccording to Global Technology Director Kevin Cooke, Spinway offers a convenient alternative to the bike rental options currently available in the city. Whereas the Divvy bike-sharing system requires customers to exchange their bicycles frequently throughout the duration of the rental, he says, “Spinway allows people to get a half or full day of riding without having to return the bike every hour.”

Rental fees are $11 for one hour, $22 for four hours, and $33 for eight hours. The process for paying and obtaining the bikes is extremely straightforward. “Simply walk up to the interface at the kiosk,” says Mr. Cooke, “enter credit card, press number of bike, walk up to the bike and push it forward and pull it out.”

Mr. Cooke — a native Californian who owns two mountain bikes, two road bikes, a BMX bike and a beach cruiser — spent nearly a decade as a store manager for one of the largest retailers in the biking industry before joining Spinway about five months ago. He makes sure that the rental stations throughout the US and Australia, which rely on solar power wherever available, function properly. He also rides to work at the company’s Santa Monica office everyday.

He believes that Spinway’s service is strengthened by its relationship to the hospitality industry. “We work with four or five-star hotel properties,” he explains. “We utilize the hotel’s experience with guests and hospitality, so helmets, locks, maps, and lights are available for free from the front desk in most of the locations.”

IMG_7595webThe station at the Aqua Radisson also offers two family-friendly bikes. One is a “trail-a-bike” that Mr. Cooke describes as “a half a bike with a tandem attachment for an adult back that allows kids to ride on the back.” The other is a bike with an attached child carrier.

Besides the ease of use, the leisure centric policy and the line of free accessories, Mr. Cooke is confident that Spinway’s bicycles are among the safest and most advanced in the industry.

“There’s been a lot of thought and engineering put into the bikes,” he says. “The spokes are three-crossed lace stainless steel, for increased stability and strength. We have thorn resistant tubes that are heavy on thickness, which will take a puncturing, and extra-thick tires with tire liners.”

Additionally, the bikes’ gear-shifting mechanisms are three-speed internal hubs that do not require the galvanized industrial steel chain, which Mr. Cooke refers to as a “pretty phenomenal piece of equipment,” to move from one sprocket to another when shifting. “There is rarely any mis-shifting,” he adds.

Spinway was founded in 2013 by Australian Matthew Rennie, a graduate of the University of Sydney. It boasts nearly 200 rental stations in Australia. Its US locations include Chicago, Santa Monica, Minneapolis, Atlantic City, and Rochester, NY. Plans are underway for expansion to Orlando, Miami, and Traverse City, MI.

If the popularity of its Chicago rental station is any indication, more locations are soon to follow.

“In the first hour that it was operational,” says Mr. Cooke, “the whole station was being rented out.”

America’s Cup strengthens Chicago’s historic sailing tradition

In June, the America’s Cup World Series event at Navy Pier confirmed a notion that sailors have held for decades: Chicago is a great nautical town.

While the city was honored to be the first freshwater venue in the history of the competition, it has been host to an epic race of its own for more than a century.

The Race to Mackinac is a 333-mile dash from Monroe Harbor to Mackinac Island, which is in Lake Huron. It was founded by the Chicago Yacht Club in 1898 and has remained the longest annual freshwater race in the world ever since. Nearly 300 boats will compete in the 2016 event, which can take up to three days to complete.

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Edward Kearns (photo: Daniel Patton)

“There’s a lot of preparation,” says Ed Kearns, an experienced Mac veteran. “You have your building years and then you have your year when you win the Stanley Cup or whatever.”

Mr. Kearns was a crew member on Here’s Johnny, the winning boat in the Mac’s 2014 J/105 section (a category for boat size.) While the victory marked a superior climax to nearly ten previous attempts, he still regards the camaraderie of the experience as the best part of sailing the Mac.

“You rely on all these other guys,” he says. “It’s like a camping trip that you can’t leave. The funnest thing is the party at the other end.”

Mr. Kearns, a native Chicagoan, learned how to sail during summers at his family cottage in Wisconsin. “My buddy’s older brother had a boat,” he says.

America’s Cup Endeavor program
shares Chicago’s sailing tradition with kids throughout the city

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The America’s Cup Endeavour fleet. (photo: Daniel Patton)

The America’s Cup Endeavor Program is committed to being that kind of older sibling to kids in Chicago. The program combines the basics of sailing with the basics of STEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. It launched in Chicago during the America’s Cup, when 170 kids got to learn with help from a fleet of Hoby Wave boats.

According to the America’s Cup World Series’ Event Director Tod Reynolds, “The goal is that this program is accessible to every kid in the city.”

The day before the series began, Australian sailor Nathan Outteridge said, “If we get any breeze from the West, it’s gonna be really challenging.”

Over the next two days, as Skipper of the Swedish boat Artemis, he led his crew to victory in two of the event’s three races.

With the help of the Endeavor program, more kids in Chicago will understand how he did it.

Check out New Eastside News’ exclusive coverage of the preparations that preceded the event and two days of race action on our Facebook page.

Daniel Patton | Staff Writer

Did you know? New Eastside used to be a golf course

Lakeshore Lakeshore East once was home to a nine hole golf course.

Built in 1994, Metro Golf at The Illinois Center was exquisitely unique: a golf course in the heart of downtown Chicago.

It generated significant publicity in the beginning, with newspaper articles, magazine stories and many special reports. Celebrities and politicians played the course. It was, for a time, a place to be seen.

MiLaL7yiaThose who lived in the area could play after work or on weekends. Those who worked downtown would often take an extended lunch break to release a few tensions stroking through the greens, sand traps, and water hazards.

But unfortunately, like the sport itself, Metro Golf hit a few obstacles and eventually went astray.

Among the challenges were parking and accessibility. The golf course was visible from Lake Shore Drive, but actually getting to it was another story. Competition from other courses, growing maintenance costs and the usual bad Chicago spring weather were other issues that led to its eventual demise.

In 2001 the course was closed, quietly, sadly, and without much fanfare. It was the antithesis of its much ballyhooed debut.

But as the old saying goes, “every end has a new beginning,” and a few years later, development began on the New Eastside that we enjoy so much today.

Jon Cohn | Community Contributor

Taste of Chicago returns to Grant Park

July beckons the return of Chicago’s largest food festival to Grant Park. The Taste of Chicago is a giant, sprawling smorgasbord, featuring an eclectic cross-section of the city’s culinary offerings.

When I first moved to Chicago in 2007, I was scared away from the festival by thoughts of standing in one long line after another in the heat, lost in a chaotic maze of food tents.

However, I have attended the last two Tastes, and I can happily report that the festival is well organized. Crowded, yes, but the lines move quickly and the servers keep the food coming.

There are also musical acts. The Roots and The Decemberists lead this year’s line-up, but the sheer magnitude of participating restaurants is the real draw.

cooked-chicken-clipart-chicken-food-clipartThe best part of the festival is the odd array of mismatched menu items. Every tent includes entrees and samplers. It’s like a bizarre tapas experience.

My meal consisted of bourbon chicken sliders, pierogies, churros, ox tails, pizza, barbecue, potstickers, gelato and ginger snap s’mores. I can’t think of a single restaurant in which that would be considered dinner, but at Taste of Chicago, it worked.

After a while, the restaurants become a blur, and I happily strolled from one tent to the next, wondering what peculiar culinary pairing I could pull off next. And when I was out of tickets, I stumbled back to nearby Lakeshore East in a delicious food coma.

The Festival is July 6 – 10. And I really hope those ginger snap s’mores are back.

Matthew Reiss | Community Contributor

Chicago raises the bridges of summer

To most people, Chicago’s movable bridges represent an engineering feat that lifts a ton of steel into the air while boats pass underneath. But to the crew that operates the structures, they are a full-time job. Here’s what it takes to get it done.

IMG_9662aweb“Every day kinda speaks for itself,” says Darryl Rouse, Chicago’s Superintendent of Bridge Operations. “On a boat run, we start at south Ashland with fourteen operators and trade support, so there are like 30 people.”

Mr. Rouse has been running the operations of Chicago’s bridge system since 1994. He was promoted to the position after serving more than a decade as a bridge tender. Before that, he was a member of the International Carman’s Association for Burlington Northern Railroad, repairing freight trains and handling the duties of a traveling mechanical supervisor.

Besides managing the administrative function of his 56-person department within the Chicago Department of Transportation, he also oversees the preparation and execution of the spring and fall boat runs.

Every Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. and Saturday at 8 a.m. from mid-April to late-July, the summer boat run takes place along the Chicago River. On these days, all the movable bridges from the 2600 block of S. Ashland Ave. on the South Branch to the 400 block of N. Columbus near DuSable Harbor are lifted in fifteen-minute increments to accommodate vessels traveling to Lake Michigan. By the end of the operation, nearly two-dozen structures will have made way for floating traffic. By the end of the season, nearly 200 boats will have sailed through.

IMG_9608awebOn days before boat runs, Mr. Rouse coordinates the trade support — a team of CDOT electricians, engineers, ironworkers and machinists — and the bridge operators. During the runs, the crew of about 30 is divided into two teams that “leapfrog from site to site to make sure that the bridges open.”

“Every time we lift, we troubleshoot,” he says.

The bridges are also tested weeks before the season begins. Besides repairing or replacing unsatisfactory mechanical parts that may be up to 100 years old, the crew also rewires safety gates, safety bells and stop signals.

Of the 400 bridges that span the Chicago River, 37 are movable. “They are mostly bascule bridges,” explains the Superintendent.

Bascule bridges work by attaching the bridge leaf, which is the part that people and vehicles travel on, to a counterweight, which is usually hidden from site. When the bridge leaf is given an initial push, the counterweight uses gravity to lift it into the air like a balance scale, which is the definition for the French word “bascule,” after which the bridges are named. Because so many of the city’s bascule bridges pivot on a fixed axel or trunnion, the name “Chicago bascule” is also frequently applied to similar structures around the world.

IMG_9871aweb“It’s like a teeter totter,” says Mr. Rouse. “It doesn’t take a lot of weight to tip it.” In Chicago, one to four 125 horsepower engines provide the initial push. Counterweights weighing 400 to 500 pounds finish the job. The real trick, according to Mr. Rouse, is ensuring that the weight is evenly distributed. “Even if you paint them,” he continues, “you have to make sure that the weight remains balanced.”

During a bridge lift, the tender’s main responsibility is to ensure the safety of nearby people and boats. “You’ve got to judge just right something as simple as the stop traffic lights,” explains Mr. Rouse. “If you throw them on too suddenly, you might have a traffic accident.” They operate a console full of dials and buttons that analyze, control, and distribute everything from the warning bell on top to the motors underneath. “It takes about three years to get them really seasoned and know their craft,” he continues.

IMG_0956a-01Besides completing an in-house training program at the Calumet Bridge, new tenders are monitored closely once they are assigned to the downtown region.

“The operation can freak you out, as it did me when I was first up there,” says the Superintendent. But not enough to deter him from following a dream that he’s felt since growing up on Chicago’s near north side. “I’ve always been fascinated by bridges and railroads,” he says.

— Daniel Patton, Staff Writer

Chicago Loop Alliance works hard and plays hard

The Chicago Loop Alliance’s next ACTIVATE celebration promises to bring art, music, refreshments, and, according to its online invitation, more than 4,000 guests to the alley that intersets the State St. Target store on June 9th.

By all accounts, it will be another successful installment in a meticulously curated series that has become known for generating good times in underutilized public spaces for the past three years. But the soirees represent just a small part of the CLA’s much grander mission: to create a Renaissance in downtown Chicago.

“The ACTIVATE stuff wouldn’t work if people didn’t feel safe,” says CLA Executive Director Michael Edwards. “If a downtown is cleaner and safer, people will come back.”

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CLA Executive Director Michael Edwards. Photo courtesy of Chicago Loop Alliance.

Mr. Edwards has been in the business of improving city centers for nearly two decades. With a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Pittsburgh, he has helped revitalize downtowns in a lot of cities admired for their revitalized downtowns, places like Pittsburgh and Seattle. He is dedicated to improving the Loop long before and long after the parties get rocking.

“The most effective thing you can do is kinda get back to the basics,” he says. “In all the cities that I’ve worked in, the things that are most important to businesses and property owners are that the city is clean and safe. The mistake is to go for some big silver bullet project.”

The cleanliness part of the deal is fairly straightforward. “Buildings on State Street pay an additional property tax in exchange for a higher level of services,” he explains, “landscaping, cleaning, power washing the sidewalks.” The program, which generates about $2.3 million annually, was renewed in 2015 for 15 years.

The safety aspect, on the other hand, is a much more nuanced approach to a significantly greater challenge.

“We count the number of people and cars along State Street,” he says. “In a week, there were 1,938,612 who came through.” At the same time, he acknowledges that before his arrival, “we weren’t addressing any issues with civility on the street.” So the organization started from the ground up. “We put together a street team,” he says.

The Chicago Loop Alliance’s Street Team is composed of emergency workers, nurses, social services experts and the like. They walk up and down State St. from Congress Blvd. to Wacker Dr. every day from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., all the while tracking progress on iPads, communicating with one another on walkie-talkies, and assisting whoever appears to be in need, especially the homeless. They are easily identified by their bright green shirts.

“The initial year was to learn what’s going on down on State Street,” explains Mr. Edwards. “Who has homeless issues? Where do they like to stand? What impact do they have on everyone else?”

Maintaining a rapport with people who ask for money and intevening in potentially hostile situations are among the team’s highest priorities, but they take a friendly approach to individuals who cause complaints from businesses and pedestrians.

“In most cases, they’ve built up a relationship,” says Mr. Edwards. “They can say, ‘Hey, something’s going on, can you move away for an hour?’ If it’s beyond them, they retreat and call the cops.”

Before requesting police assistance, however, they will employ their de-escalation training in an attempt to calm the situation and, if appropriate, connect people with organizations that provide food, shelter and mental health counseling.

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Chicago Loop Alliance Street Team: (left to right) Joshua Feliciano, Jonathan Boyden, Terrence Shelton, Edmund Garcia, Octavian Thomas. Photo by Daniel Patton.

Edmund Garcia joined the Street Team about two years ago, advancing a career that began when he started teaching Kung Fu to children at the Waukegan YMCA in the early 2000s. He quickly learned that many of the homeless on State St. were in need of more than just basic assistance.

“The first time I dealt with someone who had mental health issues,” he recalls. “They would just reply and make no sense. For literally like twenty to thirty minutes, they would go on.”

He credits the CLA’s training and his education from Northeastern University, where he is pursuing a degree in psychology, with helping him develop the skill to handle these situations.

“We’ve learned to be patient and try to piece together the bits of valid information in the conversation,” says. “It’s in there.”

Among the organizations to which he refers special cases are St. Peters Catholic Church on Madison, where a program to obtain inexpensive photo IDs helps open doors to health care and other benefits; and Breakthrough Ministries on the near Westside, where food and shelter are available to those who can follow basic rules.

The objective of the Street Team reflects Executive Director Edwards’ feelings about people who are less fortunate. “The homeless are like you and me,” he says. “They have life stories; their situations are just different.”

Ideally, it will also help make the ACTIVATE series a safe celebration for everyone.

“It’s a free event,” he continues. “Anybody can walk in.”

— Daniel Patton

Banner photo: 
Action at a CLA ACTIVATE event
by Jennifer Catherine Photography.

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