As we exit another season of goodwill and enter the even shorter season of “resolutions”—weight loss, organizing our pads and saving money—there is also a sense that we can and should do more to make Chicago, the place we call home, a better place for all to live.
After all, we see almost daily headlines about crisis, people in need in our city, the historic racial and socioeconomic drivers that have gotten us to this place, and we wonder, “Is there a solution?” and “What can I do about it?”
So instead of looking at reports and data—the ones we’ve already read about—we did some soul-searching and reached out to fellow Chicagoans to get their take on making the city we live in a better place to live, work and play.
The wheel power to change
“Chicago and really the world at large would be a much better place if people rode bikes to get around. I think if you have a bicycle you can be part of that,” said Alex Wilson, 45, founder and executive director of West Town Bikes, a nonprofit focused on promoting cycling.
His organization offers free bike programs to more than 1,000 youth [per year on bike maintenance and repair, safe cycling, health and wellness, and environmental and social responsibility. For example, the organization started an after-school program with six schools near The 606 path to introduce them to biking in the neighborhood and to help instill a sense of ownership of the trail.
Wilson uses bikes as a tool to help build community and teach a lesson on how to accomplish goals by taking simple steps. If children are taught to fix and ride bikes, they can ride to school or have a job opportunity, he said. They go on field trips riding to colleges and universities, exposing students to different campuses that are accessible.
Cyclists can discover the city in ways they wouldn’t otherwise if driving a car, he said. They might choose a more comfortable route than the fastest and shortest way.
“If I’m on a bike, I’m more likely, more prone to get off the beaten path and go more deeply into Chicago neighborhoods,” Wilson said.
“Go out, start a conversation with someone who you think is completely different from you and, most importantly, listen,” said Bear Bellinger, an actor and bartender who calls Logan Square home.
Chicago “prides itself on being a city of neighborhoods” and a place where we can “find our niche,” he said.
“The drawback is that it sometimes makes us forget how to interact and empathize with those whose lives don't match up neatly with our own. We can insulate ourselves with like-minded people,” he said. “You're a pharma-bro from Wrigley? Ask the Latina grandma if she needs help getting her groceries inside and how long she's lived in the city. ... You're a Logan Square hipster? Boystown all-star? Strike up a conversation with the annoying dude on the 'L' playing his music for everyone to hear. What's he listening to? What does he like about it? Why does he want everyone to hear it? Get to know the different people around you who we all overlook on a daily basis.”
Restaurateur and beer brewer Greg Shuff thinks Chicago could be better with less restrictive food truck laws, allowing small businesses to flourish.
“I’m very much a free market kind of guy, and I hate to see restriction put in the way of potential innovation,” said Shuff, 28, of Lakeview and owner of the newly opened Corridor, a farmhouse ales focused brewpub. He doesn’t buy into the argument that food trucks have advantages that could threaten brick-and-mortar establishments. “I think if a food truck can put me out of business, I was about to go out of business anyway. It’s a cool avenue to deliver food to people, especially the folks who work in the downtown areas.”
He also bikes quite a bit and thinks the city should have a more fluid process for adding bicycle parking. “Car parking is always going to be a challenge, so there's a lot of conversation about [biking more]. We should not restrict resources to accommodate that.”
Gabriel Magliaro, co-founder of Half Acre Beer Company, has been serving Chicago on the beer front since 2006. He says giving back to the community is important to him, and earlier this year he collaborated with his alma mater, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, on a 150th anniversary beer.
The 37-year-old Ravenswood Gardens resident has simple advice about how we can make Chicago a better place to live: “Take it easy, be decent to each other, don’t get lost in your own bullshit and a little buzz is a real good thing.”
“Medical marijuana in all forms, but especially edibles, is like the new Robitussin or Advil,” pastry chef and HotChocolate owner Mindy Segal said.
Though sweet treats are a good start to boosting spirits, the James Beard Award winner and author of “Cookie Love,” published earlier this year, announced this month that she’s agreed to create a cannabis-infused edibles line for medical marijuana patients for Cresco Labs.
“We can make Chicago better by providing a really great, consistent product for people that are sick and need to feel better through medical marijuana edibles," Segal said. "But how we really can make Chicago better is by legalizing marijuana and using the tax money to get the city and the state out of debt.” Preach, sister.