Street Smart Chicago

Chicago Manual 2015: Only at Chicago

Education/Training, Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park No Comments »
Image from book titled Building Ideas, featuring architecture on the University of Chicago campus, published summer of 2013. (Photo by Tom Rossiter/The University of Chicago)

Image from book titled “Building Ideas,” featuring architecture on the University of Chicago campus, published summer of 2013. (Photo by Tom Rossiter/The University of Chicago)

I was a first year in the College in 1979, in my first quarter, taking Ralph Lerner’s Common Core social science course called “Political Order and Change.” A small class of maybe twenty students, we sat at desks aligned to form a large hollow rectangle, with Professor Lerner in the center of one end.

We were reading Plato’s “Republic” and I was fascinated, even though it was written thousands of years before the sci-fi novels ands sports biographies that had occupied my attention up through high school. Our professor really brought its ideas to light in our class discussions and I was in the early stage of a transformative intellectual awakening. I showed up one day and took a seat at the corner near the professor. Sitting between us was another older guy I did not recognize. Professor Lerner started the class by introducing our guest, a friend of his who’d been visiting him in his office and had decided spontaneously to join our conversation that day. His name was John Paul Stevens, then a relatively new justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Yes, there I was, all of eighteen years old, discussing the very foundation of justice with one of its most powerful advocates in the world. This, I figured, was the way my life was going to be from now on. Book chat with leaders of the free world and all that.

Only at Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »

Buildings Studies: Theory and Praxis

Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park No Comments »
KA apt

The author and her friend Andrea outside her Hyde Park apartment, circa 2001.

By Krisann Rehbein (MA ’02)

I’ve made a career out of my own curiosity. Fourteen years ago this week, my interest in the lives of buildings began. It started with my own story but the university and the world changed my perspective a thousand degrees.

For the year leading up to graduate school at the University of Chicago, I ditched my apartment and relied on the good graces of friends to save on rent. It became a joke not to invite me over or I’d stay a month. Two weeks before the start of fall classes, my boyfriend moved me into a cheap apartment on 53rd and Blackstone and I finally had a space of my own. Days later, he broke up with me. Just days after that, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on September 11.

My apartment was my refuge. Everything I needed was inside: a radio, a vintage red reading chair and ottoman, and books stacked on the floor. The only view was of a surface parking lot that didn’t bother me because it let in lots of light. Sometimes, I looked at the two windows of my apartment from the outside and thought of how nondescript they looked. My life was inside.

The World Trade Center building itself thrust architecture into the middle of an international conversation. Structural failures were analyzed. The cladding of the steel support beams and building codes of 1973 debated and technology of that day compared to the present.  Drawings of evacuation routes appeared in the newspaper. Section diagrams displayed the relationships between the floors and showed us how the elevators worked. Eventually, we learned what caused the building to completely melt into the ground.

The building’s design and the lives inside were unavoidably linked.  Read the rest of this entry »

South Woodlawn Avenue: Metamorphosis, Not Apocalypse

Education/Training, Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park No Comments »

By Karl T. Muth, MBA ’10

The University of Chicago is one of the few American institutions that is better-known, better-respected, and better appreciated by those one encounters abroad; in Juba, South Sudan, in a sweltering football stadium on the day South Sudan became a country, the man next to me, spying the phoenix on my cufflinks, smiled and introduced himself, “I studied in Hyde Park, too.” Ironic, then, given our institution’s enormous reach, that my UChicago story happens over a seventy-five-year period safely within the ambit of a one-block radius. Our family’s history is inexorably intertwined with three times the world nearly ended while we watched, and adapted, on the 5800-block of South Woodlawn Avenue. It is where our family’s gone to transform for three generations, each graduate like a sea turtle clumsily flapping toward freedom after maturing in an egg buried in the sands of 57th Street Beach.

As far as my grandmother knew, the world might have ended by the time she reached Hyde Park. An Anglo-Chinese refugee after Japan invaded His Majesty’s Overseas Territory of Hong Kong, she came to live in temporary immigration and refugee intake facilities constructed on the Midway and on Woodlawn itself by the U.S. military. Later, she moved into International House. She made the most of this time, studying for a graduate degree (like many studying during the war years, she received her AM after the war), integrating into the wartime immigrant Chinese community, and finding new romance in a new country with my grandfather, a polyglot diplomat-turned-entrepreneur. Read the rest of this entry »

Go South: Finding eta Creative Arts Foundation and Finding Myself in the Process

Hyde Park No Comments »
Heidi Coleman teaching "Staging Desire"

Heidi Coleman teaching “Staging Desire”

By Robert Eric Shoemaker, AB ’14

Hyde Park can become a very small place if you let it. Especially when you’re an undergraduate student, when you’re just learning about the city and your place in it, when the other parts of the city that people tell you to visit are just so… far away on the Red Line. Hyde Park can be suffocating, when your homework is calling and you wake up from a drooling nap at 8pm in the Reg, and realize you almost (or did) miss your rehearsal for this/that/the other. You feel like you never leave—if you let it happen.

The South Side can also be a place of discovery, just like Lincoln or Wicker Park, Logan or Lincoln Square, insert-any-North-Side-neighborhood-here. Not only campus, which is one of the densest bits of arts-rich land in Chicago, but the rest of the South Side, too. That big blot on most Chicago maps labeled just with that moniker is peppered with important arts venues and hotspots, which are waiting to be found by an intrepid hoofer (or motorist, should you be so lucky as an undergrad).

As an undergraduate theater major and writer for the then-Newcity-affiliated Chicago Weekly (now the independent student publication South Side Weekly), I was looking for a “scoop” when I researched South Side theaters. I thought there had to be a story hiding somewhere just out of reach, where no other student would think to look. I discovered a theater that had been on the South Side and flourishing for many, many years before my “brilliant” idea had come to me: eta Creative Arts Center. Read the rest of this entry »

Doing it For Themselves: Age and Class Insularity Among the U of C Crowd

Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park No Comments »


By Michael Workman

It’s not long after the start of last year’s academic year. Another cold night, another slog out into the autumn chill, then a long ride cross town to check out a new art and performance space in Hyde Park. I’d heard about it through some mutual U of C friends that overlap with the North Side DIY youth spaces I’ve been frequenting, like Slag Palace and Kill Your Demons (KYD collective) and tonight, sitting on a Green Line, still slightly stoned, then slogging out on the pavement and the haul east across the park until I end up at Transit, yet another new art-slash-performance space that I have to take three buses and two trains to get to and it’s a long slog from my perch in the Lincoln Square neighborhood south to Hyde Park. Still, the feminist folk punk lineup is in my wheelhouse, and I’m interested in checking it out. Eventually, I locate the address through some iteration of turning around and around, staring at the little blue GPS dot flashing on my phone, trying to figure out what direction I’m facing because I honestly can’t tell, and after walking a few blocks around in their entirety, I end up roughly back where I was when I started out, except I’m standing in front of the address I’m looking for. Somehow. Yep, I double-check, this is it. Read the rest of this entry »

Teacher-Student: What He Thinks, What She Thinks

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This past autumn term, I accepted a lecturer position teaching a databases class in the Masters Program in Computer Science (MPCS) at the University of Chicago. I have been working with databases for more than a decade and graduated from the MPCS myself many years ago but had never taught before. Throughout the course of the term I learned a lot about teaching, public speaking and, yes, even a bit about databases.

Below is a list of four things I learned about public speaking from teaching a graduate course:

1. Get comfortable with silence–when you’re the one leading the room silence can feel pretty awkward. But it’s only awkward if you let it be. When used appropriately, silence can actually heighten the energy. You don’t always have to be presenting information: take some time every now and then to pause and take in the room. It can be a breath of fresh air for both you and the audience. And maybe someone will get the courage to ask a question. Read the rest of this entry »

What Will Become of WHPK? The College Radio Station Unlike Any Other

Education/Training, Hyde Park No Comments »

My first connection with the station was when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Chicago,” says Marta Nicholas, “in 1957 through 1960.

“An oboist, I had put together a woodwind ensemble that got together weekly for our own pleasure. One of the pieces we played was being analyzed in the Humanities I class, so we were invited to come perform it live on the station WUCB, which was only five or ten watts and on only a few hours a day. It may have in fact gone through the phone lines rather than a regular radio transmitter—we used to joke that it went through the plumbing pipes and could be heard only by standing on your head in certain shower stalls. A couple of times I was on a listen-to-recordings-and-chat show hosted by our group’s French horn player.”

Soon thereafter, Nicholas “left the campus and the country.” When she returned in the early seventies, the station had morphed into WHPK, an acronym for Woodlawn, Hyde Park and Kenwood. “It was decided at that beginning to take the potential audience into account. Not only as listeners, but also as possible on-air participants.” Nicholas eventually served as the station’s international music-format chief. Read the rest of this entry »

Out of Place: The Neighbor Outside Looking (and Sneaking) In

City Life, Hyde Park No Comments »
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

By Scoop Jackson

I didn’t go to University of Chicago because I was not invited. Not sure I was ever welcome.

I grew up not in it, but damn sure around it. South Shore to Hyde Park  is what Cabrini-Green used to be to the Gold Coast: the neighbor(hood) on the outside looking in.

I was raised being told the history of Hyde Park. Of the racially restrictive covenants. Of the things that were done to keep black people out. Of the University of Chicago cosigning all of that. Money, race, ACT scores, socio-academic differences all played a role in why I’d look down on the kids that went to both Lab and the U of C the same way I assumed they were looking down at me. It was all fair game. The guys that went there were nerds to me, the girls weren’t cute and they never played hip-hop at Jimmy’s.

But as I got older I was able to see a different university than the one I grew up resenting. I saw the value, I saw the disparity. I saw the inner workings of an oasis of higher education that didn’t cater to or have any interest in someone like me (an outsider) but one that was serving a much greater purpose than educating or assisting in the plight of the ‘hoods and residents that encased it. Read the rest of this entry »

Towering Solitude and Pazuzu: Let the Beauty of Hyde Park Possess You

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Rockefeller Chapel/Photo: Tom Rossiter

Rockefeller Chapel/Photo: Tom Rossiter

While earning my Master’s in Computer Science at U of C, I worked in the Harper Center as a member of the Chicago Booth staff. There I found myself in an architecturally impressive, award-winning building adjacent to two of Hyde Park’s most notable landmarks: the towering structure of the Rockefeller Chapel to the west and Frank Lloyd Wright’s historic Robie House to the north. However, in almost three years of spending around fifty hours a week for work or class in Hyde Park, I never once ventured into either. They were only the backdrop of my day-to-day life. As graduation approached and my time working at Chicago Booth came to a close, I decided to rectify at least part of this situation. For the first time in three years, I trekked across Woodlawn Avenue on a lunch break one afternoon and slipped into Rockefeller Chapel. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: No Longer Marooned

Checkerboard City, Green, Hyde Park No Comments »

The new promenade on 58th, across the street from Robie House/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

I’ve long thought that the gray, Gothic confines of the University of Chicago were designed as a fortress against the outside world. However, in recent years, the school has made an effort to physically open up its grounds to the rest of the Hyde Park community, as well as to connect various parts of the campus that had previously seemed remote, by creating better spaces for pedestrians.

Several construction projects have improved connectivity and made it safer and more pleasant to walk across the 211-acre campus. Meanwhile, sections of roadway have been converted into attractive walkways and plazas, which encourage spontaneous interactions between students, employees and neighborhood folks. Read the rest of this entry »