#10 Institutions & Infrastructures


By Rebecca Zorach — Building (Relationships, Ideas, Strategies, & Structures) for Change The World Social Forum first met in 2001 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Over the past decade, the WSF has developed into a global movement-building process. Creating a people’s alternative to the World Economic Forum, which convenes government and corporate leaders in Davos, Switzerland each year, the World […]

Inheriting the Grid #10

By Daniel Tucker and Beth Gutelius — “The grid and property lines and what they mean must be factored in, almost as immutable givens, as we begin our journey to become native to this place. Those lines are likely to last as long as there is a United States.” —Becoming Native To This Place by Wes Jackson This newspaper you hold took […]

Mad Housers

By Tor Faegre — Originally published in Heartland Journal, Winter, 1993   The Mad Housers started in Atlanta in 1987, as a group of architecture students and like-minded folks concerned about the visible presence of homeless people in their locale. (They continue today, building with homeless people in Atlanta.)   In 1991, Chicago’s Randolph Street Gallery hosted Counter-Proposals: Adaptive […]

“A Second Skin”

By AREA Staff — Founded in 2003, Diasporal Rhythms (diasporalrhythms.net) seeks to build a passionate group of collectors engaged in actively collecting visual art created by contemporary artists of the African Diaspora and to expand the appreciation of those artists’ work. The organization hosts both public and private (members only) events. Upcoming events include The Collector’s Home Tour, Sunday […]

The School of Community Organization and the Center for Radical Research

By Rebecca Zorach — In the summer of 1967, organizers in Chicago created a "School of Community Organization," an outgrowth of the Chicago Freedom Movement. The program was intended to attract recruits from around the country, mainly to train Black and Latino organizers to work in Chicago neighborhoods. Chicago was a testing ground for movement work because it was […]

The Infrastructure of Survival

By Abigail Singer — Mayor Daley is considering privatizing Chicago’s water system through a long-term lease to a private company. Ever since the city made $1.83 billion leasing out control of the Chicago Skyway and $1.16 billion on the city’s parking meter deal (in large, up-front payments that are quickly used up), the mayor has been looking for other […]

FreeGeek Chicago Rethinks Itself

By David Eads — The following is an internal email written by David Eads to the rest of the people who collaborate on making FreeGeek Chicago what it is. For the last five years FreeGeek has operated a computer workshop and recycling center that offers classes to anyone who wants to learn more about using or building computers. They […]

The Public Square at 10 Years

By Alice Kim — Back in 2000, Lisa Lee co-founded the Center for Public Intellectuals dedicated to "re-engaging the public in vital intellectual issues and examining how, why and under what conditions public intellectuals can help transform society." After a couple years, the Center took on its current name—The Public Square—and now, we’re marking our tenth anniversary. The name […]

Cultural Infrastructures

By Barbara Koenen — Infrastructures and institutions play an important role for artists as support and foil.  Many folks like to rail against government and related authority, often with justifiable frustration, but sometimes you can make deep changes working from within.  Not that long ago, most artists in Chicago learned about opportunities, events, spaces and other resources via word […]

Mess Hall at Seven Years

By Matthias Regan — In 2003, developer Al Goldberg made an investment in the form of a gift to Temporary Services—proprietorship of a storefront at 6932 North Glenwood Avenue rent free, provided that it would be used to promote the arts in Rogers Park and participate in neighborhood events. As regards this original investment, the "success" of Mess Hall […]

We don’t want your Big Mac! We just want our schools back!

By Wade Tillett — This is my perspective on the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), a reform caucus within the Chicago Teachers Union. This is not an objective history, and if you ask someone else who is involved, you’ll likely get a different story. My emphasis in this article is on the creative tactics and protests we […]

The Struggles over Chicago’s Brotherhood Park

By AREA Staff — Buried beneath the parking lots of US Cellular Field and under the ruins of old Comiskey Park are the remnants of two of Chicago’s most interesting labor struggles. The Players’ League, a short-lived professional baseball league that was partially owned and operated by many of the game’s best players at the time, located Brotherhood Park […]

Collective Living & Work Spaces

By Alex Iwasa — One of the main reasons I moved to Chicago in February 2003 was to experiment with communal living. One of the reasons that I am regularly drawn back to the city are the friends I know through collective houses and the opportunities these spaces create. Two of the oldest intentional communities in town, the St. […]

Introducing: Museum as Teens’ Studio

By Carol Ng-He — It is important for us to have a museum, which we call our own. The museums of today are filled with artifacts, sculptures and paintings, all of which represent famous artists and famous time periods. These museums share knowledge with us about various cultures and people, but few acknowledge teenagers. As people, we have all […]

Organizing as Infrastructure

By Padraig Kingston — I am an employee of Hudson News at O’Hare International Airport. One of the things that I learned when joining the Hudson team was that many of my co-workers—the majority of whom are living in poverty, are people of color, women, immigrants, or have disabilities—constantly face oppression in the workplace. We are paid barely enough […]


By Victor Thasiah — Distrust of public institutions in Chicago destroys the social bonds that make for a good city. The suspicion, difficult to suspend, is that elected officials and others who staff these institutions—many of whom have been convicted of crime—serve themselves and their friends over public interests. Blago and Burge just happen to be the latest in […]

Introducing: Illinois Community Justice

By Illinois Community Justice — Think about this statement. We already know everyone we need to know to change the world. Our world has an abundance of incredible intellectual-workers, artist-creators, researcher-organizers, truth-sayers, and community builders. We have the hearts, the hands, and the heads to make the world we want. Naomi Klein once said, "there isn’t a crisis of ideas […]

Chicago’s Participatory Budgeting Experiment

By Nicole Summers — This spring, Chicago’s 50 aldermen each received slightly more than $1.3 million to spend on infrastructure improvements in their jurisdictions, at their discretion. Known as "menu money," this annual fund was established by the Chicago City Council in the mid-1990s to address the uneven distribution of infrastructure investment throughout the City. In 49 of the […]

Bad Jobs in Goods Movement

By Beth G — Full PDF of Report

Chicago Books To Women In Prison

By Chicago Books to Women in Prison — The United States prison system stands out as a frightful leader on the list of unjust and destructive institutions that ought to be reformed, if only because it impacts so many lives. Prisons do not seem to be making our country’s inhabitants safer, but we continue to fill these institutions past capacity without questioning the […]

Pushing Boundaries, Building Relationships

By Lisa Junkin — A 19th-century historic house museum may not seem like the most appropriate host for a documentary film series promoting sexual freedom. Nevertheless, since 2009 the Sex Positive Documentary Film Series (referred to as SEX+++) has found its home at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). The series has […]

Piecing Together a New Institution

By Luis Brennan — In the early fall of last year, after years of anticipation, a small team of folks began building a new institution in Woodlawn, the neighborhood just south of Hyde Park and the University of Chicago, called the Woodlawn Collaborative. Our idea was (and still is) to operate a physical space for effective and daring programming, […]

Industrial Harvest

By Daniel Tucker — Sarah Kavage: Industrial Harvest Since 2008, Seattle artist and urban planner Sarah Kavage has been exploring the world of commodities trading and its influence on Chicago’s history, farming, and what we eat. This past summer she was in Chicago, inserting herself into this system in a learn-by-doing experiment to discover how an abstract "wheat futures" […]

The Mobile Garden

By Joseph Baldwin — Chicago is a green city in comparison to many, but it still faces problems. The Mobile Garden (themobilegarden.org) addresses urban stewardship with an art installation of a native plant garden onto an open-air flat car of the CTA. The idea is that the installation will encourage discourse on urban stewardship, public art, and sustainable materials. […]

Garden is not Warfare

By Ben Helphand — The guerrilla gardening trend has seemed to reach new heights. The November 2009 issue of Vogue featured a fashion spread of models engaged in a bizarrely dirtless guerrilla actions wearing various shades of green [http://www.trendhunter.com/trends/midnight-in-the-garden-of-good-in-vogue]. Recently, I’ve received a flurry of inquiries from reporters eager to jump on the trend, asking about guerrilla gardening groups […]

Green Roofs

By DJ Forbes and Maureen Hearty — The urban environment is an environment in crisis. Development shrinks the natural environment with impervious surfaces, mainly roads, buildings and parking lots, negating the processes that regulate natural environmental response to stress. This puts additional stress on the physical environment, watersheds and grey infrastructure. Ambient temperature rises during hot summer months, additional stormwater runoff occurs, […]

Creating Local Infrastructure for Building Material Reuse

By Elise Zelechowski — A friend once said that our old growth forests still stand—just not in our forests. They stand in our buildings. Think about all that wood, every timber that makes up the bones of our homes, our schools and our workplaces. There’s a lot of it, and it’s reusable, along with doors, windows, tubs and sinks. […]

History of Parking Lots: Wrigley Field

By Temporary Travel Office — Click Image for Full Map (PDF)

Social Justice Education in Action

By Javier Lara — Since the end of the 2009-2010 school year, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has laid off more than 1,300 teachers, cut language, arts, sports and after-school programs, and increased class sizes to 33. Cuts and layoffs have been on the horizon for months due to a looming $370 million budget deficit, and still more are to […]

Documents, Identities and Institutions

By AREA Staff — In the past year immigrant youth have radically changed the way we relate to our identities and society. We have gone from keeping our status to ourselves to asking for recognition as undocumented individuals, as members of society, in very public ways—ways that directly challenge the laws and institutions that are harming our communities. In […]

Introducing: Chicago Childcare Collective

By ChaNell Marshall — How can play support progressive movement building? The Chicago Childcare Collective (ChiChiCo), formed in 2008, is a group of volunteers who support the participation of parents and guardians, especially mothers, in racial and economic justice work. The collective matches volunteers with community organizations across the city. Volunteers play with kids while their parents participate in […]

Cultural Journalism in the New Millennium

By Lee Ann Norman — Chicago is a cosmopolitan city with a vibrant art scene comprising institutions, artists, critics and historians. The city’s close-knit communities not only help foster relationships and build solidarity; sometimes, their ease also prevents us from exploring the unfamiliar. In the arts, we can develop routines, stay within our favorite circles, or only see work at […]

Busy Building Buslines

By Mackel Garrison — Public transit is basic urban infrastructure, though not every community in Chicago enjoys adequate services.  Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) works to better understand the transportation needs of our community.  Our work around public transit began back in the 1990s by doing a 2-year, door-to-door survey of neighbors.  The results of that effort led […]

Go Go Co-op

By Kathleen Duffy — We do not live in the same country we did ten years ago. The result of eight years of an administration that unabashedly prioritized corporate interests over those of citizens has done serious damage to the already fragile social safety net. We the people cannot rely on any outside body – federal, state, even local […]

Food Desert Action: Mobile Produce Caravan

By Katherine Darnstadt — Over 600,000 Chicago residents live in food deserts, primarily on the south and west sides of the city. The health impact of the lack of access to fresh food is clear: communities in these areas have the city’s highest rates of obesity, diabetes and other diet-related illnesses. In the absence of grocery stores, residents of […]

Humboldt Park’s Puerto Rican Cultural Center

By AREA Staff — This piece was originally published in the March 2008 issue of La Voz del Paseo Boricua (lavoz-prcc.org), the publication of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center. Thanks to the editors and the author for permission to reproduce this piece centering on one of Chicago’s most important community institutions. Thirty-five years ago the Juan Antonio Corretjer Puerto […]

Life After Demise

By Faheem Majeed — Over the past year, AREA Chicago’s advisory board has been discussing how to adapt and change our basic organizational structure. Starting in June we will be testing a division of responsibilities among a larger core group while we also maintain and expand the role of volunteers. In order to get to this point, AREA’s advisors […]

A brief history of the Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company

By John Duda — It’s a challenge to offer a “brief” history of Charles H. Kerr, because this Chicago radical institution has been in continuous operation since 1886, making it the oldest left publisher in the U.S., and arguably in the world (1).  The project initially emerged from the dissident religious circles that had proliferated as the Unitarian church […]

Pilsen’s Muse

By Kari Lydersen — This article is reprinted with permission from the March 10th, 2010 edition of Chicago Journal. Thanks to the author, as well as Chicago Journal editor Micah Maidenberg for his assistance.   On some nights, Decima Musa, a bar and restaurant at the corner of 19th Street and Loomis in Pilsen, is calm and quiet, akin […]

People’s Law Office

By Daniel Tucker — For over forty years the People’s Law Office (PLO) has been representing “people and their movements for justice and liberation.” Founded following the Democratic National Convention protests in 1968, PLO has represented people working with the Black Panther Party, the Weatherman faction of Students for a Democratic Society, prison activists incarcerated in Attica and Marion, […]

Ten Years of Ausgang

By Melinda Fries — Ausgang is a website, compass, and treasure box, all designed and maintained by Melinda Fries. The site, an institution at ten years old, is updated quarterly with contributions from folks across the globe, on pre-determined topics ranging from "10 Books I’d Recommend" to "Radio" to "Guns." New topics are announced regularly, in pairs, but anyone […]

Nothing Great Gets Done Alone

By Aay Preston-Myint — No Coast and Roxaboxen are two art spaces in Pilsen that have fostered diverse communities, but have struggled with the same issue of sustainability that plagues many artist-run spaces in Chicago. There’s an array of familiar symptoms—people move away, can’t pay rent, get partied out, get "real jobs," don’t have enough jobs, get stolen from, […]

Backing the GIs Who Break Rank

By Brad Thomson — As the War on Terror approaches its tenth year, we face the reality that our anti-war organizations and institutions must be prepared for the long haul. Anti-war veterans and service members are one community that has had a significant presence in the anti-war movement in the wake of 9/11, 2001. The largest and most active […]

Responses to Question on Faith & Social Justice

By AREA — Faith-based communities form some of the most important institutions shaping the day-to-day lives of Chicagoans. As Issue#10 looks at Institutions and Infrastructures, AREA was curious about the intersection between religious and social justice practices. For this Q & A, we asked activists of faith to respond to the following question: How do the principles and […]

In Memoriam: Damian Turner

By Southside Together Organizing for Power — Damian Turner was one of the founders of Southside Together Organizing for Power’s youth wing, Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY). He was a talented musician, a beautiful person, a consistent and energetic leader in the struggle for human rights. He traveled with STOP to New Orleans as part of the fight against the demolition […]

People’s Institutions of Chicago

By Sarah Smizz — At the end of 2009 AREA Chicago had the pleasure of working with our first international intern from the UK, Sarah Smizz. Sarah took on a number of projects to support AREA including developing illustrations of community institutions we hoped to highlight in this issue. These physical spaces are true hubs of culture, politics, and […]

The Opposite of Development (Video)

By Jo Guldi — CHICAGO Observers who grow up in the suburbs are used to seeing green lots as the emblem of a city working towards public health.  It takes more than a few bicycle trips past the empty lots in south-side Chicago for the newcomer to realize that the fields, nearly five miles of them, are not a park […]

What Does Citywide Movement Building Look Like

By Daniel Tucker — Aware of the growing desire to develop city-wide movement building infrastructure among diverse sectors of Chicago’s cultural and social justices communities, AREA asked several organizers, educators, and artists to respond to this question: Why does Chicago need a new community cultural center that will facilitate city-wide networking and community—and movement—building? Where would you imagine this […]

Introduction to Chicago Labor Unions

By Lauren Cumbia — Union membership ensures higher wages[1] and many benefits that most non-union workers do not have – a collectively bargained contract, health insurance, pensions, progressive discipline[2], and the collective power of being a member of a large organization. The collective power in union membership allows workers to fight for higher wages, sick days, and numerous other […]