A worker takes a break from his shift at Finkl Steel. Photographed in 2013. (Robin Amer)

A worker takes a break from his shift at Finkl Steel. Photographed in 2013. (Robin Amer)

I have a new story out in Belt Magazine today. Belt tackles the future of so-called “Rust Belt” cities from Pittsburgh to Detroit to Cleveland to Chicago. My story is about the future of the Finkl Steel site, which up until last year was home to Chicago’s oldest steel maker. The site is enormous — 28 acres of prime real estate in the heart of the city. My piece explores how it managed to stay industrial for so long despite rising real estate prices, and what might happen now that the steelmaker has vacated the premises.

Update Jan. 30:

I was a guest on WBEZ’s Afternoon Shift earlier this week talking about the story. Here’s the audio, in case you missed it.


MPLS (4 of 12)

A shot from my work-in-progress about housing discrimination in the aftermath of the foreclosure crisis.

I’m only a few weeks away from completing my master’s degree at Medill. My thesis story — what at Medill we call a “capstone” — will deal with housing discrimination in the wake of the foreclosure crisis. That’s about all I can say for now, but stay tuned for more in just a few weeks.

A quick look at the new boom Loop apartment construction, and whether there’s really enough demand to justify all this supply.

This Saturday Feb. 15th I’ll be contributing to a unique walking tour of Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. The event is organized by Chicago Detours, an unconventional touring company run by my friend Amanda Scotese. I first met Amanda when I wrote about her company last year. I really liked the way she combined high-concept urban theory with a kind of entrepreneurial spirit, and I’m excited to have the chance to collaborate with her.

Here’s Amanda’s description of the event:

FEBRUARY 4 – CHICAGO, IL — In collaboration with Azimuth Projects, Chicago Detours offers “Saturated Landscape,” a special afternoon event of an art exhibition and tour in Logan Square on Saturday, February 15. This two-part experience, held at the Azimuth Projects apartment gallery from 2pm-5pm, combines an intimate exhibition of landscape-inspired works with a creative walking tour of the everyday landscape of the neighborhood.

“Saturated Landscape” is the first “Detour” of 2014, which are Chicago Detours’ series of one-off events. Both the tour and exhibition address the metamorphosis of landscapes and the emotional and social ideas we attach to nature and the built environment. The tour around regular side streets in Logan Square will spark consideration of the everyday features of the neighborhood landscape, such as lawns and Milwaukee Avenue.

Not exactly a historical or architectural tour, the one-hour-long tour will explore the ways we overlook or interpret the unseen processes and messages of our everyday Logan Square landscape and its vernacular architecture, from the habitat of rats to the social function of lawn ornaments and window arrangements. Chicago Detours Executive Director Amanda Scotese and collaborators will also talk about the profit-motivated perspective of realtors, the intricate engineering underground, and why the Midwest landscape is considered so boring.

For the exhibition portion of the event, which has been curated by Azimuth Projects Director Helen Maurene Cooper, artists Peter Cardone and Madeleine Bailey will show their works. Cardone will exhibit pairs of large format photographs that show a two-part process of first photographing an overgrown lot, and then clearing the location for a second image. Bailey’s new body of mixed media work has layered paper, photographs and paint to manipulateimages into complex abstractions that capture subtle shifts in location and time.

Because the walking tour is already filling up, Chicago Detours has added an additional time slot. Two limited groups of 18 can experience the walk at either 2:15pm-3:15pm or 4:00pm-5:00pm. The tour requires advance reservations through www.chicagodetours.com. Guests meet at the Azimuth Projects apartment gallery at 2704 N. Whipple St. for the tour. The $12 ticket includes Katherine Anne Confections hot chocolate for the walk, hand warmers, post card gift, and a $20 gift card for a future tour of interior architecture or historic bars. Attendance to the art exhibition is free.

Chicago Detours‘ one-off “Detours” are a new approach to a tour, so that beyond a tour guide sharing stories, guests have entire experiences designed around a particular theme and often taking place at exclusive locations. In addition to Chicago Detours tour guides leading these special events, this creative tour company will often partner with organizations and experts in cultural fields will share their passion and knowledge for niches of Chicago happenings and history.

For my portion of the tour I’ll be addressing the notion of “wealth” — how landscapes are often seen as a means of generating money. Basically I plan to talk about the real estate market in a neighborhood that’s often seen as the poster child for Chicago gentrification, and what the broader implications of that phenomenon are.

I know the weather has been brutal of late, but it’s supposed to be in the high 20s on Saturday. So basically it will feel like a picnic. I hope you can join us!

Graham Thompson, owner of Optimo Hat Co., ordered a custom concrete countertop for his shop in the Monadnock Building. Concrete floors, countertops and home wares are popping up in chic homes and shops all over town. (Photo by Robin Amer)

Once maligned as ugly and utilitarian — or worse, associated with out-of-vogue architectural Brutalism — concrete is back. The bulk stuff is popular again with hip builders, architects and craftsmen, and being put to use in upscale residential and commercial interiors all over Chicago.

New feature. Read the rest here.


I’ve just wrapped up a big project for WBEZ about the history of Chicago-style bungalows. There are more than 80,000 bungalows in Chicago, which means they account for nearly one-third of the city’s single-family housing stock. And this year marks the 100th anniversary of the first great wave of bungalow building.

I created virtual tours of three bungalows in different parts of the city. You can see the inside of homes that belong to a Latino firefighter in Jefferson Park, a Polish-American couple in West Ridge and an African-American family in Morgan Park (near Pullman). That last one is especially amazing, I think, because of the owner’s story. Ingrid Sanders is the fourth generation in her family to live in the house! (Her five-year-old son is the fifth!)

I’ll also be on WBEZ’s Afternoon Shift Monday afternoon at 2pm talking about the story and taking calls from homeowners.

Billy Goat owner Sam Sianis behind the register of his famous tavern. ‘We’re not going to move,’ he said Tuesday. ‘We’re not going to look for another space.’

Back on the home page of WBEZ today with my story about the potential demise of Chicago’s Billy Goat Tavern. Click here to read.


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