Tag Archives: walkable

Transportation folly

… or should I call it Truck folly?

February 2009: I have a long laundry list of preparations for the upcoming purchase of our house and the planned remodeling. On that list is the purchase of a pickup truck so that I can haul materials around.

Great idea, except that most times I am just driving the 1 mile from our current rental place to the house and back, hauling next to nothing.

Let’s see:

  • There is myself (around 215 lbs),
  • the dog (around 75 lbs),
  • a tool box (around 100 lbs),
  • a tool bucket (around 40 lbs),
  • the document and lunch bag (around 10 lbs) and
  • the camera bag (also around 10 lbs).


All together, we are talking about 450 lbs that get hauled around with a 5500 lbs truck. Even better, 290 lbs of the 450 lbs (i.e. myself and the dog) wouldn’t even need the truck. We could use our 6 legs and walk!

That leaves me with only 160 lbs of equipment that need hauling most days. Using the 5500 lbs truck for this job suddenly seems grotesque.

Solution: we talked to our bicycle friends at the HUB. Sam pulled a very sturdy bicycle trailer out of the basement, I mounted a hitch to the back of my bike, and the dog and I get our exercise twice a day, riding to the house and back.


This mode of transportation reduces my carbon footprint, saves money on gas – and it’s fun riding around and making heads turn!



Drilling down

Beat meetings have been a wonderful resource to us in our neighborhood research (see also 03/21/2009 post). But there is more homework to do…

We continue to monitor crime statistics and reports around the properties that we have singled out. I basically have shortcuts in my browser so that I am only one click away from this information (i.e. CLEARMAP and Every Block Chicago).

Online or paper statistics are sometimes hard to interpret without having the feet on the ground backup research. This insight led us to drive by the various properties at a relatively frequent schedule, at various times of the day and night. Thanks to our friend Ann who joint us a couple of times, we quickly learned what to look out for.


The level of trash in the street, the alley, the yards or vacant lots is a very good indicator of community care, involvement and pride. Some property owners got so fed up with picking up the trash that gets dumped into their parkway or yard, that they tie a trash bag to their fence in hope of passers by dropping their litter into the bag, rather than on the ground. And it seems to work!


There are certain categories of trash (yes, this becomes a real science!). The bottles of booze on the ground or empty beer can collections were at an impressive scale in some locations. I quickly learned to spot drug paraphernalia, such as tiny Ziploc bags. Not what you want to see, at least not in great quantities. We also learned to check the power lines. A pair of shoes over the lines is an advertising sign for new or established drug sale operations.

Saturday night (live)

What we observe during our daytime drive-bys may have nothing to do with what is going on at night – in particular a weekend night, and specifically a warm midsummer weekend night! We’ve been advised over and over again to check in sometimes after midnight on a hot Saturday night – Sunday morning. That is exactly what we did to gauge our comfort level with the activities (or lack thereof) and the noise level.

The interesting thing is, we’ve found that the activities at night generally aren’t that much different than during the day.  The street corners that had groups of people hanging out during the day had large groups of people at night.  The streets that were quiet in the daytime were largely quiet at night.  The difference was the brazenness of the drug activity – rather than standing huddled on a corner, the person is now yelling in your car window about that offer you can’t refuse.  The thought crossed our minds that we might get picked up by the police for attempting to buy drugs.  It would be interesting to explain our way out of that one.

Services and Amenities


What services and amenities are available at what distance? To find out, we prepared maps with a quarter- and half-mile radius circle and plotted the various facilities within those circles. Another easy resource is Walk Score web site that helped us to determine and rate the walkability of any given location.

To back up our research findings, we walked the ‘hoods and looked at the bike routes. We visited the nearby stores, restaurants, coffee shops, other facilities, amenities and transit stops. The more we drilled down, the clearer the picture of the neighborhood. And we have been drilling now for over one year…


Deciding on what we want

We have made one decision already: Let’s buy a house! We now have to figure out what exactly we are looking for. Sort of obvious, isn’t it? Not quite. It occurred to us after a number of discussions (and a bit of dreaming) that we need to set some priorities. We want the new house to become our new pilot project, so we decided that we need a good set of project rationales and principles that guide us on our path.

How do the rationales and principles translate into actual property features? We figured that we can split them into two groups:

  1. Community scale parameters
  2. Actual building characteristics

On the community scale, we decided that we’d like a home that is close to common services, amenity facilities (such as a library and work out facility) and public transportation… but not just any public transportation! We would prefer to be within walking distance of a CTA train line. Also, if possible, we would like to be within walking or biking distance to a Metra commuter train line. Good access to CTA bus routes is also important.

Access to retail ranks very high on the priority list. We would love to find a neighborhood with a farmers market and stores within walking or biking distance. Because of our remodeling plans, easy access to home improvement stores or salvage material vendors will be important.

Cathy works in the city, north of the Loop and would like to bike from our new home to work and back. We also would like to feel reasonably comfortable walking home on a week end night or have our parents come and visit. This last item is very subjective and may be interpreted very differently by different people. Not sure yet how we crack this nut.


Rationales Part 3 – Why on earth into the city?

This is almost always the first question asked when Cathy and I talk about our plan to leave our rental in the cozy suburb of Elmhurst to move into the city of Chicago. The quick and simple answer is this: because it is more economic, efficient and sustainable considering our lifestyle, our resource usage and the energy prices trend . Here is some of our reasoning:

A lot of city neighborhoods in Chicago have excellent sound building stock (a lot of it good masonry building stock) that already served several generations, and that could serve some more. Think of the energy savings that result from reusing such structures generation after generation. Compare that to the loss of embedded energy in a tear-down and required energy input for new construction. Cathy and I would like to find a sound masonry building that we can rehab; a building where we can re-use the embedded energy of the core building structure.

How much land does one need to live on – sustainably? There is a whole array of advantages embedded in development densities that are found in many of our city neighborhoods. It is all about that magic word ‘energy’—in this case, the energy we use to move around.

As professionals, the key considerations for us are to live close to work and to live close to public transportation, to live close to stores and other amenities such as parks or Lake Michigan. It’s a quality of life issue – to have easy access to our daily needs. It is about being money-smart in this age of rising energy and individual transportation cost.

We are both also very aware that our dependence on our cars will get us into big time trouble. We would like to stay out of trouble – we would like to be as car-independent as we can, in a walkable neighborhood. We would like to live in a community with an intelligent development density where we can use our bicycles.

And we would like to explore how much productive use, such as in terms of food production, can be generated form a city lot.

We can’t and we don’t want to take these advantages for granted though. We know that we have to take an active interest in all assets the City of Chicago can provide in order to support and improve them.