COVID-19 in Illinois: State Ranks 6th in Vaccinations Given

By Laaiba Mahmood • December 28th, 2021

Ahmed Idrees, a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Chicago, tested positive for coronavirus at the end of last year, before he was able to get vaccinated.

His symptoms were mild and he recovered from his loss of taste and smell after a month and a half.

“The night before I got my positive test, I lost my taste,” Idrees said. “I was eating my mom’s food and I couldn’t taste the food at 100 percent, it was faded. So I went and got tested as soon as possible the next day. A few days later I lost my sense of smell.”

Last April, Idrees received two doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. He plans to receive the booster shot as well in order to continue to protect himself and those around him from getting infected with the virus.

According to data from the City of Chicago Data Portal, 62.7% of Chicago’s population has been fully vaccinated as of Dec. 9, 3.5 percentage points higher than the fully vaccinated state population and 1.9 percentage points higher than the fully vaccinated population nationwide.

Dr. Ronald Hershow, infectious disease epidemiologist and clinician affiliated with UI Health, said Chicago’s vaccine roll out has had varying success when considering roll out to specific age groups or racial and ethnic groups.

“In terms of how Chicago is doing, I guess it depends on whether you’re a glass half full or half empty kind of person,” Hershow said. “Overall we’ve got more than 60% of Chicagoans vaccinated. We’ve done really well with the elderly, with 60 to 69 year olds having 79% vaccination rates and 70 to 79 year olds having 73% vaccination rates.”

Hershow said there are lower vaccination rates among young adults and children in Chicago, whose vaccination eligibility opened up more recently.

“The ones who are lagging a little bit by age are the young 12 to 17 year olds,” he said. “And young adults are a bit of a dissapointment, at 62% vaccination rate, but even that is comparable to the U.S. rate as a whole. So even in our least vaccinated age groups, Chicago is doing at least as well as the country as a whole is doing.”

Hershow added that there are disparities when it comes to vaccination rates by race and ethnicity.

“Rates of vaccination are higher for whites than they are for Latinx or Blacks,” Hershow said. “Among Blacks, vaccination rates in Chicago are 47% and among Latinx it’s about 56%. Both of those groups are lagging somewhat behind whites who have a 65% vaccination rate.”

Based on data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, as of Dec. 10 there have been 18,007,906 vaccine doses administered in Illinois and 59.2% of the population is fully vaccinated. There have been 2,319,511 doses of the booster shot administered in the state.

As of Dec. 10, there have been 1.88 million confirmed coronavirus cases in Illinois, with 26,801 confirmed deaths. There have been 353,012 positive coronavirus cases in Chicago since the beginning of the pandemic, accounting for 18.7% of Illinois’ positive case total.

According to the CDC, 484,290,896 doses of the vaccine have been administered nationwide. Fully vaccinated individuals account for 60.8% of the country’s population.

According to data compiled by Our World in Data from international government agencies, approximately 56% of the world’s population has received at least one dose of the vaccine.

However, only 7.1% of people in less-wealthy countries such as Nigeria, Syria, Yemen and others have received at least one dose as access to vaccines continues to be a problem. Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo have the lowest percentage of people with at least one dose of the vaccine, at 0.01% and 0.06% respectively.

The World Health Organization identified the Omicron variant as a “variant of concern” over the Thanksgiving holiday. The variant was first reported by South African government and health officials and reached the US by Dec. 1.

Against the advice of the WHO, the U.S. has imposed travel restrictions on eight African countries: South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. The restrictions do not apply to U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

In a Nov. 29 statement Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said that the city is “very engaged in the heightened discussions regarding the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus.” Arwady also urged people to get their booster vaccine as soon as possible.

On Dec. 7 a case of the Omicron variant was detected in a Chicago resident that had been visited by an out-of-state traveler who also tested positive for the variant. The resident had been fully vaccinated and received their booster shot.

The Omicron variant has been detected in 20 states so far. According to the WHO the Omicron variant has been detected in at least 38 countries and appears to be more contagious than the Delta variant.

“This Omicron variant, by virtue of all these mutations it possesses, may be somewhat incrementally more able to evade vaccine immunity,” Hershow said. “The higher you can stimulate that immunity, and the more broad the immunity that you’re stimulating, the better off you will be against it.”

The CDC encourages everyone 18 years of age and older to get their booster vaccine to mitigate the variant’s spread and to continue to wear masks and follow other health safety precautions.

“All of those factors that we see in the genetics of the variant are driving us to make the case for getting the vaccine if you haven’t gotten it already,” Hershow said. “And if you have gotten it, make sure you get your booster as soon as you can so our population is as immune as possible to the challenge of Omicron.”

Interview with Reporter Laaiba Mahmood

Interview with Red Line Project reporter Laaiba Mahmood on COVID-19 positivity rates and Vaccine rates on the local, state and national levels. Host: Sarita Cavazos

COVID-19 in Greektown: More Businesses In Jeopardy

By Valeria Fridegotto, Clare Tendian and Bartosz S. Lobaza • December 27th, 2021

George Katsambas had lost his job a couple of months back along with everyone he worked with at the hotel.

Basically, it kind of shut down the business,” he said. “I mean, you know, everybody went home, basically, the hotels, you know, nobody was traveling. So those are, you know, occupancy from like, 90%, you know, 97% occupancy that we would have on a weekend or during the week, went down to like, you know, 10%.”

“So you talk about like a hotel, I was, say, for example, 400 rooms, all of a sudden, you had maybe like, you know, less than 10 rooms. So basically in the bar, the restaurant, everything shut down.”

According to the Datassential, as of Nov. 17, there have been 79,438 permanent shutdowns of food establishments out of 778,807 across the entirety of the United States. In the city of Chicago alone, 18.8% of restaurants have had to shut their doors for good since the onset of COVID-19.

“I was kind of lucky because I had a regular job too, and a lot of people I worked with impacted them,” Katsambas said.

It is undeniable that such instances of a sudden loss of employment that happened correspondingly to the inception of this pandemic have taken place across the globe. Katsambas’ calamity that had struck him and his workmates that transpired in Chicago was only one of many.

As of Aug. 5, the rate of restaurant closures across all Chicagoland counties such as Cook, Lake, Kane, etc. is 12.3%, not including the metropolis of Chicago. Contributing to the rough 19% of Chicago restaurants closing.

While Illinoisis struggling with the loss of small businesses and their unfruitful recoveries, the same can be said for small businesses in other locations. Restaurants businesses were once lively adventures, now they are a financial terror.

According to Visual Capitalist, US data suggests that nearly a quarter of all small businesses remain closed. In Illinois, -27% of small businesses are on the correct pathway of successful recovery, as well as pretty much anywhere in the entire country. Meaning, less and less small businesses are actually coming back to proper functionality. The establishments located in the city of Greektown are surely taken into the computation.

While the very first instance of permanent closure of a restaurant business did not occur during the ravages of COVID-19, the shutdown of the Parthenon restaurant in 2016 after 48 years in business preached the upcoming closures.

For that matter, Santorini, a restaurant establishment that served as a Greektown classic for locals, had permanently shut its doors after 31 years of service on Mar. 24, 2021. Santorini was facing the uncertainty of the future as maintenance fees have been rapidly increasing. It no longer needs to worry about financial issues.

The fall of such giants has shaken the very pillars of this neighborhood’s cultural identity.

Such a domino effect had not only shifted the balance of economic stability amongst the restaurants with notable popularity but lesser ones too. Pegasus Restaurant and Taverna, which served as a relaxation station for the citizens of Greektown had also shared the same fate as previously mentioned giants.

Dimitrious Koronis, an attorney with a public transit agency, said that because of higher maintenance, restaurants had to, at some point, increase their prices to keep their employees afloat. But for the most part, the desperately needed customers were nowhere to be found.

“We have the responsibility, all the staff that we have, you know, to try to keep them paid,” he said. “And it’s hard to do if the doors are open. And then you also have people leaving the business altogether. Because, you know, there are better higher-paying jobs with less risk that had become available. And unfortunately, you know, when we raise prices to keep, you know, paying our help, higher wages, people won’t come to the restaurants.”

Additionally, to aid the already struggling business in staying afloat and avoid the possibility of bankruptcy, the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund, part of the American Rescue Plan stimulus bill, was signed into law.

Despite their best efforts and intentions, however, the fund, which has been signed into law in March of 2021, had already run out by Jun. 30, 2021.

The money that was supposed to preserve the continuous service of restaurants, bakeries, food trucks, food stands, food carts, snack bars, caterers, salons, inns, taverns, bars, brewpubs, taprooms, wine tasting spots, distilleries, and other venues had run out in just 1 month.

And lack of additional funding is not the only concern plaguing the already struggling owners of small businesses. According to the Q3 2021 CNBC’s Momentive Small Business Survey, a survey with the motive of through measurement of the health of the US economy half of the small business owners had reported that it’s gotten more difficult to find people willing to work compared to a year ago.

Lack of proper labor, rising costs of worker wages, and an increase of utility bills. On-growing problems that have yet to multiply and cause even more harm.

Due to the pandemic, the livelihood of Greektown among the restaurant businesses has gone down significantly. Now that the pandemic has gotten a bit better, it is time to return to our favorite Greek restaurants that reopened and support them for all the hard work they have done.

“Honestly, I think COVID has really killed a Greektown,” Koronis said.

COVID-19’s Impact on Chicago’s Chinatown Community

By Michael Caravette and BinBin Spratt • December 26th, 2021

Ben Lau, Executive Director at the Chinese American Museum of Chicago, has seen the museum and his community deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our museum lost almost all of our income and donations, so the pandemic has a very serious impact on our museum, and we have to let some staff go,” said Lau, whose organization let several employees go.

These stories are not uncommon, as the pandemic has affected every business and has caused a rapid change in the way people live. Chicago’s Chinatown is no different as it is a hollow shell of what it once was during the epidemic.

Elderly woman selling produce on the street corner. (Photo by BinBin Spratt)

Elderly woman selling produce on the street corner. (Photo by BinBin Spratt)

Asians, who make up 90% of Chinatown residents, have seen their community be stricken by financial loss, racism and hate speech, displacement and a loss of representation in the city. With no voice to be heard, they say they are uncertain of the future.

“Most small businesses (in Chinatown) are restaurants, and they were and still are being affected by COVID-19,” Ben Lau said, “Because of the stay-at-home order, nobody came out to dine, and so the small business lost a lot of customers.”

Chinatown relies heavily on tourism from the city, and with no one able or wanting to visit, a large portion of revenue was wiped away. So, to make ends meet, owners had to change how they could do business and save money.

Businesses started offering delivery with the owners themselves taking the food instead of hiring an employee to save money. They also relied on government assistance, but it wasn’t enough even with all these changes, and businesses couldn’t adapt fast enough.

Chinatown Community

Mark Chiang, a professor in the Global Asian Studies (GLAS) and English department at The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), was asked to share personal experiences or stories about microaggression and Asian hate.

Although Chicago’s experience with Asian hate did not resemble the amount of reported hate crime in other parts of the country, it is not to say they did not experience hate.

Chinatown businesses, especially restaurants, took a hard hit because of the rise of Asian hate.

Food businesses in Chinatown began to dissipate because consumers questioned the cleanliness, the preparation of food, and how it is served in restaurants, creating a fear factor for many people.

If there were any instances of Asian hate, Ben Lau states, “Chinese residents tend not to do any reporting to the police even though they were being harassed or attacked.”

This is why we do not hear much from Chicago’s Chinatown about hate crime and discrimination.

Chinatowns Elderly Community

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the elderly community was targeted the most for public aggression among all generations. Chicago’s Chinatown has a high percentage of elderly residents.

The elderly were easy targets for people, making them too scared to leave their homes. The elderly are also more at risk for worse symptoms if they catch COVID-19 than the younger population. So leaving home was a scary concept for many.

According to Lau, “Social services agencies here in Chinatown started to provide meals for the seniors and started to deliver the meals to seniors.”

Social services like these had to change the way they do business because seniors would typically go out to receive services. However, the pandemic has put a halt to senior business due to fear of being attacked.


Chinatown residents have dealt with the fear of being moved out of their community as the city plans on making the new neighborhood ‘The 78’ just north of Chinatown. A new $7 billion neighborhood complete with offices, residential towers, high-rises, and a new Riverwalk.

Darek Lau, who works for CBCAC (Coalition For A Better Chinese American Community), has concerns about this new development. It may seem like a good idea on the surface, but it will hurt his community in many ways.

With Chinatown being so close to this new neighborhood, it causes concerns of landlords who could renovate and raise the rent or cause property values to go up and people who can no longer afford their property tax and end up having to move out.

“How can we make sure that our residents and business owners, our mom and pop shops, who have been here for a long time do not get priced out because of these new developments,” Darek Lau said. “And people who want to take advantage of profit opportunities for more affluent people who are attracted to Chinatown because of these developments.”

The 78 will not be fully completed till 2030 but is expected to open the North phase as early as 2024.

COVID-19 perpetuating financial loss and economic struggle, people could be forced to move out due to their income level.

Positives of COVID-19

During the height of the pandemic, Chinatown was a ghost town. People had to switch from everything being in-person to virtually. This was a significant change for everyone, not just the Chinese community.

The residents living in Chinatown had to adapt to a more tech-savvy way of life. This created many challenges and few positives.

According to Ben Lau, “When we do public programming over Zoom or Youtube, we can reach out to many more people who are not even in our state or our country. That would be the bright side of this COVID-19 impact.”

Switching virtually also created many challenges for people.

Darek Lau, the program assistant for CBCAC Chicago, referenced a series of challenges of virtual engagement within Chinatown.

“We could only do virtual webinars that we somehow had to invite people who might not be as tech-savvy, the population is low income, don’t have access to the Internet, and have limited English proficiency.”

Many expressed having more negative effects of the pandemic than positive ones.

Future of Chinatown

Chinatown muscled through the pandemic. Now that the height of the pandemic is over, things are reopening. Chinatown is looking to heal, grow, and learn from this experience.

Advocacy, raising public awareness, and actions to support different initiatives like getting a law passed to improve the community are many ways to see a safer and better environment within Chinatowns gates.

Entrance into Chicago’s Chinatown. (Photo by BinBin Spratt)

Entrance into Chicago’s Chinatown. (Photo by BinBin Spratt)

Currently, Chinatown does not have a reliable school system. Many schools are under-resourced, attendance and graduation rate is low. It is one of the more significant issues Chinatown faces.

According to Darek Lau, “the community has been fighting for a neighborhood high school that is actually in or near Chinatown that offers competent bilingual services for students and parents.”

Other high schools require students to test into being accepted. If students cannot test into one of these high schools, they have a quality option to fall back on where parents and students can ensure a good education.

To explore Chinatown on your own or with others there are Chinatown tours, visit the Chinese American Museum of Chicago, or book a table for Dim Sum.

Chicago’s Independent Theaters Adapting During COVID-19

By Sam Rodrigues and Saniya Bangash • December 23rd, 2021

In the past year, movie theaters have taken massive hits due to COVID-19 lockdowns, restrictions, and fears. While large chains such as AMC have been in the spotlight in terms of their solutions to these problems, smaller indie theaters have silently been finding their own ways to survive in changing times as well.

Chicago’s Music Box Theatre, a movie palace first established in 1929 on Southport Avenue in Lakeview, is one of the many local theaters that had to utilize various different strategies to keep their business afloat.

The Music Box Theatre, located at 3733 N Southport Ave. (Photo by Sam Rodrigues)

The Music Box Theatre, located at 3733 N Southport Ave. (Photo by Sam Rodrigues)

Manager Ryan Oestreich knew changes would have to be made quickly. Not only to maintain the safety of their customers and staff, but also to assure patrons that the Music Box was a safe place to visit.

“We reduced capacities,” Oestreich said, “we like, told people they had to use their sick time, you cannot come in if you’re sick, we give you sick time for this reason, you know, we were doing extra cleaning and all this sort of stuff so that we would basically know people are a little like, unsure what’s happening, but they would see us as somebody who was kind of ahead of the curve and knowing it’s something we need to take seriously.”

Despite changes made at the beginning of the pandemic, such as limits on the number of people allowed in each theater and required masks, the theater had to close with all the others in the area when the first lockdown was declaredon March 21, 2020.

During this time the theater relied on its community of local cinephiles to keep going.

“So the strategies that we implemented to get through the pandemic were— how do we give people a taste of Music Box even if they can’t come inside?” Oestreich said.“To-go orders, that was a big thing, right? Different packages of popcorn, soda, beer, whatnot, wine, the taste, the feel, the coming by, the drive up sort of delivery to your car to-go order, that was the sense to it.”

TheMusic Box also hosted garage sales, giveaways, online streaming and outdoor screenings to keep up funding for their establishment. But besides money, keeping their sense of community strong was most important.

Oestreich said, “We even did this thing, it had no financial gain, zero. But it was like, hit us up on our socials, DM us, say you’re looking for a certain type of film, and all of our programming hive will come together and give you three recommendations. You can literally say 1980s Nick Cage, or, you know, like, give me a stylized murder mystery, we will come at you and we will give you three options and where you can find that. You know, like, just like that level of we want to engage. We want you to think of us.”

Other art cinemas in Chicago have had very similar struggles to those described by Oestreich. One example would be Facets Multi-Media, a non-profit cinema center founded by Milos Stehlik in 1975 and located at 1517 W. Fullerton Ave.

Facets, located at 1517 W Fullerton Ave. (Photo by Sam Rodrigues)

Facets, located at 1517 W Fullerton Ave. (Photo by Sam Rodrigues)

Facets had to shut their doors along with everyone else in March of 2020, but several aspects of the organization made their ability to adapt during lockdown somewhat unique. Director of Operations Matt Silcock brings up that being a non-profit may have put them in a somewhat better position during lockdown than some of the city’s other cinemas.

“As a nonprofit, we do have a fundraising component, and a donor base, and we have a lot of grant support, and that sort of thing,” Silcock said. “And we were able to still get that during being shut down. We are not completely dependent on ticket sales, and on foot traffic and on being open, food and beverage sales, things like that.”

This isn’t to say that things were easy for Facets. The organization has had to work hard to maintain relevance during a time when it is more difficult than ever to get people into theaters.

“Cinema attendance was declining already,” Silcock said. “ It’s kind of been a multi-year trend. Then after being shut down a year and a half, it’s hard to even get back to that level it was right away.”

To help bring audiences back, Facets is getting back into the swing of things with a busy December schedule. This schedule includes their Holiday Detour series, which is made up of non-traditional movies that take place around the holidays such as “Eyes Wide Shut” (1999) and “Tangerine” (2015). They will also be having a pop-up market on December 11th where they will be selling DVDs and VHS, as well as hosting other vendors who will be selling art and fanzines.

Each cinema has had to make a difficult decision in choosing the right time to reopen their doors. Facets reopened in September of 2021, which put them at over 17 months of closure. The Music Box, on the other hand, would be the first indie theater to reopen to the public in Chicago in July of 2020.

“There were people ready to come back.” Oestreich said. “Because the reality was, we were only allowed 50 People in the main theater, 18 People in the small house, six foot, probably more social distancing than six feet, in those houses. We were very anal, crazy about our communications about how to make sure that people kept their masks on, kept distances, followed everything. And we still to this day have never had a COVID transmission that has been documented in our theatres.”

When asked about fears he had for the future of the Music Box Theatre, Oestreich brought up the repairs that the 92-year-old building would need as time went on, and the costs that would come with that. He also mentioned the decreased number of visitors that they’ve experienced since the rise of the delta variant.

Oestreich said, “You know, the hope is that over time, people remember and realize what was special about the Music Box and take the time to come out. Because if you look at the 222,000 people that came in 2019, we have not seen them back, we still haven’t. I don’t think we’re gonna see them back until sometime in 2022.”

As seen with things like the Music Box’s movie recommendation program and Facets’ pop-up market, community is key for these cinemas. Oestreich strongly expressed his faith in the local indie film community, showing his optimism for the future of the Music Box and Chicago’s overall cinema culture.

“Some things just need to be viewed together.” Oestreich said. “Right? We’re a communal society. And no matter what virus or thing gets in our way, we still have a desire to come together, right? And that’s never gonna go away.”

Read More

If you are interested in supporting these and other independent and art-house cinemas in Chicago, please check out these websites:

Interview with Reporters Saniya Bangash and Sam Rodrigues

Interview with Red Line Project reporters Sam Rodriguez and Saniya Bangash on how Chicago’s Indie Theatres Survived the Pandemic. Host: Sarita Cavazos

Long-Term Changes, Impact for CTA Red-Purple Modernization

By Cyril Dela Rosa and Steven Perez • December 21st, 2021

Aria Machinski always uses a little extra caution when walking to and from Uptown CTA stations.

“Walking home by myself, I would always have to walk in a crowd of people because it is so dark over there [near the stations],” she said.

Taylor Martin, another Uptown resident, said that when their families come to visit Uptown, they are forced to take Ubers for transportation because of the lack of accessibility to the Red Line stations.

On Nov. 19, the Chicago Transit Authority debuted the newly constructed Belmont Flyover, otherwise known as the Red-Purple Bypass. Now in operation, this infrastructure allows northbound Brown Line trains to pass over the Red and Purple Lines without any stoppages. This first step spells out what is to come for “the largest reconstruction project in CTA history.”

The CTA is currently working on modernizing the Red and Purple Lines. The plan is called the Red and Purple Modernization Program (RPM). The first phase of this plan includes the complete rebuilding of the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn, and Bryn Mawr stations. Combined with the initial steps of constructing the Flyover, this project phase totals in cost at $2.1 billion and is expected to be completed over the next three years.

The Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn, and Bryn Mawr tracks and embankments are over 100 years old. This is the reason the CTA chose these stations as the first to modernize on the Red and Purple Lines. The goal is that these stations will all be 21st century modern and fully accessible with escalators and elevators. Another major issue that is addressed in these new stations is lighting and bike parking. All of the new stations will be equipped with an adequate amount of lighting and bike parking.

The additions of escalators, elevators and better lighting are essential in making the stations more accessible and safe for those in the community. Uptown is home to a diverse community, possessing a large number of elderly residents living in the neighborhood that are in need of better accessibility to the station platforms. Better lighting and wider stairways at stations could help residents like Machinski and Martin feel safer at night when walking near or accessing the stations.

The RPM project will be completed in two stages. Stage A will work on the east half of the tracks and will be worked on from Spring 2021 to Winter 2022. Stage B will work on the west half of the tracks and will be worked on from Winter 2022 to Winter 2024. The construction of the new stations and tracks was split up into two stages so that the CTA can maintain and continue service on one side of the tracks throughout the duration of construction.

One major contribution to this project is the development of The Gantry System. The Gantry System that is put in place to assemble the new Red Line tracks is custom built and unique to this project. This system is put in place so the CTA can reduce construction impacts on nearby communities by working on the foundation on-site and working with subsequent substructure offsite. These steps allow the workers to save time by being able solely to focus on assembling the track on site.

While several long-term benefits are predicted from the modernization of the Red and Purple Lines, concern has arisen for many local residents from its impacted communities of Uptown and Edgewater. Ongoing transit construction also signals to wary onlookers the impending waves of redevelopment and gentrification that may follow after the public infrastructure has been improved.

When thinking about the potential impacts of the RPM on her students, Goudy Public School teacher Emma Lee shared concern about the plan being a possible factor that pushes more families towards displacement.

“[A] lot of students are in our school… and one thing we find out is that they can’t afford to live here anymore,” she said. “That’s what their parents would tell us.”

For Lee,new transit infrastructure may be a sign of more development within the area that indirectly increases overall costs of living for her students’ families.

ONE Northside organizer Chris White described the modernization program as “a shiny new thing [that the city] can sell” so as a means to increase the profit margins of developers interested in buying/building out spaces nearby the redeveloping Red Line. He points to the Bridgeview Bank Building, the Lawrence House, and the flipped Wilson Men’s Hotel all rising in rent to exemplify a greater trend of costs increasing nearby the Red Line. Each of these buildings is a few blocks away from the Wilson or Lawrence stations close by.

The RPM particularly holds weight in incentivizing new development along its transit corridor because the program is an example of “transit-oriented development” (TOD). This term can be best understood as the tailoring of resident, commercial, and business growth toward the design of public transportation infrastructure. In a more concrete sense, the City of Chicago has employed a TOD Ordinance that places land redevelopment near the Red-Purple Line for more profitable real estate investments.

However, claims that the RPM neglects community input and decision-making are challenged by Latrice Phillips Brown, a community relations liaison for the CTA. Brown argued that the “[CTA] worked closely with the stakeholders to make sure that this station and design… reflected the characteristics of the community.”

Kate Lowe, University of Illinois Chicago urban planning and policy professor, looked at the issue from a broader view, assessing the implications of the RPM. She said she does not interpret the improvements being made as significant indicators for gentrification, but instead as greater inequities in the CTA presuming northside growth.

“It’s a huge investment in an area that already has great access,” she said. “It will bring huge collective benefits, but these benefits disproportionately go to those who already have easy access and [who are] disproportionately white and affluent.”

This viewpoint expands upon a study co-authored by Kate that highlights racial equity issues embedded within the disproportionate funding amongst American municipal transit systems.

Which impact will then dictate the greater outlook of the Red-Purple Modernization Program in years and decades to come?

Machinski summed it up this way: “I’m just weary of [gentrification]. Because I think it’s inevitable. And I do think that there are some positives that can come from [the RPM]… if the community cares.”

Chicago Beaches, Water Conservation Projects Fight Eco-Anxiety

By Alba Sahatqija and Grace Brooks • December 19th, 2021

When Zakira Langia goes to the beach along Lake Michigan, she notices glass and plastic bottles overtaking the scenery, which could be very dangerous for civilians walking through the beach, including children. Sometimes, that trash washes into the lake and not only pollutes the water but also inevitably harms the wildlife.

Litter found at Montrose Beach, Chicago (Photo/Grace Brooks)

Litter found at Montrose Beach, Chicago (Photo/Grace Brooks)

“Beach pollution is something that we should be focusing more on,” said Langia, a fourth-year undergraduate nursing student at Loyola University.

She’s not alone in that opinion. The city of Chicago sits on the southwest coast of Lake Michigan. The lake is one of five of the Great Lakes that is an invaluable supply of freshwater to North America. As mighty a body of water as Lake Michigan is, it also has to endure the consequences of pollution from Chicago’s 2.7 million population.

 Langia suggested getting local and state governments involved and bringing the issue to them would be a very good first step, “having them designate employees or some kind of committee to help clean beaches or help keep beaches clean.”

Langia said there are instances where the beach actually appears to be very clean, but that may not always be the case. Pollution is not only large items of litter or massive contamination of natural resources. In fact, one of the most insidious forms of pollution that endangers Lake Michigan is so small you almost can’t spot it with the naked eye.

A discarded face mask found on Montrose Beach, Chicago. (Photo/Alba Sahatqija)

A discarded face mask found on Montrose Beach, Chicago. (Photo/Alba Sahatqija)

Kelsey Ryan, the manager of Conservation and Science Communication with Shedd Aquarium, brought attention to this kind of pollution, known as nurdles.

“They’re pre-production plastic pellets and they are basically what plastic is created out of,” she said. “They’re like the size of a pea and a lot of the time they just blend right in with rocks or shells or anything else you might find at the beach.” She stresses that, “Those are some of the most dangerous kinds of pollution because that can be perceived as food for birds or winds its way into the actual water and life threatening for all kinds of animals.”

A photo of nurdles buried and scattered amongst larger pieces of litter found on Chicago Beaches (Photo/Shedd Aquarium)

A photo of nurdles buried and scattered amongst larger pieces of litter found on Chicago Beaches (Photo/Shedd Aquarium)

There are several efforts, though, that are led by independent organizations or mandated by legislation which are actively fighting against pollution. The impact is reflected in immediate improvement as well as progress recorded over many years. The Shedd Aquarium’s conservation programs are able to keep track of contamination data and Ryan described the ways that they know exactly how the landscape of Lake Michigan is changing.

“We log the type of debris and pollution that we’re picking up,” she said. “So we’ll say on this trip we picked up X amount of plastic bottles or X amount of plastic bags, this many straws, and we’re documenting what types of things we’re picking up and over time, you can start to see trends.

“By being able to track what we’re picking up over time you can start to see trends like, ‘This is the most present type of pollution that we’re seeing on some of our beaches’,” Ryan elaborates. “So we need to be discussing this type of pollution with our elected officials and potentially finding solutions that would prevent the use of those types of materials in the first place.”

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 5 headquarters in Chicago works on projects within the city to safeguard Lake Michigan’s health.

Danielle Green, an environmental protection specialist with the EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office said the federal government has a hand in maintaining wildlife and the water quality of Lake Michigan and all of the other Great Lakes by extension.

“It is all connected hydrologically,” she said. “The health, the larger health and the larger picture is connected to the entire Great Lakes basin. And some of the recreational uses of the lakes are in beaches where there’s shore front and people can really get in that water.”

Green especially draws attention to the protection that the federal government has extended towards the wildlife that is impacted by beach and water pollution on the Lake Michigan shore fronts. One of the largest projects is the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary, more affectionately known as “The Magic Hedge”.

“There is a park district program, a natural areas program, where they enhance what is there,” Green said. “There are probably hundreds of species of birds that migrate through there and they have really enhanced both the dune habitats and also above and beyond that it is one of the really, really important birding areas in the whole entire area, it’s not just the sweet urban spot, it’s really crucial for migratory birds. So some of that lakefront value certainly [is] beaches but there can also be the plants and the birds.”

These efforts show that although there are credible threats to the environment, there are also government agencies who acknowledge the issue and have taken the steps to counteract the damage that pollution has done.

Still, there is no harm in taking matters into our own hands. Chicago has numerous opportunities for its residents to get involved and make a difference. Green offers several ideas that can be implemented in daily routines.

“You can do stuff as simple as try to reduce food waste in your own refrigerator,” she offers. “Certainly, if you are driving.. carpool. Figure out what needs to use a car and what doesn’t. It’s not an all or nothing, but if you can minimize trips, if you can be more efficient, you’re using less resources. Be mindful of that budget, that energy budget that you are using.”

Ryan, with the Shedd Aquarium, also suggests getting involved with the aquarium’s beach-clean up projects.

Getting our environment back on track to its best quality for the people and animals of Chicago is not so far out of reach. In fact, Green gave a bit of reassurance that can alleviate the panic that Langia and so many others her age feel towards environmental changes.

“There is a lot of hope,” Green said. “And the energy and the attention to climate change, to environmental justice to be able to make the world a better place is really important and there is hope.”

Starship Beta: Contactless Food Delivery Robots

By Ewa Lapczynska and Grace Lysell • December 19th, 2021

As colleges began to reopen after months of shutdowns and social restrictions, the University of Illinois at Chicago, UIC, reinvited students and staff back onto campus for the Fall 2021 semester.

Now in the growing era of contactless service, Starship autonomous delivery robots are being implemented on campuses, with hopes of future growth. These insulated two foot tall white robots deliver food and drinks from the restaurant to the customer, conveniently dropping off an order at any chosen location.

With customizable notifications, the Starship robots are marketed as a user-friendly alternative to leaving study hall for a snack.

Charles F. Farrell, the Executive Director for Business Development at UIC, and William Harvey, Resident District Manager at UIC Dining Services, an employee of ChartwellsCompass Group, worked together with Starship to bring these robots to Campus East for the 2021-2022 school year.

“I had been to a couple of conferences and Bill’s company has a relationship with Starship, and we started talking about, ‘should we think about this,’” said Farrell. “Then one thing led to another, just before the pandemic sort of broke out, if you will, in January of 2020, we flew down to the University of Houston, which is a school very, very similar to this one.”

After learning about the Starship network from the staff and students at the University of Houston, Farrell and Harvey decided that the delivery robots would be a great addition to UIC, as they would allow food to be delivered to students from dawn till dusk.

The next step was choosing when to bring the Starship to campus. The pandemic halted their implementation but, after the calamity settled, a contactless food delivery service fit the new social environment that emerged.

“Once we kind of had a sense last summer, about what was gonna be the reality for this year, then we started talking again about whether this was the right time to do it,” said Farrell. “We also talked about playing up the fact that this is a person-less delivery, and decided this was the right time to do it. Now the University is the 17th campus with these robots.”

Karina Nevarez, manager at Dunkin UIC, witnessed the early implementation of Starship around Campus East during the 2021 Summer Semester.

“Around August, they would do little trials,” said Nevarez. “When school was starting, that’s when the process to use the robots really began. We figured out it’s just like filling any other order. We’re used to using stickers, so it’s the same thing. On the monitor the order sticker would pop up, then, since the order isn’t on the big screen, we know that someone has to take it downstairs to the robot.”

Most restaurants and markets have had great success adding Starship to their order fulfillment models.

Dunkin has had the easiest experience as they previously had a robust ordering system, but other smaller markets quickly learned how to adjust. The addition of the handheld notification devices that connect to the Starship App and robot activation are now standard at all participating locations on campus.

“It’s pretty easy when it’s slow,” said Nevarez. “But when we get rushes, like crazy rushes, then it gets hard, especially when we’re short-staffed. Then we lose a team member because someone has to take the order downstairs. So sometimes, it’s a good and a bad thing, but usually, so far, so good. We’ve never had any problems with the robot orders either, so that’s a good thing.”

Alaa Mohamed, a sophomore at UIC majoring in Biomedical Engineering, enjoyed the addition of Starship to Campus East, as it made receiving food effortless.

“It was so easy and simple,” said Mohamed. “I was able to get my coffee from Dunkin by ordering from the Starship app. I ordered the robot to meet me in front of the library. It was so convenient to have, I avoided wasting time walking in the cold to get my coffee.”

Personal safety on college campuses is highly stressed, especially for students with late classes or those spending late nights studying at the library. Starship not only provides a contactless delivery, but also adds another layer of security to the benefits the program provides.

“Pretty much all campus food and snack options are available, besides Chick-Fil-A, so I think that the choices are good,” said Mohamed. “Most places close early which is inconvenient for studying later in the evening, but Dunkin and the market in Student Center East are almost always available, which is nice.”

With the student body growing accustomed to Starship, an increase in the amount of orders is expected within the following semesters. Farrell and Harvey expect to expand the fleet available on Campus East in order to meet demands, as well as expand their range to include more food options.

As of December, UIC has not held any campus-wide surveys to gauge the popularity and use of the Starship network, but there is hope to expand to Campus South, West and beyond within the following years.

If Chicago chooses to define Starship as pedestrians, the robots will have full access to the city’s sidewalks and the ability to cross residential streets. This expansion of their territory would not only help serve students, by providing a larger list of restaurants to order from, but it would also expand the service to community members off campus.

With ambitions to expand across the city, Farrell and Harvey first must juggle the politics and complications of operating Starship autonomous robots within the heart of metropolitan Chicago, the nation’s third largest city.

“We want to take a real careful approach, we also don’t want to bite off no, pun intended, more than we can chew, and not have good service all across the board,” said Farrell. “So we want to figure it out, where we can control things first, and then think about branching out.”

Safety has been a concern for many cities hosting the Starship program. These autonomous robots have been using sidewalks and crossing intersections across the country, as most cities have classified Starship robots as pedestrians.

In order to ensure safety, Starship robots use sensors, computer vision, GPS and cameras which a human assistant can use to control the robot through difficult terrain.

Sergeant Kevin Flanigan, member of the Chicago Police department since 1994, gave advice to drivers encountering Starship on road ways.

“If these robots are considered pedestrians, the driver of the vehicle is at fault no matter what,” said Flanigan. “If the pedestrian walked across where it wasn’t a crosswalk, none of that really matters because, as the driver of the vehicle, you have to be aware that pedestrians have the right of way. The person driving the car could be at least liable for at least a ticket.”

Causing any damage to the robot could also be considered causing damage to private property. All drivers would need to inform the authorities immediately after the accident occured to clarify the situation.

If plans to expand UIC’s Starship autonomous delivery network succeed, the University will be gaining a portion of the profit from the services provided.

“Our relationship with Chartwells involves a commission based structure,” said Farrel. “So we get a percent, it’s a different percent on what kind of sale it is. So revenue from Starship, it’s just gonna get slid in with all the other things, like when you buy a sandwich from Chick-fil-A, a piece of that comes back to the university in the form of commission. The same thing will be true here.”

When ordering from Starship, there is a $1.99 delivery fee included with every order. This along with the standard charge of purchase will be distributed between all parties involved in the Starship network at UIC.

According to Starship, the autonomous robots have made over 2 million deliveries worldwide. In the United States, the service is spreading quickly to new college campuses, including the University of Kentucky, Purdue University, and most recently South Dakota State University.

Though the future of these robots is still uncertain, autonomous robots are forecasted to grow in popularity as they replace humans in menial jobs. As UIC plans to expand their fleet, sooner, rather than later, Starship robots might be seen delivering food across Chicago, as they learn how to better navigate urban sidewalks.

“Bill and I have joked that when we’re old, or in a nursing home, robots will take care of us,” said Farrell. “That might be a nice benefit, right, the robot can come to you. I think we’re a ways away from having bots on all the streets but, this is the beginning of it. We’re excited that we’re able to bring something that’s very new, and it’s not very many places to UIC.”

Interview with Reporters Grace Lysell and Ewa Lapczynska

Interview with Red Line Project reporters Ewa Lapczynska and Grace Lysell on Starship’s autonomous food delivering robots that are now parading on college campuses such as UIC. Host: Sarita Cavazos

Chicago Environmental Activists Organize Against Line 3

By Rubi Valentin and Louise Macaraniag • December 19th, 2021

Even after seven years of resistance from environmental activists nationwide, the Canadian pipeline company, Enbridge, declared the Line 3 pipeline fully operational on Oct. 1 of this year.

Encroaching on Anishinaabe territory and transferring to oil refineries in Indiana and near the Chicago area, this pipeline will deliver nearly a million barrels of tar sands crude oil each day. Line 3 is the largest project in Enbridge’s history and one of the largest crude oil pipelines in the world, costing upwards of $9.3 billion.

Environmental Destruction

Line 3 extends from Alberta, Canada all the way to Superior, Wisconsin, crossing over 200 bodies of water, including the Mississippi River twice and Lake Superior. This poses a major environmental threat because an oil spill from Line 3 would inevitably cause the irreparable destruction of local ecosystems, the extinction of the Ojibwe people’s sacred wild rice, and risk poisoning millions of people’s drinking water supply.

This is especially a cause for concern due to Enbridge’s reputation for committing the largest inland oil spill in the U.S. In 2010, Enbridge spilled 1 million gallons of oil in the Kalamazoo River. The oil delivered through Line 3 can produce up to 170 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide per year. According to Stop Line 3 and Honor the Earth, this is equivalent to 38 million vehicles on the road.

“Line 3 will emit the equivalent emissions of 50 coal power plants,” in an interview with Laurel Chen of Resist Line 3 Media Collective. “And this is really at a time that we need to be stopping, shutting down and transitioning away from fossil fuels.”

Chicago has a stake in Line 3’s operations as the biggest metropolitan area in the region and home to a large financial hub. Activists have targeted Chicago’s Chase Tower and the Army Corp of Engineering as two major actors in contributing to the construction of Line 3.

JPMorgan Chase is the largest funder of fossil fuels, spending a quarter of a trillion dollars into fossil fuel projects in the last five years. However, despite their close ties to fossil fuels, they have recently joined the Net Zero Banking Alliance. This means that Chase has committed to aligning their lending and investment portfolios with net-zero emissions by 2050.

“The issue with Chase is specifically that they’re getting sustainability bonds as well, so they’re giving them a lower rate, and they’re giving them some preferred terms because they put solar panels on their corporate office,” Jessy Bradish of Chicago Against Line 3 said. “So, that gets them green points, and the fact that they’re violating treaty territories and building a toxic tar sands pipeline under the Mississippi is irrelevant.”

Moreover, gasoline made from tar sands is considered to be the dirtiest oil of them all, each gallon producing 21 percent more carbon dioxide emissions than conventional oil.

According to the Minnesota Department of Commerce,the “social cost of carbon” of Line 3 is $287 billion over the first 30 years of the pipeline’s life.

“Line 3 is just a massive expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure, and any massive expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure is going to impact anyone no matter where they are on the planet,” Chen said.

Violation of Treaty Rights

Line 3 also violates the treaty rights of the Anishinaabeg because it is endangering primary areas of hunting, fishing, wild rice and cultural resources in the 1854, 1855, and 1867 treaty areas.

From Minnesota to all across the states, water protectors, community members, and organizations have created a campaign to defund and stop Line 3. They have called on Minnesota Governor Tim Walz to stop the contract to construct Line 3 and have even taken this issue to a national level, pressuring President Joe Biden to halt operations.

“President Biden and Governor Walz, who really have had the power to shut down Line 3, have not taken steps to shut down Line 3 and have gone against their promises around addressing climate change and around respecting indigenous sovereignty,” Chen said.

Banner in front of Blue Line UIC-Halsted station Oct 12. (Photo by Louise Macaraniag)

Banner in front of Blue Line UIC-Halsted station Oct 12. (Photo by Louise Macaraniag)

Financial Institutions Bankrolling Line 3

According to Bradish, advocates must make Chase aware that “this is not a good investment.” Furthermore, we must enlighten the public about how this will inevitably affect them due to its high potential of exacerbating climate change.

“This is probably going to be the last pipeline that gets constructed in the US,” Bradish said. “I think that the attitudes have really changed, and it’s not a guaranteed safe return, so we really need the banks to believe that.”

Activists in Chicago have come out to protest outside of Chase Tower to draw attention to their active role in funding Line 3, including Erin Rusmi of Rising Tide Chicago.

“Chase Tower is a place that we’ve targeted because it’s not only a branch, but there are corporate offices that are higher up in the building and their annual general meetings are held there,” Rusmi said.

Black Friday event for Against Line 3 in front of the Evanston Chase bank on Nov 26. (Photo by Rubi Valentin)

Black Friday event for Against Line 3 in front of the Evanston Chase bank on Nov 26. (Photo by Rubi Valentin)

Movement Against Enbridge

Organizers from Chicago Against Line 3, which is a coalition of different environmental and social justice organizations working to defund the pipeline, have also been organizing educational events, direct action training, and fundraising events to provide supplies to frontliners in Camp Migizi and to fund protesters’ bail costs.

Many activists have been met with brutal state oppression. Over 1,000 arrests have been made during the construction of Line 3. Nationwide, 700 charges have been made against water protectors and activists, whether on the frontlines of Minnesota or outside of the Capitol building in DC. Additionally, over $150,000 has been spent on bail, and Enbridge has paid $2.9 million to Minnesota Law Enforcement to suppress opposition.

Simultaneously, climate activists have also begun fighting against another Enbridge project: Line 5, which is a pipeline that runs under the Straits of Mackinac and through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A rupture on this pipeline would contaminate 20 percent of the world’s fresh water. Due to the urgency of this issue, Chicago Against Line 3 has started to shift their actions and events toward decommissioning and raising awareness about Line 5 as an act of solidarity work.

“Something that water protectors on the front lines say is that we are all treaty people,” Chen said, “meaning that whether we’re indigenous or non indigenous if we’re living here in the United States, then it’s our duty to uphold the treaties that the US government has made with all indigenous people.”

Learn More

There are countless ways to get involved and show support for stopping Line 3. One of the urgent calls to action today is to call for dropping the charges on water protectors, which can be done through signing the petition on

Other major calls to action include boycotting and protesting Chase and other banks that are funneling money into Line 3, such as CitiBank, Wells Fargo, Liberty Mutual, and Bank of America. According to Jessy Bradish, the most effective way to show resistance is to close an account and send a letter to the bank on why you are closing the account.

Another way to support the movement is by giving funds to frontliners directly. Camp Migizi in Minnesota is preparing for the wintering of their sites, so coats, propane, food, and other essentials would be necessary for their protection and survival. A compilation of petitions, direct actions, and funds to donate to can be found on

Analyzing CPD Sentiment Scores in the City

By Sarita Cavazos • December 19th, 2021

After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, cities around the country erupted into protests against police misconduct and brutality. The outrage highlighted gross mistrust many citizens held against their police departments, and some in larger cities, including Chicago, called for complete or partial defunding of the police, and a radical shift in transparency and accountability for officers.

Conversations surrounding police transparency and accountability have been visited for years, but it requires communication from multiple perspectives.

One way the City of Chicago and the Chicago Police Department went about this was the launching of the Police sentiment dashboard in November 2017. CPD along with its partners at Elucd, a data collection company, tracked citizens’ sentiment toward police in both safety and trust by the district.

MAP: Using the data from the Chicago data portal, the maps show police sentiment in trust and safety by police district.

Police sentiment Safety scores by Police district

Police Sentiment Trust Scores by Police District

According to the Chicago Police Department and Elucd, this data was captured by collecting ratings of police by a randomly selected group of people in each police district. Participants were reached through targeted ads and census data, they were asked the following to gauge sentiment scores:


  • “How much do you agree with this statement? The police in my neighborhood treat local residents with respect. (Level of agreement from 0-10)”
  • “How much do you agree with this statement? The police in my neighborhood listen to and take into account the concerns of local residents. (Level of agreement from 0-10)”


  • “When it comes to the threat of crime, how safe do you feel in your neighborhood? Please indicate on a scale of 0 (not safe at all) to 10 (completely safe)”

The scores were then collected and combined into a weighted average, and then multiplied by 10 to create these scores, which are valued on a scale from 0-100. For the month of October, CPD scored of 59/100.

Graphic: How are Police Sentiment Scores calculated?

Because of how this survey acquires its data, it may not demonstrate the entire picture. Dr. William McCarty, an associate professor at UIC and the director of the Center for Research in Law and Justice at UIC, has run similar studies in the past, and says these sentiment scores don’t necessarily include key testimony from fundamental groups.

“One of the critiques I think I would have of this current sentiment score is that it doesn’t necessarily survey people who had contact with the police,” he said.

For several years, McCarty worked on the Police Community Interaction Survey, which worked by directly contacting and communicating with individuals who had direct interactions with the police.

“You know, the logic there is that we’re actually interacting with people, engaging feedback from people who’ve had contact with CPD,” McCarty said.

This is a distinctive tactic from the method Elucd and CPD uses to publish their sentiment data, but the survey is targeting individuals through ads on social media, meaning that there may be a certain audience that responds to the survey requests, further impacting the narrative that is displayed on CPD’s sentiment portal. McCarty recalled working with the Police Community Interaction Survey involved “60 or 70 questions” and only received “maybe a 5% response rate.”

“It’s just a subtle difference. But to me, a fairly important one of, you know, kind of a more direct indicator of sentiment,” said McCarty. “To me it is a little bit more relevant when you get people that have actually had a recent contact or experience with the department or the entity that’s being in question.”

While the social media aspect may bring in more responses, there is reason to doubt the accuracy of the audience. Tracy Siska, the Executive Director of the Chicago Justice Project, finds several issues with the survey, the algorithmic component of social media being one of them.

“I’ve lived in DC for two and a half years but because Facebook’s algorithm still has me in Chicago, I got requests to take that survey,” Siska said.

This could possibly mean people living outside Chicago, who have little to no interaction with CPD, are answering the survey and consequently distorting the data. He encouraged the department and its data gathering partners to have transparency on who is answering the data, especially because of the demographic algorithms of sites like Facebook.

“Facebook tends to be much more conservative and such,” Siska said. “So, I’d really like to know the nuts and bolts about what social media, how many people, what are the demographics and those that have faith they have in those demographics being right”

Siska also expressed doubt in the motivations behind acquiring and posting this data. Because its origin lies in CPD, he is wary of placing too much faith in the data.

“This is a total PR Stunt,” Siska said. “Basically, because they’re working in concert with the department. No serious research can be done where the department has some say in how the results are released.”

Siska’s sentiment harkens back to overall sentimental trust: there is a deep-rooted distrust of the department that goes beyond just on-the-job everyday policing. Kiera Markham, a Community and Social Justice Case Manager from Chicago, currently working out of Vermont, works directly with individuals who have had experiences with police and shares this sentiment.

“I know a really big sentiment around is that even if the cops are called, they’re either not going to show up, or they’re not going to do anything when they’re there,” Markham said, “I don’t want to say that there’s an idea of laziness. But I think there’s just it goes beyond a distrust of the police and distrust of the system at large is that they don’t think that it’s really for them. It’s only used in punitive measures. It’s not used for necessarily restorative purposes.”

CPD has unfortunately provided plenty of reason for distrust from the public as of late. with low vaccination rates amongst the department and misconduct surrounding the Anjanette Young case, CPD has a lot to make up for with the public. But Markham had a few ideas on where to start.

“There needs to be a pretty sizable upheaval, and just a real, you know, culture shock within law enforcement at large,” Markham said. “So, in my opinion, that starts with a lot of dismantling some of the systems or beliefs that it might have been founded on or values that they’re still acting upon.”

If you are also a Chicago resident, you can use this link to also participate in the survey.

CPD was contacted for comment, but has not responded yet.

DACA Accessibility in Chicago — An Ongoing Issue

By Jean Serrano and Monse Mora • December 19th, 2021

Yarine Velez and Jeimmy Ramirez are among 34,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients in Illinois.

Velez immigrated with her family when she was only 6 years old. Before DACA, she was living in The United States illegally and with constant fear of being deported. She has had DACA since it was introduced in 2012.

“I applied for DACA right away,” she said. “I had hesitations because there was a lot of uncertainty that Obama would not be re-elected and a new incoming party would just start mass deportations.

“When Trump became president I cried for days as I knew my time in the US might come to an end, at that point I was older and married. I had a lot to lose if I was removed from the country. Fortunately that was not the case, yet the uncertainty persists and continues to be an issue as DACA is always in limbo. The same hesitations I once had back in 2012, are the same hesitations thousands of DACA recipients are facing right now.”

Like several others, Velez was fearful of DACA and exposing her status to the US government. However, she was still grateful for having the opportunity to be eligible for it and to be able to afford it. Before DACA, Velez was only making $12 an hour working under the table for an accountant at a harp factory filing paperwork.After DACA, she was eligible to apply for higher-paying jobs that would ultimately end up paying her a near six-figure salary.

Velez said, “Let’s just say before DACA I was making $12 an hour, as soon as I received DACA I was able to work at a position that paid $18 an hour and 10 years later I am now earning close to 6 figures at a steel company which I am the regional manager of. I owe this not only to my mother who was the biggest DACA supporter and who said I should apply, in fact helped me pay for a lawyer to apply the first time back in 2012 when it first came about.”

According to The Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, 46% of DACA recipients say that DACA has enabled them to become more financially independent and 51% say that they have been able to better help their family financially.

Chicago is a sanctuary city, which means that the Chicago Police Department does not affiliate with ICE, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Because of this, the city has a heavy population of undocumented people, including those with DACA.

DACA is a legal document that protects unauthorized childhood arrivals from deportation and gives work authorization. However, obtaining DACA is tedious and expensive. A lot of Chicagoans under DACA struggle paying the55% increase fee renewals and completing the paperwork for approval.

“I did apply for DACA when it was first introduced,” Ramirez said. “I had hesitation because of the uncertainties and personal information that was asked about my parents. I also feared losing everything that my parents and I have built in the states. Also, being a first-time applicant, I did not know how to start with the whole process and how I would pay for it.”

Renewing DACA costs $495 and strict background checks are required for the application process. This would work off the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services DACA recipient documentation that lists Active DACA Recipients for each year since DACA started and how that number constantly fluctuates due to difficult requirements.

Ultimately, those with DACA have a path to citizenship in mind since DACA is only temporary due to renewals. Pimentel mentioned that The Department of Homeland Security has a form 9111-97-P that says “A hypothetical family of four would have to pay an additional $3,115 over a 3-year period to maintain their status and secure citizenship.” This means that besides DACA, if a person decides to file for citizenship, they are constantly expected to pay fees to secure their citizenship.

The people who are eligible for DACA, according to the Department of Homeland Security, Form I-821D states that anyone who was under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012 and was present in the country at the time of making the request for DACA and came to the United States before reaching their 16th birthday.

The form also mentions that the person applying for DACA must have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007 and has had no lawful immigration status on June 15, 2012. Also, they must not have been convicted of a felony, and have had high school completion.

Those who are qualified for renewal are those who have continuously resided in the country since their approved DACA request, did not leave the country on or after Aug. 15, 2012, and has not been convicted of a felony, major misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors, and is not a national security threat.

Most DACA recipients are young since they must be under the age of 31 by the time they applied as of June 15, 2012, according to the American Immigration Council.

Unlike Velez, several of the 590,070 DACA recipients struggle to pay for their DACA renewal fees and face getting their DACA revoked. According to The American Immigration Council, As of December 31, 2020 46,000 DACA renewal applications were denied and a factor to these denials may be lack of money.

Unless a DACA recipient poses a threat to national security, DACA will not expose immigration status and or information in the form of the recipient. However, the DACA recipient without renewal will face living in the country illegally again.

According to The Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, many undocumented youth live in financially vulnerable situations. 77% of DACA recipients used for CCIS research report annual personal incomes below $25,000 and only 20% report having enough personal income to pay their monthly expenses.

Zsa-Zsa Pimentel, an ICIRR Consultant for the Immigration Family Support Project, said that increasing DACA fees will make it difficult to renew their work permits and individuals will lose the ability to work legally in The United States. DACA is ever changing and Pimentel recommends that even if you have an attorney, to always read up on DACA rules and regulations.

Pimentel mentioned that the Trump Administration threatened to increase renewal fees to $765 back in 2019. The fee has already gone up from $465 in 2012 to now being $495. DACA recipients are constantly threatened on fee renewals to raise and the Department of Homeland Security has proven that it is possible to increase these fees.

DACA recipients are Dreamers from foreign nationals brought to the United States as children and do not have lawful immigration status. Dreamers are a subset of the unauthorized U.S. population. Explaining the Administration’s decision to put forth the DACA policy, then-President Obama cited unsuccessful legislative efforts to pass Dream Act legislation.

Established in 2012, DACA enables benefits to immigrants who entered the U.S. before 16 and met other requirements. To live and work in the U.S. on a renewable basis. Dreamers receive protection from any removal and receive work authorization: while not granting or putting a pathway for legal immigration status.

This report is focused on the DACA population. This subset of immigrants (DACA eligible population) has raised in interest and attention since 2012.

Even in discussions and proposals in the context of lawful status by creating lawful permanent residents (LPR’s). Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR’s) are also known as “green cards,” where it gives non-citizens legal authority to live permanently in the United States. LPRs could accept any offer of employment without certain restrictions, like owning property, receiving financial assistance, and joining the Armed Forces.

Pimentel mentioned that even though the DACA process is tedious and expensive, there are programs such as The Illinois Coalition For Immigrant and Refugee Rights, that help with the process and alleviate some stress that DACA recipients experience.

Dreamers, or DACA recipients, who do not satisfy 2012 DACA criteria are subjected to legalization proposals. Since there is no understanding of this population, individuals need to itemize criteria for LPR mechanisms. The requirements are the age of U.S. entry, length of U.S. residence, and educational attainment to be eligible.

While designing legalization programs for childhood arrivals, policymakers have opted to go beyond DACA criteria, requiring knowledge of the English language and U.S. civics. They might also impose fees for applications and penalties. All of these factors affect the potential beneficiary population since according to The New American Economy, it is estimated that the spending power of the DACA-eligible population is close to $20 billion.

The opportunity of DACA has positively impacted the lives of those eligible as Velez can attest:

DACA has had nothing but a huge positive impact in my life and basically made a huge difference for my future, as it allowed me to further my education and with that apply for positions that wouldn’t have had been skilled or had the education for. It allowed me to provide for my daughter as a single mother. I was able to better not only my life but my baby’s life as well once I started earning a decent amount of money.

Catalytic Converter Thefts on the Rise in Jefferson Park

By John Williams and Xavier Redditt • December 19th, 2021

Within the past several months, the 16th Police District of Jefferson Park in Chicago has released three community alerts regarding a spree of catalytic converter thefts.

But this is nothing new to Jefferson Park residents as the theft of catalytic converters has been an ongoing issue for years.

Jefferson Park resident Donald Faliszek had not one, but two catalytic converters stolen from under his vehicles. Parked in his driveway located on the 5300 block of West Leland Avenue, Faliszek’s 2000 Pontiac Sunfire and 2002 Pontiac Aztek both had their catalytic converters taken.

“I could not tell you the exact year, could have been 2013, but you know,” Faliszek said. “They were not stolen at the same time. They were like a couple of months apart, but I know it was during the summer months.”

Faliszek is just one of many Jefferson Park residents that have been affected by these thefts. Since June of this year, there have been over 30 converter thefts reported in community alerts released by the 16th District. 2018 saw a similar spree of thefts, also resulting in the release of multiple alerts.

At 5:30 a.m. in summer 2013, former Ald. John Arena (45th ward) was getting ready to go for a bike ride when he witnessed two people stealing a catalytic converter from a neighbor’s minivan.

“I could see clearly that he had something in his hand in one hand and in the other hand, I could make out the profile of a battery-powered Sawzall,” Arena said.

“And they just, one guy came from one side of the car. The other guy came, started walking right toward me. And it wasn’t like they couldn’t see me. I was standing right next to the sidewalk and they just walked by me with the tools in their hand and the cat and when he came by, I could see it was a catalytic converter, and I said ‘Did you just take that catalytic converter off?’”

Arena took down the license plate number of the van the suspects drove off in and called 911. Two months later, he received a call back from police notifying him that the suspects had been apprehended and charged in connection with a ring of catalytic converter thefts.

Although Arena’s vigilance was successful, it is not recommended that anyone confront thieves in or after the act in case they are armed and dangerous.

Ongoing Thefts Nationwide

Catalytic converter thefts have been ongoing for a handful of years. A study conducted by the National Insurance Crime Bureau found that 108 converter thefts occurred in the U.S per month in 2018. This number has since skyrocketed to about 1,200 per month in 2020.

The study suggests that the state of affairs due to the coronavirus have largely contributed to these increasing numbers. Closed facilities, lack of public safety resources, and unemployment have all stemmed from the pandemic, increasing crime around the nation.

Additional evidence supports the claim that occurrences of these thefts are becoming more frequent. According to data analyzed by BeenVerified, Illinois saw 470 converter thefts in 2020. There have been 1,191 thefts so far this year to date, marking an drastic increase of 153.6%.

What is a Catalytic Converter?

A catalytic converter is an emissions device that alters a car’s exhaust gasses, including carbon monoxide, turning them into less harmful gases like carbon dioxide and water vapor before they are released into the atmosphere. Within a catalytic converter lies valuable substances such as palladium and platinum, which act as a catalyst creating the cleansing reaction that deals with the harmful exhaust chemicals. The catalytic converters are often found underneath the vehicle near the exhaust outlet, making them easily susceptible to theft.

Pete’s Automotive Inc. in Jefferson Park on Nov. 29. (Photo by Xavier Redditt)

Pete’s Automotive Inc. in Jefferson Park on Nov. 29. (Photo by Xavier Redditt)

There are several kinds of catalytic converters. A ‘two-way’ oxidation converter converts carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide and hydrocarbons while a ‘three-way’ catalytic converter is used on more modern cars, expanding on the ‘two-way’ converter. These reduce nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions which are harmful to both humans and the environment. Diesel cars have different types of converters as well.

Why Are They Stolen?

Catalytic converters are most often stolen because of the precious metals they contain. Individuals can resell the converters to recycling scrap yards or on the internet for quick cash. These recyclers will pay anywhere from $50 to $250 for one converter.

Because there isn’t a tracking system on converters in many states or cities, people can continuously steal the component with little fear of facing punishment. Scrap yards in the state of Ohio have combatted this issue by incorporating criminal background checks of sellers. They also maintain a shared database with their local police department.

According to one National Insurance Crime Bureau study, larger vehicles like pick up trucks and delivery trucks are targeted more often. These vehicles have a higher ground clearance which makes the process of cutting a converter out much easier.

Tim Chrisobi, a Jefferson Park resident and technician at Pete’s Automotive Inc., said that vehicles with a higher suspension are frequent targets in the area.

“Your CRVs, your Jeeps, cars that are a little bit more elevated,” Chisobi said. “Right underneath like the passenger side or, you know, right towards the center of the vehicle, they’re easy to get to.”

A look inside of a catalytic converter. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

A look inside of a catalytic converter. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

As someone who has replaced these converters often, including one stolen from his own Jeep, Chrisobi warns of potentially costly repairs.

“To replace a cat could be, you know, for original equipment, it could be seven, eight hundred, one thousand dollars,” he said. “Repairing a Toyota Prius could be $3,000.”

In 2013, Faliszek paid out-of-pocket for his converters to avoid increased insurance rates.

“Each car was like $250 to $275 and I know the OEM manufacturer one, I mean, maybe $700 to $800,” he said.

Theft Prevention

Due to the speed at which trained thieves can remove a converter and flee the scene, which in some cases takes two minutes or less, preventing these thefts remains a challenging task.

Police departments recommend parking in garages, using motion sensor security lighting, cameras, or installing anti theft devices on the converter itself. Some police departments have also worked closely with scrap yards, painting tag numbers on converters sold to them and filing them in a shared database to catch potential thieves.

Having a catalytic converter stolen will be expensive to replace so it is recommended that you report thefts to your local authorities as soon as possible. As for other solutions, it may take some time to come up with a plan.

“There’s very little ways that we could identify to preempt too much of this stuff because you just never know where they’re going to show up,” Arena said.

Study: Chicago Among Leaders in Sustainable Initiatives

By Alejandra Natera and Hector Felix • December 19th, 2021

In April of 2021, The City of Chicago released the Green Recovery Agenda, a continuation of ongoing municipal projects that attempt to reduce fossil fuel emissions and transition to clean energy.

As part of the Green Recovery Agenda, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has  released four sustainable strategies to help promote the city’s sustainable initiatives.

In the most recent 2021 “State of the Air” report of the American Lung Association, Chicago ranked 18th among the most ozone-polluted cities in the United States. The report suggested that in Cook County, which includes the Chicago metropolitan area, 5.1 residents are exposed to potential health risks related to high ozone pollution levels.

Mac Dressman, an associate for the “Electric Bus Campaign” for the Illinois Public Interest Groups, said there’s a need for a shift away from diesel-powered transportation — particularly though the implementation of electric busses.

One of six electric busses that The City of Chicago is testing. The City plans to fully transition to electric busses by 2040.

One of six electric busses that The City of Chicago is testing. The City plans to fully transition to electric busses by 2040.

“We basically have a lot of information that shows that diesel fumes are really bad or and they you know they cause asthma, they cause cancer, there’s also the data showing all the sort of bad chemicals and things that are in diesel fumes,” he said.

“And think about it like kids who ride on school buses every day to go to school or exposed not just like one time to these fuse but you know for hours potentially every week to these toxic fumes”

Green Recovery Agenda

The agenda is broken into four key areas:

  1. Comprehensive Climate Action Plan
  2. Chicago Zero Net Carbon Buildings Strategy
  3. Electricity Franchise Agreement
  4. Clean Energy Transition Planning

The CTA is currently helping in lowering emission levels by introducing six electric busses, if successful produce 17 more electric busses. This will allow CTA to have the most electric buses in the nation. One step closer being the greenest cities in the world.

Dressman said that Chicago residents of Chicago and in general how society can contribute when it comes to improving air quality for everyone.

“We just need to shift away from using vehicles as much or dedicating so much of our system to car traffic,” he said. “We need more public transit service and availability, and need to be safer for people. We need our urban design to be less concerned about parking and highways and stop expanding highways and more focus on creating livable walkable communities for people.”

Plant Chicago is a nonprofit organization, does community outreach with a mission to cultivate and teach local businesses of circular economies practice through community-driven hands-on programs. In order for Chicago to fully adapt to a greener way of living, residents must practice this on a local economic level as well.

Finley Barnes, Plant Chicago’s communication specialist, defines circular economies practice as “waste of one process becomes an input for another.”

One of the public’s biggest concerns for sustainable initiatives can be cost but some programs Finley highlights are their ‘Farmers Market’ and ‘Local Food Box’ and how they come into play of being affordable or cost effective.

“We don’t just accept link payments but we actually double the value,” Barnes said.”Anybody who is paying for food at our farmers market or one of those food boxes, they can use their link card and that amount of money is then given back to them in these fund money coupons.”

When applying these sustainable practices it shows not only are residents able to receive fresh and healthier food options but as well, they are able to save money.

Both Barnes and Dressman said that a sustainable future begins with us as a society as a whole changing our way of thinking and acting.

“We need a big cultural shift in order to influence policy,” Barnes said.

Dressman added, “There just needs to be a shift in the terms in the thinking of our public officials and also a cultural shift among the public” he said.

“There’s a lot of other benefits to living in more walkable communities where people actually really like or haven’t experienced because we’ve grown up taking the highway everywhere.”

Sustainable Building Designs

Primera Engineers, a women-owned enterprise, obtained platinum LEED certification for the ComED Chicago North Commercial located at 3500 N. California Ave. The sustainable building is aligned with electrochromic glass. (Photo courtesy of Primera Engineers)

Primera Engineers, a women-owned enterprise, obtained platinum LEED certification for the ComED Chicago North Commercial located at 3500 N. California Ave. The sustainable building is aligned with electrochromic glass. (Photo courtesy of Primera Engineers)

The Leadership in Environmental Design is a green building rating system that provides protocol and certification for sustainable building design, construction, and performance. LEED provides a framework for sustainable spaces that includes energy efficiency, waste reduction, water conservation, etc.

LEED accredited architect and Senior Vice President at Primera Engineers Lourdes Gonzalez has collaborated on local and international projects that have implemented innovative green building solutions.

Recently, Gonzalez and her team obtained platinum certification for the new ComED Chicago North Headquarters in Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood. The North Headquarters is the third ComED facility to receive a LEED-certification.

“We are 100% ready for solar panels to be installed for the building to be net zero”, she said. “So, we have all the necessary switchgear and backup and all of that ready to go structure is already ready on the roof.”

In 2012 U.S. The Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative awarded the City of Chicago and ComED a grant to promote solar PV installations. The City of Chicago is working to power all City buildings with renewable energy by 2035.

Currently, Chicago buildings account for 70% of the city’s greenhouse emissions. On June 2, 2021 Lightfoot announced the installment of the city’s first “Building Decarbonization Working Group.” The group will lead projects in four sustainable sectors: building electrification, energy efficiency, new constructions, and renewable energy.

Gonzalez speaks on the importance of introducing sustainable building initiatives in the field.

“I think it’s important because you really have to look at the long term impacts,” she said. “Obviously whether it is global warming or climate change, whatever you want to call it. There is change. There is something that is different than it was 19 years ago, 15 years ago, and certainly much different than it was 40 years. And so we need to make sure we are the best stewards of the environment than we can be.”

Chicago Sees Surge in Robberies During the Pandemic

By Hannah Ding and Lulu Anjanette • December 19th, 2021

Renata Wang, a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Chicago, boarded a plane to her home country of China two years ago and decided to continue her academic goals through online courses.

If it doesn’t affect my graduation, I will return to America as late as possible.” she said. “You know, because America has become very dangerous whether in terms of health or personal safety.”

Wang was not the only minority student who chose to go home not only because of COVID-19, but violent crime in the US as well. According to voanews, “over 100,000 South Korean students overseas are racing back home.”

Based on the Frequently Asked Questions for SEVP Stakeholders about COVID-19 updated on July 15, 2020 by ICE, F-1 and M-1 student visa holders were allowed to take online courses outside of the U.S.

Meanwhile, their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record would remain inactive status, which means that they will be allowed to access the United States though they have left over five months. After the policy was published, thousands of foreign students decided to stay in their home country to complete the following spring semester remotely.

Many of the foreign students from all over the world who studied in Chicago were cheering for the policy, because they didn’t need to worry about their safety when walking on the street anymore, or at least for the brief moment when they left Chicago.

Ever since the coronavirus outbreak began, crime rates all over the United States have increased tremendously with violent crimes leading the way. The overall violent crime rate — which includes murder, rape, assault and robbery — rose about 5% from 2019, according to FBI statistics.

However, other smaller crimes such as theft and larceny have actually seen a 20% decrease during that time, according to an analysis from Crime Data Explorer. According to an article from The Conversation, the lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the opportunity for people to commit these types of crimes.

Tao Wang, a senior at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was a victim of an armed robbery during April 2020, shortly after the pandemic began.

Wang, along with several members of UIC’s Chinese Student Union were robbed less than a mile from campus as they were distributing COVID-19 support packs from the Chinese embassy.

“They took the supplies away, and then all the cell phones, computers and iPads we had were also taken away,” Wang said. “I’m just glad that no one got hurt.”

Those stolen supplies were a precious commodity early in the pandemic. Prices of medical supplies, including masks, sanitizer, and disinfecting wipes, have increased dramatically. Dalvin Brown of USA Today wrote: “On Amazon, one pack of disposable masks that was priced at $125 on Sunday surged to $220 per pack on Wednesday, according to data from Keepa, which tracks price changes on Amazon.”

FBI reports do not delve into the reasons behind the increase of violent crimes, yet many say that a range of factors, including the coronavirus pandemic and the George Floyd incident likely played a role.

Amie Schuck, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the Criminology, Law, and Justice Department, said there are several hypotheses for why violent crimes have increased during these past few years.

“The increase in violent crime is largely a result of family violence,” Schuck said. “People were just kind of stuck in these places that they couldn’t get out of and there is this hypothesis that a lot of the additional violence we’re seeing is family violence that just keeps escalating.”

Due to the stay-at-home orders to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus, people living in volatile situations of family violence are restricted to their homes. According to a study on the effects of stay-at-home orders on domestic violence, an estimate of 600 cases of domestic violence went unreported during March and April 2020, in the city of Chicago.

“Another thing is the overall decrease in police presence all over the country,” Schuck said. “Ever since the George Floyd incident, people have less respect and legitimacy in the police and as a result, policing is sort of pulled back, and the lack of presence resulted in an increase of violent crime.”

The George Floyd incident sparked a mass movement on police violence against African Americans and calls for a systemic change within the American policing system.

“A lot of people are arguing that we need to come back to this combination of community policing and procedurally-just policing.” Schuck said. “Having good relationships between the police and the community and letting the community have a voice in what policing should look like in their neighborhood.”

The Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy brings together police, the community, and other city agencies in solving neighborhood crimes. However, less than 2% of all Chicago residents have ever attended a CAPS meeting, according to a research article on police-community partnerships. Without efforts from both the community and police, fostering a positive relationship is not possible.

One major challenge in having a positive relationship between the police and the community is setting up structures for the community to engage in a healthy way with the police.

“There is clearly outrage and unhappiness from the community in terms of policing,” Schuck said. “However, that outrage is not always necessarily talking about what you want the police to do.”

She encouraged the community to be more engaged and contribute their opinions on what changes they want in terms of policing. She also called for the police to listen and to be held accountable for these changes.

“Public safety is a two-way street, right?” Schuck said. “You have to get the community involved if you want the community to have positive relationships with the police.”

Gentrification Continues Taking Over in Pilsen Community

By Maria Gonzalez and Mariah Martinez • December 19th, 2021

Pilsen resident Albert Lopez grew up in the neighborhood and witnessed first-hand the financial struggles his family endured because of gentrification.

“My father had lost my grandfather’s building that was in the neighborhood,” he said, “He lost it to the banks. And it’s just interesting to see how at first, the property value was extremely low when he talked to the banks prior, but now due to simply upgrading some things, the rent prices have gone up for people.

“For some people like where it causes them to have to move out. Eventually for people like my family… they took it in stride.”

Pilsen, like many communities in Chicago, still suffers from the effects of redlining. Redlining, which began in the 1930s until the 1960s, were standards set by the federal government and carried out by banks and labeled neighborhoods made up predominantly of people of color as risky and not worth investing in.

Gentrification is complex and It can occur in a variety of ways, experts say. The issues run deep and often appear benign at first. It can begin with roads being fixed and parks being built. Eventually taxes begin to rise and the current residents, often of low-income status, are forced to move; the empty houses these households leave behind are then transformed and sold to often white, affluent buyers.

William Sites, an Associate Professor at the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy and Practice at the University of Chicago, explained how the gentrification process often works in cities.

“What really propels gentrification in sort of many cities today are larger changes in the city in terms of what might be grouped under this notion of economic restructuring,” he said, “the ways in which cities are increasingly being remade, sort of from the downtown outward in ways that revive the city economies, but also increasingly really make urban spaces for wealthier people.”

Under the guise of self-improvement, cities transform neighborhoods like Pilsen in an attempt to beautify the area at the expense of the current residents. With these new changes comes a rise in rent that drives out current residents and forces them to sell their property much like Lopez’s father had to do.

Sites also talked about the benefits that the predominantly white residents who move into these gentrified areas gain that weren’t available to the people of color who were living and currently live in neighborhoods like Pilsen.

“…They’re more likely to gain some of the economic privileges that come from being white,” Sites explains, “And particularly when they’re moving into communities of color, which don’t enjoy those privileges, which have had historically less access to credit, less access to financial institutions, less access to quality housing, the sort of racial disadvantages that longtime residents experience put them…on the defensive…”

It is these disadvantages that hinder the growth of Pilsen and neighborhoods like it that are predominantly POC neighborhoods. Because of this people of color are often denied access to loans that would help them buy and repair houses within their neighborhood. Eventually these neighborhoods with their lack of funding fall into disrepair.

Pilsen, although suffering from gentrification for years, has managed to maintain its identity. But rising rent prices and a changing community has many residents worried they might not recognize their community in the years to come.

The Loss of Culture

Pilsen, like other Chicago neighborhoods, is home to a variety of murals and art pieces. Unfortunately, an aspect of gentrification that is often less seen and discussed is the loss of identity within a community at the hands of gentrification.

“There’s definitely less, I would say, teen arts,” said Vanessa Sanchez, director of the Yollocalli Arts Reach program. “I don’t think I’ve noticed it as much except for maybe in the schools. I think that’s the biggest difference I’ve seen lately, is when people want to talk to me about art programs in Pilsen. It’s hard for me to think…before there was like 10 or so and now, it’s not as much as there used to be.”

The art program Yollocalli Arts Reach, once called the Pilsen neighborhood home for years after the National Museum of Mexican Art started the program in 1997. They started the program with the intention of helping out young people with their educational needs. They also often hold community events and host their own radio show.

They stayed in Pilsen until 2013 when due to financial issues, they made the decision to move their main offices to the Little Village neighborhood.

Art programs have been the heart of communities for years. They paint, quite literally, an image of their neighborhood and those who reside in it. And oftentimes these types of programs offer young community members a chance to learn new skills and help open the door for more opportunities.

Funding to these programs helps maintain a community’s identity.

“It can also create opportunities for you know, for guarding against what people call cultural displacement,” Sites said, “the ways in which, particularly a community like Pilsen, which has a long time sort of Latinx identity, which is very important to the people who live there.”

Sites goes on to explain how the community’s identity crumbles if the core group of people who live in Pilsen, who are predominantly Spanish speakers, move away. They take with them the culture that draws people to Pilsen. The works of art decorating the Pilsen neighborhood attract investors like moths to a flame but sacrifice the residents that made them.

Preventing Gentrification?

So what options are there for Pilsen and communities like it? A method many community members have taken to is to create community-based groups to combat gentrification.

“So there’s this amazing organization…the Pilsen Housing Co Op,” says Sanchez, “And what they’re trying to do is buy buildings that are primarily like apartment buildings, [they] convince the owner to sell that building to longtime residents, or people in general, so that they can create a co op.”

Organizations like the Pilsen Housing Co Op give power back to the residents living in these buildings and help them counter rising rent prices caused by gentrification.

Another group is The Resurrection Project, a non-profit organization committed to helping not only the Pilsen neighborhood but all of Chicago’s southwest neighborhoods. TRP helps create community ownership and helps build community wealth.

Since its founding nearly 32 years ago, the organization has secured millions of dollars toward community investments such as: rental housing, community services and homes for ownership.

“I feel like that’s definitely a great step into what should be happening in neighborhoods,” explained Sanchez, “like less of residents having to sell their homes to make a profit and have move to another neighborhood.”

The Rise of BookTok and Its Impact on the Reading Community

By Allison Greenfield, Xochilt Lorenzo and Montse Zarco • December 19th, 2021

During the COVID-19 Pandemic, people turned to social media to keep themselves busy and feel connected to others from the safety of their home.

One platform that saw the largest increase in users was TikTok, an app where content creators share videos of everything from the food they eat to the clothes they wear. One subdivision of the app that has taken over a large portion of the app is BookTok.

The BookTok community is a group of avid readers who share book-related recommendations and reviews through creative videos. This community has been on a steady rise since the start of the pandemic and the hashtag #BookTok has an upward of 27 billion posts, according to data. These posts have affected sales in books around the world and have given small authors the opportunity to get coverage for their books as well as have sparked book sales.

Professor Elena Maris from University of Illinois at Chicago’s communications department specializes in the tech industry, mainly social media, and the interactions with their audiences. Maris considers herself a part of the BookTok community and sees the positive impact that it has had on the reading industry as a whole. She spoke on the impact that it has had on the demand for books and the increase in people reading.

“Will there be positive impacts? Yes, because everybody has their first place that they discover either a fandom or a practice, whether that’s they really find a book or a or a genre of books or an author that they love on booktok.” Maris said about how much of a positive impact the reading community can see from BookTok as well as the new readers that are welcomed.

During the pandemic, there was a dramatic increase in book sales, whether that was physical copies or electronic copies. This increase is thanks to creators like 21-year-old TikToker Kimmy Nwokorie from Texas, who goes by KimmyBookss on TikTok. Kimmy uses her platform to rave about her favorite books, which include romance novels – one of the most popular genres among young readers as of right now. Her account has a following of 85,000 users and her videos have inspired many to pick up new books for their own enjoyment.

According to TikTok Newsroom, the BookTok community has been around since 2020 and became more popular after the quarantine mandate was placed in March 2020. With more time on peoples hands and fear of what was going on in the world, readers took to books to try and escape reality for a while to help deal with the uprising epidemic.

“The pandemic sparked me wanting to read,” Kimmy Nwokorie said, “And then I read the Percy Jackson series, like the first thing I was obsessed with. And so I was like, ‘Let me just reread these books’ because I just kept seeing Percy Jackson on my timeline on Twitter and stuff like that.”

Staying at home allowed more free time to read but also more time to shop for books. Book stores were forced to shut their doors at the start of the pandemic, but online book sellers were able to meet people’s book needs. Amazon was people’s first choice to find book titles, but local bookstores began to offer drive up services where people could still purchase books in a safe manner.

Despite the amount of people not being able to go into local bookstores, book stores held on to the chance that one day they will be able to have readers roam around their stores. According to the Los Angeles Times many bookstores have reopened on June 16, 2021 welcoming customers as long as they wear a mask and practice social distancing. This has brought happiness to both readers and bookstores who can continue business during difficult times.

“… it’s [booktok] created a lot of opportunities for creators to have a technologically easy or at least accessible way to create content,” said Maris.

BookTok has not only had a significant impact on publishers and readers, but on bookstores given the amount of people who want to get their hands on the latest talked about books on the platform. Old titles are being revisited once more such as “Song of Achilles,” which has been on the shelf for months but got more attention after people started discussing the book on TikTok.

According to Insider, BookTok has given life to old titles having employees in bookstores such as Barnes and Noble constantly restocking shelves to meet demands. Everyone wants to know what is trending, therefore book stores are creating their own ways to let their customers know they have what they want.

Barnes and Noble as well as smaller neighborhood book stores have begun setting up “BookTok” tables which contain the latest books creators on TikTok have been sharing. Not only does this help promote authors’ books, but creates a welcoming atmosphere for readers who just began to read to grab books they have heard being recommended on social media.

“Those [TikTok] tables sell really, really well,” Kimmy said, “I’ve talked to some of the people who like work there … say those books sell like a hundred times more than they ever would like just back there. So I think that Tik Tok is helpful in the sense of getting those authors out there.”

“I think booktok’s interesting because it’s centered around practices. In some ways it’s very much a fandom space…they’re [reading community] a big community across the internet, they always have been.” said Maris.

According to TheBookSeller on July 2 , 2021 the hashtag #booktok had 5.8 billion views and in another article by TheBookSeller July 22, 2021 there were 13 billion views and counting. In August 2021 there were 16. 6 billion views and counting according to Country & Townhouse.

The impact booktok has on the community can be seen with the sudden influx of readers.

With the creation of Booktok within the reading community there has been a unity of the reading community because of the content they are sharing. Most of the content shared within booktok are recommendations, about 40.5% according to Margaret K. Merga author of “How can Booktok on TikTok inform readers’ advisory services for young people?”.


Booktoks’ influence on the community is seen through the impulse to buy the recommended books that influencers have recommended. According to TheBookSeller, “Tiktokers are more likely to make an impulse purchase of something they’ve seen in the app than users of YouTube or Facebook and 68% more than Instagram.”

“I now look at BookTok first before any other website. I found a lot of my favorite books on BookTok” said Sydney Engberg, a graduate of The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and an avid user of Tiktok.

Booktok gets people to read more, “All you need is that push. And I feel like when you see that video in your for you page and it seems interesting enough, you’re like, `Yeah, let me pick it up’” said Kimmy.

The use of video recommendation on Booktok proves to be influential and important to new and current readers. The ability to have a live critique or summary of a book allows you to gain interest in new topics to explore.

According to The Hoya, “…BookTok has the power to shift the stories readers are consuming by highlighting a diverse range of authors and characters that may not be as easy to discover through a simple Google search or bookstore perusal… more diverse book recommendations to create a more inclusive environment for the BookTok community.”

Diversity is a topic that is needed in reading communities to be able to create safe spaces where people feel represented and comfortable being in.

Sydney Engberg said ”a lot of people on BookTok advertise some books as representing minority communities, which definitely increases the interest in [minority community representation] these books”.

Representation is important to many young people, knowing there are books out there about their struggles and identity allows for the feelings of inclusivity to appear in communities.

“Whether it’s radio, TV, or Tiktok, representation is super important in the world. It’s how we learn. How different visions of who we might be and how we contest other visions of who we are and who other people are… all representation is super important…it matters a lot because they’re all images of the world.” said Maris.

According to Hollywood Insider, “the app has offered a safe and interactive space for young audiences to find a gateway to the beautiful world of reading.” The feeling of belonging is why many people turn to reading, there is an importance to being seen and understood through books, it allows the reader to keep consuming the content given.

Booktok has helped build communities around the LGBTQ+ community and the People of Color (POC) community, due to book representation.

The community building is seen through apps connected to Tiktok, such as the app Fable.

Like many other sites, TikTok displays content that people are most likely to see such as content from well known influencers or a popular trend. TikTok, like many other sites, tries to stay as relevant as possible when it comes to its content, but unfortunately it does so in ways that affect smaller creators.

On the other hand, from experience, users band together to make sure the proper creators get credited for their work. Many of the times this is seen when it comes to dancing videos on TikTok where major social media influencers will post a dance without crediting the original choreographer in the caption. But as mentioned before, TikTok has the power to create welcoming communities that will stand up for other creators when they have been wronged.