One Image, One Question: September 24, 2017

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

As this post is about to be published, the temperature outside here in Chicago this Sunday in September, the first official weekend of autumn, is 88 degrees.

Yes, 88 degrees this late in the season.

Do you have a favorite spot to observe the changes around you?

Hey, that’s a bit less July-like than the record breaking mid-90 degree temperatures recorded here and around the Midwest the past few days.

But enough weather talk.

The image above was taken on our front porch, where Susan and I sit often during the warm months to read, drink coffee (and sometimes wine or beer) and watch activity in the neighborhood.

By this time of year, opportunities to enjoy the outside on the porch dwindle.  But, not today.

From this perch, we’ve observed many somewhat subtle but significant changes to Avondale. Most specifically — the people.

Avondale’s proximity to downtown Chicago and public transportation, great housing stock and relative affordability has attracted families and a younger demographic.

Okay, the neighborhood is becoming gentrified.

We observe this in three quantifiable ways:

  • Rising prices for housing, meaning less affordability for many, including long-standing residents.
  • A reduction in gang-related activity, which was prevalent when we moved to Avondale 17 years ago.
  • An increase in people walking dogs! (I’m not kidding; being on a corner, we are at the dog walking crossroads.)

So on today’s question:

Where and how do you observe changes within your community?

Time to get back outside to continue this research. Real autumn weather will be here. Someday.

 

 

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Memorial Day 2015: A Memorial Close to Home

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

This Memorial Day 2015 morning, I set out for a walk in our Avondale neighborhood seeking exercise and inspiration.

I got both.

My hour stroll along quiet, empty streets took me north along Milwaukee Avenue north past Diversey Avenue, where I could observe first hand the changes taking place in our little corner of Chicago.

The next time you're in Avondale, take a moment to visit St. Hyacinth. They don't make 'em like this anymore.

The next time you’re in Avondale, take a moment to visit St. Hyacinth. They don’t make ’em like this anymore.

Some old storefronts, once home to mom-and-pop shops, were getting a facelift and new businesses were opening up. Old frame structures on the side streets were replaced by modern homes, adding a new dimension to some blocks.  Improvements — or call it gentrification — was happening beyond the Logan Square apex.

Then I got to St. Hyacinth Basilica and found the inspiration for this post.

There, in a small garden, next to a statue to commemorate Pope John Paul II, was a memorial to men of the then predominantly Polish parish who died and served in World War I. The handsome stone marker was dedicated in 1924, four years after the war ended.

There were 499 men from the parish who enlisted and were sent to Europe — the place where they or certainly their ancestors were born — to fight in the “war to end all wars.” Twelve of the men — 11 with Polish surnames and one Italian (I think) — did not make it home.

The memorial to men from the parish who served -- and died -- in World War I commands a prominent place on the parish grounds.

The memorial to men from the parish who served — and died — in World War I commands a prominent place on the parish grounds.

(Unfortunately, of course, we’ve not found a way to end all wars.)

I sat in the garden for a while and read the names of the men who died on the battlefield and the inscriptions. Their sacrifice allowed their families to continue to live in America in peace and build lives here.

What I realized this Memorial Day is that there probably are thousands of small memorials, like the one at St. Hyacinth’s,  to those servicemen and women who died in places far from their homes.

What I hope is this: That along with the large, public ceremonies that will take place in America on Memorial Day 2015, that someone visits the smaller places, too.  Perhaps you’ll be inspired, just like I was earlier today.

* * *

Want more Memorial Day inspiration from The PRDude? Please read this 2013 post.

Is the “Greening” of Avondale a Good Thing?

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

The images that accompany this post are fairly explicit, yet there’s something beneath the surface. They show what once was a modest home under significant renovation, actually a gut rehab.

Whipple two

The homes that flank the one under rehab also were ungraded in the past few years.

In fact, as depicted, the contractors working on this home have literally raised the roof. The dumpster shown is one of perhaps five dumpsters workers have filled with debris removed from this century-old structure the past four months.

Whipple three

Hope they get the roof installed before it rains. We are in April.

Located just a few doors north of our modest home in Chicago’s suddenly hip Avondale neighborhood, this home once was owned by an elderly women; then it sat vacant for a few years.  For the past two or so years, and man and his family lived there.

Now, it’s undergoing renovation that will cost tens of thousands of dollars.  A neighbor estimated the home will be put on the market for around $650,000.  And, I think he’s right.

Whipple One

Ah, the sign of progress: A dumpster.

On the surface, this project is a good thing for the neighborhood, a good thing for Chicago and a good thing for me.  Rehab projects preserve the character of the neighborhood and contribute to the housing stock. The city gets another property back on the tax rolls — at assuredly a higher valuation than before the work was done.  And, the value of our home most certainly will rise.

But I wonder if examples of this type of “greening” or rebirth — okay, call it “gentrification” –is changing our corner of Chicago entirely for the better. Is Avondale now a “destination?” Or will it remain a neighborhood?

Yes, the neighborhood is safer, quieter and cleaner than it was when we moved here 15 years ago. New merchants are opening businesses nearby, escaping the higher rents in Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Wicker Park/Bucktown and West Town — where I lived for the first 19 years of my life. Yes, there’s a growing sense of community here.

Still, I don’t envision the future owners of this home-down-the-block staying in Avondale for the next 15 years.  Perhaps it’s how society is changing, but to me many people today use a place for what it’s worth, then move on.

Perhaps I’m wrong.

I do look forward to meeting the people who will move into this home-down-the-block. I hope they’ll cherish the home, perhaps as much as the elderly woman who lived there for many years.

 

Fixies, Tats and Fedoras: In Search of Hipsters, Part 2

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Last time, we reported on primary research conducted to better define the urban creature known as The Hipster.

In this post, The PRDude offers followers insight as to where to find Hipsters in his rapidly gentrifying Avondale neighborhood and surrounding communities like Logan Square, and what’s perhaps the epicenter of hipsterism — Wicker Park/Bucktown.

Not sure, but there’s probably an app — or someone is developing one right now — that will let users identify venues of hipsterism in major metro markets around the nation.  Or, just do it the old-fashioned way and search for Chicago “hipsters” on Foursquare.

Otherwise, if hipster hunting, here are three sure-fire places you’ll fine them:

Longman & Eagle, perhaps the most "hipster" of hipster eateries. Yes, those are fixies parked in front.

Longman & Eagle, perhaps the most “hipster” of hipster eateries. Yes, those are fixies parked in front.

Eateries. Yes, most people call them “restaurants.”  But some how, “eateries” has more hipster panache.  Look for eateries with single-syllable names, especially those that have nothing even remotely related to food.  Establishments with ampersands in the name are common hipster gathering spots, and a telltale trait is the line to get a table.  As far as type of cuisine, hipsters are not very choosy: As long as the food costs more than it should and bone marrow — in several forms — is on the menu.

Craft Cocktail Lounges. The companion to hipster restaurants,

This may look like any upscale tavern; but this is the interior of Billy Sunday, a certified hipster craft cocktail lounge.

This may look like any upscale tavern; but this is the interior of Billy Sunday, a certified hipster craft cocktail lounge.

craft cocktail lounges (don’t call them “bars” or “taverns”) serve cocktails that truly are out of the ordinary.  Ingredients along the back bar include Sac’Resine, Blackstrap Rhubarb Bitters, Milanese Fernet and other stuff only a handful of people on earth truly can comprehend.  You’ll know you’re in an authentic hipster craft bar — I mean lounge — if the bartender — I mean mixologist — is bearded, has sleeve tats on both arms and wears a vest; and if your cocktail averages $15.

Milwaukee Avenue. Known by some as “The Hipster Highway,” this diagonal arterial thoroughfare has evolved (or devolved) into a linear microcosm of hipster culture.  One will find the requisite eateries and craft cocktail lounges on or near this North Side street, and there’s always a perennial parade of hipsters on fixies out for adventure. I’ve observed several shops that sell fedoras.

No self-respecting hipster would be caught dead or alive in a K-Mart.

No self-respecting hipster would be caught dead or alive in a K-Mart.

And, from another perspective, here are three places where you probably won’t find Chicago-area hipsters.

  • Schaumburg. Would be hard to ride a fixie on a busy four-lane highway like Golf Road.
  • K-Mart.  It’s possible this national retailer sells hipster staples, including fedoras. But I think the Blue Light Special might be a turnoff.
  • McDonald’s. Yes, there often lines at the world’s largest restaurant, but they move quickly in most cases. Plus hipsters deplore dollar menu items.

This tongue-in-cheek commentary was meant to amuse, as I have no qualms with hipsters. Like other preconceived demographic groups — hippies, preppies, yuppies for instance — they probably don’t exist.

Besides, I’ve never heard of anyone defining themselves as a hipster. Have you?

 

Fixies, Tats and Fedoras: In Search of Hipsters, Part 1

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

As all strategic public relations professionals know, conducting research drives communications plans. Primary research, or the studies you conduct yourself — can and should — offer insight needed to craft a plan that helps realize realistic goals and produce measurable objectives.

For the past several months, The PRDude has been conducting primary Hipster man and womanresearch of sorts into a unique sub-species of human: The urban hipster.

The purpose, of course, is to craft a plan to build greater awareness for and acceptance of hipsters and hipsterism in and around my humble Chicago neighborhood of Avondale and its sister ‘hood, Logan Square.

After extensive study, actually just looking around at people, I’ve identified these three key hipster traits:

1. Fixies. Or, to be precise, a fixed-gear bicycle.  Every self-respecting hipster rides a fixed gear bike, or some derivation thereof.  Breaks, gears and comfort are for nerds. Accoutrements include a stylish messenger bag and helmet color-coordinated to the bike.  Alternatives to the fixie: An Uber or Lyft app on the iPhone 6, Divvy membership and unlimited ride Ventra card.

Hipsters2. Tats. Self-explanatory, but with some provisions.  Hipsters opt for more subtle placement of ink on their bodies, although I’ve witnessed some with a full sleeve.  And never will a hipster let the tattoo artist work on hands or neck; that can hurt, I’ve been told.  As for designs, most prefer stars or other celestial objects and Japanese or Sanskrit messages that translate to phrases like “love, truth and identity.”

3. Fedoras. Every self-respecting hipster dons a fedora at some point during the week, especially when off to dine at restaurants that charge $13 for a bowl of soup and feature entrees made with lots of bone marrow (whatever that is). Why a hat my father once wore has become the de rigueur hipster dress accessory today remains a mystery.  Perhaps a fedora helps hide a premature bald spot better than a baseball cap.

Now kind readers, let me know if my casual research is on target with identifying today’s hipster.  And, watch for Part 2, where I point out some places in the neighborhood where hipsters are known to congregate.

How do I know where to look?  Fixies, tats and fedoras will show me the way.

* * *

Want more on Avondale and Logan Square?  Here are some other posts to consider.

Breach of Ethics Spans Generations

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

A recent local news story struck a responsive chord with me, and I’m sure a lot of other people here in metropolitan Chicago and elsewhere.  The issue: A breach of ethics and poor judgment among some high school seniors involving a mandatory requirement to perform 24 hours of community service as a prerequisite for graduation.

As I’ll explain, this instance of “kids behaving badly” has another perspective.

Oak Lawn LogoHere’s what happened.  As reported extensively by Chicago media, around 40 graduating seniors from Oak Lawn Community High School allegedly paid a classmate to forge a signature on documents related to the completion of the community service requirement.  View this report from the local CBS television affiliate for more details.

Yes, these kids messed up. They made a mistake, and they’ll pay for it by not being allowed to don the cap and gown with their peers — those kids who actually spent the required hours at a nursing home, pet shelter or local business.  (Sidebar: The reportedly forged signatures were those of a golf course manager; come on!  What’s so hard about helping out at a golf course?)

Clearly, these students tried to get away with something.  But in the end, they violated a standard and brought shame on themselves, their families and their school.

But too often today, it’s mainly the younger generation — the so-called Millennials — that get bashed for lacking the same morals and character as those of us from previous generations. In the case of a handful of the 2014 graduating class of Oak Lawn High School, that’s true.

In an effort to support my contention with more than anecdotal evidence, I ran a variety of Google searches and found lots of reports about kids lacking ethics, especially while online, as found in this Mashable post citing a Harvard University study.

However, a decline or lack of ethics transcends Millennials.  Here’s an ethicsexample.

When Susan and I moved to our home in the Avondale neighborhood 14 years ago, we noticed neighbors two houses west had restricted parking signs in front of the home. The City of Chicago allows this privilege for residents with disabilities — in essence granting that person the right to park there.

The issue: We rarely, if ever, saw a car parked in that spot. Later, we learned that two elderly women lived in the home and secured the restricted designation so their son — who visited a few times a month — could park in the space.

Was this a breach of ethics, an absence of moral principles governing good citizenship and conduct?  Without question, and from two people who were part of the so-called “Greatest Generation.”

As I’ve stated many times in this blog, those of use who are serious about the practice of public relations prescribe to maintaining the highest ethical standards at all times.   Those of us who earned the Accredited in Public Relations credential pledge that we’ll provide ethical counsel.

Hopefully, the Oak Lawn High School students embroiled in this issue learned a lesson.  As for our elderly neighbors, they sold the home and moved years ago. Shortly thereafter, the parking signs were removed from the ground.

Here are two other posts from The PRDude that reference the Avondale neighborhood of Chicago:

1. An August of 2013 post about disturbing messages found outside.

2. A July of 2013 post about sitting on the front porch and enjoying all things natural.

 

One More Thing About the Pending Closing of Hot Doug’s

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

The news yesterday was stupefying for Chicago aficionados of “encased meats” and those who enjoy long waits to get something to eat: Hot Doug’s, the so-called “sausage superstore,” will serve its last dog this fall.

The legendary Doug Sohn, behind the counter of his soon-to-be-shuttered hot dog "superstore."

The legendary Doug Sohn, behind the counter of his soon-to-be-shuttered hot dog “superstore.”

A collective wail spread through the food-loving community, a demographic that never ceases to amaze me with their quest for edible products that are unabashedly hip, generally expensive and usually requiring a lengthy wait to purchase.    This aptly-named Chicago online source even reports on the “reaction” by Chicago’s food community to the closing on what basically is an upscale hot dog stand.

I pray those who will crave a Hot Doug’s rattlesnake dog topped with fois gras will find a suitable alternative when the establishment shuts for good. (In the full disclosure department: I dined at Hot Doug’s once and recall the dog and fries were pretty good, but not worth the 45-minute wait.)

But back to the purpose of this post: Hot Doug’s is located in Avondale, and fortunately, media reports on the story — from both traditional and digital outlets — identify the establishment as being in Avondale.

This is Avondale!

This is Avondale!

Where’s Avondale?

It’s where I’ve lived the past 14 years, a neighborhood often overshadowed by its sister neighborhood to the south, Logan Square.  Avondale is what  Brooklyn is to Manhattan, what St. Paul is to Minneapolis: Grittier, edgier and perhaps to some, less cultured and less expensive.  Many never heard of Avondale, or just lumped the neighborhood in with its wealthier neighbor.

But perceptions — like real estate values — change over time, and Avondale is now hip. Read this Chicago Sun-Times piece for details.

Not to knock Logan Square: Susan and I lived in a wonderful apartment in a greystone on Logan Boulevard for eight years and were very content.  But it wasn’t ours, and when time came to purchase, we found a wonderful home  in Avondale — just a block north of the formal boundary between the two  neighborhoods.

In fact, we’ve been in our Avondale home a little longer than owner Doug Sohn has held down counter duties as Hot Doug’s.  So, we were pioneers of living in a neighborhood on the cusp of cool even before Mr. Sohn.

So, thanks Mr. Sohn for helping to build awareness for Avondale as the next bastion of hipness.  But remember, we were here first.