The 606: Chicago’s Elevated Park

Opening Weekend of the 606 – June 2015
Photo credit: the 606

by Emily Speelman

Running 2.7 miles through Chicago’s northwest side, the Bloomingdale Trail has become an iconic part of the Chicago landscape and a favorite of athletes and families alike. Also known as the 606, this once held an elevated railroad run by the Chicago & Pacific Railroad. It was used to move goods from the Chicago River to industrial ports on the city’s north side. In 1893, after a number of dangerous encounters with pedestrians and trains on the ground-level tracks, Chicago mandated all railways become elevated throughout the city. Trains frequently ran on Bloomingdale Lane, passing through the Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Bucktown, and Wicker Park neighborhoods, until freight carriage through this corridor ended in the mid-1990s.


The early days of the Bloomingdale Trail – 1965
Photo Credit: Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail

The elevated track lay abandoned through the 1990s as community partners discussed what to do. Since the trains had stopped running there, trees, flowers, and other plant life began blooming on and around the tracks, creating an unplanned, natural trail above the neighborhoods. The first official plans for the 606 came as the Logan Square Open Space Plan in 2004. Though the elevated area was built over 100 years ago, the railroad’s foundation reaches seven feet thick, creating a solid and ideal platform for new construction. After several meetings with city officials and community organizers, the first stage of the plan was approved and construction began in August 2013. The trail’s renovation was spearheaded and established by the Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail, who desired to make a mixed-use park space that would connect neighborhoods and provide a safe, elevated space for Chicago communities.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail break ground on the 606 construction
Photo credit: The 606

The 606 opened to the public on June 6, 2015. The name 606 is based off the first three digits of all Chicago area codes, showing that all residents are welcome to the trail. Currently, the 606 is home to 37 bridges, 1400 trees, and 200 different plant species. The 606 arts initiative, called the 606 Arts Program, features a rotating set of sculptures and murals placed along the trail. A number of community events are hosted throughout the year, such as the Arts Blitz and the Walk 606 With Light parade. Visit for more information and upcoming events.

The trail is open from 6:00am to 11:00pm daily to walkers, runners, and bikers alike. You can even bring your furry friends!


Swayze loves walks on the 606! Photo credit: Alli Rooney


The trail can be accessed at a number of points shown on the map below:


Art in the City: Wabash Arts Corridor

By Emily Speelman

On October 24, 2016, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, in conjunction with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), declared 2017 the “Year of Public Art” in Chicago. This will be ushered in through projects like the 50×50 Neighborhood Art Project, where Alderman from all 50 Wards may use up to $10,000 of their budgets to finance permanent art installations in their area (which the Mayor will match). As noted on the City of Chicago website, the project will invest one million dollars into neighborhoods for local artists to work there. Art related events will also be held at museums throughout the city such as the DuSable Museum of African American History, the South Side Community Art Center, the National Museum of Mexican Art, and the Chicago Cultural Center. All of these play a role in Emanuel’s “Chicago Cultural Plan”, which has increased attention toward Chicago’s public libraries, CTA stations, and public parks.

Chicago is known for its public art. Many sculptures and murals are central to the city’s image such as Monument with Standing Beast, Four Seasons, and the Flamingo (all pictured below). Many of these are located in the Loop: however, these are just a small selection of the neighborhood’s ever-growing art presence. Earlier this year, the Mayor and Columbia College Chicago teamed up to increase art in the South Loop area, showing what similar development during the ‘Year of Public Art’ could look like. 






The Wabash Art Corridor (WAC) in the South Loop presents Chicago as a ‘living urban canvas’ through their BIG WALLS project. In collaboration with Columbia College Chicago, WAC brought initiated twenty mural installations by both local and world-renowned street artists. The project was launched last May (incorporating pieces installed over the last few years) with events surrounding the project running throughout 2016, including guided ‘Corridor Crawls’ of the pieces. WAC serves as a part of the greater Chicago Cultural Plan in 2013, hoping to increase Chicago’s image as a cultural hub and bring together the talents of local artists in the city.

Below are a few of my favorites from the collection. Keep your eye out for these and many more pieces next time you are in the South Loop neighborhood!


Stop Telling Women to Smile

Artist: Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

Location: 801 S. Wabash

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s series “Stop Telling Women to Smile” addresses the ongoing street harassment of women, drawing from her own and other women’s experiences. Fazlalizadeh interviews individuals about their experiences with harassment before drawing their portrait. She turns this into a poster, including a small message or theme from the interview. Fazlalizadeh then pastes the posters throughout the city, hoping to create a conversation around harassment in that area that it occurs. The project began in Brooklyn in 2012 and has now expanded worldwide to Mexico City, Paris, and now Chicago. Here Fazlalizadeh features over a dozen hand-drawn images of women with one central message: Stop Telling Women to Smile. 

Learn more about the project and see more of Fazlalizadeh’s portaits here:


Chi Boy

Artist: Hebru Brantley

Location: 1132 S. Wabash Avenue

Flying outside the Roosevelt L Station, Chi Boy was one of the earliest murals of the Wabash Arts Corridor project. Hebru Brantley, a Chicago native from the South Side, says his style “derives from graffiti-worn buildings and sneaker-hung telephone poles honoring memories of local legends” Based off his ‘Flyboy’ character, who is personalized for each of Brantley’s murals, Chiboy rockets across the building, hoping to empower and bring hope to all who see him. Brantely’s work can be found throughout Chicago including at the Cermak-McCormick Place Green Line Station, outside the Lincoln Square Athletic Club, and on the Uptown Broadway Building.

See more of Brantley’s work and learn more about him here:


From Bloom to Doom

Artist: Collin van der Sluijs

Location: 1006 S. Michigan Avenue

Artist van der Sluijs use this south Michigan mural to showcase two endangered Illinois birds, surrounding them with local flowers. After researching native birds of Illinois, the artist chose to highlight the Yellow-headed Blackbird and the Red-Headed Woodpecker, which have all but disappeared from the Chicago landscape. He hoped to highlight that while these species are dying, there is still time to prevent them from extinction. Though he hails from the Netherlands, Collin van der Sluijs is no stranger to Chicago, having painted murals in the Pilsen neighborhood and hosted shows at Vertical Gallery.

Learn more about From Bloom to Doom here:


Don’t Fret

Artist: Don’t Fret

Location: 1152 S. Wabash

The artist, known as Don’t Fret, is a Chicago native and alum of Columbia College. He is one of three Columbia College alum that were brought back for the Wabash Art Corridor project. He notes the piece is reminiscent of his time at Columbia, describing it an interview with the Columbia Chronicle as reflective of his ‘“glass half-empty” personality’ and finding the humor in darker subjects. He has worked both in galleries on the street, displaying his work in cities like New York, Miami, São Paulo, and Berlin.

See more of Don’t Fret’s work here:


Make Your Own Luck

Artist: ASVP

Location: 1 East Balbo, South Loop Club

Make Your Own Luck is a part of the Vertical Gallery’s ‘The Power of Paint’ series, promoting how visual art can help others. As a part of this campaign, the duo ASVP donated part of their commission to charity. ASVP utilizes hand-drawn, comic style paintings in bright colors and have worked both nationally and internationally. They are based out of Brooklyn, New York.

Learn more about this piece here:

Learn about the artists here:   



Press Relase about WAC:

Learn more about the project here:

Project website:

What is the AAG and Where Does it Come From?

by Derek Kaden

What is the AAG? It stands for the Association of American Geographers, and it is the premier academic and professional geography organization in the United States. Since 1904, the organization has hosted an annual conference. This year, it’s being held for 5 days – April 21st to the 25th – in Chicago.

A Brief History of the AAG

Back in 1904, the AAG was founded by 48 people, 46 of which were men, and 2 women. All were “white”, which is not very surprising considering the time. In the beginning, much of the debate in the AAG and in the academic realm of geography revolved around this question: how does the environment influence us as humans? For example, how does the environment affect how people in Wisconsin behave, live, and work compared to people in the hills of Appalachia? One of those founding women, Ellen Churchill Semple, infamously argued that people living in harsh areas, like in Appalachia, were bound to be stupid because all of their time must have been spent on surviving and transporting goods up and down dangerous and steep hills. On the flip side, people living in flatter landscapes were expected to be smarter and more accomplished in life by societal standards of the time, because more time could be spent of creativity and not mere survival. This concept is called environmental determinism.

Semple, like many early geographers of the AAG, were influenced heavily by academic geographers from the recently unified German Empire. Semple was a student of Friedrich Ratzel (1844-1904), who is associated with a nationalistic idea called Lebensraum. This word is made up of the German noun “das Leben”, meaning “life”, and another noun “raum”, meaning “room” or “space”. It translates to “living space”, which a good handful of European countries – most infamously Germany – wanted more of.

Possibly one of the most accomplished geographers from the AAG also came from this early period, but a little bit later. His name was Richard Hartshorne (1899 – 1992). He was also influenced by the German School of Geography, particularly the lineage of Carl Ritter (1779 – 1859), who was the first Professor of Geography in Berlin in 1820, Ferdinand von Richthofen (1833 – 1905), not to be confused with the Red Baron who has the same last name, and Alfred Hettner (1859 – 1941), who was seen largely as a copy cat of von Richthofen. For Hartshorne, Geography was an “exceptional” subject because of the uniqueness of regions. To him, there was a beauty and complexity to how people across various regions of the world lived and behaved. One of my geography professors, Alec Brownlow, used a nice example that stuck to explain what “uniqueness of regions” actually means.

Take a look at this mosaic of a bee. If you zoomed in and compared some tiles side by side, they would look practically identical. There isn’t any uniqueness, because some tiles could be swapped we wouldn’t even know the difference. Bee

Now, compare the bee to this mosaic of Mario. No two tiles are exactly the same. If we swapped one tile for another, it would be obvious because each tile has its own unique design. For Hartshorne, this uniqueness of regions is what is so fascinating about Geography.


At the 1923 AAG Conference, Harlan Barrows, the organization’s president at that time, presented a paper calling Geography the “Mother of Sciences”. He essentially contended that fields like Astronomy, Physics, Anthropology, and Zoology, among others, branched off as little polyps from Geography. On one hand, he has a point. The word Geography comes from Greek, and it means to “write about the earth”. Writing about the earth applies to pretty much any subject, so it would make sense that over time other specialized fields like the ones I mentioned came into existence. His article is written sort of defensively, as if to tell all of the other disciplines in the world that “we were here first!” and “you all came from us”!

To me, the AAG president in 1947, John Kirtland Wright, offered the best explanation of what geography is in his presidential address titled Terrae Incognitaewhich comes from Latin meaning “unknown land”. In it, he talks about a term he came up with called geosophy, or the study of geographical knowledge from any or all points of view. This article laid the foundation for thinking of geography as an interdisciplinary discipline, instead of trying to narrowly categorize it as a “science”, a “study of regions”, a “study of landscapes”, or some other label.

However you look at it, geography is a diverse field – from cartographers, Java programmers, academics, and people who study why and where people feel afraid. An interdisciplinary discipline describes it best.


The Best Photos of Winter Storm Hercules

Last Thursday and Friday, a massive winter storm, dubbed by The Weather Channel as “Hercules,” brought impressive snowfall and frigid temperatures to much of the Northeast and Midwest. Although the storm wreaked havoc on commutes and holiday travel plans, it did provide for some fun and funny photo opportunities. Below, we’ve compiled the best photos of Winter Storm Hercules from around the internet. Enjoy!

It looked impressive from space and miraculously seemed to miss Texas completely.

It was impressive from space and miraculously seemed to miss Texas completely. (source)

In Kansas City, Parks and Recreation officials dyed this fountain red in support of the playoff-bound Chiefs, but it froze.

In Kansas City, Parks and Recreation dyed this fountain red in support of the playoff-bound Chiefs. It froze. (source)

Too funny.

Too funny.

The caption on this Instagram post read simply: #rental (source)

The caption on this Instagram post read simply: “#rental” (source)

In New York, a man broke out the cross country skis for his commute through midtown.

In New York City, this guy broke out the cross country skis for his commute through midtown. (source)

It even snowed inside subway stations.

Even the Borough Hall subway station got an inch or two of snow. (source)

The local and national media fawned over the city's new mayor, Bill de Blasio, who shoveled his own sidewalk in Brooklyn.

Local and national media fawned over the city’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, who did his own shoveling at his home in Brooklyn. (source)

Dante de Blasio's friends didn't hesitate to ask him to lobby his dad for a snow day.

Dante de Blasio’s friends didn’t hesitate to ask him to lobby his dad for a snow day. (source)

The snow didn't stop this guy from enjoying his hot tub.

The snow didn’t stop this guy from enjoying his hot tub. (source)

Newport & Hoboken after Hercules snow storm

Temperatures in Hoboken got as low as 8 degrees on Friday. (source)

Chicago got ___ inches of snow.

Chicago got 11 inches of snow. (source)

O'hare airport got ___ inches, and ___ cancelled flights.

O’Hare airport got 11 inches, and hundreds of cancelled flights. (source)

This person tried to save their parking spot with a box of Apple Jacks and Fruit Loops. (source)

This Chicago resident used boxes of Apple Jacks and Fruit Loops to claim their parking spot. (source)

Chicago Lakefront Winter 2014

The typically picturesque Chicago lakefront was even more so. (source)

GSC friend, Bela Shayevich, sent in this pretty shot of a Chicago billboard.

GSC friend, Bela Shayevich, sent in this pretty shot of a Chicago billboard at night.

In Minnesota, this family built a sweet snow shark. (source)

In Minnesota, this family built a sweet snow shark. (source)

In Michigan, this lighthouse almost completely froze over.

In Michigan, this lighthouse almost completely froze over. (source)

In Boise, zookeepers made a snowman in these lions' play area, the lions mauled it.

In Boise, zookeepers made a snowman and these lions tore it to shreds. (source)

This Canadian man had some trouble. (source)

This Canadian man had some trouble getting outside. (source)

Portland, Maine got ___ inches of snow.

Portland, Maine got 12 inches of snow. (source)

Boxford, Mass. got __ inches of snow.

Boxford, Massachusetts got 24 inches of snow! (source)

Breaking waves covered this coastal house in ice in Scituate, Mass

Breaking waves coated this coastal house in ice in Scituate, Massachusetts. (source)

Winter Storm Hercules on Nantucket Island

Nantucket Island flooded. (source)

Frozen waves in Rhode Island (source)

Frozen waves in Rhode Island. (source)