Summer2015

Medill Newsmakers: lead poisoning, Chicago’s silent threat (VIDEO)

By Lydia Randall

You can’t see it, you can’t hear it, but it is one of the most potent threats facing Chicago kids.  Those who live in city’s most distressed neighborhoods are developing lead poisoning at five times the city’s average.  This edition of Medill Newsmakers examines the link between lead poisoning and violence and what’s being done to lower the rate of poisoning. Continue reading

Medill Newsmakers: Using video games and comics to educate (VIDEO)

By John Rosin

In today’s age of technology, it can be easy to overlook the endless potential stored within video games. In this edition of Medill Newsmakers we explore how teachers are using video games and comic books to teach children math, history and science.

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Medill Newsmakers: Preventing gang activity through sports (VIDEO)

By Connor Morgan

Gangs are prevalent in Chicago, but sports provide a potential escape from recruitment. In this edition of  Medill Newsmakers , we  hear how former Chicago high school students coped with the pressures of joining a gang.

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Medill Newsmakers: Who are Chicagoans Dating? (VIDEO)

By Anne Arntson

This Medill Newsmakers edition focuses on dating. We explore how Chicagoans meet people, whether dating is harder today than ever before and how dating apps and websites might help or hinder finding a potential mate.

Photo at top: Host Anne Arntson interviews a panel of daters, including Anders Gamboni, Sam Fiske and L Hejl, about getting to a first date today. (Anne Arntson/Medill)

Music therapy eases family’s hospital stay (VIDEO)

By Anne Arntson

After four months at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Ireland Larson’s hospital room has become her own. It’s filled with stuffed animals, board games, handwritten notes, drawings of her favorite Disney princess, Ariel, family photographs and a heart-shaped electric guitar.

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Teenager killed, but legacy lives on through foundation (VIDEO)

By Angela G. Barnes

The city of Evanston lost an inspiring leader, basketball star and trailblazer whose life was taken in what the Evanston Police Department has called a case of mistaken identity. What could have been the highlight of a young man’s life has instead become the highlight of his death.

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Wrigley Field rats are still hanging around Wrigleyville (Video)

By Angela G. Barnes and Anne Arntson

Baseball fans are not the only ones hanging out in Wrigleyville. Since the start of the Wrigley Field renovation project last October, rats have been the bane of the resident’s existence.

Cubs officials say they continue to work with the city and Alderman Tunney’s office to combat the problem. But residents say more needs to be done.

Photo at top: The City implement rodent abatements to deal with Wrigley Field construction rat problem. (Angela G. Barnes/Medill)

Painting the City: Chicago’s unbalanced treatment of illegal art

By Ellen Kobe

Anyone who has lived in a relatively large city is familiar with graffiti — paint in public places. But what exactly is the difference between graffiti tagging — which is often cleaned up — versus street art — which is often encouraged by neighborhood organizations? Medill reporter Ellen Kobe asks anti-graffiti activists, a street artist and people in the Wicker Park and Bucktown neighborhoods about the issues that arise over these two forms of illegal artwork.


Steve Jensen revs up his black SUV on a spring Thursday afternoon. He’s trolling the streets armed with his weapons: two cans of black spray paint.

He is on the lookout for graffiti tags — spray painted symbols on public property. Jensen, president of the Bucktown Community Organization and aldermanic aid in the 1st Ward, has lived in the area for 35 years and cares about the presentation of his neighborhood.

“It’s a huge negative impact to the community,” Jensen says. “It depresses property values. It kind of aids in crime.”

Jensen drives on one of the most frequently-tagged streets — Milwaukee Avenue. 

“This is the area where it’s problematic,” he says. “All of Milwaukee going all the way out to pretty much Belmont is ground zero for all taggers.”

But Jensen also points out several murals in the neighborhood, which he defines as street art. But what exactly is the difference between graffiti and street art? Technically, they’re both forms of vandalism. But one certainly seems to be eradicated more than the other.

One local street artist, who calls himself Left Handed Wave, describes his purpose.

“I’m just looking for something in decay trying to bring, you know, a space back to life rather than, you know, as opposed to like graffiti where you know, if I was catching tags or writing graffiti, then you know I’d be going to screw something up a little bit,” Left Handed Wave said. “That’s kind of the joy of graffiti.”

Left Handed Wave primarily puts stickers and pastes large posters of his graphics on buildings around the city. He said doesn’t do much graffiti.

“I feel like that’s a lot of younger kids, but they’re basically creating a language that only like another graffiti writer or someone, their homie, would understand,” Left Handed Wave said. “It’s not for the greater community, you know. It doesn’t communicate to your neighborhood. Street art, posters, you know, things with a more artistic nature, like imagery, rather than you know like text, language, communicates on a much higher level and it resonates, so that’s why people are more prone to like street art than tags, you know.”

Back in the car, Jensen describes the average graffiti tagger.

The typical tagger is either Hispanic or Caucasian male,” Jensen said. “Fifteen to maybe mid-20s. They’re usually on a bike. People that I’ve caught, the people that have been caught on camera, always have a backpack, always have a hoodie with the hood on. Key times for tagger are midnight to 5 a.m.”

There’s one signature tag that Jensen runs into multiple times on his drive around the neighborhood.

“This tag in front of you, Forgive Yourself, that’s probably enemy No. 1 in the entire city of Chicago,” Jensen said. “Sometimes he writes Forgive, sometimes he writes Forgive Yourself, and sometimes it’s the number four and then give. He’s kind of like, you know, Bigfoot in the forest. Some people have seen him, some people have described him — he’s a white male with a ponytail, lives in Bucktown, but nobody’s ever caught him.”

Jensen has over 500 photos of Forgive’s work all over the city. It’s evidence that Jensen believes would give this man a felony and jail time if he were caught.

“So here’s a Forgive Yourself on the black pole,” Jensen says, getting ready to exit his car. “Since it’s on a black pole and it’s right there and it’s highly visible, I’m just going to do a quick, put paint on it. So we’ll get out, and we’ll cover this one.”

He leaves his keys in the ignition and slams the driver door. Jensen approaches the pole slowly, clutching the can of spray paint.

So usually I would just drive right next to it, hop out, zip zip and back in the car, you know, just as quick as they tag it, I can cover it, right?” Jensen says.

He presses on the top of the can, and black paint blows in the air, eradicating the white “Forgive Yourself” mark.

“By coming through every couple days and covering up their stuff, it kind of takes the impact, you know, it takes the wind out of their sails,” Jensen says. “Because their whole thing is they want their friends who ride by, either on the train or on bikes…When they see their tags are obliterated really quickly, that stops them from tagging.”

But Jensen certainly isn’t the only one cleaning up graffiti in Chicago. The city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation budgeted $3.4 million for graffiti blasters in 2015. Plus, there are also other graffiti activists.

Adam Natenshon runs a company called Graffiti Action Hero, which gathers chambers of commerce, special service areas and community organizations for what are called Graffiti Action Days. These volunteer events invite residents to clean up their neighborhoods with graffiti products provided by his organization.

Natenshon points out a mailbox on the corner of Montrose and Wolcott Avenues in Ravenswood. It has several graffiti tags, which he says would be easy to remove.

“It would just take a little bit of the right graffiti remover, a sponge and a little bit of training,” Natenshon says. “It would take not much time at all to get it nice and clean.”

Natenshon says that his his graffiti action days can clean up graffiti for a fraction of the cost that the city spends each year. He thinks putting all this time and money into cleaning up graffiti is worth it.

“If you’re the owner of a new business, and you go to different neighborhoods to explore different places to consider opening up your new coffee shop, and you walk down the street, what is your feeling? Does it feel safe? Does it feel inviting? Do you think patrons would want to come to your establishment in that neighborhood?” Natenshon says. “And if the answer is no, then there’s a problem. And I think that again graffiti can send a negative message and one that may not necessarily be accurate to the community.”

But Natenshon isn’t trying to swipe every single drop of paint that he sees on public property. He believes there’s a difference between a graffiti tag and street art, and he tries to educate others about this philosophy, too.

“Graffiti tagging is much more about me writing my name on the street,” Natenshon says. “It’s ‘Joe was here,’ and it might mean something to the graffiti tagger, it might mean something to the graffiti tagger’s friends. It doesn’t mean anything to the rest of us. Street art is very different. It looks different, it feels different. The way it interacts with you, the third party observer, is different. Street art is really focused on the observer, and Chicago has great street art. It can be very creative, it can be very artistic, and it’s very much about getting somebody who’s walking down the street to stop and say, ‘Oh wow that’s really interesting or different.’”

On a Thursday morning, Left Handed Wave checks up on one of his posters in Ukrainian Village. It’s a creature’s head with tusks. The lion-like animal covers the majority of a vacant building’s brick wall with its multicolored mane. It’s been there since this winter, and Left Handed Wave is surprised it hasn’t been taken down or covered over yet.

It’s lasted a really long time,” Left Handed Wave says. “Someone should have gone over it already. But that’s cool, that means that people like it and respect it, and that always makes me feel good.”

Photo at top: Street artist Left Handed Wave pasted this lion-like animal to a building on the east of Chicago Avenue on Damen Avenue in West Town. (Ellen Kobe/Medill)

Chasing nighttime thunderstorms with NOAA and NASA

By Lizz Giordano

The weather research teams waited anxiously for the nighttime storms to appear over the Great Plains. Scientists know very little about how the storms form but they do know how the rainfall from these storms sustains lives, property, agriculture and water resources. So the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA and more than 100 scientists gathered this summer in Kansas with truckloads of gear to study nocturnal thunderstorms that bring a majority of the summer rainfall to the Great Plains.

Daytime and nighttime storms require the same components to form. But at night, after the sun sets, the ground cools and the air becomes  more stable. This creates conditions that are less favorable for the formation of thunderstorm. Convection – the instability of warm air rising and cool air sinking – is key to thunderstorm formation. With the Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN), project scientists are learning what triggers these nighttime storms.

I had a front row seat to the action, spending countless nights in the field with different weather research teams. I captured their search made with weather balloons, hurricane planes and mobile radar trucks.

(Click on any photo to begin the slideshow.)

Photo at top: Researchers parked their mobile weather radars from the University of Oklahoma and NOAA in a hotel parking lot in Lincoln, Nebraska. They collected storm data late into the night for the Plains Elevated Convection At Night (PECAN) weather research project. (Lizz Giordano/Medill)

Lizz Giordano joined the research teams as a Medill embedded reporting scholar. The scholarships are supported by a grant from the Carnegie Corp. of New York.

A new future for Carl Street Studios (VIDEO)

By Anne Arntson

Carl Street Studios on West Burton Place in Old Town was built in the late 1800s and was purchased by artist Sol Kogen, who invited friend and artist Edgar Miller to help him turn the building into a space for modern artists. During the late 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, the artists worked to rehabilitate the building, adding intricate tile work and stained glass to the building’s interiors and facade.

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