On some days UIC’s Robert Bruegmann has trouble telling his neighborhood in the city from the burbs:

“The same big-box retail establishments and rowhouses visible in far suburban Gurnee or Tinley Park, 40 or 50 miles from Chicago, were sprouting in my own neighborhood, originally a German working-class community but now in the process of rapid gentrification. . . . As an increasingly affluent population moved in, [population] densities plummeted and automobile usage soared. Increasingly, although my neighborhood looked like a traditional city neighborhood . . . it started to function in ways that made it similar to any suburb.” (Sprawl:  A Compact History, page 7)

Whether or not you agree with all his conclusions, Bruegmann’s the rare person who sees what he’s looking at, and not what he expected to see. For years most of my interview subjects assumed that I’d travel by car to meet them. But it never occurred to me just how marginal life without a car really is, even in the American city best suited for it (after New York of course).

A city ought to be a place where you can live without having to support an automobile.  Here’s a partial collection of links on the subject:

  • Carfree Chicago: half blog, half web site: “The deck often seems stacked against those of us who can’t or choose not to drive. There are few places in the nation where we can live without cars, and we’re lucky to be in a place like Chicago where there’s decent public transportation and plenty of walkable neighborhoods. But we need to stay informed” on both policy and how-to.  Still a tad sketchy, but aren’t we all?
  • CTA Tattler: a blog consisting mainly of anecdotes, plus some survival tips for Chicago Transit Authority riders and connoisseurs. Blog critic Malcolm Gladwell should drop by–this is all first-hand stuff, nothing “derivative.”
  • Cycling Sisters: web site of a women’s cycling group in Chicago whose mission is “to increase the number of women who ride bicycles for transportation.” E-mail list as well. These people are serious:  “I ride my bike year round, almost always with my 3 kids in tow. This is what I typically carry in my trailer during the summer months . . . “
  • I-GO Car Sharing: four-year-old nonprofit spun off from the Center for Neighborhood Technology. OK, sometimes you really need a car.
  • The Slow and the Curious: first-person blog of a mother in downstate Normal who’s spending July with a two-year-old and no car.  Worth a look, because she’s not strongly pushing an agenda, and because she’s doing it in a far more hostile environment than Chicago.
  • Moving Beyond Congestion: Long-run policy stuff, RTA’s plan to beef up funding and service.  I’m congenitally skeptical of big plans, Burnham notwithstanding. But without good transit Chicago’s in a world of hurt. 

Please feel free to add suggestions.  More later, and maybe some stories.  As a friend says, for middle-class folks “the experience of being marginalized, while never pleasant, is illuminating.”