One of the means of filling those gaps is, unsurprisingly, among the simplest and most energy efficient: bicycling. In Chicago, the proliferation of Divvy, a bicycle sharing sharing system operated by Motivate for the Chicago Department of Transportation, has added nearly 6,000 bicycles across almost 600 docking stations to the equation. New ‘dockless’ bike pilots, such as JUMP and Lime, are emerging to cover areas that Divvy doesn’t reach.
Members of Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network (CSLN) set out on October 13th, 2018, to explore how biking can connect communities during Rollin’ Around Town. The “cross-community bike tour” wove through Riverdale, Bronzeville, Back of the Yards, and Pilsen, along the way connecting with activists and dovetailing with Open House Chicago tours of historic buildings.
On the southern edge of Chicago, where the Riverdale community area borders the Riverdale suburb, places to buy food are few and far between. CSLN member Deloris Lucas, who organizes We Keep You Rollin’ Bike and Wellness Group, led a short ride to Peter Rock Church, whose pantry remains one of the last holdouts for Riverdale residents. Deloris, though retired, nonetheless has a knack for finding and committing to the important work that nourishes her community. A short list includes F.R.E.S.H. (Food Resources that are Easily Sustainable and Healthy) asset mapping, a campaign to get Jan & Aagje Ton Family Farm listed as a National Historic Register underground railroad safehouse, and regular Eco Tours of the Cal Sag Trail.
Just 20 minutes north by the Metra Electric Line, riders picked up Divvy bikes in Hyde Park for a short ride marked by a bounty of restaurants and cafes, a clear departure from Riverdale. However, that impulse to preserve historic space was similarly on display at The Forum in Bronzeville, the second destination on the tour. Built in 1897, The Forum “played a significant role in Chicago’s cultural scene by hosting performances of music luminaries—including Nat King Cole—and by providing space for civic groups and political meetings,” but has fallen into disrepair since its closure in the late 1970s. Luckily, Bernard Loyd and his team at Urban Juncture have stepped in, stabilizing by structure and laying plans for a full renovation.
The third and fourth destinations also shared a surprising historical connection. Working Bikes, in Pilsen, operates out of a warehouse that used to house Borax, which was shipped in large quantities down to the meatpacking plants in Back of the Yards. One of those plants has since been repurposed and rebranded as, simply, The Plant, now an urban farm and food business incubator.
Both projects are driven by creative re-use, both in the buildings themselves and in the products and services they provide. Businesses in The Plant collaboratively create a ‘circular economy’, meaning that the byproducts of brewing beer, for example, create the ideal conditions for growing mushrooms. In this way ‘waste’ becomes recycled back into a diverse system that also includes beekeeping, gardening, and brewing kombucha.
Working Bikes, on the other hand, gives new life to old bicycles, which it either refurbishes and sells in its not-for-profit storefront, or ships in large scale to destinations such as El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Nicaragua, Uganda, Lesotho, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Ghana. In addition to its global impact, Working Bikes also donates bikes to partners here in Chicago, another step toward closing the transportation gaps.
Rollin’ Around Town was the third event in the Nourish (comm)Unity series curated by CSLN. Each event in the series brings together partners with diverse perspectives, and invites participants to engage through hands-on activities. Past events have focused on coastal stewardship and intergenerational connections. The final event, coming in November, will explore how technology communities can use technology and data for their benefit.