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Future Cities illustration
Photograph: Time Out

Future Chicago, now! The 20 people, places and things shaping a better city today

These are the advancements and innovations making the city's future look extra bright.

By Zach Long, Morgan Olsen and Emma Krupp
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Chicago is a city that's constantly in flux, continuously changing in ways both big and small that will shape the lives of residents for years to come. We can't predict exactly what tomorrow will bring, but we can examine the innovative people, places and things working toward a better future for Chicago.

Over the past few months, we've seen change accelerate in ways that we couldn't imagine. Chicago's best restaurants have been forced to rethink how they do business, Chicago music venues have taken concerts online and drive-in movie theaters have become some of the most popular destinations in town.

Some of these innovations may not be permanent, but the disruption to city life as we've come to know it offers a chance to rewrite the rules and create lasting change. As we take stock and look forward, we've gathered some of the most exciting people, places and things that are creating a better Chicago today, tomorrow and beyond.

The 20 people, places and things shaping a better city today

black people eats, arion davis, jeremy joyce
black people eats, arion davis, jeremy joyce
Photograph: Arion Davis

The foodie who’s championing Black-owned restaurants

News Eating

Forging a path of inclusivity and equality, Black People Eats founder Jeremy Joyce shines a spotlight on Black-owned restaurants throughout Chicago. In addition to maintaining a jam-packed local business directory (and a corresponding map), Joyce is also a community organizer with his boots on the ground. This year alone, he’s raised more than $75,000 to support Black-owned businesses, organized a Juneteenth celebration with 70-plus restaurants, and hosted a virtual food festival called Blaktober. Behind the scenes, Joyce’s driving force is simple yet necessary: to connect people to Black-owned restaurants in order to create a brighter future for all.

The Honeycomb Network
The Honeycomb Network
Illustration: Tom Hislop

The coworking space that elevates BIPOC creatives

News City Life

The Honeycomb Network isn’t just another creatively-inclined coworking space. Located on Paseo Boricua—the longtime hub of Humboldt Park’s Puerto Rican community on Division Street—this plant-filled space was designed specifically to center and elevate the voices of BIPOC creatives, offering everything from writing and wellness-based workshops to mental health care options from an in-house therapist. For that mission to work, representation is key; while folks from all backgrounds are welcome to sign up for its tiered membership programs, Honeycomb’s owners emphasize that workshops and classes are led exclusively by people of color. They hope that by connecting Black and brown artists and entrepreneurs in one supportive space, The Honeycomb Network will be able to foment the kind of creative exchange that's frequently barred by Chicago’s historic patterns of segregation.

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Tasha onstage at Hideout
Tasha onstage at Hideout
Photograph: Sarah Larson

The independent venue streaming from its stage

News Music

It’s hard to imagine Chicago without the Hideout—luckily, even with its doors currently closed to the public, the small venue has still managed to take some of its programming and concerts online. Shortly after the venue shut down in March, Hideout programming director Sully Davis began putting together a robust lineup of streaming events, including live performances, comedy shows and a weekly happy hour with longtime Hideout bartender Lawrence Peters. In September, the Hideout partnered with streaming platform NoonChorus, launching a couple of new streaming series and introducing ticketing and a subscription option that allows access to all its virtual programming for $25 a month. "This is the model that we think will work when we think about streaming in the long term, when we think about helping the artists that we work with and helping our community connect," Davis told us.

Cat-Su sandwich
Cat-Su sandwich
Photograph: Charlie Metcalf

The new-wave kitchens that deal in delivery

No, ghost kitchens aren’t haunted canteens—they’re stripped-down “restaurants” that don’t offer dine-in service. And they’re helping up-and-coming chefs get started with fewer overhead costs than a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant. Take Cat-Su Sando for example: From an industrial kitchen inside an old warehouse in Humboldt Park, owners Will Schlaeger and Shawn Clendening are stacking up remixed katsu sandwiches for delivery and takeout. Further north, chef Shin Thompson (Furious Spoon) is dishing out decadent curries from his new concept Bokuchan’s, which operates out of Avondale Foods, a shared culinary space from Cloud Kitchens. With dine-in service at an all-time low, ghost kitchens allow chefs to stay in business and hungry Chicagoans to get their fix fast.

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Southside Blooms
Southside Blooms
Photograph: Mike Killion

The florist that’s brightening vacant lots

News City Life

On the surface, Southside Blooms is a local florist, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find something much more impassioned. Founder Quilen Blackwell and his team are on a mission to employ youth, alleviate poverty and flip vacant lots into sustainable community assets—all through flowers. Blackwell teaches area teens how to farm and create stunning floral arrangements, and in turn, they get a paycheck and hands-on experience working for a booming local business. The city wins, too, thanks to the lush gardens that take over once-vacant lots and the addition of a feel-good florist.

Jingmai O’Connor
Jingmai O’Connor
Photograph: Jesse Goldberg

The paleontologist poring over the Field Museum’s collection

There’s a new associate curator of fossil reptiles at the Field Museum, and she’s ready to dig in and make some new discoveries. Jingmai O’Connor has spent the past decade working as a paleontology professor in Beijing, where she named a fossilized bird after Bad Religion frontman Greg Graffin. At the Field Museum, O’Connor will continue her research on the dinosaur-to-bird transition and the evolution of flight in dinosaurs, apply new techniques to old specimens in the institution's extensive collection, including some plaster-encased specimens that were collected but never studied. As a curator, she’ll also have a hand in developing exhibitions and working with the Field Museum's collection manager to oversee the collection of fossil reptiles, encompassing everything from ancient dinos to current-day crocodiles. Plus, O’Connor says that she hopes to start her own field program in the United States and find some dinosaurs of her own—perhaps SUE will have a few new fossilized friends someday soon?

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Studio Three Arena
Studio Three Arena
Photograph: Courtesy Studio Three

The fitness studio that’s embracing the outdoors

News Sports & Fitness

The way we work out has changed dramatically this year, with yoga instructors turning to Instagram Live and Peloton sales going through the roof. But what does the future hold for group fitness experiences? Chicago-based gym Studio Three blazes the trail ahead while keeping its members safe, hosting a 50-person outdoor fitness studio that offers socially distanced workouts in a vacant parking lot. Inside, yoga and cycling studios are outfitted with plexiglass barriers that make every station feel insulated and protected. Though we hope that one day we’ll be able to sweat it out like we used to, Studio Three goes the extra mile to show what the future of fitness could look like.

Grocery Run Club
Grocery Run Club
Photograph: Courtesy Grocery Run Club

The group delivering everyday necessities to underserved neighborhoods

News City Life

What’s the best way to support on-the-ground community organizations during times of need, and how do you make sure that support is sustainable in the long term? That’s what lifelong Chicagoans Lucía Angel and Jorge Saldarriaga found themselves asking earlier this year, especially as the pandemic heightened concerns about food insecurity and other scarcity issues in Chicago. In response, the couple decided to create Grocery Run Club, an initiative that uses a subscription-based model to provide produce and other necessities to community orgs in underserved neighborhoods across Chicago. For as little as $10 a month, subscribers contribute to a pool of funds that gets distributed to a handful of partner organizations (like Bronzeville-Kenwood Mutual Aid, the Love Fridge and more), who use the money to purchase food and other household goods. At the end of each week, Angel and Saldarriaga post screenshots of receipts on their website and Instagram page detailing exactly where donors’ money went—an easy (and transparent) way of showing folks the collective power of their contributions.

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Tock
Tock
Photograph: Courtesy Tock

The tech company extending a lifeline to restaurants

In Before Times, most folks knew Tock as the Chicago-based booking system for high-end culinary experiences at spots like Alinea and The Aviary. But almost as soon as restaurants began closing their doors to dine-in guests in March, it morphed into an unexpected lifeline for many eateries, offering an affordable platform for takeout and delivery. Unlike some of the big-name national players, who take upwards of 30 percent commission, Tock institutes a flat 3 percent fee. Fine-dining restaurants like Elizabeth, Roister and Boka still use the service, but Chicagoans can also shop takeout, delivery and reservations from more low-key neighborhood favorites like Ina Mae Tavern, Wyler Road and MCCB Chicago.

Bike library YMEN
Bike library YMEN
Photograph: Courtesy Young Mens Educational Network

The organization that built a free bike library

Head to the corner of 13th Street and Pulaski Road in North Lawndale and you’ll find something a little unusual: a shipping container that’s been transformed into a bicycle lending library, stocked with repair tools and more than 30 donated bikes. Spearheaded by the Young Men’s Educational Network (YMEN), which works to promote leadership skills in young people, the library aims to function as a place where community members can both borrow a bike for free and get their own rides fixed up—tire patching, handlebar adjustments, the works. Everyone benefits from the increased mobility of bike access, but the project has even deeper community-building aims. Marcus Thorne, the executive director of operations for YMEN, says they’re still working out logistical details as the weather gets colder, but the organization plans to hire young people from the neighborhood and pay them a stipend to train in bike repair.

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Isaiah Collier and the Chosen Few
Isaiah Collier and the Chosen Few
Photograph: Victoria Sanders

The grant program keeping musicians working

News Music

Independent music venues are fighting for survival right now, but so are many of the artists that typically perform on their stages. Recognizing that concert halls can’t exist without a thriving community of musicians, the Sustain Chicago Music grant program was founded by a group of local venues and cultural organizations as a way to keep artists working. The program is currently trying to raise $5,000, with anyone who donates at least $40 earning the right to nominate a musician to receive a grant. A selection committee will eventually award five $1,000 grants to Chicago artists, which can be used to fund the creation of a new, original work, with creators retaining all of the rights to their music. The process will begin again after the first round of funding has been distributed, helping performers practice their craft until venues can reopen their doors.

lula cafe, takeout, delivery, lula
lula cafe, takeout, delivery, lula
Photograph: Courtesy Lula Cafe

The restaurant that’s keeping its doors closed

When restaurants first started reopening after the state-mandated shutdown in March, it was a slow trickle. But by the time June rolled around, the vast majority had cautiously cracked open their doors and rolled out some form of outdoor seating if they were able. But Lula Cafe—arguably one of Chicago's most beloved spots—never reopened its dining room or sidewalk patio. Instead, the staff has relied entirely on takeout and delivery by packaging up its top hits for guests to enjoy from the safety of home. You can recreate Lula's famous cinnamon-scented bucatini, pick up a three-course Farm Dinner or order a breakfast burrito to go from the pickup window this weekend. Though there's no official playbook to operating a restaurant during a pandemic, Lula proves that playing it safe is one way to forge a path ahead in uncertain times.

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Dominick Bridge at Lincoln Yards
Dominick Bridge at Lincoln Yards
Rendering: Courtesy Sterling Bay

The bridge that’s connecting communities

News City Life

In the not so distant future, the Bloomingdale Trail will stretch across the Chicago River, from Bucktown to Lincoln Park, thanks to a multi-million dollar project that’s part of the oft-controversial Lincoln Yards mega-development. In addition to more pavement for walking, running and biking, car owners should be happy to hear that the extension offers one more way to get across the Chicago River on the North Side. Dominick Street will stretch almost a mile from Webster Avenue to North Avenue. It’s also good news for Riverwalk fans—the waterfront pathway will soon snake under the forthcoming Dominick Bridge and lead straight to the Lincoln Yards development. The project, which will change the way many get around, breaks ground next year and is expected to wrap up in 2023.

The Neo Futurists
The Neo Futurists
Photograph: Joe Mazza

The experimental theater ensemble offering digital subscriptions

The Neo-Futurists closed their Andersonville theater on March 13 as the severity of the pandemic became apparent, but by the following Sunday the ensemble had shared a digital version of its show The Infinite Wrench. Presenting 30 wildly different plays over the course of 60 minutes, the company’s signature show has continued to be distributed online each week as part of an ongoing Patreon campaign, which gives subscribers access to new shows in exchange for a weekly donation. More than 700 people currently contribute at least $3 weekly, allowing the Neo-Futurists to create new editions of The Infinite Wrench Goes Viral that mix plays from the company’s repertoire with new works that respond to current events. And while the Neo-Futurists were among the first ensembles to move their programming online, they won’t be the last—Steppenwolf Theatre and Hubbard Street Dance are also offering access to online performances, helping to keep the arts alive even when stages are closed.

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Neighborhood Nuptials
Neighborhood Nuptials
Photograph: Anna Zajac

The company that’s helping couples say ‘I do’ in strange times

News City Life

For scores of brides- and grooms-to-be, 2020 all but quashed wedding plans, leaving couples to choose between the courthouse and endless save-the-date postponements. Enter Neighborhood Nuptials, a new pop-up service by the Chicago wedding planning company Naturally Yours Events that’s somewhere in the social distance-friendly middle ground of an elopement and a grand, fairy tale affair. The concept, which launched in September 2020, is simple: For $2,500, couples can book an hour-long slot at a dreamy Chicago wedding venue—like the light-filled expanses of Ignite Glass Studios in West Town—that comes with a photographer, personalized music from a DJ and space for up to 10 guests. You can even extend a virtual invitation to 500 additional friends and family, thanks to a live-streaming service. Don’t be surprised if you see these convenient, small-scale weddings stick around long after the pandemic era.

Retreat at Currency Exchange Cafe
Retreat at Currency Exchange Cafe
Photograph: Courtesy Rebuild Foundation

The café providing a collaborative environment for artists

Owned by artist Theaster Gates’s Rebuild Foundation, the Currency Exchange Cafe in Washington park has gone through a series of permutations through the past few years. The latest concept to open in the space is called Retreat, a year-long pop-up that features coffee, tea and carryout food from a rotating lineup of chefs and vendors. The space also hosts a temporary record shop as well as co-working and meeting spaces that will be made available to artists and creatives in need of a place to collaborate or host small, socially-distanced performances (with capacity limits and mask requirements, of course). “Given the lack of venues and lack of investment in Black cultural venues in our city, we want to demonstrate how our communities are enriched with the presence of artists,” Gates said in a statement.

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Stephanie Skora
Stephanie Skora
Photograph: Courtesy Stephanie Skora

The #unapologeticfemme crafting a shareable progressive voting guide

If you’ve scrolled through your social feeds anytime over the past few local election cycles, chances are you’ve stumbled across the sprawling Google doc that is Girl, I Guess. The wry, meticulously researched progressive voting guide—which spans the ballot from all the way from the presidential race down to the less-glamorous reaches of judicial retention and technicality-heavy ballot measures—is penned by Stephanie Skora, an activist, organizer and self-proclaimed “unapologetic femme” who started the document in 2018 with friend Ellen Mayer as an informal resource directed toward folks who are skeptical of the voting process. Since then, the guide’s audience has ballooned to hundreds of thousands of people, becoming something of a pre-election must-read for left-leaning Chicagoans. Skora, who now writes the guide singlehandedly, sees it as an ongoing way to make progressive politics more accessible to more folks: “Instead of just telling people, ‘You gotta vote, you gotta vote,’ I want to make the case to people that voting is one tool in the toolbox,” she says. “If you’re skeptical about the impact your voice has, here are some offices where your vote definitely makes a difference.”

Brave Space Alliance
Brave Space Alliance
Photograph: Courtesy Brave Space Alliance

The LGBTQ+ center providing aid to thousands of Chicagoans

Founded in 2017 as the first and only Black- and trans-led LGBTQ+ center on the South Side, Brave Space Alliance (BSA) is redefining what it means to provide thoughtful, community-based mutual aid. When this year’s pandemic shutdown left thousands of Chicagoans jobless and food insecure—particularly those from already marginalized backgrounds, like queer and trans folks—BSA swooped into action, creating a crisis pantry to supply goods to thousands of people in need. Later, the organization expanded the pantry to provide goods to people protesting police violence and moved into new headquarters in Hyde Park. These achievements have garnered BSA significant attention this year (they got a Twitter shout-out by Barack Obama), but the work is far from over: The Be Brave! Building Campaign aims to raise $800,000 to help the org expand its reach over the next year, continuing to bolster Black and brown LGBTQ communities on the South and West Sides of the city.

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Douglas Park
Douglas Park
Photograph: Jaclyn Elizabeth Rivas

The park putting an extra ‘S’ on its name

News City Life

Since 2017, students at Village Leadership Academy have been leading a grassroots campaign to change the name of Douglas Park, which was named for Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas, who championed a states’ rights approach to slavery in pre-Civil War America (effectively endorsing the practice). This summer, the Chicago Park District finally acknowledged the students’ efforts, removing Douglas’s name from the North Lawndale park and beginning the process to rename it for abolitionists Anna and Frederick Douglass. If approved after a 45-day period for public comment, Douglass Park will formally gain its second “S,” though at least one sign in the park has already been unofficially revised. More importantly, the change could spur future modifications to Chicago parks, streets and monuments dedicated to figures whose controversial histories are undergoing a moment of reckoning.

CHAAD
CHAAD
Photograph: Ali Noell

The hospitality workers building a more equitable industry

In the wake of mass protests against police violence earlier this year, dozens of local restaurants released statements pledging support to the Black Lives Matter movement. It didn’t take long, however, for the staff of some of these establishments to call bullshit, alleging that their words of support rang hollow in the face of continual workplace harassment and discrimination. In response, a group of Chicago’s hospitality industry workers, helmed by Raeghn Draper and Leah Ball, banded together to create The CHAAD Project, an ongoing initiative to hold Chicago’s dining and drinking establishments accountable and provide much-needed support to their workers. The project centers around a public database of around 100 restaurants and bars that logs complaints, public statements of solidarity and—crucially—any concrete actions taken by the establishment toward reparation (the CHAAD volunteers make a point of checking in to see how that’s going). In tandem with other initiatives, like group therapy offers and unionization tips, CHAAD is moving toward a more ethical future where hospitality workers feel safe and supported at the workplace.

Gaze into the crystal ball

Main image for Future Cities, Now!
Illustration: Time Out/Tom Hislop

Future Cities, Now!

Things to do

Let’s fast-forward. What will Chicago look like next year? In a decade’s time? In 2050? To predict what the future’s going to look like, we’re taking a look at the present. Here, we track the most innovative changes happening in the city right now—the people, places and things working towards a better future for Chicago.

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