The New York Times recently published a provocative piece on upward mobility in the United States, which indicated that it’s harder for the poor to succeed, according to a new exhaustive study.

Chicago Magazine followed suit with their own take from a Chicago angle.

And on Monday, Gawker did their own take, focusing on mass transit and its effects on the ability for the poor to succeed in cities geared toward cars.

On Monday, we put out a map that color-coded all the building structures in Chicago by year built, utilizing city data.

That map was fun, but we wanted to explore the idea of transit. (See map above) While this is not a formal data analysis, it is striking to see urban structures built from 1990-2012, as juxtaposed onto the mass transit lines (CTA). See map below — or REALLY BIG map here.


A couple things to note:

  1. The Green Line was closed from 1994-1996 as part of a massive rehabilitation project.
  2. The Orange Line opened up to the southwest in 1993.
  3. And currently, the south branch of the Red Line is closed to redo the tracks for the entire summer.

White: CTA “L” lines | Green: Buildings from ’90s | Pink: Buildings from 2000s


(View full screen map here.)

Curious to see what others think. Tweet me @ChicagoEl

—Elliott Ramos


View Fulton Market Streetscape in a larger map

By: Elliott Ramos

Google confirmed on Thursday that it’s moving into the West Loop.

Some have noted that it’ll be one block from the new Morgan St. Green Line “L” station.

Google may have an eye for Chicago real estate.

The area could be pegged for a round of development as the city is planning to also renovate their street, according to city data obtained by WBEZ.

A Freedom of Information Act request into the city’s streetscapes projects revealed where the city has done street and sidewalk renovations since the ’90s.  The data also revealed several projects in the planning stages, which include a proposed streetscape for Fulton Market between Morgan and Ogden.

Previous city streetscapes features have included enhanced or new street lighting, sidewalk expansions, bike lanes, flower beds and pedestrian benches to name a few.

—Elliott Ramos is a data reporter and Web producer for WBEZ. Email him at or follow at @ChicagoEl.

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By Elliott Ramos

In our recent story on Chicago’s sidewalk cafes, we sought to figure out how and why they were focused on the North Side.

We delved into economic development projects, but also wanted to key in mass transit, which appears to play a big part.

The map below shows the 2012 sidewalk cafe permits alongside the CTA transit routes.

We wanted to get a take as to how people interact with public space as it relates to transit, so we turned to an expert.

Steven Farber, is an assistant professor of geography at the University of Utah. He recently published a study that examined the land use and transportation of 42 major U.S. cities, and the implications those systems have on social outcomes.

Farber said his research indicated that people are spending more time on their commute were not fully engaging in their communities.

“If people are spending more time on their commute, we did find that the first thing that drops out of someone’s life as they engage in more commuting is social-activity participation,” he said.

“People are still going to go shopping. They’re still going to eat; they’re still going to do these mandatory daily activities that they need to do. If you’re going to drive more, there’s only so many hours in the day. The first thing that drops out are the discretionary activities.”

While his researched focused on automobile commuting, it may well have resonance in Chicago.

The concentrations of sidewalk cafés are clustered in neighborhoods with close proximity to CTA “L” stations, especially the Red and Brown Lines. There are nearly a dozen on the block of the Southport Brown Line station and dozens within a 3-6 block radius of the Brown Line Armitage stop and the Red Line Belmont and Addison stops.

While sidewalk cafes are a manifestation of businesses aided by the number of restaurants in an area, density, zoning and streetscapes projects, mass transit plays a big deal as well.

"I don’t see anything insidious in the fact that these establishments  have arisen at these locations," Farber said.

"I think that neighborhoods without those types of opportunities for social contact may not fare as well as neighborhoods that do have these cafes and sidewalks and better streetscapes, so from that perspective, spending money on neighborhoods that are already at a higher socioeconomic level might just further decrease the divide between good neighborhoods and bad neighborhoods or high income neighborhoods and lower income neighborhoods."

Where, exactly, are Chicago’s sidewalk cafes?

WBEZ compiled data about where City Hall issues sidewalk cafe permits that allow eateries to serve customers on sidewalks. Our analysis paints a disparate picture of Chicago’s sidewalk dining and drinking spots. It may not surprise many longtime city-goers that such permits are concentrated on the North Side. But what may surprise some is just how uneven the spread really is: There’s quite literally no comparison with communities on the South and West Sides, as those parts of town have no permits with which to compare.

—Elliott Ramos