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Chalk the Walk Gets Kids Drawing – and Adults Jawing – about Near North Issues

By: John McCarron
Published: August 23, 2014

The best part about Chalk the Walk is that: “You can get messy.”

Emily Schultz decorates a Near North Side sidewalk at "Chalk the Walk," a community event organized by the Near North Unit Project.

John McCarron

So declared 6-year-old Emily Schultz, who obviously knew what she was talking about, sitting on the sidewalk of 1400 North Sedgwick Street, laboring over a yellow and orange sunburst.

Then again, her father had a different take.

“It’s about communication,” said Eric Schultz. Back in 2008 he and his wife, Jen, bought a condo at nearby Orchard Park. It’s one of several mixed-income developments that have replaced the thicket of 16-story high-rises that was the Cabrini Green public housing complex.

Among the lessons the Schultz family quickly learned, besides how to raise two little girls in the big city, was how to listen closely to folks. Especially poor folks who’ve been living hereabouts for 30 years and want that fact respected.

“The easy thing to do is just complain,” Eric said of annoyances that inevitably occur when you buy a $200,000 condo in the same building as someone living near poverty level on a rent subsidy. “But once you start communicating, once you start talking, it almost always turns out that you want the same things, especially for your kids.”

That’s why Jen Schultz got involved with her condo association and, more recently, with the Near North Unity Program, a community group supported by LISC Chicago. And that’s why the Schultz family was out there on Saturday, Aug. 16, on the sidewalk in front of the Marshall Field Garden Apartments, an older campus of subsidized rentals just around the corner from the newer mixed-income developments. They were helping pass out thick sticks of multi-colored chalk to neighborhood kids. Not all wanted to get involved, but several plopped down next to the Schultz kids and created while the parents hovered and, well, communicated.

Eventually, the entire Schultz family had a hand in decorating the sidewalk.

John McCarron

Like almost everything LISC promotes, Chalk the Walk was made possible by several partners. The Metropolitan Planning Council included the event in its 2014 Placemaking Challenge titled Old Place New Tricks. Groupon, which has its headquarters in the neighborhood, ran one of its Grassroots crowd-funding campaigns on the event’s behalf. 

And, of course, several NNUP member organizations were heavily involved, notably Art on Sedgwick and Brothers Standing Together.

“We wanted people to get out and meet one another, and with Chalk we accomplished that,” said Jennifer Hockema, program manager of NNUP. She estimates about 75 kids participated, but as many as 300 adults stopped to chat and watch the chalking.  

All afternoon Hockema checked on volunteers stationed at “chalking stations” along Sedgwick, Division and Larrabee streets, taking every opportunity to invite folks to NNUP’s monthly meetings.

The purpose of the event - in addition to having fun - was to get neighbors talking to each other.

John McCarron

At two upcoming sessions, residents can give input to a Quality of Life plan for the neighborhood being drafted by an NNUP steering committee. On Wednesday Sept. 17, the committee meets at the Seward Park Fieldhouse, Division and Orleans; and on Monday, Nov. 17, the public is invited to review and comment on the draft at The Cornerstone, 1111 N. Wells St.

Both sessions run from 6 to 7:30 p.m. and pizza is almost always served before residents get down to business. And yes, “you can get messy.”

More information at and Jenn Hockema at                

Posted in Neighborhoods

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