Curious City is a news-gathering experiment housed at Chicago Public Media - WBEZ91.5fm. You ask your questions about Chicago/the region/the people who live here, vote for your favorites, and join us in tracking down the answers.

Here's where we'll be posting updates on stories in the works. Follow us to keep track of our progress and how you can help.

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Jane Byrne to be honored soon?

The tweet gives the news of the day when it comes to whether Jane Byrne will soon be officially honored by Chicago’s City Council. The full council could vote on the proposal Wednesday.

Jane Byrne sings for the news

Our story on former Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne and whether she deserves an honorary street or other memorial has elicited plenty of comments, including several that point out her quirks. Among them: She was one of the most vocal Chicago mayors and was caught on tape singing for the camera many times. Here’s just one example:

Plenty to check out here: a timeline of which other Chicago mayors have roads, buildings or schools named after them; a recap of Byrne’s career; and an interview where she explains how she was treated by a chauvinist press corps. 

Hot off the presses! Our partners at WYSO (WYSO Curious) have launched a column in the Dayton Daily Newspaper in addition to the awesome audio and web reporting they’re up to!

Conclusion: curiosity is platform agnostic, folks. 

Why are Latinos concentrated in the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods? When did it happen?

Our latest story was inspired by this question, which was sent along by Curious Citizen CM! Winters-Palacio. This history about a fascinating corner of Chicago will surprise you, as will residents’ take on their neighborhoods’ changing ethnic composition. (Story with illustrations and latest podcast: 

According to Winters-Palacio, Chicago’s African-Americans cannot help but look at the city’s most heavily Latino neighborhoods with some envy. She lives in Auburn Gresham, a South Side neighborhood. “If you drive through Little Village or Pilsen, they’re thriving with little local stores,” she says. “When you go on the South Side, it’s a totally different experience.”

Winters-Palacio chairs Malcolm X College’s library department and tells us her interests include community development and racial segregation. So what does she think of our answer to her question? Pilsen’s Latino identity is “relatively new,” Winters-Palacio says. “It helps dispel one of the myths.” Namely, that a strong community must have long historical roots. Winters-Palacio says Pilsen and Little Village provide hope for her part of town.

Thanks again, CM!, for a great question! 

Why are Latinos concentrated in the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods? When did it happen? - CM! Winters-Palacio

Our answer involves an illustrated history of some of the key moments in Pilsen’s neighborhood transition from mostly Eastern European to Latino. 

Art by Chicago illustrator E.N. Rodriguez!

No honorary Chicago street for Jane Byrne, but there IS this.

Loomis North of 18th, circa 1949 (Photo courtesy Joe+Jeanette Archie/Flickr) Pilsen, circa 1951 (Photo courtesy Joe+Jeanette Archie/Flickr) 19th & Loomis, circa 1952 (Photo courtesy Joe+Jeanette Archive/Flickr) A 1960 grammar-school classroom at Pilsen’s St. Adalbert Church has more students with Polish heritage than Mexican. But the neighborhood is changing quickly. (Photo courtesy of Deborah Kanter)

Snapshots from Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood ranging from the late 1940s to 1960s, which show a very different place than what Chicagoans are familiar with today. Now, the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods have the biggest concentration of Latinos in the Midwest. A curious citizen named CM! Winters-Palacio was wondering about the neighborhoods’ history, so she asked us:

Why are Latinos concentrated in the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods? When did it happen?

Answer coming soon!

“Why is there rare mention and no memorials, buildings or streets named after the only woman mayor of Chicago - Jane Byrne?”

Shana Jackson admits she’s embarrassed about the story behind her Curious City question, which concerns Chicago’s first (and only) woman mayor

Her parents are former teachers, and so her dad is always quizzing her on things. During a recent family night, Shana’s dad shot her his latest pop quiz question:

“So, what do you think about our only woman mayor in Chicago?”

Shana’s response?

“‘What woman mayor?” Shana recalls. “And he gave me the weirdest stare ever, because I’m super womanist, like ‘Yay, woman power!’ And for me to not know there was a woman mayor in Chicago? I was so embarrassed.” 

Shana tried making up for lost time by Googling more. She found plenty, but Jackson says she was surprised she couldn’t find any streets or buildings named after Byrne. WBEZ’s Lauren Chooljian and Tricia Bobeda are well on their way to answering why this is. Stay tuned!

Question Answered!

There are some things about Chicago life that people seem to find universally curious. Because of that we often get repeat questions. If we’ve already answered a question in an earlier episode we like to reach out and let our curious citizens know:

Dear Joe Kuechenmeister,

Thank you so much for submitting your question to our website. Here it is, as a reminder:

Who is the person that updates the highway death toll counter every day? Is it the most depressing job ever?

It’s a great question and you are definitely not alone in your curiosity. It’s a sobering and kind of morbid phenomenon that any Illinois driver encounters if they spend a lot of time on the highway. So it’s no surprise that we’ve gotten questions along these lines. Thanks to that overwhelming interest we answered this question in April, 2013.

Listen here and let us know what you think. Did we satisfy your curiosity? Please ask more questions whenever you think of them. We’re counting on it!


Ellen Mayer, Curious City Intern

Sometimes things get pretty dramatic in the Curious City studios, like when we’re working on our story about Chicago’s Cabbage War. How dramatic? Listen to this teaser clip and find out!

Right now we’re working on a story about Chicago’s bat population so of course we’ve been recording bat calls. This is what it looks like when you record the call of a big brown bat on a spectogram. It’s a good thing you can see it because you can’t hear it! The frequency is too high for the human ear.

Our newest episode is here! This week we answered two questions. The first, from Paul Vaccarello, is about all those Amish folks who pass through Union Station. Our second question was about a man, or at least a voice, that you might know very well. Caroline Eichler asked us about that super friendly announcer on the CTA’s red line. Listen above!

Curious Citizien: Kelly Pederson

"How does Chicago benefit from the "Sister City" program, and how did we choose the Sister Cities we do have?"

Kelly Pedersen of Albany Park has a long-standing interest in Chicago’s Sister Cities. Initially he was interested “purely from a cultural standpoint,” noticing that some of our Sister Cities were in countries with large immigrant populations in Chicago such as Warsaw, Poland; Galway, Ireland; and Milan, Italy. Eventually, Kelly decided “there has to be more to the process than just having a sizable cultural representation: I wonder what else is involved?” So, he teamed up with Curious City to find some answers.

Caroline Eichler asked us a really great question: “Who is the super-friendly train conductor on the Red Line?” We answered that question for her and judging from this audio clip, she’s pretty excited about it.

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