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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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.

Curious Citizen: Caroline Eichler


"Who is the super-friendly train conductor on the Red Line?"

Caroline Eichler moved to Chicago in 2011, after graduating from Kenyon College. She quickly noticed Michael Powell’s distinctive style on the Red Line’s train announcements.

“He was one of the first people in city I’d recognize,” she says. “I didn’t even see him, I would just would know he was there from his voice.”

Powell was a topic of conversation among her roommates as well. They would text each other when they caught Powell’s train on their morning or evening commutes. “I think I’m the most excited about it, but we’re all in on it together,” Caroline says.

After three years, Caroline is more settled in the city; she’s involved in several musical endeavors, including working as the Music Librarian for the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. She’s also a violinist, and she sings with the vocal ensemble La Caccina.

From Curious Citizen to Energy Activist

It sounds crazy but a year ago this week WBEZ aired a Curious City episode that kind of changed someone’s life. Her name is Janice Thomson and in this particular episode we answered her question about Chicago’s energy sources: How much of our electricity comes from fracking? Thomson asked because she wanted to be an informed and responsible consumer. In the year since we answered her question, however, Thomson has become a community organizer, helping to engage Chicagoans in “greening” our city’s electricity.


At Curious City we like to work closely with you, our curious listeners and question askers. We also like to keep up with our questioners after a story is finished, which is why we’ve been checking in with Thomson as the city’s energy policy has evolved. We didn’t expect to hear that our story had actually launched Thomson’s new found interest in green energy activism. This week Thomson sent us an email telling us all about her new project at Chicago Conservation Corps (C3). She also wrote this amazing blog post about her Curious City experience. You should definitely read the whole thing but this particular passage is really…something:

Many times I’ve asked myself “Why am I doing this? Isn’t electricity a tedious subject best left to experts?” Knowing that the staff at WBEZ’s Curious City cared what I did, that they valued citizen input as much as that of experts, kept me going. The quest I began with WBEZ as a “curious citizen” one year ago has now culminated in the launch with C3 of Electric Community, a series of interactive community-based activities to engage Chicago residents in “greening” our electricity. Who knew a radio program could have so much power?

Stories like these demonstrate exactly why we do what we do at Curious City: your questions are important and your curiosity can lead to remarkable discoveries. Thomson made a good point in one of our email exchanges, though. “Perhaps you should add a warning label to the Curious City website,” she wrote.

So here goes: be careful before you submit a question to our site. Your curiosity might get the better of you and who knows where you’ll be or what you’ll be doing differently in a year?

Curious about green energy? You can listen to the original episode here and you can also check out Thomson’s first workshop on July 19th.

Curious Citizens: Paul Vaccarello

"I notice there are a lot of Amish people when I’m at Union Station, and I wanted to know if Chicago was a large transportation hub for the Amish."


Paul Vaccarello is from La Grange, Illinois. He told Curious City he visits Union Station about twice a month, adding that “pretty much every time, I see groups of Amish people.” While he was curious about whether the Amish travel by train, he also wondered if Chicago was ever the destination for Amish people on the road. “It was interesting to hear they sometimes stop in Chicago to sight-see, go to the Sears Tower and John Hancock building,” he said.

Paul said he’s not someone who would normally talk to strangers in the train station, and striking up a conversation with someone from a clearly different background can feel like crossing a barrier.

Internosity: Ellen Mayer

Hey! I am your new Curious Intern. I’m a recent transplant from Brooklyn although I spent the last four years studying at Tufts University in Boston. I’ve only been here for a week and a half but I’m getting to know this city pretty quickly just by helping to answer your questions about Chicago life. I am personally curious about Chicago music—especially rap—and also the race and class politics that intimately shape Chicago life.

I’m also deep in the process of apartment hunting and it’s bringing up a lot of questions. If I was a Curious City listener, I’d ask what individual Chicagoans can do as neighbors, consumers, and prospective tenants to combat the negative effects gentrification and to create neighborhoods that are both safe and affordable for a diverse population.

I love working in public radio; last summer I interned for Studio 360 at WNYC. But I also have experience in a totally different radio culture. I spent all four years of college DJing at WMFO, Tufts freeform radio and it turns out I’m going to keep it up here in Chicago. Starting today, I’ll have a regular show on the folk format at University of Chicago’s WHPK.  But don’t tune in expecting to hear anything that sounds like Woody Guthrie. Every Wednesday from 5 to 6 I’ll be playing music that isn’t necessarily “folky” and I’ll discuss why it could still be considered folk art. You can tune in at 88.5 FM or stream the show online.

When I’m not DJing I’ll be here at Curious City reading your questions so keep them coming!

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