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A Miniature Chicago for a Tabloid Tribune

(Photo: A tabloid-sized Chicago Tribune? Mercy…what next?)

So the newsstand Chicago Tribune is smaller now. While the dwindling rolls of home subscribers will keep receiving the larger, broadsheet-format paper, the rest of us who prefer to buy Chicago’s leading masthead one copy at a time (is that crickets I hear?) will be purchasing a smaller, tabloid-sized version.

Given how deep job cuts have been across the American newspaper industry in the past year, I suppose the Trib’s only other option to save money and stave off collapse would have been to cease publication on one or more days per week. (Even a brief browse of Newspaper Death Watch shows how common that strategy has become lately).

Yesterday, local Chicago blogger Polomex (Matt Bartosik) opined that all-electronic news delivery is probably inevitable at this point.  As I scribed to mark the debut of the online Huffington Post Chicago last August, I wholeheartedly agree. But the day of the totally virtual city rag hasn’t arrived yet, so for now we’ll have to make do with our newly teeny, trial-sized Trib.

Personally, I find the paper’s strategy inspiring. I can think of any number of things that would benefit from a likewise miniaturization. Winter, for one.  Not the whole thing, we can keep Thanksgiving through Christmas and I’ll even throw in football on New Year’s Day for the straight guys out there. But I think we can all agree that minus-17 January and February lows could do with a little shortening.

So could Indiana, or at least the drive through it to actually get anywhere worth getting. If we were to, say, squeeze the place to a more manageable hour’s drive across–whittle the Hoosier State down to the parts that matter: Indianapolis, that cow park on I-65, and a few corn producers–think how much closer Michigan and Ohio would be!

Speaking of corn, that’s getting to be the only charitable way to describe the better-days-were-yester Museum of Science and Industry in Hyde Park. When the most modern technology in the house is the Dyson Airblade hand dryer in the lobby men’s room, perhaps a literal little rethinking is in order? Let’s keep everything that moves–the mine-train ride, the Zephyr, and the U-Boat–give the rest of the building over to parking, and market the place to tourists as a new indoor theme park.  True, it would be a pretty paltry set of amusements–the U-Boat doesn’t even move, I just threw that in to make a triplet. But after all, hordes of suburbanites are still gullible enough to believe that Navy Pier’s worth visiting, so I think the idea has potential.

Although it might detract from the earning power of the above idea, I’m also all for miniaturizing the suburbs, themselves.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Oak Brook Center as much as the next guy-with-friends-with-cars-who-take-him-there.  But a shrunken Chicagoland sure would mean fewer Loop newbies to drag me through inane conversations like this one:

Southlander: Excuse me, how do you get to LaSalle?
Me: It’s three blocks west of here.
Southlander: No, I mean LaSalle.
Me: Yes, it’s three blocks west of here.
Southlander: No, I don’t think that’s where I got off. I need LaSalle.
Me: Off of the train?
Southlander: Yes, at LaSalle on the other side of the Loop.
Me: Any train that stops at LaSalle will stop on this end of the Loop, too.
Southlander: Wow, I didn’t know the Metra came all the way up here!
Me: Ohhh, you mean LaSalle Street Station.  It’s that way. (SMACK.)

Not that we Chicagoans don’t deserve a smack every once in a while, ourselves. I’d start that self-flagellation with the drunken Chad and Trixie hordes who stagger out of Wrigley Field after every Cubs home game. I wouldn’t shrink their numbers–after all, without them who would be left to show apartments in Old Town or throw up on the sidewalk in Wicker Park? But how about we shrink the walk from the corner of Addison and Sheffield to the Red Line entrance a few feet? Sure, the ‘L’ is only half a block east as it is, but have you ever seen a soused Chad or Trixie with a working sense of direction? Getting there is not always half the fun.

Nothing truer could be truer could be said of O’Hare, these days.  The coming of the New Depression means fewer flights and fewer passengers–so why aren’t lines any shorter at security gates? I guess United never got the memo Midway wrote ten years ago when its new terminal opened with massive numbers of security lanes.  (Short Midway waits get shorter still if you know which lane to stand in, but I’m not divulging that me-first secret without good reason!)  Not so at the checkpoint-short O’Hare. Could it be United still holds a grudge? Harbors a persistent case of surveillance envy? Whichever, the wait to be wanded at its Chicago terminals could certainly stand a good contraction.

For that matter, our bigger-city envy could use a good squishing down, too. We’re the cultural equal of any coastal pretender, yet so many Chicagoans greet visiting out-of-towners with, “I know it’s not New York, but…”  I’ve lived here long enough to know trying to change a Chicagoan’s habits is a losing battle. What say, instead, we petition to have New York City and Los Angeles miniaturized? With all of Daley’s clout and a Chicagoan entering the White House, I think we stand a chance.  Just imagine never having to put up with that pesky “Second City” monicker any longer.  Especially since we’re already third on the totem pole as it is.

I know of one pole that would probably make Chicago stand up and cheer if reduced down to size. Most of all, I propose we shrink Rod Blagojevich. Not all of him.  We can leave his private parts the dimensions they are now.  Let’s just shrink the rest of him, down to about one-tenth normal size.

You know, so everything would finally be in proportion?

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

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12 replies

  1. The Tribs problem is that it publishes yesterday’s news about other places. Seriously, why bother printing news about Venezuela or North Korea or even Iraq? Many people don’t care and if they do, they’ve already read that news elsewhere. What Chicagoans want to know is the news about their own neighborhoods. I live in Edgewater. I want to know, what is happening with that former hospital on Ashland? What’s going on with the Uptown Theater? When is the city going to fix up Broadway or Argyle like it has Clark Street? Is Nookie’s still planning to open on Bryn Mawr? What’s happening with the plans to build a 50-story high-rise on the parking lot next to the Greek Orthodox Church on Sheridan? There’s a lot of local news that people want to read about. That’s why blogs are thriving and no one reads the Trib.

  2. Houston is certainly riding the Sun Belt Renaissance that has lifted Atlanta, Phoenix and Dallas as well to 20% population gains or higher per decade. There are certainly lessons for Cities like Philly, Chicago and NY about low taxes, business friendly environments and destructive union power can alter a region. The question is how will the northern cities respond? With the same old bravado of mature urban centers or informed decisions about the southern threat. NY has a massive financial services (which is quietly moving southward to Charlotte) and tourism base that allows it to ignore the union legacy problems. Chicago, Philly and Detroit have been gutted by unions manufacturing artificially high wages and their own taxes to the Direct benefit of the sun belt who was more than happy to lure those industries southward. Education wise the northern cities are in dissaray. The media machine would like to anoint Arne Duncan some mythical change maker but the fact is Chicago’s schools have gotten worse. Oh yes He can spend a $billion rebuilding perfectly good buildings but test scores and drop out rate still grow. Less than 10% of the students are white as white families refuse to send their kids to school here or move to the burbs. Northern cities see schools as one giant procurement department for their buddies’ companies to make a buck. Until the northern cities fundamentally change their approach to governance and taxation, commerce and capitalism, they will continue their downward slide. Yes we get some nice amenities for our tax money, but at a much higher cost than what they are worth. We are over paying and eventualy will pay for it.

  3. Couldn’t have said it better, Michael. Houston’s answer to zoning is no zoning. Literally, no zoning laws. Sure, there are communal deed restrictions, but where else can you find a 4000-seat Baptist church next to a pawn shop next to a residential mid-rise? And Houstonians like it that way. Houston has some incredibly beautiful things: Rice University, which has architecture and academics that rival UChicago, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, a couple of good Philip Johnson Postmodern skyscrapers and a plethora of beautiful John Staub residences. Visiting NASA is kind of cool. I actually felt sorry for Houston when Ike hit, but only for a few days. Then I remembered just how nasty a place Houston can be.

  4. From an urban planner’s perspective (like mine), Houston is a cesspit of evidence of poor forethought about the built environment. Every man for himself, and every business goes wherever it wants to, residential areas and ability to actually walk anywhere be damned.

    Let it get as big as it wants. Maybe it’ll eventually choke on its own congestion like Mama Cass on that ham sammich.

    But that’s just me.

  5. Houston also has a big advantages: tens of thousand of New Orleans residents who evacuated there in ’95 and never returned home.

    Personally, I like Houston. I have friends and family there, and I grew up in neighboring Louisiana. But for the heat, it’s a pleasant city. The architecture of a few of the skyscrapers, I dare say, rivals Chicago – it’s a distinctive skyline.

    I’ll be curious to see if it overtakes Chicago…

  6. As a former Houston resident for four long college years with my mother still living there, I can assure everyone that Houston and Chicago are as different culturally as Calcutta and London. Even with Houston’s multiple cholera epidemics, hurricanes, a micro-depression in the 1980s that nearly bankrupted the state and caused 350,000 Houston residents to lose their jobs within a three-year time span, Houston has survival tactics that rival even the heartiest cockroach.

  7. Charles, I don’t know. Intercensal estimates are always too low because they don’t take into account institutional populations and they’re less rigorous. I think Chicago will be above 3 million in the 2010 count (considering our population of illegal residents, unofficially we’re more than surely about that already).

    Bill, you really think so? They’re going to the same size as the Sun-Times and they said they made that move to save money. Maybe it’s to accomplish both? Then again, I know on the rare occasions I buy a printed paper (which admittedly is almost never unless I’m in it!), I got for the Sun-Times, since it’s easier to read on a bus or train.

    We don’t seem to have the same broadsheet reading skills that transit riders (which means everyone) has in New York. Back home, one in three people can fold the New York Times like origami sitting on the subway or bus and not even whack the person in from of them.

  8. I don’t think the Trib is going small to save money, I think it’s to get more sales. It actually will probably cost them more to do, having to reformat for tab. ST kills them on the streets.

    Until the printed paper goes away (in its current form), which it will, it’s a good shot at getting readers.

  9. I guess you haven’t heard that Houston is expected in next year’s census to take the #3 spot, bumping Chicago to fourth largest city. I’m expecting lawsuits and demands for a recount.

  10. Maybe they’ll use a new “smooth” el train. i recall in the 90’s a plan to use a new type of wheel similar to NYC that makes it more comfy and less noisey – dont know what ever happened to that either. Must have gone into the CTA’s ever expanding black hole of good ideas that go nowhere

  11. Thanks, Z. I’m aware of that plan. God knows, I’d right the Blue Line out to Oak Brook and Yorktown malls. My only thought is it would be a bit long of a trip (read: uncomfortable) to take on a bumpy ‘L’ train.

  12. You may be happy to know there is a plan to extend the Blue line from Forest Park through the cemetaries, then along a Lake Mich. Water right of way onto Roosevelt road in Elmhurst which would have a stop at Elmhurst Hospital and Oakbrook Center Tower and then onto Yorktown and the I-88 office corridor. Now, if only the Illinois reresentatives could get off their collective asses and get federal funding instead of wallowing near the bottom of the 50 states receiving Federal money for projects despite being the 3rd highest Federal tax generating state. Hell – NY and NJ just got $8 billion for new tunnels under the Hudson! Wheres Ours????

    [Ed. note: This post has been added to put the sses back into asses. Violence is evil. Sex and profanity, not so much. See–South Park: The Movie 😉 ]

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