Twitter is in many ways a boon for journalists. There are a lot of smart, well-informed people online at any given time working their way through the news, including people who would normally serve as expert sources. Analyses that might get cut down to a single quote in a news article a decade ago are being made in real time, at length, at most hours of the day.
The flip side is that it's a firehose of chatter, gibberish, and hostility as well, so it can be frustrating and exhausting, particularly in a year consumed by politics. So I've been fortunate to follow some accounts that aren't that, and that provide different ways of looking at Chicago from my desk or in bed.
@everylotchicago: According to Twitter, this account has 882 followers (that's not much), and 98 are people I follow. It's kind of a niche interest. Actually it's kind of weird that we follow it. @everylotchicago is a bot that tweets out a picture from Google Street View of every parcel of land in Chicago, in order of tax ID number. So it's just not-great pictures of houses, one after another, about every half hour. In practice, this means a lot of cute Tudor boxes, classic bungalows, and stone-clad midcentury apartment buildings.
But occasionally you get something that's not that. Like whatever this is.
5243 North New England Avenue pic.twitter.com/Tr9XDltWa1
— every lot chicago (@everylotchicago) December 18, 2017
5524 North Nashville Avenue pic.twitter.com/tqxEg4ym0n
— every lot chicago (@everylotchicago) December 20, 2017
5355 North Normandy Avenue pic.twitter.com/Gx1Qc1jHxg
— every lot chicago (@everylotchicago) December 22, 2017
Overgrown mansard roofs are a personal favorite.
6741 West Higgins Road pic.twitter.com/IyoLeQ5Y08
— every lot chicago (@everylotchicago) December 27, 2017
Usually we think of Chicago architecture in terms of major buildings and a few representative building types, like the bungalow, that define the city to the outside world. But much, even most, of the city, isn't the buildings we're proud of. Most are unremarkable (like mine!), some are bad-bad, some are interesting-bad. This weird little bot reflects how we live the city: house by house, passing by until something catches our eye.
@jessycamalina: If you've seen aerial news coverage on CBS Chicago and Fox 32, you've seen her handiwork. But while she's up in the air shooting the news, she's also shooting wonderful aerial photography. Sometimes she combines the two:
Smoke from the 61st & Wolcott Fire pic.twitter.com/6DW7vVal41
— Jessyca Malina (@jessycamalina) December 26, 2017
But sometimes it's just well-composed and well-lit landscapes.
Oakbrook Terrace pic.twitter.com/GeXoh6Cz8G
— Jessyca Malina (@jessycamalina) December 21, 2017
Her hits seem to be ones of Chicago, like this lovely picture of Millennium Park at night that got over a thousand retweets. But I'm partial to the ones of suburbs like Roselle and Hanover Park and Lyons that don't get the same visual love that the big city gets, but represent an incredible variety of structures and physical organization. You could look at all this on Google Maps, but Malina's eye captures a drama and beauty that a satellite can't.
@_GXM: Gabriel X. Michael is an associate editor of the must-read Chicago Patterns, a site that's one of the best things about the city, and his Twitter feed focuses on historic Chicago buildings—not the famous ones, for the most part, but hidden exemplars of different eras and architectures, and in particular ones at risk for demolition. Like this wonderful 1930s oddball in Wicker Park:
Art Moderne brick home w/curved facade + glass block in Wicker Park was released from Demolition Delay & issued a demolition permit this week: 1233 North Paulina Street, built 1930s pic.twitter.com/CkCzExKeD9
— Gabriel Xavier Michael (@_GXM) December 23, 2017
Or the proto-Chicago bungalow:
vacant worker's cottage, 1307 South Talman Avenue, built 1880s pic.twitter.com/jpZvkkEKcV
— Gabriel Xavier Michael (@_GXM) December 22, 2017
Or sometimes just gorgeous photos of the city changing, like this one, a particular favorite of mine.
under demolition, 1908-1910 West Harrison Street, built 1880s pic.twitter.com/6xVeDZddsb
— Gabriel Xavier Michael (@_GXM) December 13, 2017
@chi_geek: She has a deep knowledge of Chicago architecture, as evidenced by her in-depth contributions to Chicago Patterns (like "The End of McGaw Hall," this piece on a Marion Mahony Griffin mural at the Armstrong School, and a detailed look at the Charnley House), and her Twitter feed is full of deep surprises about the buildings of the region, like beer-bottle stucco in Kenosha:
Old House Photo of the Day: The stucco in Kenosha's Frederick Gottfredsen House (1888) is imbedded w/pieces of beer bottles. The original owner once worked for Pabst Brewing Company. Orson Welles, born right around the corner, used to perform in the home's 3rd-floor ballroom. pic.twitter.com/2lAxQAyXKd
— … (@chi_geek) December 14, 2017
Or this Jetsons/mid-century modern beauty in Beloit:
Old House Photo of the Day: The Glenn Dahlmann House in Beloit, WI was designed by William Wesley Peters & Kamal Amin in 1967. Peters was married to both Frank Lloyd Wright's stepdaughter & Stalin's daughter, who were both named Svetlana. (A random tidbit for you trivia nerds!) pic.twitter.com/pRLug2vjRz
— … (@chi_geek) December 11, 2017
Or this church down the street from my wife's office:
— … (@chi_geek) November 28, 2017
Her breadth of knowledge gives her an appreciation for a wide range of styles and buildings, and she's constantly turning up true gems I've never heard of, often from architects just below the tier that gets all the attention. Her most recent photo is of a Edward Dart church in West Chicago; just seeing things like this on occasion makes my day a bit brighter and my appreciation of the region a bit richer.
I was reminded of all this when I did an interview a few days ago, in which the work of Louis Sullivan came up. If you're not of a certain age, it might be hard to appreciate—it certainly was for me—that there was a time when Sullivan was something of an underappreciated architect and not the titan we're introduced to when we move here. The people who preserved his legacy, in photographs and through restoration were, for a time, a precious few. That transformation and preservation doesn't happen without, at first, people watching, recording, and talking.