Rebel Garages: Alternative Archives, New Futures and Co-conspirators for Disobedient Alley Architecture

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Alternative Archives, New Futures,

and Co-conspirators for Disobedient

Alley Architecture

Ann Lui and Craig Reschke

Future Firm

Copyright © 2019 Future Firm

Future Firm

3149 S. Morgan St.

Chicago, IL 60608

Published by the Chicago Architecture Foundation

dba Chicago Architecture Center

Chicago Architecture Center

111 E. Wacker Drive. Ste. 1321

Chicago, IL 60601

All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced

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Every effort has been made to identify owners and gain permission

for images. Errors or omissions will be corrected in subsequent

editions. All other images and photographs are original work by

Future Firm.

Printed in the United States of America

ISBN: 978-0-9973615-2-0

Design by Partner & Partners

This publication has been made possible in part by:

City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events




Alternative Archives,

New Futures, and

Co-conspirators for

Disobedient Alley



Chicago Architecture Center

Across America today, one can find dozens

of noteworthy initiatives to reinvent the

accessory dwelling unit and the promise of a

useful, affordable infrastructure for testing

our renewed urban ethics. Could Rebel

Garages become Chicago’s entry in this


As arresting as the term “rebel garage” may

sound, a closer look reveals a story laden with

as much pragmatism as serendipity. That’s

not to say the topic isn’t downright playful.

It is. To meet Future Firm is to find oneself

ushered into an amusing language centered

on “alley culture” and the pursuit of personal

liberties through a secret architecture.

The Chicago Architecture Center’s

connection to this work came about through

the mounting of our 2015 exhibition entitled

50 Designers, 50 Ideas, 50 Wards. We invited

50 local design teams to present speculative

opportunities for improving life in every


Chicago neighborhood. Our purpose was to

demonstrate how a cityscape might contain

the seeds to its own regeneration. Rebel

Garages pushes the notion a critical next step

through its animating belief that for Chicago

to succeed, it must work for all of us—and at a

very personal level.

The suggested policy and code changes at the

heart of this publication are a starting place

for broader community conversation. Just as

important, is the modest observation that the

archive of local rebel garages is nearly always

an architecture of uplift. What else should city

life be if not invigorating? Why not nurture

this optimism in the alley, if that’s where it

wants to grow?

Rebel Garages is an idea whose time has come.

Michael Wood

Senior Director of Program Strategy

Chicago Architecture Center






Garages: Each To Their Own Heterotopia 21


1. Kevin and Elaine 28

2. Megan 34

3. Nicole 38

4. Mike W. 42

5. Mejay and Eric 48

6. Marcos 54

7. Mike N. 58

8. Thomas and Nancy 62

9. Renee 68


Alleys: B-sides, In Betweens, Spaces of Exchange 73


1. Rebel Blocks 81

2. Diversify Businesses 85

3. Bigger Home Businesses 89

4. Hang Your Shingle 93

5. Everyone’s Invited 97

6. Legalize Coach Houses 101

7. Garage First, House Second 105

8. No Parking 109

9. Garage Starchitecture 113


Civic Assets: Identifying New Public Commons 117


1. Andersonville Parklet 124

2. Muebles Sullivan 128

3. Cook County Land Bank Association 132

4. Make Way for People Program 136




What do you do in your garage other than park

your car? Do you dream of starting your own

new business that takes the place of the day-today

grind? Do you live a secret life, formative

and dark, away from the bright light of the main

house? Do you cook, paint, weld, or organize

alternate futures—making new projects, ideas,

and visions of your life and the life of your

community in the space of your garage?

This project is about the rebel garage:

an architectural site defined as existing

simultaneously in-between and outside of the

crisp delineations of public/private space, legal/

illegal construction, individual/community

territory. We see the rebel garage as both

the most architecturally banal and the most

architecturally potent space in the city.

Through this publication, we

invite you to enter the realm

of the garage as a slippery,

blurry, and architecturally

illicit space: one which eludes

the bureaucratic, legislative,

and social restrictions that

gird buildings and the ways

we use them.

The idea behind Rebel Garages emerged three

years ago, when we got a new puppy and signed

up for dog training classes, which, as it turns

out, were held in a garage. Since then, we have

visited dozens of Chicago garages: the secret

abodes, studios, and unofficial offices of city

residents whose plans and dreams exceed the

limits of their primary residences. We’ve also

asked residents, as well as designers and policy

makers, to tell us their visions for the future of

garages in Chicago.

ABOVE Visiting with

designer Tim Parsons,

who uses his carport

as an expanded studio

space and occasional

site for pop-up events

with friends and


BELOW A panorama

from 2017’s “Manor

Garage Sale,” an annual

event held in the north

side neighborhood of

Ravenswood Manor. On

this day, many residents

in the neighborhood

hold garage sales and

also participate in

casual events, share

food, organize play

dates, catch up with

friends, and meet



In the first section, we look closely at the

individual scale: meeting with Chicagoans in

the garage spaces which support their passions,

interests, and agendas. We argue that the garage

is uniquely “Chicago” in character: not because

of its brick facade or vinyl siding or the basketball

hoop outside. Instead, we show how the garage

is quintessentially “Chicago” because of the

complexity and unknowability of its character:

it is an architecture that misbehaves, that

transforms quickly, that is dramatically different

in different neighborhoods; an architecture that

can be bizarre, dull, often ugly, but just as often

hauntingly beautiful. It’s an architecture that

resists giving itself away: that shows one face to

This publication is a documentation of these

unique garage spaces—including the quirky

and spectacular ways that residents have

shaped garages to their own uses—and, in

response, a speculative proposal for the future

of the Chicago alley as a civic project, with

legislative and policy-driven consequences.

Alternating between an investigation at the

scale of the individual and the urban scale, this

publication uses the oddity of the garage as a

new lens through which to understand the city

and the ways we all shape architecture everyday

to our own ends.

An Open Letter to Chicago

the public, another to friends, and still another

to potential enemies—thieves, judgmental

neighbors, business competitors, or simply nosy

passersby. It’s an architecture where “DIY” takes

on new meanings: garages are spaces in which

people come together over extremely divergent

passions from repairing cars to sharing organic

food to advocating for social change.

This section includes the Rebel Garage

Archive, a series of nine interviews with

Chicagoans across the city. We’ve presented

14 15

these interviews as part of a “garage witness

protection program,” concealing the garages’

surrounding contexts through illustration and

only using first names in order to protect the

privacy of the interviewees.


In the second section, we explore

relationships at the scale of the community,

beginning with the history of alleys in

Chicago and other cities. Here we introduce

nine policy proposals to regulate and

facilitate rebel garages with the intent that

these spaces become more equitable, vibrant,

and better reflect existing use.

Looking closely at Chicago’s alleys, we can see

how these spaces—B-sides, back covers, spaces

that conceal what we do not want to see—can,

in fact, tell the story of changing needs in

transportation, infrastructure, and social life.

The city’s first alleys were laid out in 1830 as

part of an effort to develop areas alongside the

Illinois and Michigan Canal near Bridgeport

that would connect Lake Michigan and the

Illinois River. At that time, the alleys and stables

were spaces for horse manure and trash, which

was not picked up as regularly as it is today. In

the early 1900s, the alleys evolved to be for cars

instead of horses. In recent decades, fueled by

a changing economy, more and more residents

use their garages to augment their income or

strengthen their community ties, using garages

as sites for new or side businesses as well as

collective gathering.

An Open Letter to Chicago

Through the nine policy proposals in this

section, we begin to ask: What is the next phase

for the Chicago garage and for the alley, the

crucial connective tissue? In the future, we

predict fewer Chicagoans will drive or have

a car of their own, thanks to autonomous

vehicles, ride sharing, and the undisputable

reckoning that will occur with our collective

use of natural resources. What will the new

landscape of the city’s secondary streets look

like, sound like, and how will they support or

divide our neighborhoods?


In the final section, we argue that rebellious use

of Chicago’s garages and alleys begins to define

a unique model for public, or civic, space.

In this section, we look closely at a few case

studies, both regional and international, which

identify means and methods for approaching

complex urban issues at this scale. These

case studies all focus on the paradox at the

heart of this project: how do you create policy

and regulation which supports, but doesn’t

stymie, the vital rhythm of unorthodox or rebel

architecture and its use by everyday citizens—

creating conditions in which diverse uses can

thrive equitably?

Looking closely today, we can see how the alleys

are a world unto themselves. On one hand, they

are sites of civic infrastructure: collecting trash

and delivering power to each house, regulated

by Chicago’s Department of Transportation,

16 17

cyclically reborn each year between winter’s

potholes and summer’s re-paving. On the

other hand, they are sites of social engagement

and exchange: where kids learn to ride a bike

or play ball; where jazz musicians change

the beat; where we argue with our neighbors;

where scrappers hunt through daily discards

for recycled wealth; and where we slip through

a shortcut to the place we need to go. How

might these ecologies—human, natural, and

economic—amplify and transform in the

coming years?

The immediate goal of this publication is to

catalog and celebrate the rebel garage as a

unique yet ubiquitous architectural and urban

condition which, though small in size, can help

transform the way we see the city at large. Using

the garage and alley as a model, this publication

proposes that architects can use their design

expertise to connect regulatory concerns to the

on-the-ground use of buildings and streets.

In the end, we see this publication as a tool to

build discourse, if not consensus, on policy

proposals which reflect the complexity of

existing uses and tangible opportunities for

future change through architecture and design.

—Ann & Craig

An Open Letter to Chicago






Investigating what it means to design, build, or

live outside of the code.

1. Foucault, Michel. “Of

Other Spaces.” Spaces

of Visual Culture, 2006.

ABOVE The mythical

location where Steve

Jobs and Steve

Wozniak started Apple

in 1976. The garage (and

house), at 2066 Crist

Dr. in Los Altos, is now

designated a historic

site. Image courtesy

of Mathieu Thouvenin,

Creative Commons


THE ETHOS of the rebel garage is more than

a secondary use: it reflects and produces a

completely different and unique way of seeing

architecture in Chicago, one that depends on

both the physical parameters of a building but

also the specifics of time, use, and engagement

with its surroundings. In his 1967 lecture, “Of

Other Spaces,” Michel Foucault defines the

idea of heterotopia¹ as sites defined by their

otherness: spaces of crisis, juxtapositions of

incongruous uses, and territories that are

temporally rather than spatially delineated. A

boat, separated from the world, running under

its own rules that circumnavigate land-bound

realities, or a motel room where two lovers

meet, temporarily constructing an alternate

life—these are Foucault’s heterotopias par


We understand the rebel garage as Chicago’s

own ubiquitous and quintessential heterotopia:

an architectural condition not defined by the

lines and materials notated on an architectural

drawing, a Department of Buildings permit,

Garages: Each to Our Own Heterotopia

a zoning ordinance, or an owner’s use on any

given day but rather a combination of all these

parameters, including the myriad uses that

transpire every day and every night. The rebel

garage allows what Foucault describes as

“deviant” uses, broadly understood. It is a space

where the activities that cannot take place in the

house, the office, or the street, but require certain

conditions of both privacy and publicness,

begin to flourish. It’s a space which allows those

activities—a side business, a private hobby, or

a dream of an alternate lifestyle—to grow. It is a

space whose openings and closings are precisely

orchestrated by the closing of the garage door

and the illumination of a single overhead light.

The garage can be completely transformed by

these simple operations: think, for example, of

the complete otherworldliness of a punk garage

band playing live at full volume.²

Unlike, however, Foucault’s heterotopic cruise

ships, psychiatric hospitals, or prisons, which

are singular spaces, constructed as communities

isolated from the rest of the world, the rebel

garage is both individualized and distributed.

Chicago’s mundane garage, when considered as

an ecology of interiors, can be read as a system

(rather than singular example) of heterotopic

otherness that is, in fact, often legally required to

be delivered along with your place of residence.

The way that the garage becomes a potent site

for heterotopic conditions, simultaneously

personalized and yet also ubiquitous, reveals our

collective need for secondary spaces—“other”

spaces for both private and public pursuits.

2. For more on garages

and garage bands,

see: Fischer, Marc,

and Public Collectors.

Hardcore Architecture.

Chicago, IL: Half Letter

Press, 2015.

22 23

3. Minami, Noritaka,

Julian Rose, and Ken

Yoshida. 1972 - Nakagin

Capsule Tower.

Heidelberg: Kehrer

Verlag, 2015.

4. For more, see:

Koolhaas, Rem, and Hans

Ulrich Obrist. Project

Japan: Metabolism

Talks... Edited by

Kayoko Ota and James

Westcott. Köln; London:

Taschen, 2011.

5. For more on this,

see: Andres Jaque,

“Politics Do Not Happen

in Squares,” in Urbonas,

Gediminas, Ann Lui, and

Lucas Freeman, eds.

Public Space? Lost and

Found. Cambridge, MA:

SA+P Press, 2017.

BELOW Photographs by

Noritaka Minami from

1972—Nakagin Capsule

Tower of architect Kisho

Kurokawa’s seminal

work in Tokyo, Japan.

Minami’s work features

the way residents have

transformed their

capsules to reflect their

own uses and tastes

over time. Images

courtesy of Noritaka


The idea of a heterotopia that is both

personalized and distributed occurs

everywhere, in different forms. In Tokyo,

Japan: consider photographer Noritaka

Minami’s work, documented in his book

1972, on the Nagakin Capsule Tower.³ The

apartment tower, designed by architect Kisho

Kurokawa, was intended to be a prototype

for a new, customizable, and mobile form of

modern life. Today, these early dreams have

calcified: yet in their wake, each living unit has

become increasingly eccentric, unique, and

architecturally transformed by its inhabitants.⁴

In Barcelona: consider architect Andres Jaque’s

project, IKEA Disobedients, which critiqued

IKEA’s marketing campaign describing

one’s home as a personal “kingdom.”⁵ Jaque

visited, photographed, and interviewed

Barcelona residents who use their houses

and apartments as businesses, lgbt support

group headquarters, farms,

video studios, and more. Or,

lastly, in New York: consider

the provocative series of

Manhattan Mini Storage ads,

one of which featured an image

of a man in drag surrounded

by a wardrobe of clothing in a

storage unit, titled: “I like my

wife and kids, but I love my

storage room.” This ad featured

in a series of others in which

the storage unit might be used

to grow hobbies (“I like film

festivals, but I love...”); avoid

pet hair (“I like pet adoption,

but I love...”); or nerd out (“I like

Garages: Each to Our Own Heterotopia

special issue no. 364, but...”). All

over the world, contemporary

urban life produces, in parallel

to more generic architectural

building types, these odd

personalized spaces of eccentric

pursuits: a storage locker or

garage where one can engage

in and imagine alternative

presents and futures.

What do you do in your garage

other than park your car?

What rules and status quos—

architectural, economic, social,

or cultural—do you break or

slip around in your garage?

Who do you break those rules

with? Understanding the ethos of the rebel

garage is to understand it not just through the

physical characteristics of its size, or materials,

but also as a condition situated in the gray areas

of both time and culture. Temporally, it opens

when the door closes and the light turns on,

and closes when you pack up your hobby or

side business for the night. Culturally, it holds

space in gray zones: in territories of behavior,

business, and desires which cannot exist in the

main home or in the street.

Imagine lights on in a network of garages in the

city at night: the tens of thousands of seemingly

mundane architectures, each with its own

unique yeasty interior of otherness, incubating

the B-side cultures that are inevitably produced

by the exhaustively routine conditions of

everyday life outside.

TOP Manhattan Mini

Storage (MMS)

advertising campaign.

MMS’s edgy advertising

campaigns are

developed in-house,

not by an ad agency.

This series ran in 2015.

ABOVE Hardcore

Architecture, a

Tumblr blog by Marc

Fischer and project

by Public Collectors

which led to a book

of the same name

(Half Letter Press,

2015), investigates the

relationship between

1980s hardcore

bands and the banal

architecture which

incubated them. Image

courtesy of Marc


24 25




There are rebel garages everywhere in

Chicago. These are a few of the people who

we met during our research, their stories, and

photographs of their garage interiors. Captured

in these nine examples are a range of the ways

Chicagoans transform their garages, and

the way those changes often are reflected in

their own lives, their neighborhoods, and their

understandings of the city.





Kevin is a former architecture

history professor

who, after retiring, needed

a place to work, read,

and shelve his books. His

rebel garage became his new

office. On the first floor,

Kevin and his wife Elaine

use the space as a handicap

accessible picnic pavilion.

Rebel Garage Archive

What do you use your

garage for?

Kevin: I use the lower level, the

garage level, for the car. On

one side, it has a lot of shelves

and we store things there, including

the ladder. Upstairs, it’s

a storage spaces for lots and

lots of books.

Do you drive? Is your garage

ever used for parking?

K: We have a car and we do

drive. Although it’s a two-car

garage, we like it so much

because we have lots of room

to get in, we have not thought

about renting the second space

to other people—which other

people in the neighborhood do.

Did you imagine using your

garage this way when you

moved in? How has it changed

over time?

K: The biggest change is that I

have used it increasingly as a

study. I do work in the garage

instead of just using it for

storage. I store mostly books in

my [upper level] storage space:

it’s my professional library

from when I was teaching as an

architectural historian at IIT for

35 years. I still have an office

at IIT, but it’s handier to be

able to walk out to the storage

space and get a book, read a

book, or do a reference check

or whatever. It’s better than

taking the train or driving down

to campus.

What kind of changes to your

garage have you made to

accommodate your uses?

K: The garage was built new—

the garage we had before was

damaged when a big tree was

knocked over onto it. The new

garage is built to the zoning

standards of the city, so there’s

the space for the garage and

then there’s the gable roof and

the upper level encloses exactly

at the height you’re allowed

to have. The footprint is actually

smaller than zoning would

permit; we’ve kept more of our

backyard than we’re required to.

We realized—this was in consultation

with our contractor—that

we wanted to be in the study

space 11 months a year. The

HVAC system, which is a heat

pump, has sometimes struggled

to make the space comfortable.

In the really hot weather last

summer, there were days that

were warmer than you might

like. But that’s exactly what we

wanted, something you might

be able to use effectively comfortably

11 months per year. To

that end, this is an extremely

well-insulated garage—I think it’s

the highest standard in terms of

R-values for domestic buildings.

In terms of our heat bill, it has

made virtually no impact on the

cost of our electricity. We also

switched from incandescent to

LED lights—in the garage and

also in the house.

Do you have relationships

with your alley neighbors?

What’s your block’s alley


K: Our block alley culture is to

be generally polite when someone

is coming in or out of the

garage. Neighbors tend to be

pretty good if someone is walking

down the alley; they won’t try

to squeeze by. There’s a school

at the end of the block, so when

school is letting out, parents like

to go down the alley and they

can be kind of disruptive and

unpleasant and honk at you to

get out of the way.

28 29

The other thing is, when we first

moved in, the economic profile

of the neighborhood was a little

different. Kids and dads—mostly

boys and men—would be working

on their cars or changing

their oil or doing things like that,

and there would be occasional

casual conversations as people

walked to and fro. Now that’s

almost all gone. When we first

moved in, there also were a lot

of light industry places—repair

shops and so on—they faced

southward, but they opened out

to the alley. That’s all gone now,

which is generally good. We lost

the smell of the painting from

the [auto]body shop. There appears

to be one person on the

alley who’s doing work—I’m not

sure exactly what it is—something

like carpentry. He mostly

keeps the door closed, but a few

times when I’ve gone by and the

door has been open, it’s clearly

a work space. But I think that’s

pretty rare now in the alley. I

know a number of the other

people who have garages and

they’re just using it to store their

car or lawn mower.

Rebel Garage Archive

Are there other ways in your

neighborhood that residents

creatively misuse private or

public space?

K: I think the answer to that is,

fundamentally, “no”: there are

several buildings on the alley

that are residences and are

used as apartments, which are

grandfathered in. But in every

case those dwellings face into

the backyard so they come and

go through the front yard from

the street. Relatively few people,

except as a convenience from

someone’s house, might go out

through the alley.

Elaine: If you include the first

floor of our car space: we’ve

had a couple of picnics in it. We

like to have picnics in the backyard,

and that’s why we wanted

to keep as flush a backyard

space as possible; we have a

standard size Chicago lot, so

we don’t have much space to

begin with. But on a rainy day,

we think, “Well, do we cancel?”

or do we figure out how to

cook either inside or at the grill

quickly and then eat actually in

the car space? So Kevin would

park the car on the street and

because the garage is new—it’s

still a quite clean space in the

car area—we put a lot of bright

tablecloths and take our picnic

tables in there and it’s fine. It’s a

picnic pavilion!

And we have a very good

friend who’s now in his

mid-nineties, and he finds doing

stairs increasingly difficult.

With the garage, when we’ve

had him and other friends over,

he can step right out of his car

into the car space.

I was able to make arrangements

with a couple of very

nice shops on Southport, one of

them had a handicap bathroom.

It’s a massage store, and they

said “sure,” he could come over

on the gangway between two

buildings and use their very nice

bathroom, if that was wanted.

So he doesn’t have to do any

stairs—he can just enter and

exit through the big garage door.

30 31

OWNER Kevin & Elaine

USE Study and Book Storage

LOCATION Southport Corridor





An artist who uses her rebel

garage for painting as well

as exhibiting, sharing, and

storing her work. Her garage

has a secret: the garage door

with three windows is not in

fact a garage door.

What do you use your

garage for?

Megan: I use it as a studio for

drawing, painting, and book


Do you drive? Is your garage

ever used for parking?

M: I do drive. We own one car. We

have never used the garage for


Did you imagine using your

garage this way when you

moved in? How has it changed

over time?

M: When we moved in we had a

very old, leaning over garage.

The insurance company said

it was in such bad shape they

wouldn’t cover it. Eventually

we had it torn down and

replaced—with the intention of

it being a studio.

As we could, we did things like

drywall the ceiling, put in northfacing

windows and recently—


Do you have relationships with

your alley neighbors? What’s

your block’s alley culture?

M: Our neighbors two doors to

the east of us also have a garage

(formerly a stable) that they use

as a recording studio/rehearsal

space and a painting studio.

They are good friends. There

used to be another neighbor

who had a sign painting studio

in his garage, but he has since

moved. It is a quiet alley, as it is

only one block long and between

two one-way streets.

two neighboring blocks. Also,

I occasionally use the alley to

throw a ball for my dog—we have

so little traffic that he can run

around and get some exercise.

Rebel Garage Archive

What kind of changes to your

garage have you made to

accommodate your uses?

M: We framed, insulated, and

drywalled it. The hardware for

the garage door was never

installed. Originally the heat

was infrared (usually used for

chicken coops). Now it is forced

air. We had to add bars to the

windows after it was broken into.

Are there other ways in your

neighborhood that residents

creatively misuse private or

public space?

M: There are a couple of

basketball hoops where kids

meet and play. And there has

been some discussion about

having an “alley block party”

that would bring together the

34 35


USE Art Studio

LOCATION Wicker Park






Nicole is a sculptor who makes

large-scale public art, mostly

out of metal. Her garage is

her dream studio where she

finally designed and built the

space she wanted for herself

and her work.

Rebel Garage Archive

What do you use your

garage for?

Nicole: For my

professional sculpture

studio. I work on largescale

outdoor public sculptures

in stainless steel, glass, mosaic,

and LEDs. I’m a welder.

Do you drive? Is your garage

ever used for parking?

N: Yes, we have two vehicles that

are street-parked, and no, we

never use the garage for parking.

Did you imagine using your

garage this way when you

moved in? How has it changed

over time?

N: I built it specifically for studio

space and it’s completely full

of my tools and materials—

everything that I need to

maintain a professional practice.

Prior to this, I rented studio

space in Bucktown, West Loop,

Damen and Fulton, Pulaski,

K-Town, and finally Gage Park.

After being “gentrified” and

ousted from them all, I finally

built one on my property.

What kind of changes to your

garage have you made to

accommodate your uses?

N: Well, I have 220 volts, heat, and

a fourteen foot overhead door!

Have you ever seen a door that

big on a residential garage? I

can’t keep it open in the summer,

though—there is pretty high crime

over here. The alley gets tons of

traffic and a lot of garbage pickers.

When I move sculptures in and

out, I try to make sure people

aren’t seeing inside. I also have a

security system and an excellent

guard dog, he’s part Chow!

Do you have relationships with

your alley neighbors? What’s

your block’s alley culture?

N: These neighbors [next door]

built their garage after mine,

and he has an upper floor

with a ginormous TV because

he’s a total sports fan. He’s a

fireman and electrician; in fact,

he did my wiring. I guess my

garage was sort of a catalyst to

build personal spaces. On the

other side these are original

vintage garages—some of

these buildings are of historic

status. There’s not really a

neighborhood culture, because

I have to keep it on the downlow.

But with my two immediate

neighbors, I have a solid working

relationship. Also, this particular

alley has become a thoroughfare

for the street to the east of

us because it is cul-de-saced,

and our historic street has no

driveways and all garages are

only alley-accessed.

38 39

OWNER Nicole

USE Sculpture Studio






Mike works at a hospital

in the spinal cord injury

unit. He uses his garage as

a space for fixing bikes, in

particular, ones that he helps

design or adapt for people

with spinal cord injuries.

Rebel Garage Archive

What do you use your

garage for?

Mike: I use it for a lot of home

repair and wood working. I

bought the place specifically

because I planned to do a lot of

bicycle repairs and some frame

building. Clearly, I use it to store

things as well, but it’s more of a

workshop than that. Specifically

how I got started was repairing

traditional bicycles. But I work at

a patient hospital, in the spinal

cord injury unit, and I’ve been

working on bikes for people with

disabilities for twelve years. So

most of the people who ride

the bikes I work on have some

kind of disability and its usually

spinal cord related. I customize,

repair, and maintain the bikes;

we even have a racing team. I

had envisioned this might be

a teaching space like at West

Town Bikes. I used to work there

and thought this might be an

extension at some point. I’m just

so busy and the work I’m doing

now is just my niche, and I’m

happy doing that. All the bikes

are outfitted differently, so for

a person’s definitive bike it will

be pretty specialized, especially

if someone has a higher level

spinal cord injury; the bikes get

really complicated, shifters

integrated into hand pedals for

people with no finger function. It

can be mechanical systems or

electrical, too. Sometimes I go fix

bikes at peoples’ homes, but for

bigger stuff, or when I have a lot

to do, I bring them home.

Do you drive? Is your garage

ever used for parking?

M: Believe it or not, I have three

cars. I’m not proud to say that!

But my dad recently passed

away, so I inherited his two cars

and I have a little Subaru, too.

It’s nice that when it’s in here

there’s still room to work around

it. I have a truck, too, so when I

need it, I swap it out at my mom’s

house and they all fit in here.

Did you imagine using your

garage this way when you

moved in? How has it changed

over time?

M: No—I’ve gotten more

interested in woodworking and

also, originally, I was anti-car.

Now I’m forty-two and really

busy with other things, and I’m

realizing it’s more practical for

me to have a car. Especially with

aging parents, being able to go

to help them and also have time

to make a living is important.

When I was rebuilding this door,

my friend was adamant that I

put a power-door operator in. I

thought, “I’m never going to park

a car in here, so why would I do

that?” And then I starting parking

in here, and I thought, he’s right,

it’s actually really nice.

What kind of changes to your

garage have you made to

accommodate your uses?

M: Fix the water. Also I put

in 220-volt electric service.

I put lights in—that was the

most amazing thing. And I

fixed the roof, it was so leaky,

everything was wet and damp.

I’ve forgotten how much work

we’ve done because I’ve

gotten used to the condition

it is now. We tuckpointed a lot

of the outside. And the door

is new, it’s insulated. This wall

was not open before—it’s a

shed addition. I can store the

majority of my home tools in

42 43

there. Putting a stereo in here,

that’s important! I spend hours

and hours out here. Eventually

it will be heated. I chased

underground flexible conduit.

Do you have relationships with

your alley neighbors? What’s

your block’s alley culture?

M: They definitely have an alley

culture, but I haven’t embraced

it yet. There are definitely

neighbors who on Tuesday

nights reliably throw a party in

the alley in one guy’s garage.

The minute I go out and see a

neighbor, we talk more in the

alley than in the front of the

house. I have a few neighbors

down the way who the only time

we see and talk to each other

is in the alley. When I’m out here

working, the neighbors know and

they’ll come tapping on the door,

either to borrow something or

hang out.

Are there other ways in your

neighborhood that residents

creatively misuse private or

public space?

M: We took over an empty lot at

the end of the street and turned

it into a community garden.

That’s probably a good thing.

It’s a group we organized and

Rebel Garage Archive

we approached the landowner

independently, a private

landowner who was behind on

taxes and bills. The alderman

was able to help negotiate so

that our group of neighbors

would have access.



USE Bike Shop

LOCATION McKinley Park







Mejay and Eric share their

garage as a space of work

and relaxation. They use

it for fixing motorcycles,

working in wood, and sometimes

letting a friend

sleep over.

What do you use your

garage for?

Mejay: I use it primarily as a studio

for small-scale woodworking

projects and when we’re building

things for our home. Some

of my tools used to live in our

basement, but even that space

got too cramped and inconvenient,

especially when I would

track sawdust all around the

house. With the conversion of

our garage, I’m thankful Eric and

I are both very creative and love

tinkering on new ideas. We are

constantly prototyping and are

forgiving about the process. This

is a passion and not our profession,

there are no deadlines

or stress of paying rent, we’re

allowed to play, experiment, and

have fun.

Eric: Similar things, a cool down

after I come home from work. I

can mess around out here,

build stuff, take stuff apart and

not figure out how to put it back

together. Mostly just like a toy

shop for me.

Do you drive? Is your garage

ever used for parking?

M: I drive, it’s funny because I

didn’t need to drive for several,

several years when I first had

this as a garage. But the moment

we embarked on building

out our toy shop, I took a job

that required me to drive. Terrible

timing, but parking on the

street isn’t so bad. Eric parks his

bikes here. So I guess it is still a

garage, just for motorcycles.

Did you imagine using your

garage this way when you

moved in? How has it changed

over time?

M: Since I didn’t need a car back

then and was happy commuting

by bike, I always imagined this

would be an alternate space

predominately used as a studio.

Before I met Eric, I was diving

deep into ceramics and I always

wanted to do that type of work

out here. Oddly enough, by the

time we finished the build out, I

had completely shifted my work

towards wood.

What kind of changes to your

garage have you made to accommodate

your uses?

M: Well, security was a big factor

for me when I lived here alone,

and there used to be a gangway

along the side of the building

that led towards the alley.

Someone tried to break into

my home once, and they came

through the back gate which

wasn’t very tall. It was so frustrating

and I just wanted to close

that off all together. So one of

the alterations I did was to keep

three walls of the garage and

then blast out the fourth [to be

open to the yard], which made

the space nice and big as well as

limiting alley access.

The other major change was to

add a bit of height to the garage.

When we were doing the roof,

we’d stand on the old joists and

hold up the new eighteen-footlong

joist high in the air and ask

someone on the ground, “This

height?” It sounds silly but in a

way I’m glad we found play in the


Do you have relationships with

your alley neighbors? What’s

your block’s alley culture?

M: Unfortunately we don’t really

know what that culture is like.

I assume there is one, but we

know it only slightly from the

times we take out the bikes or

throwing out trash. Since we

Rebel Garage Archive

48 49

both park our cars on the street,

we have a better connection

with our neighbors across our

street, folks who also park out

front, and others who commute

to work. I mean, this is how Eric

and I met! So I prefer it this way,

it’s more front facing.

E: If you park your car in the

garage, it seems like you know

everybody on that side of the

block. If you park your car on

the street, you know everyone

on that side. There’s a little bit of

a scrapper culture in this alley.

I’m regularly just checking back

there to see what other people

have put out. There was a lady

who used to bust my chops

about how much Tecate I would

drink, and knew exactly when

the fresh batch of empty cans

were coming out.

M: She was great, she’d yell from

the alley to let people know

when they’d leave their garage

doors open and every time she’d

see us come in/out on our bike

she’d yell, “Tecate!”

Are there other ways in your

neighborhood that residents

creatively misuse private or

public space?

E: These guys on the other side

have a hot tub and a TV that

slides up out of the wall.

M: And a little fireplace up there!

E: They use the bottom of it as

a garage and upstairs is a loft


A man cave?

M: Lady cave! Because we don’t

go up and down our alley so

much, we don’t really see the

inside of folks' garages. We do

have one other neighbor who

uses his garage like a warehouse.

There’s lots of trucks

that come in and out. He has a


E: There’s a million bottles of

Snapple in there. Trucks will pull

up, he loads several pallets of

drinks, and blasts music. And it’s

just a simple tiny garage with

some cameras on the outside.

M: I think a lot of people use

their garages in alternative

ways and we just don’t know

because they look like regular

garages. Ours is a little harder

to be overlooked, since it’s got

quite a unique exterior and we

don’t have a garage door. A few

neighbors have been curious

enough to ask us what we do in

here, but I think others just assume

this is someone’s home.

Rebel Garage Archive

50 51

OWNER Mejay & Eric

USE Workshop

LOCATION Logan Square





Marcos and his father run an

auto service shop out of a

two-door garage in Pilsen. The

painted blue-brick space was

also used for an auto shop by

the owner before it was rented

by Sanchez Auto Repair.

Rebel Garage Archive

What do you use your

garage for?

Marcos: It’s an auto shop! There

isn’t much of an organization, all

of our tools are in the toolboxes.

[We do] everything mechanic.

No bodywork or anything with

windows. We don’t do any of

that. What else? We don’t do

any speakers, just mechanical

work: transmissions, engines,


Do you drive? Is your garage

ever used for parking?

M: Yeah, but we don’t park here

other than the customers’ cars.

We service at least two to three

cars a day. We usually get a lot

of party people: let’s say Friday

night they go out and they park

right in front of the shop and

just leave it there. I mean, we

aren’t gonna call the tow truck or

anything, we just wait for them

to move it.

Did you imagine using your

garage this way when you

moved in? How has it changed

over time?

M: Actually, it’s not our garage.

We rent the garage the way

it is, with the permit. So it’s

been here longer than my dad

has even been here. It’s been

here for about 40 years. The

biggest thing that's changed is

the manager. The first manager

owned the house and my father

leased it from him 24 years ago.

What kind of changes to your

garage have you made to

accommodate your uses?

M: Other than paint and probably

just cleaning up the floor a

couple times, nothing much. All

of the tools are ours, we brought

those, and also the heater. The

heater wasn’t there.

Do you have relationships with

your alley neighbors? What's

your block's alley culture?

M: Of course, yeah, we know

every single neighbor around

us. We live, probably, six blocks

from here. We have access to

an alley there, too, but we only

us it to access our own garage

for parking.

Are there other ways in your

neighborhood that residents

creatively misuse private or

public space?

M: I think that there’s another

shop, it’s inside the alley. They

use their garage I think for

fixing bikes and motorcycles, by

Loomis St, if I’m not mistaken.

54 55

OWNER Marcos

USE Auto shop


Rebel Garage Archive






Mike runs a Chicago art

space and also has his own

own active art practice. His

garage, which he rents, is

currently a space for special

projects, but, in the future,

he hopes to host music events

or other performances.

Rebel Garage Archive

What do you use your

garage for?

Mike: We [my partner and I]

use the garage for special

projects, mostly for ceramics,

photography, and kind of as an

artist hangout. Sometimes we

will have friends over to work on

stuff together.

Do you drive? Is your garage

ever used for parking?

M: We do drive, and we do have a

car. We do use it for parking, but

more often we do not. We tend

to park in the street, unless we

are going out of town or if there

is particularly bad weather.

Did you imagine using your

garage this way when you

moved in? How has it changed

over time?

M: We haven’t had it too long.

But yes, we imagined it this way

when we moved in. That’s part

of the reason why we wanted it,

because we knew we could use

the space to do whatever with

good ventilation. We can sweep

and clean pretty easily. It hasn’t

changed too much except for we

have identified gradually that we

need more storage options.

What kind of changes to your

garage have you made to

accommodate your uses?

M: It’s mostly the storage, so

hooks, shelves, and containers

that accommodate the things we

do. The photo backdrops are up

there [above the ceiling joists], so

you can pull them down.

Do you have relationships with

your alley neighbors? What’s

your block’s alley culture?

M: So the garage right next door

is a business owner with his wife.

They use it mostly for storage.

So I know them, but I don’t see

them very actively. Because of

the farmers’ markets in the lot

behind the garage, we want to

gradually have a shop on Sunday

mornings, so people can come

by here, too, and probably some

performances. We are into the

musical performance, especially

an idea about multiple act

performances where we can

have the garage door go up and

down, like a curtain.

Are there other ways in your

neighborhood that residents

creatively misuse private or

public space?

M: In this neighborhood there

are not only galleries and

garages but also apartments

owned by the same landlord,

with many creative professionals

living and working in all of the

spaces. So quite often events

occur in apartments, in addition

to commercial spaces. These

apartments will have openings

and social events or things

around art-making.

58 59


USE Art Space







Thomas and Nancy are a couple

who have lived in Ravenswood

Manor for thirty years. They

use their garage as a drop

site for Angelic Organics, the

oldest Community Supported

Agriculture (CSA) program in

the U.S.

Rebel Garage Archive

What do you use your

garage for?

Nancy: It is primarily a vegetable

drop for Angelic Organics. We’ve

been doing this since 1991—is

that 27 years? We’re the first, the

oldest, and still the largest drop

site. We have two full days. This

year it’s Tuesdays and Saturdays. I

found out from the farm this year

that I have the highest re-up rate,

out of 13 or 14 drop sites in the

city now. That’s just in the city not

in the suburbs. But this is the first!

Do you drive? Is your garage

ever used for parking?

N: When we first bought in 1985,

we did park in here. But there

were no doors, because it had a

three-fold door system, and one

third was existent and the other

two were not here so we could

just pull in. But when we decided

to renovate the roof, which was

six or seven years later, we put

doors on. No—we did the doors

before hand, when we got the

vegetables, we decided they had

to be secure. We went for the

three-fold doors because we

decided we’re not going to try to

put my extra-long Volvo station

wagon or Tom’s extra-long Ford

van in here. I was carpool central

at that point—lots of kids in the

neighborhood were going to

Waldorf School where I taught,

so I had a car full of kids in the

morning, and Tom is a painter

with scaffolds and ladders. So

after a while it wasn’t so feasible

to make the tight turn into the

garage so we quit parking in

here and decided when we had

an opportunity to dedicate it to

vegetable drops that that was a

good thing. So we do that from

the third week in June to about


Did you imagine using your

garage this way when you

moved in? How has it changed

over time?

N: We thought we were going to

use it for cars! Though we did

have a long-term goal of turning

it into a studio because Tom’s

a painter. We thought, when he

gets old and can’t keep up the

3,000 square foot studio he’s got

six blocks away—with thirteenfoot

north light windows—or

when we can’t afford that, he’ll

give that up, and he’ll totter out

the back of the house in his old

age …

Thomas: That’s where I’m about at


N: …and he’ll make tiny paintings.

Tom decided when he got old, he

would paint small.

What kind of changes to your

garage have you made to

accommodate your uses?

N: We put the three-fold door

replacement in. It is very difficult

for us to open, but that’s not a

problem for us. We don’t want it

to be easy to open. So only the

drivers and us really know how to

open the door. It can’t be opened

from the outside at all, you have

to come in and pop the bar there.

When we had to re-roof it, it still

had the original roof—the house

and garage date from 1918. It is

a beautiful brick garage, but the

roof was going. So we replaced

it, and when we took the roof off,

the light was so beautiful! Tom

scored those skylight windows

from a neighbor’s back porch.

The proportion is based on both

the windows and the Golden

Mean. Salvaged windows and an

aesthetic and you’ve got beauty.

T: To make it a working studio in

the winter, you would have to

insulate a little maybe, or put a

nice Yukon stove in here. Maybe it

should be a bathhouse!

62 63

Do you have relationships with

your alley neighbors? What’s

your block’s alley culture?

N: This is the best block in town,

I can tell you without a doubt!

We had a basketball hoop on

our garage, so all the kids on the

block played basketball after

school with my son. Four houses

of us raised our kids together, so

we cut through the wire fences

between the houses—every time

someone renovated and threw

out a gate, we would score the

gate and put it in the fences

between our houses. When the

kids were two, they could run

between all the houses and

play in the backyards without

us having to worry about them

getting into the alley. And then

once they were big enough to

play in the alley, they played in

the alley.

T: Down on the corner, the guys

played basketball every Saturday


Rebel Garage Archive

N: We have a very active social

block. It maybe started with us

all eating together. All the kids I

taught would come over after

school and they would all be

playing here, or I’d pick them

up from their various daycares.

Around dinner time, we would

all say, “Who’s got what?” “I’ve

got bread,” “I’ve got a chicken,”

“I’ve got soup,” “We can eat at

my house.” We ate together

five nights a week, and on the

weekends, we would grill.

T: The block is still a good block!

We go to a block party every

summer. There’s three BBQs in

the summer. We just use our


N: We invite all four houses and

all of our friends, so it’s a packed

BBQ. It’s a potluck. Those are big.

“Soup night”—next door to us,

they are Evangelical Christians

and believe in feeding the world

and being neighborly, so they

started soup night. Once a month

in the winter—from November to

Easter—they host Soup Night on

Sunday late afternoon. They’re

the next generation. People bring

homemade bread and cookies—

we eat well on this block! With

the CSA, I go to block parties

with huge trays of french

radishes, sweet butter and sea

salt. It’s good.

Parking: I have sixty to seventy

to eighty people who have boxes

to pick up. And sometimes those

boxes are shared, so it is a lot of

traffic. You see the sign on the

back windows: please don’t park

in front of the neighbors’ garages!

Because that’s the only thing that

just drives my alley neighbors

nuts. When they need to get in

and out—there’s three or four

or five cars in the alley, double

parked or triple parked. We try to

work that out.

I had a neighbor across the way,

a single guy now, and he was irate

last summer! I mean really irate.

He called me and said, “I need

to talk to you about this.” So I

invited him over, I showed him the

garage. And I said, “Do you know

what we’re doing here?” And he

said, “I don’t know, but whatever

it is, it is just bizarre.” I said, “This

is what we’re doing.” I introduced

him to the idea of the CSA, I gave

him a box of vegetables, and the

guy went away happy. He said,

“Maybe I’ll subscribe!”

Are there other ways in your

neighborhood that residents

creatively misuse private or

public space?

N: Well, my daughter has chickens

in her side yard. We had a rabbit

hutch under the house, and a

chicken coop! Mr. Conroy does a

motorcycle repair with his sons.

T: Not anymore—the boys are

grown now and have their own


N: They rented a mutual space,

the five of them!

T: I just picked up my car from a

mechanic who moonlights in his

garage. There are a lot of guys

who have their shop in their


N: I don’t think there’s anyone

who is crazy enough to think they

could have a bath in their garage.

The kids did think that they could

move in here and that this would

be their home—this was going to

be their retreat.

64 65

OWNER Thomas & Nancy

USE CSA Pickup

LOCATION Ravenswood Manor






Renee has a custom garage with

space for parking, a Community

Supported Agriculture (CSA)

pick-up, a generous roof

deck, and outdoor space for

gardening. Renee worked with

an architect to prioritize

sustainable designs for the


Rebel Garage Archive

What do you use your

garage for?

Renee: For the car. For CSA

pick-up. For the garden. For

the outdoor deck. Partially for

storage, though we try to keep it

very clean. You don’t know what

the other one looked like, this

is night and day! We don’t have

parties here, but probably we

should! We do get together with

people up on the deck.

Do you drive? Is your garage

ever used for parking?

R: Yes, but not on Wednesdays,

so people can pick up their food

[at the CSA].

Did you imagine using your

garage this way when you

moved in? How has it changed

over time?

R: When we moved in, with our

old garage, we could not do

any of this. But when we built

this new one, we designed it

specifically so we could do these

kinds of things. We didn’t know

about the CSA at the time, but to

do gardening, and the green roof,

that was all part of the original

project. We started doing the

CSA six years ago, soon after we

got the new garage.

What kind of changes to your

garage have you made to

accommodate your uses?

R: Being built sustainably was

the overriding mantra: can we

find things that were recycled,

that are recyclable? The green

roof, because of all the good

things that a green roof does

besides being pretty. We moved

the garage over - the old one

had been further towards the

house, and we moved it over

this way, further out to the alley.

It has made it a bit difficult to

park, but we’ve learned to do

it. Just having a deck, that was

important, too. What we would

re-do: for people who want a

garden, pay close attention to

the roof line, a non-peaked roof

cuts out more sun.

Do you have relationships with

your alley neighbors? What’s

your block’s alley culture?

R: Interestingly, we know some

of the people on the alley more

than we know people across the

street. We’re really good friends

with the people next door: how

many neighbors will build you a

raised bed and a cage and all the

rest? We’re really good friends

with people who are diagonally

across the alley from us. And we

know people scattered along the

alley. When you’re out working

in the garden, people will come

by and you talk. In some ways

we do know people back here

more than in the front. We had

a rain garden in the front a few

years ago - and the first year,

you have to water it; we saw a lot

of people that way. But there is

an alley culture of knowing each

other. There was a block party

for people living on either side of

the alley, so that was fun, too.

Are there other ways in your

neighborhood that residents

creatively misuse private or

public space?

R: The kids certainly play in the

alley, then they grow up and they

don’t. Street hockey and things

like that. There was a garage

where the teenage son had a

rock band. They do still practice!

That’s one example. Kids learn to

ride their bikes in the alley.

68 69


USE CSA Pickup

LOCATION Ravenswood Manor






Describing the unique, fraught, and complex

worlds of Chicago’s alleys.

ABOVE This first plat

map of Chicago, drawn

by James Thompson

in 1830, shows the

establishment of alleys

in residential blocks.

1. Moser, Whet.

“Chicago’s Alleys and Its

Growing, Hidden Green

Infrastructure.” Chicago

Magazine, October


ONLY LARGE cities of a certain age have alleys—

“New York is too old […] and Los Angeles too

young.”¹ Alleys were established after the Land

Ordinance of 1785 imposed a grid iron plan on

the nation west of the Ohio River, partitioning

land into increasingly smaller orthogonal

territories: from township to section, all the

way until the city block, the dividing alley, and

the building lot. In the early 1900S, alleys were

infrastructural thoroughfares: arteries for coal

delivery, human and horse waste storage, and

the collection, and sometimes burning, of trash.

Alleys provided urban infrastructure for services

which dealt with the negative externalities of

domestic architecture and provided the fuel

for heating and cooking, before these needs

were modernized into sewage systems, trash

pick-up, the electrical grid, and citywide gas

Alleys: B-Sides, In Betweens, Spaces of Exchange

distribution. Additionally,

the alleys were intended as

designated service corridors

for peddlers, tradespeople,

and solicitors, who—in

wealthy neighborhoods—were

not wanted on the main

street and at the front door.

During this period, in poorer

neighborhoods, alleys also

had other uses: according

to Tenement Conditions in

Chicago, a report from 1901

by sociologist Robert Hunter,

alleys in less affluent areas

were “common property” that,

though “wretchedly neglected,” were a “vital

necessity,” serving as “playgrounds” for children

of tenements and providing light and ventilation

to otherwise overcrowded buildings.²

After the postwar period, urban planning values

in the U.S. shifted away from alleys. Alleys

were reframed as wasteful uses of space and

in many cases, planning shifted instead to the

sprawling, curvilinear streets of the suburban

enclave. Alleys in Chicago—all 1,900 miles of

them—remained, but became primarily used

for parking cars, as well as continuing to be a

site for trash pick-up. Today, Chicago’s alleys are

present in 98% of residential blocks across the

city, and they are vastly different in character.

Their unique cultures and conditions reflect the

similarly diverse neighborhoods they exist in.

Additionally, alleys take on their own characters

based on the residents whose garages line their

sides. Some alleys are divided by gender: men fix

TOP Photograph

from the publication

Tenement Conditions

in Chicago (City Homes

Association, 1901) by

Robert Hunter.

ABOVE “The Traveling

Garbage Burner of

Chicago,” Scientific

American, 1893.

2. City Homes

Association and

Robert Hunter.

Tenement Conditions in

Chicago. (City Homes

Association, 1901).

74 75

ABOVE Tokyo roji ,

photograph by Takashi

Yasui, 2016.

3. “City of Chicago ::

Green Alleys.” https: /





their cars with the garage doors

open and boys play hockey or

basketball. Some alleys bring

communities together—such

as in Ravenswood, where

annually neighbors organize

a day of garage sales with

attendant music events,

food, and gatherings. Other

alleys are divisive—such as in

neighborhoods where they

provide thorough-fares for

crime or speeding cars seeking

shortcuts. Some are wellmaintained,

such as those that

have been renovated through

the Chicago Department of

Transportation’s “green alley program,” which

aims to provide better stormwater drainage,

bright long-lasting led lights, and other

sustainable features.³ Others continue to be

ridden with potholes: sites of repeat complaints

to 311 without action, and lit only by firecrackers

set off on the fourth of July.

What will alleys look like in the future? In the

past hundred years, Chicago’s alleys have shifted

in response to historical change. How can

Chicagoans’ desires and ambitions now lead a

transformation for the future?

In other cities, alleys have taken on diverse

characters: in Japan, “little streets” called roji

are slow spaces for pedestrians, filled with

plants, rainwater collection, shrines, and small

commercial spaces. In Melbourne, “laneways”

emerged from pedestrian use and more ad-hoc

Alleys: B-Sides, In Betweens, Spaces of Exchange

lot sizes, rather than from rigid city planning.

Today, Melbourne’s “laneways” are filled with

small restaurants, bars, commercial and art

spaces, and other gathering spots. In recent

years, Vancouver has introduced legislation

that allows for the construction of “laneway”

homes, rentable residential units—not unlike

the Chicago coach house. Other cities have

holistically developed their alleys as tourist and

commercial attractions, such as San Francisco’s

Chinatown⁴ and Seattle’s Nord Alley, which also

functions as a site for public art.

In some ways, Chicago is defined by its

in-between spaces, urban traces of nowoutdated

infrastructure which permeate the

city’s seemingly hyper-organized fabric: alleys,

firescapes, roof landscapes, gangways, vaulted

sidewalks, or the space under the L-tracks. In

gray zones, such as easements, and rights-ofway,

these in-between urban spaces often make

way for unique cultures and interactions: a

kiss on a rooftop while watching fireworks; a

scrapper’s unexpected find in a back alley; a

cascade of sparks from an L-track unexpectedly

illuminating a late-night walk home from the

night shift.

What do Chicagoans want for the future of these

spaces, and how can Chicagoans continue to

participate in and be collectively responsible

for the future of alleys, beyond their everyday

activities? How can we advocate for and carve

out legislative and urban space for alleys and

adjacent garages, so they can continue to

function as productive B-side spaces: as unique

environments for cultural, ecological, and

economic exchange?

4. Chinatown Alley

Way Renovation

Program from 1998,

by San Francisco

Public Works, for the

Chinatown Community

Development Center.

More at: http: /



76 77




What is a “garage” in the eyes of the law?

Today, a variety of intersecting regulations in

Chicago’s Municipal Code, Building Code, and

Zoning Ordinance regulate the architecture,

location, and use of garages in the city. Here

are nine policy proposals which aim to provoke

conversations about the rights and restrictions

which govern our garages today, and the ways

that these frameworks might evolve in the

future to accommodate or inspire change.

Let’s set new limits and

create new opportunities!





The Chicago zoning ordinance currently has a regulatory

mechanism called an “overlay district.” The ordinance describes

this regulation as a tool for “special situations or to accomplish

specific city goals that cannot be easily or efficiently addressed

through the use of base districts.” Currently in the city, thirteen

zoning overlays exist which add either additional rights or

restrictions to a certain area. This proposal introduces a “Rebel

Block district overlay,” which would allow more creative uses of

garages, while also opening the opportunity to set new limits

on heights, areas, and signage. These “Rebel Blocks” could

allow the rebel garage ethos to be limited to areas where an

entire block of Chicagoans have decided together to allow the

following transformations in their alleys. The overlay district

would also allow the city overall to regulate the locations of rebel

garage alley blocks—for example, in consideration of existing

base districts, nearby other incentive programs such as transitoriented

development, or in partnership with city programs,

such as the Dollar Lot Program which is already often used by

Chicagoans to create suburban-style garages and driveways.

This overlay district would allow for an urban-scale calibration

of the following proposed changes, as well as a time-based

approach which might introduce prototype or pilot-versions of

these code revisions over a longer period of time.

Nine Policy Proposals

80 81

OPPOSITE An example

of the way the “Rebel

Block” code changes

could be applied to

limited areas in the

city, based on location,

need, or consensus.

LEFT “Rebel Blocks”

could also be

designated through

collaborative decision

making at the scale of

a neighborhood, such

as if all block residents


Nine Policy Proposals

82 83






Let's remove these

from the law, so we

can do them!

Imagine an alley where you can buy fresh eggs, have your

fortune told, and get your oil changed—all by your neighbors.

Currently, Chicago businesses that operate out of residents’

homes are regulated by the Municipal Code. This code limits

what kinds of businesses can be located in a domestic space.

However, the landscape of small businesses is transforming

in the context of the sharing and “gig” economies, freelance

labor, and the increasing number of individuals pursuing selfemployment

outside of 9-to-5 jobs for economic or personal

reasons. Additionally, commercial space in Chicago can often

be difficult to secure for new businesses, especially women and

minority-owned businesses with less access to initial investment

capital, as they are often restricted to longer-term leases in

the 3- to 5-year range. Recent trends in “micro-retail,” such as

small commercial spaces and pop-up shops, have started to

address these issues through new building types. In contrast,

this proposal takes advantage of existing small buildings by

expanding the range of businesses that can be operated out

of one’s own home—including the garage—to construct an

infrastructure for small-scale entrepreneurship.

Nine Policy Proposals

84 85

BELOW Landscaping,

salon, and auto shop—a

few of the many types

of businesses which

are currently prohibited

from being licensed

for home (or garage)

occupation. What would

it be like to share your

alley with neighbors

and their clients running

these businesses?

Nine Policy Proposals

86 87






Remove the square

footage restrictions!

Steve Jobs famously started Apple in his garage. How many other

significant businesses may have started in the unique space of

the garage: out of the traffic, bustle, and quotidian burdens of the

main house? Can we describe the Chicago garage as a possible

space of dreams? Currently, the Municipal Code regulates how

garages can be used by home occupation businesses. The code

dictates that a garage cannot be the primary site of your work:

according to the code, the garage can only be used to store extra

papers and documents for business. This proposal allows the

main work of home businesses to expand into garages and also

removes the overall square footage restriction that limits the size

of home offices to 300 square feet. This change, which has also

been proposed by Chicago’s Small Business Advocacy Council,

reflects how many Chicagoans already see the garage as an

architectural type which can incubate, foster, and provide the

unique necessary conditions for starting something new.

Nine Policy Proposals

88 89

Take a conference call in

your basement office

Engage with clients in the garage

ABOVE This section of

a building shows the

way a business might

be expanded from the

home into the yard

and garage, creating

a bigger and more

diverse space for work.

Hold a meeting in your yard

Nine Policy Proposals

90 91






Two vanguards of architecture’s post-modern movement,

Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown, famously

described two ways that buildings can be designed to

convey (or “signify”) their uses to the public: “the duck” or

the “decorated shed.” “The duck” uses its shape or figure to

convey an idea, such as the basket-shaped headquarters of a

basket manufacturer. The “decorated shed,” in comparison,

is a simple, utilitarian building with a large exterior sign;

in this case, Venturi and Scott Brown were inspired by Las

Vegas roadside motels and convenience stores. In Chicago,

the Municipal Code currently restricts home occupation

businesses from displaying signs, having dedicated

entrances, or using shelves to display wares. This proposal

argues that the “decorated shed” is an economically efficient

and symbolically powerful way to transform simple garages

into vibrant spaces open to the public. While preserving the

residential character of a main street has a certain value, this

proposal speculates that the alley sides of Chicago homes can

become a little more flexible.

Say yes to

“decorated sheds”!

Nine Policy Proposals

92 93

Exterior signs advertise

and help with navigation

LEFT This image

shows a garage

outfitted with three

currently prohibited

components: an

exterior sign, a

dedicated entrance,

and shelves to display

wares. How would

these components

support a growing

business or change the

character of an alley?

A dedicated entrance allows

for a more autonomous

business space

Interior shelves support

the exhibition of goods

and work products

Nine Policy Proposals

94 95





More people and

more deliveries!

Any small businesses owner will tell you their business is a

network of connected people, not individuals: they comprise

communities of clients, employees, supporters, investors,

friends, and colleagues. Currently, the Municipal Code restricts

the amount of people who can visit, be employed in, or make a

delivery to a home business. Building on the goals of Proposal

#3—which allows more areas of accessory building to be

dedicated to businesses—this change suggests increasing the

limits on daily visitors to a home business. Garages and alleys

in Chicago are already bustling quasi-public spaces. In our

interviews, we learned that alleys are often transformed into

social areas for different groups: from kids playing between a

block’s backyards, to residents fixing cars with the garage door

open, to teenagers playing an alley-long game of street hockey,

to a space of exchange driven by the daily passage of scrappers,

trash pick-up, and Craigslist swaps. By extending the limits on

the number of visiting clients, non-resident employees, and

daily deliveries that can visit a home business, this change

reflects the existing productive bustle and opens alleys to further

commercial traffic.

Nine Policy Proposals

96 97

Multiple outside employees

can contribute

LEFT This image shows

an active garage

hosting visiting

clients, non-resident

employees, and

multiple daily deliveries,

producing a vibrant

and collaborative


More frequent deliveries

supported by alleys

Invite more than two visitors

at any given time

Nine Policy Proposals

98 99





Bring back the

coach house!

Would it be convenient to have a guest house or a roommate’s

unit in the backyard? How about extra rental space which would

generate extra monthly income? Or a space for in-laws upon

the arrival of a new baby? When Chicago’s alleys were planned

at the turn of the century, they functioned as access lanes for

horse-drawn carriages. The small buildings flanking these

alleys were used to store coaches after returning home. Since

the car replaced the horse-drawn coach as a primary means of

transportation for Chicagoans, new small buildings along the

city’s alleys are designed for the size of the automobile. However,

coach houses that remained have been transformed for new

uses by their owners—many of them into dwelling units with

a bathroom and kitchen. Looking into the future, with ride

sharing and autonomous vehicles on the horizon reducing the

need for private cars—and increased concerns about combustion

engines’ negative effects on public health and the climate—this

proposal anticipates that alleys will transform once again.

Currently, Chicago’s zoning ordinance only allows certain

structures in the rear setback (the area between a house and an

alley) of a building’s lot. Allowances today currently include:

garage, shed, and shading structures like pergolas. This proposal

suggests bringing back the “coach house,” with limits at three

stories and up to 1,200 square feet.

Nine Policy Proposals

100 101

Nine Policy Proposals

ABOVE How can

the historical

categorization of the

“coach house”—a

larger building with

infrastructure like

gas or water—inspire

new, unexpected, and

diverse accessory

buildings in the future

such as those shown


102 103






Nine Policy Proposals

Invest in architecture!

In the current zoning ordinance, garages are categorized as

“accessory buildings,” which is defined as a structure that is

secondary to a main house. By defining garages in this way,

the code also restricts owners from constructing them before

the main building. This change proposes that garages should

be allowed to be built first. In this way, garages might function

as early investments, fiscal collateral, or the first step in

phased construction. The Cook County Land Bank (cclba)

currently holds 4,000+ lots, all of which have been cleared for

back taxes and are made available to the buyer at sub-market

prices. However, in order to purchase a lot from cclba, one

is required to show the financial means to develop the site. If

accessory buildings were built first, this may allow a broader

populace to begin to invest in vacant lots. An auto-mechanic,

for example, might build a small garage and relocate his

business there—over time, he may eventually build the main

structure. A new family might build a coach house structure

to live in, while saving the funds to build a main house,

eventually transforming that accessory structure into a rental

unit for extra income. With this change, the city’s numerous

vacant lots, currently untended or being tended at a cost to the

city or county government, could be re-distributed to residents

more quickly by re-defining the “accessory structure” as a

cautious, but hopeful, architectural investment.

104 105

RIGHT Garages

constructed before

primary residences

could serve as

investment strategies,


resources, or support

other individual or

community needs.

Neighborhood residents

cultivate individual plots

and share resources

A community garden storage shed

in the space of a garage

Nine Policy Proposals

106 107




Nine Policy Proposals

Transportation is

changing, so should


In Chicago and other U.S. cities, there are currently stringent

parking requirements for dwelling units. These requirements

emerge from a post-war ideal of nuclear families organized

around an automobile-focused life. This proposal reflects

the way in which the landscape of 21st century domestic

space and transportation is more complex, diverse in its

forms, messy, and nuanced than the post-war ideal. While

some Chicagoans may continue to need space to park a

car, many others prefer to use that space for secondary uses

such as the ones described in the Rebel Garage Archive.

Additionally, we argue that the conditions of contemporary

transportation are moving away from privately owned

cars—just as it moved away from the horse-drawn coach

a century ago. For example, major cities such as Oslo are

banning cars from their downtowns and others, such as

Paris, are banning combustion engines entirely in the coming

decades. Additionally, in recent years, Chicago’s Department

of Transportation has been investing in urban streetscape

upgrades for bikes and pedestrians; in parallel, private

corporations are leading research toward shared autonomous

vehicles. By reducing parking requirements and providing the

option to use accessory buildings for creative secondary uses,

this proposal argues for a change in regulation to both reflect

and incentivize these broader changes in transportation.

108 109

LEFT This map shows

parcels within

residential zoning

(possible garage sites)

that fall within the

range of requirements

for Transit Oriented

Development, an

existing incentive to

develop business

or commercial lots

near public transport.

These areas might be

good candidates for

“Rebel Blocks,” where

parking for cars is

less necessary in lieu

of other modes of




buildings within TOD


Nine Policy Proposals

Residential buildings

withing TOD areas

110 111






Let’s make room for

experimental architecture!

Chicago garages are currently uniquely limited in their

architectural expression—both by regulation and by cost—in

terms of building systems, materials, size, and form. With

increasingly diverse uses occurring inside garages, this proposal

would allow for garage architecture to begin to reflect the plethora

of activities that are going on inside them. This proposal also

expands on current limitations in order to open up possibilities

for unexpected future activities. Could a garage be used as a

drone landing pad, a political organizing space, a kombucha

production kitchen, or another activity we have never seen

before? Second, Rebel Garages argues that the alley may be a

productive space for architectural experimentation off of the

main street. While consistent character of residential streets

has a certain value, we believe that the small scale and relative

affordability of accessory buildings might help cultivate a

potent testing ground for new building technologies. A garage or

accessory building may be a good site for architects or designers

to test new energy-efficient roofing details, or unconventional

exterior walls, using experimentation to drive architectural

innovation in Chicago. Already, alleys are sometimes known as

spaces of vice or quasi-legal activities, this change proposes that

the code make allowances for rebel or experimental architecture,

as well.

Nine Policy Proposals

112 113

LEFT These whimsical

garage buildings are

inspired by familiar

shapes in iconic

architecture. What

other shapes or

functions might emerge

in the future when we

stop assuming garages

are only for parking?

Nine Policy Proposals

114 115





Re-thinking belonging on a civic scale through a

“rebellious” built environment.

ABOVE A Chicago block

party, at 68th St. and

Bennett St., temporarily

transforms a civic

asset—a street—into

a community space

through a simple

bureaucratic process.

What other assets

could be shared or

activated in temporary

ways? Image courtesy

of Eric Allix Rogers,

Creative Commons.

THE TERMS “city,” “civic,” and “civitas” blur:

they share etymological roots, describing

how we come together and the places where

we do so. Bound within these terms seems

to be the hope that we are indeed more than

the sum of our parts: in “civitas,” a political

body of people moving forward, in “civic”

assets, a belief in pooling together our

efforts toward shared infrastructure. Living

together in cities, where we are bound

together by law and often by choice, too,

public and shared spaces help us negotiate

our collective existence. On one hand, they

bring us together: the city square, the public

park, the playground drinking fountain,

or the eighteen-mile-long lakefront path.

On the other hand, these spaces also help

negotiate our relationships to one another,

Civic Assets: Identifying New Public Commons

holding us apart, by choreographing the

relational conditions between ourselves

and strangers, from the dotted line between

bike lane and car traffic, to the invisible

boundary lines between wards, to the

regulations of zoning which keep factories

and homes from emerging side-by-side.

However, none of these shared spaces in

and of themselves produce utopia or the

ideal of a democratic commons, as anyone

living with them knows. As often as not,

public spaces and civic assets produce

exclusion as well as inclusion. While a city

plaza can serve as a space of assembly,

congress, and dissent, it can also become

a site of control or discrimination by state

and private interests.

How can we re-think civic assets in the

future, so that they are both more public,

and more inclusive, and yet also speak

to transformations in economy and

technology? What kinds of spaces in the

city do we want and need to share and

communicate with our neighbors? Which

have the potential to be frameworks or

arenas for changing forms of collectivity?

The rebel garage represents the possibility

of a new type of civic asset, driven by

temporality and sharing, rather than

exclusively by ownership or fixed spatial

parameters. The recent so-called “sharing

economy” has expanded our architectural

and urban understandings of what can be

118 119

shared. Hosts for “couch surfers” put up

a single piece of furniture for overnight

use; Airbnb users may share a single room

or a whole apartment; early forms of ride

sharing acted as carpooling message boards

for strangers; with WeWork, one can rent

the space of a single desk for an hour. Yet

it is important to situate these conditions

of sharing both in space and in time.

They occur at a range of scales—consider

the national-scale removal of productive

agricultural land from the economy for

conservation for years at a time in the

federal Conservation Reserve Program—

all the way down to the operations of

“shiftbeds” in immigrant neighborhoods,

single-room occupancy buildings, or in-law

units in Chicago. The rebel garage and

affiliated alleys, which switch between

private use (parking) and public functions

(autoshop, CSA pick-up) with the simple

opening or closing of a garage door, point

another way that we could imagine the

idea of civic assets. These are assets which

could be durational, and even go so far as to

matching needs and spaces through nonmarket


already bring their spaces into the public

realm—bringing them on- and off-line, so

to speak—could also be an infrastructure to

manage architectural and urban space on a

bigger scale? Could we schedule the use of a

public park for an hour? Could a ward own

a fleet of cars or bicycles through a network

of temporary loans? Could we contribute

our kitchens, backyards, or alleys toward

collective use, and then take them back

again at night?

In Chicago, there are already bureaucratic

and managerial frameworks for temporal

sharing of civic assets: take the permitting

of a city street for a block party, or the

creation of a temporary easement across

multiple properties for a common end.

What would it mean if the ways that people

Civic Assets: Identifying New Public Commons

120 121



How can we use policy to support, not shortcircuit,

heterogeneous ways of living in the city?

The rebel garage is just one example. In this

section, we explore four case studies—a parking

spot, a building, vacant lots, and excess asphalt—

to understand ways of developing infrastructure

that help cultivate collective life in the city.




Chicago’s first “parklet,” a temporary green

space in a curbside parking lot, shows how

design can negotiate between neighborhood

needs and diverse stakeholders, and even

initiate a new city-wide permitting process.

1. For more on the

history and futures of

this kind of work, see

Mimi Zeiger’s four-part

series: Zeiger, Mimi.

“The Interventionist’s

Toolkit: 1-4.” Places

Journal, January

31, 2011. https: /doi.


2. Erbentraut,

Joseph. “Chicago’s



Could Be Home To

City’s Parklet Pilot

Program.” Huffington

Post, April 13, 2012,

sec. Chicago. https: /




Case Studies

THE IDEA of a “parklet”—a parking spot

transformed into a temporary green space—

came of age in San Francisco in the early 2000s,

within a wave of other “tactical urbanism” or

“placemaking” projects intended to heighten

engagement and participation in public space.¹

Chicago arrived slightly later to the trend in

2012, when Andersonville became the home

of the city’s first parklet.² The parklet was

organized by the Andersonville Development

Corporation and coordinated by Brian

Bonnano, the group’s Director of Sustainability

Initiatives at the time. The project was

ultimately the product of a collaboration of

many stakeholders, including neighborhood

businesses, architects and designers, Chicago’s

Department of Transportation (cdot), as

well as supporters from throughout the city.

Because it was the city’s first project of the

kind, it required careful negotiation between

stakeholders. These included: Chicago Parking

Meters (cpm), the private company which

runs neighborhood parking spaces; the ward’s

alderman; the businesses which ceded parking

spaces to pedestrian use; and cdot, which had

never permitted a project of this kind before;

as well as more traditional buy-in and support

from community residents and business

owners. The final parklet was designed by the

Chicago architecture firm Moss Design. The

goals of the project had been initially tested

through a series of temporary structures and

pop-up events, such as a temporary garden in

front of the Swedish American Museum, which

acted as research into ideas for the parklet’s

functions and design. The success of the

parklet was eventually used in part as a model

for cdot’s Make Way For People program, a

process for permitting right-of-way spaces in

the city such as alleys, streets, and parking

spaces for placemaking activities.

BELOW Built Andersonville

Parklet. Image courtesy of

Brian Bonanno.

124 125

3. Bonnano, Brian,

Craig Reschke, and

Ann Lui. Rebel Garages

interview with Brian

Bonnano. Video call,

February 23, 2017.

The development and negotiation of a

permitting process for the parklets also

helped define the values of the Andersonville

project, as well as the points where design

and regulation intersected. In an interview,

Bonnano said, “the City had initially set design

guidelines…they wanted only tables and chairs

which would fold up and go away at the end of

the day. The parklet [in that case] could only be

usable when it was associated with a business

nearby and when that business was open. That

to me just didn’t make a lot of sense, because

our neighborhood was busy at all times of

the day. It would also make people feel like it

wasn’t a public space and it would make them

feel like they would have to buy something. […]

We were really adamant about opportunities

for interaction.”³ These original regulatory

ideas changed to reflect the project’s emphasis

on publicness. Since then, more parklets—as

well as designs aimed at regenerating or

highlighting other city-owned spaces—have

been built following cdot’s guidelines

developed, in part, through this initial venture.

expansion of Chicago’s prolific existing block

parties where parking spaces are replaced

with BBQ grills, inflatable bounce houses, and

lawn chairs. Second, the Andersonville parklet

represents a case study in the permitting of

space that is both private (parking spaces

usually dedicated to adjacent businesses, or

spaces owned by a private company) and public

(open to, and intended for, community use) by

using architecture and design to bridge those

worlds. Lastly, this pilot project served as a

model for broader policy transformations in

cdot’s permitting practices, allowing city-wide

changes to be tested and experimented first in a

specific place and time.

Case Studies

The Andersonville Parklet is an important

Chicago case study for Rebel Garages. First, it

represents the creation of a policy or form of

regulation around an existing spatial practice,

allowing that practice to grow and transform,

while respecting the needs of various

stakeholders. The parklet can be read, in a

way, as an expansion of the existing practice

of dibs: when neighborhood residents, during

winter time, use furniture to hold parking spots

they’ve shoveled out. It can also be read as an

126 127




In Mexico City, this experimental commercial

space shows how architects can engage public

space by designing through atmosphere,

unexpected uses, and a good playlist, rather

than walls and roofs.

Case Studies

TO UNDERSTAND Muebles Sullivan, one has

to imagine it first at the center of many

whirring networks—architects, friends,

collaborators, professionals—which themselves

are constantly changing and transforming.

Because on one hand, Muebles Sullivan can

be defined as a physical space in Mexico City,

on the ground floor of an early building by the

city’s most celebrated architect Luis Barragán,

and the size of a small store. On the other

hand, the spirit of Muebles Sullivan completely

eludes its physical characteristics; for instance

the decades-spanning, multicultural YouTube

karaoke songs which play there every Thursday

and Friday night, attracting sweaty, glittering,

illuminated groups of friends who frequently

spill outside singing in the street. Muebles

Sullivan is profoundly temporal, ecstatic even,

and it transforms beneath your eyes.

By day Muebles Sullivan is, as its name

implies, a furniture store on Avenida Sullivan.

It sells custom white steel furniture of limited

selection: a stool, a table, a shelf, in a range of

different sizes. This furniture was originally

designed by aprdelesp, a young architecture

collaborative. Also on sale on Muebles Sullivan:

“Furniture for Public Use,”—cast concrete

street furniture, plus “plants, coffee, popsicles,

beer,”—typically 40 oz. Coronas—and “wine,

and photocopies.” aprdelesp is known

for their work in experimental commercial

spaces—each of which they design and

operate—challenging others to rethink the

definitions of public space through the lens

of stores, restaurants, and shops. In Muebles

Sullivan, the most important architectural

ABOVE Muebles Sullivan

by day. Image courtesy


128 129

1. Cesarman, Rodrigo

Escandon, Guillermo

Gonzalez Ceballos,

Craig Reschke,

and Ann Lui. Rebel

Garages interview with

APRDELESP. In person

recording, March 23,


BELOW The same

space transformed

into an experimental

commercial space at

night. Image courtesy


component isn’t something built, but instead

is an unexpected encounter. In an interview

with aprdelesp, they said, “The [space is]

completely open. It’s on the same level as the

street and there’s no threshold between the

private space and the sidewalk, so when we

do karaoke in there, it’s almost like karaoke

in the street.” ¹ This lack of a threshold allows

for the temporal transformation of the space

from a commercial interior during the day, to a

sprawling public hangout at night.

Muebles Sullivan gives a new lens through

which to understand rebel garages. First, its

temporal qualities: an (almost traditional)

commercial space by day and casual karaoke

spot by night reflected the ways that “rebel”

use of garages is often layered, where

activities alternate with parking, either daily

or seasonally. Second, its vibrant use of a

small square footage, which, by spilling out

into the sidewalk through atmospheric rather

than architectural strategies, helps delineate

the way that alley culture is an integral, not

accessory, component of the rebel garage.

Third, Muebles Sullivan thrives in the way it

is used and through the furniture and other

props which support its users, rather than

its larger architectural form or components.

Maybe karaoke, which—as undertaken by the

participants at Muebles Sullivan—gives us a

way to all sing together, can be understood

through the idea of a “relational object”:

something that both assembles and mediates

that assembly, which can be as simple as a

table and as complex as a city. Both Muebles

Sullivan and Chicago’s rebel garages

challenge us to rethink architecture as a group

karaoke: transformative and atmospheric,

requiring both risk and investment, and at

its core, nothing more and nothing less than

a framework for mediating togetherness

between people.

Case Studies

130 131





Chicago’s Cook County Land Bank Association

is responsible for vacant lots, which are

together becoming increasingly understood

as a ubiquitous civic asset when re-imagined

through a broad range of uses.


(cclba) is a governmental unit which responds

to systemic conditions in the built environment.

It introduces new ways to respond to big

problems with the long-term goal of responding

to community needs and growth, rather than

the dominant logic of the real estate market.

Land banks, of which there are 120 in the

United States, are either government entities or

non-profits tasked with responding to issues of

residential, commercial, and land vacancy, often

in underserved neighborhoods or cities. Many are

more familiar with the City of Chicago’s “Large

Lots” program, which sells vacant lots for $1 to

neighborhood residents, which operates through

many of the same modes. The cclba has a

similar mandate except from Cook County and

with broader jurisdiction in its efforts.

or distressed properties for low or no cost; clear

back taxes; hold land without paying property

tax; and rent properties for temporary use.

cclba currently works to hand over these

properties—for a nominal cost—to either

developers who have the funding to rehabilitate

properties to market rate, or individual

homeowners (starting in 2017) to purchase a

home for themselves. The cclba currently lists

over 5,000 properties on its website for sale. As

a case study for Rebel Garages, cclba’s efforts

illuminate the way that policy can respond to

on-the-ground conditions, existing uses, and

local needs.

From a distance, cclba’s impact may seem to

register only on the large scale, and over a long

period of time, as it vets and moves property

to responsible developers and homeowners.

On closer inspection, cclba reveals how

legislation around the built environment can

also make space for more speedy change or

BELOW Cook County

Land Bank Association’s

web interface showing

current holdings

available for purchase.

Case Studies

Through unique powers legislated to cclba,

the organization is able to acquire the vacant

132 133

1. Rose, Rob, Craig

Reschke, and Ann

Lui. Rebel Garages

interview with Rob

Rose. In person

interview, February 23,


informal use. During an interview with Rebel

Garages, cclba Director Rob Rose remarked

that some neighborhoods at any given time

can only attract or sustain a certain quantity

of new market-rate housing; consequently, the

group was also interested in temporary or more

informal ways that vacant lots might be used

in support of the community while waiting for

demand to increase.¹ In light of this, cclba has

donated lots to urban farms and community

gardens, as well as to community groups such

as Mothers Against Senseless Killing (mask)

which uses a cclba vacant lot to hold events,

vigils, and gatherings. By thinking through the

ways that urban space can be used temporarily,

as well as treating neighborhood assets as

long-term investments, cclba is a unique case

of using policy as a nimble tool to respond to

contemporary urban conditions.

Case Studies






This permitting process allows for new types

of interventions in Chicago’s public way. The

project supports communities and designers

by encouraging them to engage and develop

unconventional uses of space.

Case Studies

HOW CAN a city’s government—through

ordinances, permitting strategies, and

funding—help support informal gatherings

or non-traditional uses of urban space? Does

the establishment of official programs for

these efforts help facilitate the ephemeral and

hard-to-define ways that people come together,

or hinder them by turning on the spotlight?

Can the increasingly diverse ways the city’s

neighborhoods operate, grow, and struggle

begin to be regulated from the top-down with

productive ends? Make Way For People, a

program run by Chicago’s Department of

Transportation (CDOT), begins to answer

some of these questions within Chicago’s

unique urban and political contexts.

The program is part of the “Chicago Complete

Streets” initiative, a direction which highlights

the importance of sharing the street between

cars, pedestrians, buses, and bikes, as well

as investing in infrastructure sustainability

upgrades. Make Way For People is a vehicle to

support “placemaking” efforts, defined by cdot

as both the creation of more walkable and

enjoyable spaces, as well as the strengthening

of a place’s identity, through temporary

and lightweight interventions. Make Way

For People is comprised by four categories

of possible interventions, each of which is

circumscribed by a type of space that cdot

traditionally oversees (in contrast to privatelyowned

property or other spaces controlled by

Chicago’s Park District). These four categories

include: “People Spots” (parking spaces

administered by Chicago Parking Meters

(CPM)); “People Streets” (“excess” asphalt

areas); “People Plazas” (plazas, triangles, legacy

pedestrian malls); and “People Alleys.”

Each of these types of spaces faces its own

unique challenges and issues; each has

been activated by different individuals and

groups. Chicago’s six People Spots have been

empirically evaluated as successful, driving

visitors to and keeping them in certain areas;

however, their numbers pale in comparison to

other cities (San Francisco, according to the

Chicago Tribune, has more than 50 parklets

and with half of our city’s population). Projects

executed so far under the aegis of the program

include Boombox, a series of retail kiosks

designed and operated by Chicago-based

Latent Design; parklets throughout the city,

primarily on the north side; Lincoln Hub, an

intervention of bright colored street paint in

Lakeview; and The Last Mile, a temporary

136 137

installation in an alley by the

Good City Group, an urban

design collective, which

highlighted a shortcut often

used by neighborhood residents

in Jefferson Park to get to the

neighborhood CTA station.

ABOVE Lincoln Hub, a

placemaking project

in Lakeview. Image

courtesy of John

Greenfield, Streetsblog


Outside of the specifics of

Make Way For People and the

successes and shortcomings

of its individual projects, the

program’s significance can be understood

through two important lenses. First, it

represents a critical re-reading, by cdot,

of the spaces it administers as not strictly

“infrastructural” but ultimately public in

nature. This re-reading transforms excess

asphalt on the street, parking spaces, and odd

leftover triangles into public space—not in the

sense that it falls within the oversight of the

city, but in the sense that they are spaces which

can be ceded to city residents for our own ends.

Second, Make Way For People articulates the

idea that streamlining a permitting process—

that making bureaucratic processes more

transparent, illustrative, and essentially legible

in character—is itself a creative act, one which

makes way for others to undertake creative acts

of their own. These two ways of understanding

and regulating urban space are central to the

project of Rebel Garages.

Case Studies




We would like to thank the City of Chicago

Department of Cultural Affairs and Special

Events, whose IncentOvate grant helped

support the research and production of this

publication. A special thank you to UrbanLab

Co-Founders Martin Felsen and Sarah Dunn,

whose exhibition 50 Designers, 50 Ideas, 50

Wards originally inspired this project, and

to Chicago Architecture Center President

& CEO Lynn Osmond for encouraging its

further investigation. Thanks also to Ron

Kirkpatrick, who pointed us toward some

unique garages in his neighborhood. We're

grateful to all of the garage rebels who

allowed us into their homes and spoke to us

for this project in the past three years.

Ann Lui and Craig Reschke

Future Firm

Michael Wood

Chicago Architecture Center


ISBN 978-0-9973615-2-0


9 780997 361520

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