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Your Friday afternoon briefing

Chicago Sun-Times Afternoon Edition
Good afternoon. Here’s the latest news you need to know in Chicago. It’s about a 5-minute read that will brief you on today’s biggest stories.
— Matt Moore (@MattKenMoore)

This afternoon will be sunny with a high near 83 degrees. Tonight will be partly cloudy with a low around 64. Tomorrow will be partly sunny with a high near 79 and a 50% chance of showers and thunderstorms.
Top story
Keyante Aytch, 24, is working with Grow Greater Englewood on building Englewood Village Plaza, one of the Biennial’s 15 projects across Chicago. The site was previously a vacant lot. | Jason Beeferman/Sun-Times
Keyante Aytch, 24, is working with Grow Greater Englewood on building Englewood Village Plaza, one of the Biennial’s 15 projects across Chicago. The site was previously a vacant lot. | Jason Beeferman/Sun-Times
A vegetable garden in Englewood. A North Lawndale community pottery center, built by hand from bricks of soil. A colorful outdoor exhibition space in the heart of Woodlawn.
This year, all across Chicago, small architectural oases have popped up in perhaps the most unexpected of places: vacant city-owned lots.
The theme of the fourth installment of the Chicago Architecture Biennial is “The Available City,” and the event is reimagining 10,000-plus vacant lots on the South and West sides as community spaces.
“The city-owned vacant lots are about 13,000, and if you assume a standard lot, that’s about the size of the downtown area,” said David Brown, the Biennial’s artistic director. “That’s really something that can have a very large impact on the residents and the community organizations, but also on the city.”
The Biennial usually is held in the Loop at the Chicago Cultural Center. But with the pandemic still limiting indoor activities, it had to be restructured, Brown said.
Instead, it focused on outdoor spaces in underserved communities, where many vacant lots are located.
The results can be seen in 15 projects scattered around the city. Each site is designed by international architects and local organizers, who team up to transform those desolate lots. This year, in a first for the Biennial, whatever is built on each site is intended to be permanent.
More news you need
  1. An Illinois State Police trooper was shot and wounded on the Dan Ryan Expressway this afternoon near 43rd Street on the South Side. David Struett has the latest on the situation.
  2. The shooting of the trooper comes a day after state police said they would increase patrols in the Chicago area, citing a rise in shootings on area expressways as their motive. Highway shootings have more than doubled in 2021 compared to the same period last year, officials said.
  3. Chicago Public Schools enrollment is down for the 10th consecutive year as the district grapples with the effects of the pandemic. CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said today that “frank conversations” with local families and communities about their ideas and concerns might lead to “hard choices.”
  4. Mayor Lori Lightfoot is teaming up with Microsoft Corp. to help over 300,000 Chicagoans gain the digital skills necessary to find a job and succeed across various industries. The program will provide free online courses, skill certifications and career opportunities to Chicagoans looking to build their resumes and find employment.
  5. Twenty-three Chicago nonprofits aimed at reducing violent crime in Chicago will receive grants of between $60,000 and $275,000 funded through the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. Among the organizations is Girls Like Me Project, a group that works with Black girls ages 11 to 17 to critically examine social, cultural and political ideologies in media.
  6. Construction is set to begin this month on the first building in the 55-acre Lincoln Yards development that straddles the river between Bucktown and Lincoln Park. The eight-story riverfront building will house medical research facilities and creative office space.
  7. Lou Malnati’s is getting a new investor after a San Francisco-based investment firm hammered out a deal to take part ownership of the local pizza chain. But nothing is changing when it comes to pizza, said Marc Malnati, who with his brother, Rick, will maintain their stake in the company.
A bright one
Magic Selfies owner Zhazha Casanova says she takes pride in creating moments for customers they will remember for years to come.
“I just love creating experiences. I feel like life is all about experiencing moments,” said Casanova. “There are certain moments that stick with you like: ‘Man, that was a good time.’ ”
Casanova, a Mather High School alumna and Miami native, opened the South Loop’s Magic Selfies in February amid the COVID-19 pandemic with the aim of creating “happy moments” for customers far and wide.
Zhazha Casanova, owner of Magic Selfies, stands next to the main Magic Selfies sign in the South Loop. | Mark Capapas/Sun-Times
Zhazha Casanova, owner of Magic Selfies, stands next to the main Magic Selfies sign in the South Loop. | Mark Capapas/Sun-Times
The museum, which is located in the Roosevelt Collection Shops, has about 16,000 Instagram followers, and a steady customer base — an example of Casanova’s drive and promotion.
Each room includes powerful themes that change periodically such as a bathtub filled with rubber ducks, newspaper pages, a basketball motif, sunflowers, and a lifesize unicorn, among other backdrops.
“Some people come in here, and they’re so shy like: ‘Oh, I don’t know what to do.’ By the time they come back here, they’re a whole different person,” said Casanova said. “
In this space, you can be who you want to be. You can do TikTok [videos], and not feel stupid because everybody else around you is doing the same thing.”
From the press box
Your daily question  ☕
You’ve just been made an alderperson for the day — what’s the first thing you’ll do for your ward?
Reply to this email (please include your first name and where you live) and we might feature your answer in the next Afternoon Edition.
Yesterday we asked you: It’s International Podcast Day, so we want to know — If you could create a Chicago-focused podcast, what would it be about? Here’s what some of you said…
“My Chicago-focused podcast would center on the active theater community in Chicago and the ‘burbs. I’d love to talk with actors, directors, costumers, set designers, music directors, and choreographers about their careers, helping increase excitement for the return of live theater!” — Paul Lockwood
“The daily lives of people with psychical disabilities.” — Steve Price
“The victims of the Eastland Disaster. I would love to do research on each victim and do a podcast on several at a time.” — Toni Bernotus
“A podcast about made up holidays.” — Leticia Montes
Thanks for reading the Chicago Sun-Times Afternoon Edition. Got a story you think we missed? Email us here.
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