Holiday gift ideas from MPC - 2013 edition - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Holiday gift ideas from MPC - 2013 edition

In years past we've shared fun, unique holiday gift ideas for your friends and family that also resonate with MPC's mission of building a more socially equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically competitive region. For the next three weeks we'll be adding one new idea a day to this list—so check back often—to get you in the giving spirit (and the transit-riding, stormwater-absorbing, quality housing-investing and great urban spaces-building spirits as well). We'd love to hear your ideas! 

  • Chicago has some serious architecture pride, and we are lucky to be near so many iconic works of Frank Lloyd Wright. MPC Research Assistant Charles Dabah recommends visiting the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust, where you can learn more about tours and programs that take you inside the mind—and of course, buildings—of one of the most prolific American architects. A walkthrough of Wright’s home and studio or the Prairie style designed Robie House is sure to get your creative juices flowing. If you find yourself in a builder’s daydream after the experience, look no further than Chris Ware’s interactive graphic novel Building Stories and LEGO Architecture. You can even construct your very own Willis Tower.
  • It’s easy to get caught up in the Holiday Season hoopla, but don’t forget the less fortunate! Chrissy Mancini Nichols (@chrissyMPC) has a few suggestions: With one in six Chicagoans wondering where their next meal is coming from, a donation as small as $25 to the Greater Chicago Food Depository helps provide 150,000 meals to the hungry every day. Growing Home, Working Bikes, Coat Angels and Share our Spare are also great options this holiday season. If you're thinking of giving the gift of a pet, please don’t buy, adopt! Found ChicagoPAWS, One Tail at a Time and the Anti-Cruelty Society all have lovable dogs and cats waiting for a fur-ever home. And if you’re shopping online, donates 0.5 percent of your total to the charity of your choice. Remember, your donation is tax-deductible!
  • What plannerd doesn’t love maps? For the cartographile on your list (and yes, it’s possible we made that word up), Mandy Burrell Booth suggests a map. Maps on pillows, maps on belt buckles, maps on coasters—you name it, you can put a map on it, which is much, much cooler (we think) than putting a bird on it.
  • For hard-to-buy-for friends, Ryan Griffin-Stegink suggests a gift card from your neighborhood chamber of commerce. Force your friends to shop local! You might even be able to get a $50 gift card for free. Several neighborhood chambers, like Ryan's, have a holiday promotion where you get a free $50 card when you bring in $300 worth of receipts from local businesses. $300 adds up pretty quickly with groceries and a few restaurant tabs, so dig around the house for receipts and you may be surprised.
  • Here in Chicago, we know how to survive a harsh, cold winter…in cozy bars and restaurants! You will find Breann Gala (a.k.a. @BreannMPC) headed to Inspiration Kitchen, a restaurant serving contemporary American cuisine, in Garfield Park and Uptown. Inspiration Corporation, the organization behind the restaurants, helps low-income and homeless Chicago residents gain relevant food service industry skills through their training program and then practice their new cooking and service skills in Inspiration Kitchen’s restaurants. In addition to helping support fellow Chicagoans, the food is delicious and the service amazing! Grab a gift card on giftly for Inspiration Kitchen or Curt’s Cafe, which uses local products and provides training and work opportunities to at-risk youth in Evanston. Both are great options for the months of hibernating ahead!
  • Yonah Freemark (a.k.a. @yfreemark) recommends buying an old subway car…seriously. The Chicago Transit Authority has an auction going on some of its older equipment, signs and other exciting relics, online until Dec. 18. If you’re not quite ready to buy a train, you might try Transit Tees instead. A local Chicago store with an outlet on Milwaukee Avenue, Transit Tees produces its own visually stunning designs for you, your children and your grandparents to wear. If you’re interested in showing off a little non-local transit pride, check out Los Angeles Metro’s store or the New York Transit Museum store.
  • It may not be Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but did you know that some of MPC’s Commute Options providers have Christmas gifts for purchase, including jewelry? Tim Grzesiakowski suggests something from the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Chicago Water Taxi or Active Transportation Alliance website. CTA’s selection ranges from the above-mentioned jewelry (including cuff links and pendants made with old CTA tokens) to iPhone cases and transit memorabilia. The Water Taxi and Active Trans websites are also fun to peruse, with items like wine glasses and bike jerseys for sale. So before you wonder what to get someone on your Christmas shopping list, check out these websites for some unique and unusual gift ideas!
  • Marisa Novara suggests ambling over to Michigan Avenue and the Chicago Architecture Foundation‘s gift shop. Here you can indulge your inner planner/architecture nerd with gifts like a 4D Cityscape History of Time Puzzle, which shows the growth of a city over three jigsaw layers, or a PBS documentary of Daniel Burnham entitled, of course, “Make No Little Plans.” Buy a great gift and support an incredible organization at the same time!
  • Workshops from the Rebuilding Exchange are great gifts that help forward the organization's mission to create a market for reclaimed building materials. Yonina Gray suggests one-day classes on home improvement, wood working and furniture building that can inspire a loved one to create a great piece of work and feel good about using materials that would have otherwise made their way to a landfill. This gift will teach the recipient about sustainable reuse practices, support job training for those with barriers to employment and in many cases, end with the creation of a handmade, one-of-a-kind keepsake. 
  • As an avid cyclist who is new to the Chicagoland area, MPC Research Assistant Jamie Makatche suggests Active Trans’ 2013 Chicagoland Bike Map as a wonderful gift idea for all of your local cyclist friends and family. This guide is an ideal resource for someone who rides for recreation, commutes to work or is just running errands. The new 2013 edition includes more connections, trails and resources than previous editions, as well as a rating system to help cyclists create routes to serve their personal needs. Happy cycling!

  • MPC is constantly researching and promoting alternate transportation modes. Peter Skosey (or as some of you may know him, @PSkosey) says the best insurance policy to getting around the city is a transit pass and a Divvy membership—you’ll never be stranded again! Thanks to the new Ventra system you don’t even need a pass, you can use any RFID equipped card in your wallet. For added insurance, get that special someone a yearly membership to Divvy. With more and more stations being added, a $75 annual membership nearly guarantees you access to quick convenient transit!

  • One of the best things about Chicago is each neighborhood's distinct flavor. Kara Riggio encourages you to look to your local merchants for interesting and unique finds. Why go local? There are a host of reasons, but most importantly, investing in locally owned businesses keeps more money circulating there, sustains local employment options and preserves the local character that Chicagoans love so dearly, whether it’s Andersonville'sBronzeville'sLogan Square's or Pilsen's. As an added bonus, many of these businesses coordinate to stay open late throughout the holidays and offer tasty treats and fun beverages for your holiday shopping pleasure. So whether you’re looking for artbookscraft whiskey or clothing, take a trip to your local, independent merchant. You’ll be glad you did.
  • Kaitlyn McClain, an AmeriCorps VISTA member from Indiana University, is a big advocate of living green. She recommends buying a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share. Give the gift of super fresh, local (and interesting) fruits and veggies! There are plenty of farms in the region with pickup locations in Southern Wisconsin, Chicago, Northeast Illinois and Northwest Indiana. Farms typically offer different sizes to accommodate both large and small households. How about a kitchen composter to take care of all those organic food scraps? The compost can be used to give the soil in your garden or pots a healthy dose of beneficial microorganisms instead of using traditional fertilizer.
  • Chicago is blessed with some beautiful waterfronts, and while winter is not the best season to be out on the river or lake, it’s never too early to start looking toward our next bout of nice weather. With that in mind, MPC Research Assistant Sam Svoboda suggests looking into indoor kayaking lessons this winter. (Or if you’d rather learn how to row as part of a team, check out the variety of indoor lessons offered by Chicago Rowing Foundation.) Sam’s more of a canoe man himself, but any form of paddling provides a fantastic view of the city, a good workout and a lot of fun. And once you’re ready to get out on the water come springtime, you can rent equipment and book a variety of scenic tours with companies like Chicago River Canoe and Kayak and Urban Kayaks.
  • Planning is all about the past, and Ariel Ranieri loves a great story. For any plannerd eager for a big slice of snappy storytelling, Mike Royko's Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago paints a very vivid portrait of the first Mayor Richard Daley and the city under his tenure. How good is it? Check out Studs Terkel's 1971 review. Plannerds specifically interested in public housing should look into Audrey Petty's new compilation, High Rise Stories: Voices from Chicago Public Housing. Full of reminisces on the good, the bad and the ugly in public housing history, the stories ground the notoriety of now-demolished projects like Robert Taylor and Cabrini-Green in a much-needed dose of reality. (Disclaimer: Before grabbing either of these off Amazon, check your local bookstore. They're almost guaranteed to stock Boss, and they're way more fun than Amazon anyway.)
  • You might expect Abby Crisostomo to recommend a Divvy membership as a holiday gift if you’ve followed @AbbyMPC on Twitter or read her blog posts, but since she expects you all to have memberships already (and if not, Groupon’s got a deal on Divvy memberships and passes for the next two days!), she instead recommends some cycling accessories to give as gifts to keep stylish on those Divvy rides. For carrying everything you need for work, play or errands, Abby recommends her favorite durable yet fashionable cycling bags from Po Campo, a local woman-owned small business that will also have a booth at this weekend’s One of a Kind handmade art show and sale. A helmet is a must, and nutcase has a great selection, available at local bike shops like J.C. Lind Bike Co. in Old Town. Finally, a bicycle skirt garter has been a lifesaver for Abby’s impromptu cycling needs. They're for sale at another woman-owned small bicycle business, Eleanor’s. Now your friends and family will have no excuse to not ride (besides the ice, that is…)!
  • Josh Ellis (as those of you that follow @MPCJosh on Twitter know very well) is a big, big, big fan of the U.S. National Park Service. Here in northeastern Illinois we're quite close to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Ice Age National Scenic Trail and the Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor. All distinct, all interesting and all worth a trip. A National Park Passport is a great gift for anyone of any age—it helps you keep track of where you've been and compels you to stop by places you've never heard of. And, as Josh can attest, there's a little bit of a rush every time you get a new stamp. Buy one now and start exploring! Plus, with any luck you'll soon be able to swing by (and get a stamp at) Pullman National Historic Park on Chicago's south side.



  1. 1. Peter Skosey on December 19, 2013

    Mellody and I traded in our christmas gift receipts for a $50 gift certificate to our FAVORITE local restaurant, Gather. I highly recommend it!!!

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