In this Emmy Award-winning series, WTTW News tackles your questions — big and small — about life in the Chicago area. Our video animations guide you through local government, city history, public utilities and everything in between.

Graphic that says “Chicago's Skyscrapers.” (WTTW News)

Chicago is a city of firsts — everything from the first Ferris wheel to the first brownie and the world’s very first skyscraper. WTTW News explains.


Every winter, Chicago stands divided around a practice commonly known as “dibs” – when car owners use janky household objects to reserve their precious shoveled-out parking spaces. So how did it begin? 

As you travel a ways west from the lake in Chicago, it’s hard not to notice clusters of north-south streets that all start with the same letters – K, L, M, N, O. What gives? WTTW News Explains.

You may have heard Chicago has a pension problem … to the tune of more than $35 billion of debt. Pensions affect nearly everyone — even if you’re not a public employee. Taxpayers have already been footing the bill to alleviate the pension debt.

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Maybe it’s because the city’s actual name comes from a smelly wild onion, or maybe it’s because other cities like to drag our city through the mud, but Chicago has had a whole lot of nicknames over the years. We break down where they came from. 

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Meet Ellis Chesbrough, Chicago’s first city engineer and designer of the water delivery system we still use today. WTTW News Explains how water cribs work out on Lake Michigan. 

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Do you ever find yourself wondering how all the exits got their numbers? It’s relatively simple — but not necessarily intuitive. WTTW News Explains.

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Maybe you’ve heard of the infamous Chicago parking meter deal. Here’s why it’s so unpopular and why it became a case study in worst practices.

Illinios ranks first in the nation in the number of individual units of local government. WTTW News Explains what is going on with all of those property tax line items.

Every time you flush, the waste disappears in a swirly whirl, never to be seen again. It’s magic! Actually, it’s science and engineering. WTTW News Explains. 

What if there were a different way? What if you could rank your choices in order of your preference? Well, there is a system like that and it’s already being used in some jurisdictions. It’s called ranked choice voting. It has its backers as well as detractors.

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Saturday marks the 186th anniversary of Chicago’s founding as a city. As the candles on its birthday cake have grown with the passing years, so too have Chicago’s borders. Here’s a look at how a once small-but-mighty city gobbled up surrounding land.

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Since the 1980s, it’s been illegal for car dealerships to operate on Sundays in Illinois. WTTW News explains why.

When Chicagoans go to the polls to vote for mayor, there’s a crucial piece of information missing from their ballots: the candidates’ political parties. WTTW News Explains tells you the reasons why. 

WTTW News explains the science behind lake effect snow. (Hint: We’re lucky to be on this side of Lake Michigan.)

How exactly are streets organized in Chicago? WTTW News gives you a guided tour of the grid system that organizes the city’s streets and addresses.