"Chicago" by Carl Sandburg

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders

-excerpt from the poem "Chicago" by Carl Sandburg (1916)

Chicago Skyline

Chicago Skyline
The Chicago Skyline from a Near West Side highrise

Thursday, May 26, 2011

West Loop

The Breakdown
The West Loop, where today meets the 70s...the 1870s.
An overview: The West Loop is one of the great Chicago neighborhood success stories of the past few decades.  A dangerous industrial wasteland as recently as the late 1980s, today the West Loop hosts a bevy of upscale residences and some of the nation’s most well-known and highly regarded restaurants.  Love her or loathe her, Oprah Winfrey’s sphere of influence takes much of the credit.  She curiously chose this area as the home of Harpo Studios in the mid-80s.  Her television program quickly became a tourist destination and an economic development tool for the West Loop.  Today, the neighborhood boasts numerous shops and dining establishments that have followed the successes of those before them, sprouting up around the home of Ms. Winfrey’s empire.

The West Loop is also home to Greektown, a small but wonderful ethnic strip along Halsted.  There are more than enough places to eat and drink in Greektown alone, so we’ll save that one for another entry.

The boundaries: Although adjacent to the Loop, the West Loop is located mostly within the Near West Side community area, however a small northern portion also resides in the West Town community area.  Its unofficial boundaries are usually regarded as Grand Avenue to the north, the Eisenhower Expressway to the south (I-290), Ashland Avenue to the west, and the Chicago River to the east.

Population make-up: The West Loop consists essentially of four census tracts: 2801, 2819, 8330, and 8331.  Unfortunately the latter two tracts don’t seem to have data available on the American Factfinder website.  Even though most of the West Loop is within the Near West Side, it’s such a diverse community area that it’s not reasonable to speculate demographics based on the data from the whole community area.  Sorry, we’re going to have to leave this one blank.

The House that Oprah Built...figuratively speaking.
A brief history: Chicago wasn’t founded in the West Loop, but it was re-born here.  On October 8, 1871 a fire broke out at the O’Leary residence.  Less than two days later, over two-thirds of Chicago had burned to the ground leaving hundreds dead and hundreds of thousands homeless.  The ultimate result of the Great Chicago Fire was not devastation, however.  Wooden homes and walkways were replaced by brick, building and fire codes were strengthened, and in just over two decades the residents of Chicago displayed their resurrected masterpiece to the world.
But this is not the only history seen in the West Loop.  It was also the host of the Haymarket Square Riot of 1886 that saw a peaceful labor demonstration turn violent.  The neighborhood has been an industrial district (especially meat-packing) since its foundation.  However, the last two decades have seen revolutionary change.  What was fairly recently a neighborhood that you didn’t venture to after dark is now home to condominiums and some of Chicago’s most noteworthy restaurants.  It’s here you’ll find arguably the most hyped-up restaurant in the City’s history: Next.  You’ll also find other highly acclaimed restaurants like Moto, Blackbird, and a few others you may have heard of, but we’re getting to that…

Getting there: Plenty of ways.  Via “L”, the Green Line has stops at Clinton to the northeast and Ashland to the northwest.  The Blue Line has three stops along the neighborhood’s southern boundary (from east to west): Clinton, UIC-Halsted, and Racine.  By Metra rail, you can visit the West Loop at Union Station or the Ogilvie Transportation Center.

By bus there are also many options.  Travelling east-west throughout the entire neighborhood: Grand (65), Madison (20), and Jackson/Van Buren (126).  East of the Kennedy (I-90/94), there are many other options, but it’s probably best to visit the CTA website than just taking it from us.  Going north-south, you have bus options along Halsted (8) and Ashland (9).

Friday, May 6, 2011

Noble Square/Polish Triangle

The Breakdown
Downtown isn't far from Noble Square.
An overview: Noble Square is one of the many different smaller neighborhoods located within the West Town community area.  Immediately to its north, is what is often referred as the Polonia Triangle (or “Polish Triangle) at the three-way intersection of Ashland, Division, and Milwaukee.  The Polish Triangle isn’t its own neighborhood per-se, and is usually considered part of either Wicker Park or Pulaski Park.  However, since it is adjacent to Noble Square, and has its own unique identity, we felt it was worth sharing an entry.

The boundaries: Noble Square’s boundaries are normally considered the Kennedy Expressway (I-90/94) to the east, Ashland Avenue to the west, Division Street to the north, and Grand Avenue to the south.
The Polish Triangle is a commercial corridor that is bounded by Ashland Avenue to the west, Division Street to the south, and Milwaukee Avenue to the northeast.  It is surrounded by four different neighborhoods: Pulaski Park to the northeast, Wicker Park to the northwest, East Village to the southwest, and Noble Square to the southeast.

Population make-up: OK, let’s try something here.  West Town is far too large and diverse for each neighborhood to share the same demographic characteristics, so we’re going to turn to the census tracts.  The great majority of Noble Square is located within census tracts 2420, 2433, and 2434.  The Polish Triangle makes up the southwest corner of census tract 2416.

In the census tract in which the Polish Triangle belongs, 2010 census figures list the population as 3,477.  White residents make up 60% of the area, and 30% is Hispanic.  The remaining 10% is split up among Asian (5%), Black (3%), and other races (2%).

In Noble Square’s census tracts the 2010 population was 9,952.  It’s a relatively diverse neighborhood.  The population was 52% White, 32% Hispanic, 11% Black, 3% Asian, and 2% from other races.  Currently there is no income data available.

As a whole, West Town has seen an increase in its White and Asian populations, while seeing decreases in its Black and Hispanic populations, between 2000 and 2010.  In the past ten years, the West Town community area’s population has dropped nearly 6%, from 87,435 (2000) to 82,236 (2010).

The Polish Triangle.
Where Ashland, Division and Milwaukee meet.
A brief history: Noble Square doesn’t get nearly the attention that its neighbors to the west get.  In West Town, most people think of Wicker Park and Ukranian Village.  However, Noble Square has a lot to offer.  Its major commercial corridor is Chicago Avenue, home to many restaurants and boutiques.  Two of Chicago’s newest highly acclaimed restaurants, Ruxbin Kitchen and Leopold, call Noble Square its home, as does legendary vegetarian fine dining establishment Green Zebra.  The neighborhood has beautiful older architecture, with over half of the housing units dating back over a century.

The Polish influence in Chicago is everywhere.  That influence still exists in places like Avondale and Archer Heights.  General knowledge has it that Chicago has the world’s second-largest Polish population, behind only Warsaw.  The Polonia Triangle however, is considered the city’s original “Polish Downtown”.  In the late 1800s, multiple Polish organizations located at the three-street intersection, and stunning Polish Cathedral style churches (St. Stanislaus Kostka and Holy Trinity Church) were erected just down the street.  Although the Polish influence on the neighborhood is far less than 100 (or even 50) years ago, it still lingers in several establishments, two of which we’ll cover in this entry.  Currently there is a movement to improve the visual appeal of the Polish Triangle, perhaps formally designating it as Wicker Park’s southern gateway.  Still, day or night, it doesn’t lack for activity.

Getting there: By elevated train, the Blue Line will take you there.  The Division stop drops you right off at the Polish Triangle and Noble Square’s northern boundary.  To access Noble Square’s Chicago Avenue commercial corridor, take the Blue Line to Chicago and it’s about a five-minute walk west, just over the Kennedy Expressway.

By bus there are a few options as well.  Going east-west: Division (70), Chicago (66), and Grand (65).  Going north-south you’ll need to take the Ashland bus (9).  Going northwest-southeast you can also take the Milwaukee bus (56).