"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

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


The Breakdown
We couldn't have said it better ourselves.
An overview: Uptown.  On any given street: grime, well-kempt restaurants, bums, yuppies, the waft of garbage, the aroma of authentic Asian cooking, weirdos, hipsters, whites, blacks, Asians, Hispanics, the homeless curled up in an alley, the upper crust walking home after their last martini, the thunder of the “L”, the light gleaming off the signage of a legendary concert venue.

The community area of Uptown is technically made up of about eight or so smaller neighborhoods.  But, you never hear anyone say they’re from Margate Park, or Truman Square, or Clarendon Park.  Save for some who may point out they reside in Buena Park (perhaps for fear of being associated with the rest of the community area), you’re not from a smaller neighborhood, or visiting a tiny section of the area.  No, you’re from Uptown, or you’re visiting Uptown.

Uptown is diverse in ways that go beyond statistics, although those numbers certainly verify its diversity.  It’s an area that’s been developing for the past century, and will continue to do so for many, many decades.  Block-for-block, Uptown isn’t the most attractive or pedestrian-friendly neighborhood by any means.  But for an overall unique and often unexpected experience, you’d be hard pressed to find a more fascinating place in the entire city.

The boundaries: Throughout the entire community area, the northern boundary is Foster Avenue, and the eastern border is Lake Michigan.  To the south, the boundary is Montrose Avenue from Ravenswood Avenue to Clark Street.  Then from Clark to the lake, the southern boundary is Irving Park Road.  To the west, the border is Ravenswood Avenue from Foster Avenue to Montrose.  Then from Montrose to Irving Park Road, the western border is Clark Street.

Population make-up: Uptown consists of twelve Census tracts, and remains one of the most racially diverse community areas in the City.  As of the 2010 Census, the population was 51% white, 20% black, 14% Hispanic, and 11% Asian.  However, the white demographic is the only one of the four that has seen a population increase since 2000.

Like many Chicago neighborhoods, Uptown has seen a substantial population decline overall, losing over 11% of its population from 2000 to 2010.  However, it is still the 12th most populated community area in the City.

A brief history: Uptown has an extensive and sometimes tumultuous history.  In its early stages, it grew from farmland to a neighborhood of wealthy and middle-class residents.  The 1910s and 1920s saw Uptown become one of Chicago’s major entertainment hubs with the addition of the Riviera, the Uptown Theater, and the Aragon Ballroom (all of which are still standing today, although the Uptown Theater is not currently in use and is in GREAT need of a multi-million dollar renovation).  During the Great Depression and World War II, the make-up of the area changed.  It became the home of an incredibly diverse population, but throngs of these new residents were crammed into units that once housed fewer people.  Construction stalled during this time and into the 1950s, save for more upscale condos built along the lake, and the majority of residents had to live in aging housing stock.  Increasing poverty, crime, and blight caused residents of Uptown’s northern half to band together and form a separate community area, Edgewater.

Broadway, just south of Wilson, on a rainy day.
Since that time, and moving forward into today, Uptown has faced something of an internal conflict.  On one hand, with great access to public transportation and a lakefront setting, the area has often been alluring to developers.  At the same time, many have advocated for maintaining a high level of affordable housing.  Perhaps nobody has represented this more than the controversial Alderman of much of Uptown over the past two decades, Helen Shiller.

A result of an incredibly hectic century is Chicago’s most financially and ethnically diverse neighborhood.  The community area is home to “New Chinatown” (a misnomer: it’s mostly Vietnamese and Korean), one of the seven City Colleges, a still-thriving entertainment district at Broadway and Lawrence, and an incredible array of ethnic dining options.

Getting there: If you’re taking the “L” there are multiple options along the Red Line.  Argyle will drop you off in the heart of New Chinatown, Lawrence takes you directly to the entertainment district, Wilson drops you off at Truman College and a retail corridor along Broadway, and the Sheridan stop is technically in Lake View but is less than a block from Uptown’s southern border (Irving Park Road).  Metra is also an option.  If you take the UP-North line to Ravenswood station, you'll be on the western edge of Uptown at Ravenswood and Lawrence.

If you’re taking the bus, you have multiple east-west options: Foster (92), Lawrence (81), Montrose (78), and Irving Park (80).  There are also a few buses that head down Wilson (78, 145, 148).  But let’s say you wanted to do something crazy and go north-south, well then you could take these routes: Clark (22), Broadway (36), Sheridan (151), and Marine Drive (136, 144, 146).

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Andersonville Re-Visited

The Breakdown
Bustling Clark Street in Andersonville
An overview: From time to time, we are going to re-visit various neighborhoods that we’ve already seen.  Yes, we understand that there are plenty of other neighborhoods we’ve yet to blog about, and we promise we’ll get to those.  The purpose for re-visiting is essentially this: the neighborhoods offer so much that it’s impossible to do them justice in just one blog entry.

We came back to Andersonville for a couple reasons.  First of all, it’s such a likeable, pleasant neighborhood, that just being in Andersonville is a pleasure.  Secondly, due to the chilly December weather we faced in our previous Andersonville entry, this gave us an opportunity to spend more time in the area and focus on a few other great places that the community has to offer.  For a look back at our original entry, please click here.

The boundaries: Technically Bryn Mawr Avenue to the north, Foster Avenue to the south, Magnolia Avenue (just before you hit Broadway) to the east, and Ravenswood Avenue to the west.  Again, since it’s not actually a community area, Andersonville’s boundaries aren’t really official, and its sphere of influence extends north of Bryn Mawr and south of Foster (case in point, the Hopleaf is about a block south of Foster, but most know it as being located in Andersonville).

Considering its location, Andersonville overlaps with Ravenswood to the west, and the Lakewood Balmoral residential neighborhood to the east.  Also, Foster Avenue officially divides Uptown to the south and Edgewater to the north.  The heart of Andersonville is the business corridor along Clark Avenue.

Charming tree-lined streets in
Andersonville/Lakewood Balmoral
Population make-up: Andersonville is made up of two Census tracts: 308 and 309.  As of the 2010 Census, Andersonville is home to 7,354 people.  This is an 11.2% decrease since 2000.  The population make-up is 67% white, 15.5% Hispanic, 10.5% Asian, and 4% black.  About 2.5% of the population is bi-racial.

A brief history: It's commonly known that the world's second-largest Polish population is in Chicago.  What most don't realize is that 100 years ago, Chicago was also home to the world's second-largest Swedish population.  Swedes flocked to this area, and turned farmland into homes and businesses.  Many of them left the city as the suburbs grew in the 1950s.  In the 1980s, the neighborhood began to attract a large gay and lesbian population, moving north from North Halsted in Lakeview in search of more affordable residences.  Today the LGBT culture thrives in Andersonville.  And although the Swedish culture isn't as prevalent here as it was 100 years ago, taverns, restaurants, bakeries, and museums remain to make sure residents and visitors alike never forget the indelible mark the Swedes left on the Windy City.

Getting there: By "L" you can take the Red Line to Berwyn or Bryn Mawr and head about a half-mile west to get to Clark Street.  By bus, your best east-west bet is the Foster bus (92).  If traveling north-south you can get to the business district by taking the Clark bus (22), or put yourself just a block to the west by taking the Ashland bus (50).