"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

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Oak Park

The Breakdown
The intersection of Lake & Marion in downtown Oak Park
An overview: Few towns, let alone cities, can lay claim to being home to the “greatest” of his or her profession.  Oak Park can lay claim to two unquestionable geniuses.  Frank Lloyd Wright maintained his home/studio here from 1889-1909, and Oak Park still bares the largest collection of his work in any one area.  During the time America’s premier architect resided here, Ernest Hemingway was born in 1899 only two blocks away.  Coincidence?  Probably.  But still quite the amazing coincidence.

There may not be any scientific reason that the town was home to two of our country’s greatest artists, but their genius certainly wasn’t groomed in poverty.  Oak Park was, and remains, one of the most beautiful communities you’ll come across.  Modern mansions mix almost seamlessly with hundred-year old residences of striking beauty.  The downtown continues to thrive with shops, restaurants, and a vintage movie palace.

Looking southward down Marion Street
Oak Park is the first of what will likely be several entries on individual suburbs.  While the main focus of the blog is on Chicago’s neighborhoods, it’s also a chance to reflect on communities that have thrived thanks to the Windy City’s influence.  Due to its immediate proximity, Oak Park will always be inextricably tied to Chicago.  It is absolutely worth multiple visits for architecture buffs, foodies, history lovers, or anyone who enjoys walking along lush tree-lined streets.

The boundaries: Unlike virtually every other Chicago suburb (many of which look like an ink blot), the City of Oak Park is a perfect box.  The boundaries of the city are North Avenue to the north, Roosevelt Road to the south, Austin Boulevard to the east, and Harlem Avenue to the west.

The downtown is another interesting beast.  Most downtowns are also called “central business districts” because they’re, well, centralized within the community.  Oak Park’s downtown is AS FAR WEST AS YOU CAN GO within the town.  It starts west at Harlem Avenue and runs a few blocks east to about Kenilworth Avenue.  Lake Street runs right through the heart of the downtown.  There’s a large commercial district west of Harlem Avenue that is more of a strip center and doesn’t really match the downtown feel of Oak Park.  That’s because west of Oak Park is actually River Forest north of the train tracks, and becomes Forest Park south of the tracks.  Oak Park, Forest Park, River Forest…got it?  Good.

Population make-up: The population of Oak Park dropped slightly as of the 2010 Census.  The 2010 population was 51,878 down 1.2% from 2000.  The racial make-up of Oak Park as of last year was 63.8% white, 21.2% black, 6.8% Hispanic, and 4.8% Asian.

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio
A brief history: The area around Oak Park was first settled in 1835, but didn’t experience any real growth until just after the Civil War and the Great Chicago Fire that followed six years later in 1871.  It seceded from Cicero in 1902, becoming its own municipality.  It grew exponentially throughout the first half of the 20th century, and successfully embraced racial demographic change in the early 1960s.  Throughout its history, it has been home to many notable residents, not only Hemingway and Wright, but also Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator of Tarzan and author of numerous beloved novels) and Ray Kroc who turned McDonald’s from a local burger joint into a worldwide phenomenon. 

Although the population has decreased noticeably from its 1940 high of 66,000 residents, Oak Park has held its position as one of Chicagoland’s most beloved destinations.  In 2010, the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District was named one of the APA’s (American Planning Association) “10 Great Neighborhoods”.  Despite the westward growth of the Chicago metro area, Oak Park remains one of its true gems.

Getting there: By “L”, you’ve got multiple options.  The Green Line will take you right to downtown if you get off at Harlem/Lake or the Oak Park stop.  There are also Green Line stops at Ridgeland and Austin.  The Blue Line makes stops in the southern part of town at Harlem, Oak Park, and Austin.

CTA bus isn’t likely your best option, but you can get there going east-west via North (72) and Lake (20).  Going north-south you can take Harlem (90), Ridgeland (86), and Austin (91).  There are also multiple PACE routes that will get you around Oak Park: 305, 311, 315, 318, and 320.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Lincoln Park

The Breakdown
Beautiful architecture lines Armitage Avenue
An overview: Hey, we knew it was gonna come to this.  Arguably the City’s most well-known neighborhood, and the one most synonymous with wealth, enjoys a healthy and safe reputation.  It’s a haven for nightlife, high-end dining, and top-notch entertainment.  Some of the City’s (country’s?) most beautiful architecture can be found here, especially along Armitage Avenue.  As a result, Lincoln Park is one of Chicago’s most expensive places to buy or rent.  That doesn’t mean you can’t visit.  Sure, you could drop $350 a person for dinner at Alinea or Charlie Trotter’s (as long as you made that reservation six months in advance), but there are some other great options in Lincoln Park that won’t need you to make multiple runs to the ATM.

It’s impossible to truly experience Lincoln Park in one or two visits.  There’s just TOO MUCH to do.  We’ve tried to cover a fair amount of ground in this entry via only four stops, but this is a neighborhood that we’ll undoubtedly be revisiting (probably multiple times) down the road.  One more thing worth noting, the neighborhood of Old Town covers the eastern part of Lincoln Park and a northern portion of the Near North Side.  We are going to save Old Town for its own entry as there is plenty to do there as well.  This entry will focus mainly on the western portion of Lincoln Park, along with a stop in the DePaul area.

Dillinger's Last Stand
The boundaries: Pretty simple: Diversey Avenue to the north, North Avenue to the south, Lake Michigan to the east, and the Chicago River to the west.  The Old Town portion of Lincoln Park (which we’re saving for another entry) is Armitage Avenue to the north, North Avenue to the south, Clark Street to the east, and Halsted Street to the west.

Population make-up: The 2010 population of the Lincoln Park community area is about the same as it was in 2000.  It decreased by 0.32%, down to 64,116.  The white demographic is the largest at 82.8%, followed by Hispanic (5.7%), Asian (5.1%), and black (4.4%).  Economic data isn't available for the 2010 census.  However, at the 2000 census, Lincoln Park was the wealthiest of Chicago's 77 community areas with a median income of $68,613.

A brief history: Originally part of Lake View Township, Lincoln Park was on the northern border of Chicago (North Avenue) until it was annexed into the City in 1889.  Although it may be the iconic neighborhood in terms of architectural beauty and amenities, Lincoln Park hasn’t always enjoyed a pristine history.  The area was a victim of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871.  Residents quickly rebuilt the neighborhood, however, many of the structures became dilapidated and dangerous during the Great Depression.  Neighborhood associations were created to combat blight and poverty, often controversially, as many poorer minorities were displaced.  The area became prime real estate due to its proximity to the Lake and downtown.

We want to eat here, but we can't.
It's just too expensive.
There’s little debate today that Lincoln Park is one of the most stunning examples of a thriving neighborhood.  It is home to one of the country’s best public high schools, Lincoln Park High School.  DePaul University adds a greater presence of cultural amenities and educational opportunities.  Lincoln Park is also home to incredible fine dining, notably Charlie Trotter’s, which helped revolutionize haute cuisine in the Windy City.  And also there’s Alinea, which was named the BEST RESTAURANT IN NORTH AMERICA (boo-yeah NYC, boo-yeah) and the sixth best restaurant in the world, by S.Pellegrino.  And there’s Lincoln Park Zoo, proving that you can still get something good for free (unless you have to park you car…that’ll cost ya).

Getting there: Lincoln Park is extremely accessible by public transit.  Via “L”, you can take the Red Line to Fullerton and North/Clybourn which will put you on the southern end of the neighborhood.  Also, the Brown Line (and the Purple Line Express during rush hour) can be taken to Diversey, Fullerton, Armitage, and Sedgwick on the southern border.

By bus, going north-south: Clark (22, 36); Halsted (8); Ashland (9).  Going east-west: Diversey (76); Fullerton (74); Armitage (73); North (9, 72).  There’s also the Lincoln bus that runs northwest-southeast (11).  There are express buses that run on Lake Shore Drive too (151, 156).