"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, March 20, 2012

Hyde Park Re-Visited

The Breakdown

The Hyde Park skyline just outside the entrance to Promontory Point
An overview: We've been here before, and it was time to come back.  Limited by time and wet weather, we felt that Hyde Park definitely deserved more time.  It's truly a great Chicago neighborhood.  Although best know for the University of Chicago and the Museum of Science and Industry, Hyde Park is a cultural powerhouse.  In order to attract more residents and consumers, the University of Chicago is planning to redevelop much of the land it owns throughout the neighborhood, with plans for stores, residences, and hotels.

Hyde Park is proof that a diverse neighborhood can and does work, with no racial demographic making up the majority.  Although it is surrounded by some of the city's poorer and more crime-ridden neighborhoods, Hyde Park remains safe and alive.  Although high-end dining and nightlife exists here, Hyde Park isn't to be confused with Lake View or Lincoln Park.  Hyde Park is much more relaxed, and the pace much slower.  What it lacks in energy, it makes up in serenity.  The streets are lined with trees, the views of the Lake are stunning, and much of the architecture rivals that of any other city area in terms of beauty and history.  Hyde Park may not make for your destination every Saturday night, but it should be a frequent destination for any Chicagoan who wants to experience the oft-forgotten splendor of the south side.

The boundaries: Hyde Park Boulevard/51st Street to the north, 60th Street to the south, Cottage Grove Avenue to the west, and Lake Michigan to the east.  Nice little quadrilateral there.

The historic Hyde Park Bank
Population make-up: Hyde Park lost over 4,200 residents from 2000 to 2010, dropping from 29,920 to  25,681.  As of the 2010 Census, whites made up 46.7% of the neighborhood's population, followed by blacks at 30.1%, Asians at 12.3%, and Hispanics at 6.3%.  However, since 2000, only the Hispanic population has actually grown within the community area.

A brief history: The development of Hyde Park began in the 1850s when New York lawyer Paul Cornell purchased 300 acres of land in what today makes up the northern half of the community area.  Rail connection to the Loop would help the area grow over the next three decades, and it was annexed into the City of Chicago in 1889.  Two revolutionary events would follow shortly thereafter.  In 1892, retail magnate Marshall Field would donate ten acres in Hyde Park to the University of Chicago, founded by the legendary oil man John D. Rockefeller and William Rainey Harper.  The university remains to this day one of the premier institutions for higher learning on the planet, and a major economic driver for the neighborhood.

The World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 remains to this date one of the most impressive of all world's fairs and was held mostly within Hyde Park's present day boundaries.  Only one building still remains, utilized for the past 85 years as the Museum of Science and Industry.  The exposition would bring millions from around the world to Hyde Park, including the now-infamous Dr. H. H. Holmes.

Despite remaining an upscale Chicago neighborhood through the 1920s, the Great Depression combined with Post-World War II urban flight contributed to an increase in impoverished conditions in Hyde Park.  However, the late 1950s and 1960s saw Hyde Park pull off one the nation's more successful (and in some ways controversial) urban renewal efforts.

Awe-inspiring Gothic architecture at the University of Chicago
Today, Hyde Park is a relatively affluent and diverse neighborhood, split nearly 50-50 between black and white residents, but with an increase in Hispanic and Asian residents as well.  The community area is an absolute treasure trove of culture, maybe more so than any Chicago neighborhood outside of downtown.  The University of Chicago, which owns much of the property in Hyde Park even beyond the campus borders, is looking to turn the area into an even greater mecca of shopping, dining, and entertainment.  Although bordered by some of the city's more crime-plagued areas, Hyde Park remains a safe neighborhood, bolstered by University of Chicago having one of the world's largest private police forces. Hyde Park is an iconic Chicago neighborhood and its impact within the city seems to be on verge of only growing stronger within the next few decades.

Getting there: Unfortunately, the "L" is not a direct option.  It is possible to take the Green Line to its southeastern terminus as Cottage Grove/63rd and then walk/bus three blocks north up Cottage Grove Avenue, but this is ill-advised by some due to some problems around the station at night in the Woodlawn neighborhood.  A better rail option is the Metra Electric Line to/from Millenium Station at Millenium Park.  There are three Hyde Park stops at: 51st/53rd Street, 55th-56th-57th Street, and 59th Street/University of Chicago.

By bus, your best way to get down there is the Hyde Park Express (2) and the U of Chicago Hospitals Express (192), which run from downtown to Hyde Park in the mornings, and come back in the late afternoon/early evening.  Other north/south options include: Cottage Grove (4), Woodlawn (172), Lake Park (28), and Hyde Park Blvd (6 & x28).  East/west you're looking at: E Hyde Park (5), and 55th Street (55).  Bus routes 170 and 171 also traverse the neighborhood.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Chicago Neighborhood Awards 2011

So a quick note.  We appreciate everybody who's been reading our blog, and keeping up with it despite a two-month absence.  Laura's in the midst of being buried in her thesis.  However, she insisted that I press on and when she can catch up, she will.  So here's an entry that we started back in early January, and even though we're already well into 2012, we still wanted to recap our favorite things from last year's neighborhood trips.  We'll have another entry in a week or two.  So until then, we hope you enjoy our favorites from 2011...

This past year was our first running this blog, and we had an absolute blast doing it.  In just over 12 months, we were able to experience nearly 20 neighborhoods, many of which we’d never set foot in before, let alone spending any amount of time in them.  Over this time we learned a lot about Chicago, its history, its people, its culture.  Few cities in the world can brag of having the amenities that the Windy City boasts.  So here are our first annual awards for our favorite Chicago neighborhood experiences from the past year.