Over the past year or so, I have visited all 77 of Chicago’s community areas by bus, train, bicycle, or gym shoe. Much has been written, much has been broadcast, about how Chicagoans talk, or how Chicagoans like their pizza, or what Chicagoans like to drink, or how Chicago’s woke prosecutors have made the city as dystopically anarchic as Somalia, circa 1992, or what constitutes a real Italian beef sandwich. Yet Chicago is too vast and contains too many multitudes for such generalizations. It’s been said that Chicago is a city of neighborhoods. Having traveled from Rogers Park to Mount Greenwood, from Edison Park to Hegewisch, and all the way down Ogden Avenue, until it turns into Cicero, I prefer to think of it as a city of sub-cities, each with distinct foodways, ethnic makeups, political outlooks, and bars you probably shouldn’t go into if you don’t look like you’re from around there. I’ve identified 15, and will proceed to make generalizations about them, rather than Chicago as a whole. (There is one hard and fast rule I can offer about life in Chicago: Don’t ride a bicycle on 130th Street. There’s no bike lane, and you may get sideswiped by a truck under the viaduct near the Ford plant.)
O’Hare, Edison Park, Norwood Park, Dunning, Forest Glen, North Park, Jefferson Park, Portage Park
The Far Northwest Side is, mostly, indistinguishable from the surrounding suburbs. Get off the UP-NW Metra at Norwood Park, walk the mile around Circle Drive, and you might think you’d ridden all the way to Woodstock. Every pre-war home is adorned with an American flag, a St. Patrick High School placard, or both. That’s because the neighborhood’s city workers would live in the suburbs if they could. Walk the street dividing Edison Park and Park Ridge (Ozanam in the city, Canfield in the suburbs), and you’ll see the same mix of McMansions and bungalows on each side. The streets are even off the Chicago grid, angling and ovalling in suburb-like confusion. The Forest Glen community area, which includes Edgebrook and Sauganash, is 74 percent white. (Edison Park is 82 percent.) Upper Caucasia also boasts the city’s grooviest collection of two flats and apartment buildings with mid-century stone accents.
North of the North Side
West Ridge, Rogers Park, Edgewater, Uptown
Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park and West Ridge are more diverse and less prosperous than the neighborhoods to the south. There is no ethnic majority here. Uptown has a more uptown feel than it did 20 years ago now that the old men’s hotels have been converted to luxury micro-dwellings, but there are still remnants of its hippie and hillbilly past, such as the apartment house owned by Jesus People USA and the $3-a-beer tavern Max’s Place. Rogers Park is a traditional entry-level neighborhood for immigrants: Sullivan High School’s students come from 35 countries and speak 38 languages. The most diverse census tract in the city is in West Ridge, bounded by Ridge Boulevard, Pratt Boulevard, Western Avenue, and Devon Avenue. Its population is 32 percent Asian, 24 percent Black, 23 percent Hispanic, and 21 percent White. All along Devon are houses of worship for most major religions: Christianity (Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox), Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism and Judaism.
Brown Line Country
Albany Park, Irving Park, Lincoln Square, North Center
The Brown Line is the bourgeoist of the ‘L’ system’s major routes, because it’s the only one that doesn’t pass through a poor neighborhood. After leaving the Loop, the Brown Line travels through Lincoln Park, then on to North Center, sometime home of U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel, and Lincoln Square, which gives Andersonville a run for its money as Chicago twee-est shopping district: book stores, vinyl shops, a vintage toy store, fashion eye boutiques, and the Old Town School of Folk Music. (The Old Town School probably puts…