What’s Your Neighborhood?

Question–You find yourself at Halsted and 43rd. What neighborhood are you in?

(A) New City

(B) Canaryville

(C) St. Gabe’s

(D) all of the above

The correct answer is (D).

What’s a neighborhood?  I’m reminded of the Supreme Court justice who was asked for a definition of pornography.  “I can’t give you a definition,” he said.  “But I know it when I see it.”

A century ago, Chicagoans talked about the Levee, or the Sands, or Bubbly Creek, or Whiskey Point. These were neighborhoods. People had a general idea where these places were—if you were walking down 22nd Street near State, you were in the Levee. But where did the Levee begin, and where did it end?

Some Chicagoans looked at the world through a political prism, and might declare they lived in the 17th Ward. Cops and crooks talked about police districts, like Maxwell Street or Shakespeare. In certain parts of the city, people gave their locality as the Catholic parish. Even Protestants and Jews were known to say “I live in St. Philip Neri.”

Scholars at the University of Chicago decided to bring order to this chaos. During the 1920s they fanned out across the city, talked to the locals, examined Chicago the way an anthropologist might study an exotic civilization.

The researchers looked at the settlement, history, and growth of various areas. They examined trade patterns. They looked at local institutions. They asked residents how the area was identified. They took note of local barriers, like branches of the Chicago River or railroad lines.

The scholars identified 75 Community Areas. These were later tweaked a bit, and now there are a total of 77.

Except for those two adjustments, the boundaries of Community Areas have remained static for over 80 years. But things change. Sometimes the old boundaries don’t reflect current realities.

Take Community Area #39-Kenwood. Officially, Kenwood stretches from 43rd Street to Hyde Park Boulevard (51st Street). But today the section south of 47th Street is closer in self-identification with Hyde Park. Though Barack Obama’s residence is technically in Kenwood, he’s often called a Hyde Parker.

Or consider #24-West Town. Different parts of #24 have evolved differently. Some residents may still say they live in West Town. Most claim allegiance to Wicker Park, Ukrainian Village, Noble Square, or Bucktown.

Why aren’t the Community Area boundaries brought up to date? Remember, the concept was developed by scholars. And scholars love to do comparative studies. Keeping the boundaries the same makes it easier to chart how the city has changed over the course of decades.

So, back to the original question.

If you are at Halsted and 43rd, you are officially in Community Area #61-New City. Since you are in the eastern part of #61, you are in Canaryville, and not in Back of the Yards. And if you look southeast, you may see the spire of St. Gabriel Catholic Church.

Simple, isn’t it?

–30–

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1 Response to “What’s Your Neighborhood?”


  1. 1 cpapunk April 22, 2019 at 9:42 am

    My dad grew up there in the 60’s. He’d use Canaryville or St. Gabe’s. He never used New City and didn’t recognize it when I’d talk to him about it.


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