A note on Chicago neighborhood names and boundaries

Chicago has hundreds of neighborhoods. Chicagoans often identify fiercely with their neighborhood, and consider it a part of their identity.

Neighborhood names and boundaries are, as often as not, fluid and subject to dispute. Some of the disputes are well-grounded, others based on wishful thinking: property values can fluctuate significantly based on the neighborhood in which a property is located.

Neighborhood locations are frequently misrepresented or misstated in real estate advertising. Sometimes that’s due to honest mistakes. Sometimes it’s the result of blatant falsification or willful ignorance.

It’s not unusual for a neighborhood, or part of a neighborhood, to take on a different name over time. The new name may result from a concerted marketing effort or from a change in character that is in the process of occurring. Marketing campaigns often fail, and change sputters out. Some neighborhood names simply fall into disuse as the demographics of the neighborhood change.

We always give you our best guess as to which neighborhood names are legitimate, which are marketing-based, which are no longer in use, and which have changed boundaries over time. YoChicago posts always state the neighborhood location as we understand it, regardless of where a real estate agent or developer claims a property is located.

Chicago’s street grid
Chicago Streets are plotted on a highly regular grid, and addresses mostly follow a simple numbering system. Most streets run on a true North – South or East – West axis, although a few run at a diagonal.

The intersection of State St (0 E/W) and Madison St (0 N/S) is the base point for the street numbering system. Each 800 increment in numbers corresponds to a mile in distance. Halsted St (800 W) is, for example, one mile west of State St (0 E/W), and North Ave (1600 N) is two miles north of Madison St (0 N/S). We indicate the location of each street, e.g. Montrose Ave (4400 N) in our neighborhood boundary descriptions. Where a coordinate is missing, it’s because the street runs at a diagonal, e.g. Clybourn Ave.

Community areas
Chicago is “officially” divided into 77 community areas. Back in the 1920s the University of Chicago divided the city into 75 neighborhoods. O’Hare became the 76th when it was annexed to Chicago, and Edgewater became the 77th when it, in effect, seceded from Uptown. The community area boundaries are important since longitudinal census data is available for them, and since they are widely used for planning purposes. Many of the community area names still correspond to neighborhood names (e.g. Lincoln Park, Lake View), but others have become head-scratchers (e.g. New City).

Many of Chicago’s Catholic parishes have territorial boundaries, and every Chicago Catholic has a parish by virtue of their residence. You’ll still encounter people, more commonly on the northwest and southwest sides, who consider their parish their neighborhood. The occasional neighborhood, St Ben’s, for example, is named after a Catholic Parish.

When asked where they live, many Chicagoans will give the name of a nearby neighborhood park as their neighborhood name. As with parishes, we don’t attempt to account for that phenomenon in this Guide. In rare cases, e.g. Pulaski Park, the park is far removed from the neighborhood that bears its name.

Choosing sides
Where does the North Side end and the Northwest Side begin? Does Chicago still have a West Side?

How to divide Chicago into broad areas is a topic for discussions that can extend into the wee hours of the morning. Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn sketches some of the answers and provides useful links to others.

YoChicago divides the city into six broad areas:

Downtown / Loop – Lake Michigan to Western Ave (2400 W, Stevenson Expy to North Ave (1600 N)
North side – Lake Michigan to Kedzie Ave (3200 W), North Ave (1600 N) to Irving Park Rd (4000N)
Far north – Lake Michigan to Kedzie Ave (3200 W), Irving Park Rd (4000N) to the city limits
Northwest – Kedzie Ave (3200 W) to the city limits, North Ave (1600 N) to the city limits
South side – Lake Michigan to Western Ave (2400 W), the city limits to the Stevenson Expy
West / Southwest – West of Western Ave (2400 W) and south of North Ave (1600 N)

Neighborhood maps
You can find a wide variety of Chicago neighborhood maps, both in print and online. A widely-copied map (pdf) was published about a decade ago by the City of Chicago. The City’s official tourism site often states neighborhood boundaries that vary from that map.

You’ll find maps of many neighborhoods and neighborhood slide shows and videos linked from YoChicago’s Neighborhoods page.

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