Back to the future for River North boundaries

About twenty years ago we began reporting the boundaries of Chicago’s River North neighborhood as follows:

The River North neighborhood is bounded by the Chicago River on the south, Oak St (1000 N) on the north, from Michigan Ave (100 E) west to the Chicago River.

River North is part of the Near North Side on the city’s official roster of 77 community areas.

At the time we defined those boundaries River North was as much a concept as an actual coherent neighborhood, and the path of its future development was unclear.

We haven’t changed our boundary definitions in the interim, but we have changed how we’ve described the location of properties within those boundaries. In recent years we’ve used Chicago Ave (800 N) as the northern boundary of River North in our reporting, and listed properties between Chicago Ave and Oak St as Near North Side. Property developers during that period were more and more often describing their South-of-Oak properties as being in the Gold Coast and even in “the heart of the Gold Coast.”

Whole Foods bills its River North outlet, two blocks south of Chicago Ave, as the Gold Coast Whole Foods. The Bernardin, a River North apartment tower, describes its location as “in a very unique part of Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood, nestled between the neighborhoods of River North, Near North Side, and Old Town.”

Our Gold Coast boundaries are slightly broader than the boundaries defined by the Gold Coast Neighbors>.

The boundaries of many of Chicago’s neighborhoods are in a state of flux, but they’re subject to limits imposed by natural boundaries, by the changing characteristics of the building stock and by how residents and businesses understand and describe where they live and do business.

Neighborhood names, in our view, function as a shorthand way to communicate useful information about a location to people who are unfamiliar with the location and considering a move there.

For many years the area between Chicago Ave and Oak St east of the river saw little development. That’s changing rapidly. Continuing to refer to the area as the “Near North Side” isn’t very useful. The existing and evolving texture of the area is and we believe will continue to be far closer in character to River North’s dynamism and variety than to the Gold Coast’s historic, settled ambiance.

With that perspective in mind, YoChicago is going “back to the future,” and will consistently describe locations north of Chicago Ave and south of Oak St, east of the river and west of Michigan Ave, as being in River North.

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