What Is Your Neighborhood? WBEZ Asks
By: Bob Remer, President
Edgewater was the subject of a recent program on WBEZ (91.5 FM) radio program Curious City, a great series that investigates listeners’ sometimes off beat questions about city life. Listeners vote on their favorite question, and the winner becomes the topic of a future program; it is produced by a group of talented and innovative journalists. Edgewater was the subject of two recent viewer questions. One explored whether Edgewater has the oldest surviving sidewalks in Chicago (1889), and we will save that for a later article.
In the other program, a WBEZ listener named Kathy said she moved from Edgewater Beach to the Edgewater Triangle, but wondered if she wasn’t really in the same neighborhood since she was still in Edgewater, having only moved a few blocks. What a great question!
We often refer to Edgewater as the “community” with its score or so of “neighborhoods;” we memorialize them each year with our historic home tours that have been rotating through each neighborhood for the last 25 years; we sometime think our community’s essence derives from the vitality of those many neighborhoods, and we often look to their block clubs as community infrastructure.
The WBEZ program and its accompanying website article (www.wbez.org/series/curious-city), interactive comic book and discussion, referenced the maps that Chicagoans use to find their neighborhoods. One map is the city’s official Community Areas, of which Edgewater is designated #77. While Edgewater is over 120 years old, it only received the official city nod in 1980. The other maps, both city and privately published, purport to designate more precise neighborhoods within those community areas. In those cases, Edgewater is only shown to have but a few neighborhoods. While pleased with the attention to our community I attempted to set the record straighter with the following response (and we invite your input as well):
Thanks for focusing attention on this important aspect of urban life. Like art, a neighborhood is in the eye of the beholder. Some people might think of their parish, of their local school district, or even their block club, as their neighborhood. Edgewater, in fact, is divided into 15 block club areas, not just the 6 areas on someone else’s map. (Check out the Edgewater Community Council web site for the real map). Those block clubs have been in existence for decades and they wax and wane with changing demographics, local leadership, local problems, local issues, etc. Often they are social in nature, and most of them address urban issues like crime, traffic, zoning, development, etc. They were formed by the real people who lived in those areas and felt they had a geographic sense of unity and purpose.
Kathy, your new neighborhood, The Edgewater Triangle area, is based on the name of the block club, Edgewater Triangle Neighbors Association, bordered by a distinct geographic triangle of Ridge, Clark and Bryn Mawr. Its borders are pretty clearly defined based on how and where people live (and the fact that it is surrounded by three high traffic streets). The group came to fruition in the 1970s and one of its first unifying and most important issues was planning alternating one way traffic directions to minimize the amount of dangerous and fast commuter traffic that tried to use the Triangle area to bypass traffic stalled along Ridge. They worked very closely with then Alderperson Marion Volini to make the changes happen. Subsequently, the group has often engaged in planning and development strategies, again working with local officials. You should seek them out and get involved.
You can think of block clubs as neighborhoods within the larger community of Edgewater. Often “neighborhood” implies a scale of living, a comfort range perhaps, that is within your reach of daily life. At one time, for example (in the late 1920s), Edgewater had almost 60 grocery stores when the neighborhood food store was really that; only now to be replaced by the superstores and specialty food stores (so does that change the definition of the neighborhood by the nearest food store??)
The Community Area of Edgewater has a population of almost 58,000, larger than a lot of small cities, so it’s hard to think of this larger community as a “neighborhood” if you are thinking in terms of familiarity and a sense of personal belonging. There are distinct areas of common building types and several main thoroughfares that define neighborhood boundaries. We also have thousands of residents who live in high rises along Sheridan Road, many of whom feel a sense of kinship based on their type of residence and lifestyles in “vertical neighborhoods” if you will. They too have an organization, called ASCO, Association of Sheridan Condo/Coop Owners, that runs the full length of Edgewater, crossing many other traditional “neighborhood” borders, serving its members with advocacy on local development issues, providing social interaction for its members, and furnishing useful support for the condo associations that have the challenge of self-government that block clubs don’t have.
As technology changes, the availability and exchange of information about localities may have an impact on the operation and pertinence and definition of neighborhoods; people define their “community” as not just their geographic locale, which once was the main delimiter of relationships, shopping, schooling and religious observance. But with greater transportation and communications options, the geographic neighborhood is not necessarily what many people perceive as “theirs.” With the internet, Facebook, twitter, etc., the concept of “neighborhood” now has galactic reach.
That being said, many people still feel a need to socialize at block club parties and to interact in their traditional small geographic neighborhoods, albeit in changed proportions than in the past. It is still nice to walk down the street saying hello to your neighbors, or meet them walking their kids to the local school. There will probably always be a place for that kind of neighborhood.
It’s a great subject and one worthy of continued observation, should there be such an emerging “community” of interest.
Thank you so much for your question, Kathy, and to WBEZ for putting this out there.