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Table of Contents > Chicago: City of Neighborhoods


Chicago has had a rich and flamboyant history. From Rogers Park to Austin to the steel mill neighborhoods tucked away near the Indiana border, generations of Chicagoans have created a vital city with a long and colorful tradition. Chicago has been called the Garden city, the Windy City, Hog Butcher to the World, and the City That Works. But its most enduring title is the City of Neighborhoods.

Everyone seems to know what a neighborhood is, but few can define it. "My neighborhood" may define a street corner, a block or two, or a large geographical area like Lincoln Park. Early social scientist claimed that neighborhoods belonged to the world of small towns and rural areas. Urban dwellers knew differently. From the mid-nineteenth century on, Chicagoans have created a wide variety of neighborhoods, from the Gold Coast to "Little Hell."

Chicago neighborhoods usually developed around some economic base. This might have been a stock yard, a steel mill, a university, park, or real estate subdivision. The economic base often became a symbol of the area, such as Back of the Yards or Wicker park. Whatever the economic or symbolic base may have been, it determined much of the character and future of the neighborhood which grew up around it.

Neighborhoods were created to protect and nurture families and families in turn gave stability to urban areas. Many of Chicago's original settlers were single men, immigrant laborers who sought their fortunes in the steel mills and packinghouses. Industrial sections of the city did not become neighborhoods until families predominated. Likewise, early real estate developers sought to attract families to the new homes that dotted the prairies of Lake View, South Lawndale, and Morgan park.

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