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Social Studies

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Table of Contents > Chicago: City of Neighborhoods

Introduction (continued)

Although neighborhood is a geographical term, it implies much more than geography. Because neighborhoods are social entities too, many people refer to them as "communities." While neighborhoods may indeed be communities, they are generally more diverse in terms of structure and organization. Whereas communities imply common interests or common institutions, neighborhoods have always included people of various ethnic, racial, and economic backgrounds

From the 1830s on, Chicago neighborhoods have experienced ethnic and racial changes. When the French moved in, the Indians moved out, and the city has been changing ever since. In some neighborhoods ethnic succession occurred peacefully, while in others the battle for neighborhood turf was hotly contested. As the following histories reveal, Chicago neighborhoods are remarkably resilient, and they continue their day-to-day life rather successfully, even in the face of dramatic economic changes.

For generations of Chicagoans, neighborhoods reduced the awesome experience of urban life to a human scale. Institutions, especially churches and synagogues, were often catalysts for neighborhood development. More than just houses of worship, church buildings were also social and communal centers. In addition to religious services and organizations, the churches often founded and supported credit unions, fraternal societies, youth organizations, poetry and theatrical circles. Parochial schools maintained religious and cultural traditions among Chicago's diverse ethnic groups, and they played a vital role in both community and neighborhood development.

Other institutions which contributed to neighborhood life included public schools, parks, fraternal organizations, funeral homes, small shops, restaurants, and the ever-present tavern. Some of the warmest memories which neighborhood resides have revolve around those "third places" away from work and family where social interaction took place. Chicago's neighborhoods were once filled with meeting places like these where neighbors discussed local events, politics, and family matters. In the face of changing entertainment and shopping habits, Chicago's small commercial strips carry on this traditional function.

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