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City Of Big Shoulders Should Be Proud Of Its 77 Urban Neighborhoods

Chicago is a city of unique and distinct neighborhoods—we are blessed with a whopping 77 of them. The official map of the City of Chicago communities resembles a colorful, ethnic patchwork quilt.

Each patch defines neighborhood boundaries and represents a proud urban enclave filled with mostly hardworking, family-oriented people.

The city of Big Shoulders runs from Rogers Park, beach and lakefront neighborhood on the Far North Side, to the East Side, the former sooty steel-mill enclave on the Far South Side. And, from Far Southwest Side Mount Greenwood, surrounded by its seven cemeteries, to the Far Northwest Side Edison Park, where hundreds of Chicago police and firefighters reside.

In the 1970s, when famed columnist Mike Royko authored his award-winning book, “Boss,” about Mayor Richard J. Daley, he noted that historically Chicago was a city of ethnic neighborhoods—Germany was on the North Side, Italy was on the West Side and Ireland was on the Southwest Side. Today, all of that has changed.

This writer is proud to say he has visited virtually all 77 Chicago neighborhoods and written stories about most of them over the past five decades. That included writing a 37-part series on Windy City neighborhoods while working as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News in the 1970s.

Later, in the 1980s and early 1990s, as real estate editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, for several years this writer co-authored the “Chicago House Hunt Book,” an annual publication which compiled facts, figures and information on many Chicago neighborhoods.

Born in East Lakeview in 1944, I grew up and resided in Lincoln Park and Old Town. After college I rented an apartment in Roscoe Village, and later lived in an historic row home on the landmark 1500 block of West Jackson Boulevard on the Near West Side.

My first home—a large stucco built in 1911—was purchased in 1973 in the Irving Park “Villa” enclave. Eventually, I joined a team of owners to landmark the neighborhood in the late 1970s. When I told Royko I bought a home in “The Villa,” he said: “Congratulations, you now live in Polish Kenilworth.”

My second home—a 1920s English Tudor—was acquired in 1985 in the upscale Sauganash enclave on the Northwest Side, where the late Mayor Jane Byrne once lived, and many streets are named after Pottawatomi Indians.

In 1998, I was fortunate to purchase the landmark 1872 Fredrick Wacker House in Old Town, which features 14-foot ceilings and some of the most beautiful Victorian fretwork and woodwork in Chicago. Since 2005, I have resided in a spacious newer home along the North Branch of the Chicago River in North Park/Hollywood Park.

I know most of the city’s tree-lined side streets by name, every park where 16-inch Chicago-style softball is played, and virtually every rat-infested alley from one side of town to the other.

That’s why when this veteran newsman read a recent Chicago Tribune story about the infamous Old Navy T-shirt on which the retailer printed a list only 22 Chicago neighborhoods, I rolled my eyes.

Most of the swank North Side lakefront neighborhoods, such as the Loop, the Gold Coast, the Near North Side, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lakeview, North Center, Wicker Park, Bucktown and Logan Square are listed on the back of the shirt. The South Loop was included, along with Bronzeville, Pilsen, Chinatown and Bridgeport.

Tribune freelance writer Zach Freeman correctly dubs the Old Navy T-shirt map as “the worst Chicago map ever” because it graphically lumps vast sections of the South Side, Far South Side, Southwest Side, West Side along with a large swath of the Northwest Side into a vast wasteland of non-descript neighborhoods without specific identities.

For example, the “Northwest Nowhere” section of the map, named “O’Hare,” ignores dozens of fine neighborhoods, including The Villa, Sauganash, Forest Glen, Edgebrook, Wildwood, Jefferson Park, Edison Park, Old Norwood Park, Portage Park, Belmont-Cragin and Dunning.

The low-priced T-shirt graphic lists the huge area west of Western Avenue as the Far West Side, but erases every neighborhood from Galewood and Austin to Humboldt Park and Garfield Park, from Little Village to North Lawndale and Lawndale.

The South Side shirt image forgets to include Brighton Park, Back of the Yards, Marquette Park, Gage Park, Gresham, Englewood and West Englewood. Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland, South Shore are lumped together and dubbed the South Chicago Shore.

The Far South Side T-shirt image ignores Avalon Park, Calumet Heights, Pullman, West Pullman, South Chicago, Hegewisch South Deering and East Side neighborhoods, which covers much of the 10th Ward.

During a tour of the 10th Ward for a story on the neighborhood in the 1970s, former Ald. Edward (Fast Eddie) Vrdolyak drove this writer into a cornfield on the extreme Southeast Side to show off his sprawling brick mansion. At that time, in the 1970s, it was the last house built on the last street on the Far South East Side.

How could the retailer ignore the beautiful Far Southwest Side neighborhood of Beverly? The neighborhood’s Longwood Drive, a residential haven for Chicago politicians for decades, is one of the city’s most beautiful streets.

Other omissions were leafy Mount Greenwood, Ashburn, Washington Heights and Morgan Park. That’s ironic, since Old Navy recently opened its sixth Chicago store in Morgan Park. The retailer also has stores in the Loop, and South Loop and at least two in Lincoln Park.

Over the years, Realtors, developers and community groups have created sub-neighborhoods and stretched the boundaries into new enclaves which have expanded Chicago’s neighborhood-and- community count to more than 230 distinct pockets and areas, according to appraisers.

After Old Navy was informed about the item’s inaccuracies, which apparently has been on the shelves for three years, the retailer pledged to develop “a new design “in the near future.”

For more housing news, visit Don DeBat is co-author of “Escaping Condo Jail,” the ultimate survival guide for condominium living. Visit

“The book is Escaping Condo Jail by Sara Benson and Don DeBat. I would say that anybody thinking about buying a condo, or even anybody serving on a condo board, or anybody who has any connection to a condo, this is must reading—all 600 and something pages. Thanks a lot for a great book!”


Steve Sanders, “Your Money Matters” WGN TV, December 22, 2014

By Don DeBat

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