If you’re planning to move to Chicago soon, welcome! It’s a city of wonderful neighborhoods, delicious food, friendly people, and a lake that looks like an ocean.
I graduated from college with a class of 2,000 students. An enterprising classmate created a GroupMe for all the folks headed to Chicago after graduation. The vast majority moved to Lakeview or Lincoln Park, neighborhoods on the North Side that attract young postgrads and 20-somethings.
I’ve lived in three neighborhoods in Chicago in the last two years: North Lawndale, McKinley Park, and Edgewater; I’ve worked in two more: Woodlawn and Rogers Park. While my time here is too short to be considered anything close to an expert, I was surprised that my brief geographic tour of Chicago was uncommon among many young people who move to the city after graduation.
I moved to Chicago excited to explore and learn more about a city whose complexity continues to astound me. Lincoln Park is almost 80 percent white and Lakeview is similar. By contrast, Englewood, on the South Side, is almost 95 percent Black. The economic and health disparities between these areas bear devastating fruit. Englewood and Streeterville have a 30-year life expectancy gap – residents in the primarily Black neighborhood of Englewood have a life expectancy of just under 60, while residents of the primarily white neighborhood of Streeterville live until 90 on average.
At social gatherings, I was saddened to learn of the fears and misconceptions my classmates harbored about the quiet South Side neighborhood where I lived for a year after graduation. Anytime I explained where I lived led to confusion and surprise, followed by hasty small talk. “South Side? Is that the South Loop?” someone asked, referring to the wealthy and mostly white area immediately south of downtown, nowhere near the southernmost border of the city.
Exploring and reading have opened my eyes to the beauty and complexity of the city. I’m so excited for you to take that journey, too. Books like The South Side by Rebecca Moore will contextualize how and why the city changes, and why north and south can be worlds away in Chicago. Ride the red line from Howard to 95th and notice the city transform. Read The Chicago Reader and South Side Weekly, both free and independent sources that offer insight into arts, social justice, and the news. Learn about local music, independent theater, the plight of weed dealers after the legalization of marijuana, and the Chicago Police Department’s treatment of protesters after the murder of George Floyd.
Take a day, pick a neighborhood on the map, and explore. And don’t do it all in Lakeview and Lincoln Park. There’s so much more the people of this city have to offer. Take a tour or volunteer with My Block My Hood My City. Eat breakfast at Peach's. Browse the shops and restaurants of Little Village. Wander through small businesses in Andersonville. Have a drink at Rogers Park Social. Eat dinner in Little Vietnam or Little India. Have dim sum in Chinatown. Grab a beer at Marz Brewing and play all the free arcade games. Spend a day in Humboldt Park. Sit on the beach and get too much sun. Enjoy local theater in Rogers Park and Edgewater and browse farmers’ markets all over the city.
Walk through Lincoln Square and go to Merz Apothecary, a real-life Schitts’ Creek Rose Apothecary founded in 1875. Drive up and down the entirety of DuSable Lake Shore Drive at 10 p.m. and sing your heart out. Splurge on dinner in the West Loop. Take the architecture tour downtown (totally worth the money, and a great outing when parents come to town). Help kids learn to box and grow academically at The Bloc. Get a library card. Play beach volleyball. Find someone with a pool in their building.
And go ahead – do the touristy things once, but no need to do them again. After all, you’re a local now.