Psst: This story is also answered in an interactive comic. Click the image below to view it! After it loads (it may take a bit), you'll see instructions on how to see all of the panels.
The phrase “Chicago is a city of neighborhoods” has been said enough times that it pains me to repeat it here; however, if you accept the idea that the “neighborhood” is the center of life in Chicago, the term itself is worth taking a look at. After all, where, exactly, do those beloved neighborhoods (and their names) come from in the first place?
Our curious citizen, Kathy Herwig, submitted a similar question:
Curious City is a news-gathering experiment designed to satisfy your curiosities. You ask your questions about Chicago, the region and the people who live here, vote for your favorites, and together we discover answers. It’s your Curious City.
It seems that new, smaller neighborhoods are forming out of larger neighborhoods in Chicago all the time. Who decides when a specific area of the city becomes an officially recognized "neighborhood?"
Could we get Kathy an answer? Yes — just not the ones we expected, and not all at once. When we dug around for answers, it became clear that Kathy’s question could be broken into two parts, and that each could be informed by a story.
A “how” story
I’m part of a two-person journalism and graphic arts team called The Illustrated Press. My partner, E. N. Rodriguez, and I are in the business of creating comics inspired by real-life. Little wonder, then, that our explanation of how one Chicago neighborhood was formed is done through illustrations. Basically, we tackled Kathy’s question with traditional reportage (real sources, narrative and direct quotes) and combined it with detailed, sequential art. We created this comics journalism story to explain what we found concerning the first part of Kathy’s question: How do neighborhoods form?
We could have taken many angles, but since Kathy asked the question we started from her perspective, and she’s front and center in the piece. When Kathy and I first spoke, she was in the process of moving into a new home, so we decided to take a walk with her through Edgewater, from her old home in Edgewater Beach to her new home in Edgewater proper — the “Edgewater triangle” to be specific.
We later conducted interviews with city officials and the Edgewater Historical Society, among others, and then filled in the gaps with additional research on the city’s history of neighborhoods.
The result: Kathy’s own neighborhood happened to provide one the best examples of how residents determine their own collective fate. Edgewater is the only Chicago ‘hood to have gone from a neighborhood to an official community area since the community areas were first laid out in 1920.
The area is unique because even though neighborhood boundaries change with time, the 77 community areas have only changed twice. Edgewater is currently #77 of 77, but it was once part of #3 — back when it was lumped in with Uptown when the community areas were made.
2. Previous neighborhood map posted on the City of Chicago site as of September 2012.
3. Christopher Devane's neighborhood map.