CHICAGO — Where exactly do the borders of your neighborhood begin and end?
If you are looking for an official decision on where each neighborhood exactly is, forget it.
But for many a Chicagoan, neighborhood borders are sources of pride.
"Borders are important as they draw people together and maintain a cohesiveness of the neighborhood," said Grant Drutchas, a member of the Wicker Park Committee neighborhood organization who says that neighborhood's northern border has been receding into Bucktown in recent years.
Back in the 1920s, a team at the University of Chicago researched and divided the city into 75 community areas, distinct parts of the city recognized officially by the city and the U.S. Census Bureau. A 76th was later added to cover the O'Hare area, and in 1980 Edgewater became the 77th after it was separated from Uptown.
But if you look at the official community area map, places like Ravenswood, Bucktown, Wicker Park, Chinatown and Bronzeville don't officially exist. Neighborhoods aren't the same thing as community areas.
In 1978, the city conducted a survey of residents in neighborhoods across the city to figure out officially where one neighborhood begins and another ends.
Here's the result:
It included neighborhoods like Big Oaks, Nortown and East Hyde Park. An area known variously today as Douglas, Grand Boulevard or Bronzeville is simply known as South Side. It didn't even include places like Boystown and Wrigleyville.
The City Council adopted the map officially in 1993, but now the city says the neighborhood names and boundaries are all unofficial.
The city's Office of Tourism, which morphed into the nonprofit Choose Chicago, has its own neighborhood map — which does include Boystown and Wrigleyville — that serves the basis for guides posted on Downtown streets.
A family consults a Choose Chicago map near Millennium Park. [DNAinfo/Tanveer Ali]
Choose Chicago officials say that these maps aren't official and the community area map is the only official one. The organization has no plans to embark on making official neighborhood maps.
"So everybody can be mad at us?" said Melissa Cherry, who oversees cultural tourism and neighborhoods at Choose Chicago. "No. We try to be an authoritative voice."
Tanveer Ali says the city doesn't recognize neighborhood borders:
As city officials and organizations have stepped away from solidifying Chicago neighborhood borders, people have been left to figure out their own ways to settle the borders.
Joe Mills, who has created a number of artistic maps of Chicago neighborhoods including Lincoln Park and Ravenswood, puts a lot of research into his art, merging his own understanding of Chicago with how the city and sites like Google Maps and YoChicago have tried to define the borders.
On occasion he takes artistic license — for example, slicing off the area west of Ashland on the Lincoln Park map to make it fit better — but every border is thought out.
Joe Mills holds up his map of Lincoln Park. [DNAinfo/Kyla Gardner]
"I put that research in, due diligence to make it as accurate as possible," Mills said. "I don't want to be missing anything important."
He's set to create his next batch of maps around the Northwest Side community areas of Jefferson Park and Forest Glen, but is holding off on unofficial neighborhoods like South Loop and Bronzeville, because those borders get "dicey."
One border that has been contested in recent years is that of Wicker Park and Bucktown. Neither are official community areas, but people like Drutchas say that the definition of Bucktown has been making its way south from the historical border at Armitage Avenue due to the marketing work of developers.
Drutchas acknowledges that neighborhood borders can change over time. He also says there is now a "rational" dividing line that both Bucktown and Wicker Park can lay claim to: The 606.
"It's important for the community to make sure the differences between the neighborhoods continue," said Drutchas, who added that the difference between the two neighborhoods is based on the history of Wicker Park and the relative newness of Bucktown. "One of the great things about Chicago is being able to have a different feeling because of how the neighborhood has grown over the last hundred years."
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