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Why Wicker Park and Wrigleyville don't exist

According to a little-known city council decree, River North, Wicker Park and Wrigleyville don’t exist.

The council’s neighborhood-map ordinance, which passed unanimously in 1993, named and demarcated 77 “Community Area” names and 178 Neighborhoods. Since its passage, the city’s official map has never been amended.

But in practice, Chicago’s neighborhoods have kept right on changing, often with eager assistance from realtors and developers who hope to expand the boundaries of premier neighborhoods. A lot of folks would pay more to live in West Logan Square than in East Hermosa, the thinking goes.

The boldest realtors have been known to go even further, cutting new neighborhoods from whole cloth. Mapmaker Christopher Devane, the owner of Naperville-based Big Stick Maps, has fended off realtors’ requests for years: shrink Chinatown; expand Wrigleyville deep into Lakeview.

“They make all sorts of suggestions that I just disregard,” says Devane, who uses resident surveys to define the boundaries on his map.

But that’s not to say that he’s not amenable to sensible suggestions.“[W]henever they try to pass off a new name, I listen to them and look into it.”

Lakeshore East

On Devane’s map, the corner of the Loop, north of Grant Park and south of the Chicago River, is labeled New Eastside, a name in use since the 1980s. But since the 2001 groundbreaking of Magellan Development Group’s $4 billion Lakeshore East complex, that development’s name has become standard for the area as a whole, especially among new residents, says Elaine Hyde, founder of the neighborhood website NewEastsideCommunity.com. “This is largely due to the marketing efforts of Magellan,” she says. Still, signs like the one at Randolph and Harbor Drive remain, welcoming visitors to “Chicago’s New Eastside.”

East Rogers Park

On Craigslist, there are hundreds of apartment listings for this variation on the established far north side neighborhood. But Devane was unfamiliar. “Our map just says Rogers Park, and the area west of Ridge Road is West Rogers Park,” which older residents call West Ridge, says Devane. “But I’m not surprised that they want to alert everyone that they’re east, by the lake.”

Central Station

The consortium of developers behind this massive South Loop development narrowly escaped becoming the biggest Chicago condo foreclosure of the housing crisis. On the plus side, they’ve firmly secured their chosen name for the area around the upscale complex, which appears on Devane’s latest map. “Sometimes a developer’s name sticks, and since they built the neighborhood from scratch it’s only fair,” he says of Central Station. “It’s basically gated off, but it is a neighborhood.”

West Bucktown

It’s the classic example of neighborhood-naming shenanigans. Crafty realtors coined “West Bucktown” in the early 2000s as a euphemism for Humboldt Park. But, in a small area directly southwest of the Western Blue Line stop, residents have embraced the moniker. “We have been dealing with the West Bucktown naming issue for years now,” says Deborah Bottjer, a board member of the West Bucktown Neighborhood Association. “At this point, I’ve just kind of given up and started telling people that I live in West Gold Coast,” she jokes.

Devane, whose most recent map came out in 2006, doesn’t recognize West Bucktown — yet. “Until you walk down those streets and ask people where they live, you can’t say it’s a neighborhood,” he says. “I’m all for popular sovereignty.”

ABOVE: The Puerto Rican parade takes place in Humboldt Park. Photo by John J. Kim for Sun-Times Media