Below is my list of top ten planning lessons garnered from visits to nearly all of Northside Chicago neighborhoods over the past few years, especially those located to the north and east of I-90/94 (The Kennedy Expressway).
- Even with the vast income disparities and racial segregation between Northside and Southside Chicago, the Northside is still far more diverse than most other cities of the Midwest.
- Somehow, some way, a rather noisy iconic elevated passenger railway with local stations helps give each neighborhood an identity — something an elevated (or below grade) freeway with exits can never achieve. Is it the romance of the rails? No, I think it is the smaller invasive footprint combined with the unifying aspects of a shared communal experience of riding together instead of driving individually.
- Each neighborhood and even some sub-neighborhoods on the city’s Northside are quite distinct from one other. Such identification is an important factor in creating a sense of “place.” (see photos of Lakeview’s gorgeous Terra Cotta Row below)
- Well-tended and colorful street side planters, hanging baskets, and gardens go a long way towards softening the hardened urban environment (see photo below).
- Locked iron gates, security cameras, and secured entrances certainly improve personal safety, but they also detract from neighborliness and cage residents into their own personal prisons.
- While the streets are largely clean, the alleys can be disgraceful breeding grounds for the city’s legendary rat populace.
- It is a pleasant sight to see vibrant business, shopping, and entertainment corridors with throngs of pedestrian, cycling, and transit patrons.
- The lovely landscaped courtyards found along neighborhood street frontage of multiple-family developments are too often diminished by gated barriers of unwelcomeness (see photo below).
- These neighborhoods feel more alive and vibrant due to the large numbers young residents who are readily visible at most hours on the streets, in the shops, on the trains, and in restaurants/bars.
- Despite having higher densities, these Northside neighborhoods remain largely comfortable and set at a comfortable human scale, with the exception of the towering wealth monoliths that border Lake Michigan and Lake Shore Drive.
If you are interested in learning more about Chicago’s neighborhoods, here is a visual link to a guide book that can be found on Amazon.*