How do you define neighborhood borders? That’s what the University of Chicago is asking residents in a new study, which is why we’re talking about all things Chicago neighborhoods today.
Community Areas vs. Neighborhoods vs. Wards
Chicago is often called a city of neighborhoods, but the city officially recognizes community areas.
- Community areas are distinct boundaries with roughly the same population: 35,000, Emily Talen, the study's lead researcher on the study, told Block Club.
- Neighborhoods are squishier, smaller, and more likely to change.
- Wards are voting districts for 50 City Council seats that can change after a census (and political gerrymandering).
Need an example? You can live in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood and the West Town community area, we told City Cast CEO David Plotz. And that means you could live in the 1st, 26th, or 36th Wards.
How Did Chicago Get its 77 Community Areas?
The University of Chicago split the city into community areas to track statistics like crime and income in the 1920s.
There have only been two tweaks to boundaries in the last century: when O’Hare was added and when Edgewater split from Uptown.
Why Ask Chicagoans to Define Neighborhoods?
Community areas don’t always represent Chicagoans’ relationship to their pocket of the city: Prominent neighborhoods like Bronzeville, Pilsen, and Chinatown are not considered community areas.
Agencies collect statistical data — such as demographics — for community areas that can be harder to find at the neighborhood level. Official designation could also give neighborhood groups more power and agency.
Researchers want to get a better sense of how Chicagoans feel connected to their neighborhoods. And those results could be the basis for figuring out how to create stronger communities.
📍 Open for six to eight weeks, participants are invited to draw neighborhood map boundaries. You could win a gift card!