The great Chicago refrain, that ours is a “City of Neighborhoods,” is at once a boast and an apology.
We boast because roots go deep in Chicago. Traditions live on here because newcomers from near and far have held out against the amnesia that often accompanies life in a new place. We apologize because we don’t quite know our city. Aside from a few symbols with which all identify–a flag with four stars, jerseys and ball caps–Chicago can feel like many places, totally distinct and separated, each demanding that life be appreciated on different terms. The saying is also an acknowledgement of a painful past–even a glance at history will tell you the intense local character of Chicago neighborhoods is as much a product of racist real estate practices as of tenacious collective will. This can sometimes feel like a city of someone else’s neighborhoods.
Localism has special significance on the South Side. Far from the beer gardens of Wrigleyville and the high rises of the Gold Coast, and largely invisible to the weekend tourist, this is where shoulders were broad. Stormy, husky, and brawling, this is the second side of the Second City.
You could dedicate a life to portraying the best and truest of the South Side (writers have) but even if you did, who would agree with you? We know, for example, that the best eggrolls on the South Side won’t be found under the neon lights and spectacular awnings of Chinatown, or the best tacos from a stand in Pilsen, but (we imagine) passing from the hands of grandparents to grandchildren over the dinner table, far from public eyes. The more you try to agree on a way to appreciate life in this place, the more complex the question becomes, until even neighborhoods fall away. Chicago is a city of people.
We looked hard at what we could see, and this is what we found. Do tell us what we missed. Our website, chicagoweekly.org, has more entries than we could fit in print–every one of them is open for comment, and our writers will be listening. Keep the discussion about the South Side going. It is, after all, your home as much as ours.