Chicago’s Evolving Neighborhoods
4/19/2017, noon | Updated on 4/19/2017, noon
Chicago’s Evolving Neighborhoods
By Christopher Shuttlesworth
Have you ever wondered about the history of the neighborhood you live in or why it may have changed over the years?
Neighborhood experts say reasons behind changes in communities are often related to a loss of industrial jobs, racial changes and issues associated with immigration and gentrification.
“Cities like Chicago are always changing and evolving, just like living things, they are always evolving both on a small scale of a lot, block or neighborhood,” said North Central College History
Professor Ann Keating.
Some of the neighborhoods in and around Chicago which have
experienced changes include Hyde Park, Bronzeville, Pullman, Englewood, Avalon Park, Austin and many others.
The culture and names of neighborhoods like Hyde Park,
Pullman and Englewood were created long before the 1900s.
In fact, during, “1853, Paul Cornell (the cousin of Cornell University founder Ezra Cornell) bought 300 acres of land by Lake Michigan and named it, ‘Hyde Park’ after the location in London. The Bronzeville community was named ‘Bronzeville’ by Chicago Bee theater editor James J. Gentry because he said it reflected the skin tone of its residents. The Pullman neighborhood was named when Industrialist George Mortimer Pullman purchased 4000
acres of land south of Chicago to develop a town for the men and women who built his company’s luxury railroad sleeping cars.
Pullman Town was an initial success, offering workers affordable housing and providing a safe, private community away from the distractions of the city,” according to mentalfloss.com.
Amanda Seligman, who is a professor of urban studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee said one of the important contributions of Chicagoans to the process of urban improvement was the spread of block clubs throughout the city.
“Block clubs didn’t originate in Chicago, but through branches of the National Urban League in other cities,” Seligman said. “The Chicago Urban League seeded them on the South and West Sides
before World War II. The Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference was instrumental in the spread of block clubs across the city in the 1950s and 1960s.”
Another neighborhood such as Avalon Park, “was originally named ‘Pennytown’ for Penny, a local general store owner who sold popcorn balls. The Avalon Park Community Church lobbied to have the name changed, and Pennytown and Penny popcorn balls were no more.
The Austin community was named by Henry W. Austin, the real estate mogul who acquired and subdivided the land in 1866. The area was originally in the township of Cicero but Austin held the most
power in that municipality and its politicians brought major roads and elevated trains to the neighborhood.
Riverdale received its original name in 1835 when George Dolton settled in the area alongside the Calumet River near a Potawatomi Indian reservation.
He built a toll ferry, which became known as the ‘Riverdale Ferry.’ A bridge soon followed, and the area
was called both ‘Dolton’ and ‘Riverdale’ for years as it became an industrial epicenter,” according to mentalfloss.com. Keating stated Chicago experienced a lot of new migrants to the city until the year 2000. She said since the 1965 Immigration Reform Act up until this last decade, thousands of migrants from Mexico, Central America, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean have moved to Chicago.
“Most of these migrants did not move into new neighborhoods,” Keating said. “Instead, migrants and
new immigrants moved into existing neighborhoods--putting pressure on housing stock and ultimately changing neighborhoods.” She explained Jim Grossman noted in the Encyclopedia of Chicago (Great Migration entry) that, “Chicago attracted more than 500,000 of the approximately 7 million African Americans who left the South during these decades. Before this migration, African Americans constituted 2 percent of Chicago’s population, but by 1970, they were 33 percent.”
Robert J. Sampson, who is the Henry Ford II Professor of Social Sciences at Harvard University, said in his book called, “Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect,” that there is a surprising persistence to the character of many Chicago neighborhoods. However, Sampson said
this does not mean that all neighborhoods are static; in fact, some have changed rather dramatically over the long run, while others have remained the same over the long run too. Englewood, for example, has been, “stuck in a poverty trap,” Sampson said, that has extended over multiple decades. Other neighborhoods, “have retained their allure over time,” he added.