We were intrigued last August when we read Think You Know Chicago? Time To Prove It and loved the idea of inviting people to draw their version of their neighborhood and compare it to others. We happily participated in the experiment and were curious to see what the collective results would reveal.
In a follow-up article, Where Does The South Loop Start and End? Borders a Work in Progress, the results of the interactive map experiment led DNAinfo to conclude that the South Loop’s boundaries are essentially undefined, as there was little to no consensus as to its borders.
We weren’t really surprised. We know first hand how difficult it is to define the South Loop’s borders without much if any official guidance. When we established South Loop Living in the spring of 2015, it was important to us to specify the geographic area we wanted to focus on as precisely as possible. As long-time residents, we had a general sense of what we thought the boundaries should be, but we were hoping to find something more definitive. We dove into the internet, checking Wikipedia and conducting a variety of searches to find sources where the boundary question had already been addressed. We studied the Community Area and other official City maps, looking for clues and guidance, and learned what various associations and organizations considered the borders to be.
It made our brains hurt. Part of the challenge – as the interactive map exercise illustrates – is semantics. People have begun to use South Loop and Near South Side interchangeably, and that creates a fair bit of confusion. But over time some clarity emerged, and we determined that it actually wasn’t all that complicated to define the South Loop/Near South Side as a neighborhood. It is still essentially Community Area 33, extended slightly to the north, west, and south. Here’s what we came up with (click the image to view our Google map):
Our research indicated a fair bit of consensus that the northern border of the Near South Side is basically Congress Parkway – and it’s hard to argue with the Lake as the eastern border. 🙂 There’s less consensus about the western border (the Chicago River or the Dan Ryan Expressway?) and the southern border (Cermak or the Stevenson?), but we opted to go for the more expansive boundaries for three reasons: (1) to keep the borders as straight and simple as possible, (2) to fully include the South Loop’s established micro-communities as much as possible, and (3) to anticipate future growth and the formation of new micro-communities.
The boundaries of some of the established micro-communities that can be found in the South Loop, like Printers Row, the Cultural Mile, Chinatown, the Prairie District – and most recently McCormick Square – have been defined by official designations and/or created by associations that serve them. Three of the Dearborn Park borders were well defined, but we kind of had to guess what the southern border should be.
Once the more established micro-communities were identified, we realized we still had a fair bit of unnamed/unclaimed territory, so we used available information and our best judgment to define and label them. These include River South and the Wabash Corridor. And of course we couldn’t ignore the Lakefront.
Not everyone will agree with the South Loop borders and micro-communities we’ve defined, and we’re perfectly okay with that. We’re the first people to admit that these definitions can be kind of fuzzy.
What Does the Future Hold?
We fully expect the definitions of the South Loop’s borders and micro-communities (and the accompanying labels) to change over time as the area continues to grow and mature. The recent designation of McCormick Square illustrates that (and led us to update our original map and website!).
Maybe the South Loop/Near South Side label will become less relevant over time as the identities of all of the micro-communities of which it is comprised become more firmly established (as asserted in No One is Really Quite Sure Exactly Where the South Loop Is). But who knows when that day will be? It’s almost impossible to predict.
In the meantime, although we think the identities of the Near South Side’s micro-communities (and sub-communities like Motor Row, Museum Campus, and Central Station) should be maintained, strengthened, and celebrated, we believe that unifying them within the South Loop mega-neighborhood designation is critically important. Enhancing the whole will enhance the prospects of the individual parts.
As a neighborhood, the Near South Side is something of an adolescent. Though not quite fully grown, it is physically well established. Its primary challenge now is to define its individual identity and communicate that identity to others.
The main objective in starting South Loop Living was to help establish and communicate that identity. Our mission is three-fold. By spreading the word about how spirited, dynamic, diverse and fulfilling the South Loop is, we strive to:
- Enrich the lives of those who currently call it home
- Inspire and entice those who are considering moving here
- Enhance the experiences of the thousands of people who visit it annually
We do this by highlighting the people and places, events and activities, news and developments, and businesses and other organizations that give the South Loop life and make it a vibrant and growing community.
Given that mission, we actually like referring to the South Loop and Near South Side. We believe owning the labels and reinforcing them as positive terms will ultimately reduce confusion, decrease misperceptions and prejudice, increase awareness and understanding, and enhance the area’s appeal.
We love the South Loop, and we want other people to appreciate the Near South Side as much as we do. It really is pretty fab. Come hang out with us. You’ll see. 🙂
If you have a great South Loop story to share, we’d love to publish it. Contact us!