In the late 1920s, two University of Chicago sociologists, Ernest Burgess and Vivien Palmer, mapped out 75 community areas in the city of Chicago (two more were added decades later). In the nearly 100 years since they were created, the boundaries of these communities have been largely unchanged.
But are these areas also what residents think? To find out, UChicago researchers led by Emily Talen, a professor in the Division of the Social Sciences, are asking Chicagoans to weigh in through a new public survey.
While researching her book “Neighborhood,” Talen says she discovered the ambiguity of the concept of neighborhoods — even though cities like Chicago often brag about being a “city of neighborhoods.”
“In Chicago, they are not defined in any kind of official way, and, therefore, they lack agency,” she says. “They are convenient geographic locators. Understanding where they are is a first and essential step toward giving them more meaning and impact.”
Talen also underscores how much Chicago relies on these 77 community areas, frequently weaving them into official policies and practices. “But they could very well be artifacts.”
In fact, the original researchers never meant for them to be neighborhoods, but that is how they are being used.
In an effort to update our understanding of Chicago’s neighborhoods, she and her colleagues developed a survey to have residents weigh in on the city’s hyper-local boundaries. Asking for crowd-sourced input certainly isn’t new: DNAInfo (the precursor to Block Club Chicago) did a version some years ago, Talen says, and The New York Times recently produced a version that received 37,000 responses.