Picking a Chicago neighborhood 2015 Edition
February 3, 2015 10:49 AM   Subscribe

Could someone help a bemused dude make the transition from a crappy midwestern city without amenities to Chicago? Bonus complications and questions inside.

Hey Mefites. So I'm making a move to Chicago and there are some logistical things I want to deal with alongside some general questions about Chicago itself. I'll try to keep this succinct, but my situation is pretty complicated so I'm sorry in advance if I drift a little.

So one of the biggest reasons I'm making the move is because of my visual impairment. Right now I live in a midwestern town with very few amenities and it's impeding my professional and social development in a serious way. That feeds directly into my first question about moving to Chicago. Can anyone recommend neighborhoods that meet these requirements?

1. Close to public transit with bonus points for a wide variety of options and destinations. I've checked several neighborhoods on the L and I have some in mind, but I want a local's view here.

2. Cheap. I don't mind if a neighborhood is perceived to be dangerous. I've lived in some rough places. Frugality is tied with good access to public transit for my requirements. Looking to spend no more than about $750 per month.

3. Close to an arts scene. I realize that this might preclude getting the first two, but I've looked at places like Andersonville, Edgewater, Logan Square, and Pilsen and it seems like fairly cheap places can be had in those neighborhoods.

So based on those requirements, I came up with these neighborhoods. If someone could give me a little more info on each from the experience of a resident that would be great: Edgewater, Rogers Park, Andersonville, Pilsen, Logan Square, Bridgeport, and Irving Park.

I'm moving to the city with the intent of hooking up with Illinois Vocational Rehab after a move in. I have a cosigner for an apartment and a pretty awful work history. Unemployment has been a problem, hence the cosigner. I'm concerned about landlords scrutinizing me. Is there anything I can do to get around that? I mean besides having references from old landlords? I've got those, fortunately. I'm just worried about trying to move to a city without a job. I also have non-existent credit. No house and no car will do that. Unfortunately, I can't do anything with Illinois VR until I have a local address. It's a crappy situation and I wish I could set up a safety net before move in, but I can't.

Additionally, because of my visual impairment, I am wondering if someone could give me a general description of the layout of the city. It's a big place, and maps obviously aren't cutting it for me. It's all conceptual right now, and I am having trouble visualizing the places in relation to one another.

If anyone has any experience dealing with Illinois VR or its government programs in general and could give me some tips as to navigating its idiosyncrasies I'd be really grateful.

I'm really overwhelmed and I'm sorry for the unfocused nature of the questions. But my present situation is pretty untenable at the moment and I need to get out of here ASAP. I'm heading up to the city this weekend with a friend to do some walking around. Unfortunately I'm only getting two days up there. It's really not enough time to do the sort of thorough looking I'd like to do. Any ideas for maximizing my time up there? Because transportation isn't easy for me and because I live in an out-of-the way place, I don't know the next time I'll be able to come look so I'd like to get the most out of the short visit I'm getting.

Thanks for any help in advance.
posted by Ephelump Jockey to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If the arts scene is important, and logistics are an issue, Pilsen is probably your first best option. I have not lived there, but have friends who have. It's close enough to the loop to both be more densely developed and less of a trek by CTA to non loop destinations.

I think of the city as basically an hourglass shape, with the loop in the middle and the lake and interstate as the edges. That's a very north side centric opinion, tho.

Chicago landlords are not NY landlords. I don't know of people who have had trouble getting a lease that they were able to pay for.
posted by PMdixon at 11:07 AM on February 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Additionally, because of my visual impairment, I am wondering if someone could give me a general description of the layout of the city.

Chicago is probably one of the best cities in the world for this. I heart the grid system so much. Seriously, every city should burn to the ground so it can be built back up with 90° angles and math. The zero point is in the Loop at State and Madison. All streets run out in ascending order in each cardinal direction. 8 blocks = 1 mile. Everything makes sense and it's pretty darned impossible to get lost.

Not sure how severe your visual impairment is, but one thing I would personally be concerned about since I'm super clumsy is the sorry state of sidewalks in a lot of neighborhoods. Cheaper areas of the city (like Pilsen, where I lived for a while) don't have great upkeep, and the sidewalks are chewed up in spots and occasionally have broken glass littered around. (Ask me about that time I thought it would be fun to learn to rollerblade...the crap sidewalks nearly killed me.) I also lived in Irving Park for a while and have to say the area was much nicer to walk through, better maintained and quieter.

The city itself is enormous, but depending on where you live and what you need this might not be an issue. I live on the lower west side now (southeast of Pilsen) and it's a breeze to get to and from the Loop. The Pink Line is very nice and it's a short, quick trip. But most people I know and a lot of the cool things in Chicago are north of the Loop, which requires an hour+ of transit and transferring train lines, which is a huge pain in the ass. (I drive. Look into Pace to see if the city's paratransit option applies to you, as that could open a lot of options for you.)

In my experience, without an income to show and with no credit, some landlords might get huffy unless you can establish clearly that you can afford to pay. Your cosigner will be very important. What I've done during periods of unemployment is rent a room from someone in an already established apartment. I've used craigslist and have had frankly lousy luck with roommates in my life, but in your financial situation that may be an option to consider, at least for the short term.

Of the neighborhoods you mentioned, I loved living in Pilsen. Irving Park was pretty boring but like I said was kept nicer. Some parts of Bridgeport are nice, and there is an arts scene in Bridgeport, but other parts of it are filled with kind of racist-seeming ex-cop-type folks which aren't particularly my cup of tea.

p.s. When you get here, the Chiacgo mefi crowd loves you already so come hang out with us!
posted by phunniemee at 11:13 AM on February 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

This site and also this one say they offer a wide variety of Braille maps. I can't find Chicago listed specifically, but your searching may yield better results.

I expect that the Chicago Lighthouse will also have advice and resources for you.

Good luck! Chicago is great!
posted by JimN2TAW at 11:31 AM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Two questions:
1) What kind of arts scene do you need, and how do you want to engage with it?
2) Where are you staying when you visit?

2. Cheap. I don't mind if a neighborhood is perceived to be dangerous. I've lived in some rough places. Frugality is tied with good access to public transit for my requirements. Looking to spend no more than about $750 per month.

For frugality and abundant transit, consider Uptown. It doesn't have its own super-coherent and developed arts scene, but it's really close to Andersonville--they bleed into each other on Andersonville's south edge. It is red-line El proximate and has 3 major bus lines North-South, and a bunch of major bus lines East-West. It's home to three major music venues: the Riviera, the Aragon, and the Green Mill. Lately it is home to a lot of new restaurants, too. It also has a Target that is right on an El stop, which is a nicer amenity than I ever would have thought. God I love the Wilson Yard Target

(Tip from a local: A lot of super-cheap apartments tagged "Andersonville" are actually more properly speaking in Edgewater and Uptown. Landlords call them "Andersonville" because, well, racism basically.)

Rogers Park is cheap and man, they are really trying to have an arts scene, but as my friends are often wont to say, "Stop trying to make 'Rogers Park' happen!" It is *beautiful* and a great place to live but it does not have a big artsy scene or at least not yet. Also, transit becomes bus-only and spotty anywhere west of Clark St.

Additionally, because of my visual impairment, I am wondering if someone could give me a general description of the layout of the city. It's a big place, and maps obviously aren't cutting it for me. It's all conceptual right now, and I am having trouble visualizing the places in relation to one another.

The layout of the city is rather sprawling but like phunniemee says, our grid is pretty solid and easy to deal with. Remember too that the entire place is bounded on the East by the lake, so if you're anywhere near the water you can orient yourself immediately.

I don't drive, so I don't often even consider the grid except when I'm figuring out a specific address. I instead visualize the city as fanning out West from the lake. One great shorthand for this view, if atlas-type maps aren't cutting it, is to look at the CTA train maps: the trains radiate out from the Loop. Looking at that map, you'll see that your prospective neighborhoods are all fairly far along the branches of different trains. Logan is Northwest; Rogers Park, Edgewater and Andersonville are far North, Pilsen is slightly South.

Good luck!
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:49 PM on February 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Er, Pilsen is slightly southwest, I should say.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:56 PM on February 3, 2015

Response by poster: Blast Hardcheese:

Thank you so much. Your description of the loop and the neighborhoods in relation to it really helped. So am I right in assuming it's basically like spokes on a wheel? Can you tell me the compass directions and their corresponding colors? I know the colors, but I don't know their directions. All I know is that red is north/south and blue is east/west.

I'm staying in Crown Point, IN and taking the Indiana commuter train into the city. It's not ideal, seeing as the train is a 45-minute trip and I have to do that twice each day. But whatever. Gotta work with what I have.

I'm taking my first halting steps into a writing career. Been working on a portfolio so I can start pitching and quearying clients for freelance stuff... and I've got a mess of a novel sitting here. I'd like to engage with other writers. I'm not tied to any particular style of art scene, as I figure just being near the creative pulse should help me find fellow writers. Plus I figure it's kinda daft to go, "Hey where are all the writers?" I guess I'd like to make connections so that finding somewhere to publish, even in a small insignificant rag is possible. Failing that, having a group of fellow writers period is an invaluable resource. I should know, since I don't have one here. But that's far beyond where I'm at right now.

I had also looked into Uptown previously... but I'd heard that it was a little more dangerous than the average... people didn't speak kindly of it. And I was warned off it. But I guess I could put it back on the table. It's just I have so little time to look and so little access to the city that I feel like I'm already spreading myself too thin here.


Thanks for the helpful info. I'm way not into paratransit but I might have to get over myself here. I almost mentioned sidewalks in my question, but it was so scattered that I didn't want to add a weird additional requirement to peoples' answers. I mean busted up sidewalks aren't a deal breaker, but if I had to pick, I'd pick somewhere well-maintained over somewhere not.

Would love to hit up some meetups. Always wanted to hang out with Mefites. Consider that one more huge benefit to finally making the move.

JimN2TAW :

Thanks for the info. I already spoke to the Lighthouse. Unfortunately, there's precious little they can do until I'm there. I keep running into that wall each time I try to get some help. It's frustrating. I'm about to go sleep under a bridge so I'll be local. I kid, I kid.

Keep 'em coming folks. You've been really helpful.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 1:19 PM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think Uptown has a somewhat undeserved reputation for danger, because the neighborhoods around it are SO SAFE and full of strollers and lattes. It is absolutely less gentrified than its neighbors. I would not consider it enormously less safe than Pilsen or Rogers Park. In all three places you have a nonzero chance of getting your car stolen or broken into.

If you're exploring Andersonville though, there's really no reason not to check Uptown out some. You're basically getting into Uptown territory as soon as you move toward the lake from A-ville or travel along Lawrence Avenue. If you get a sketchy feeling from it, then it's a no-go, but basically a lot of "ooh it's dangerous" on the North side of Chicago translates to "oh, they haven't kicked out all the poor minorities yet." So take it with a grain of salt.

Red, Blue, and Pink are the only trains you're likely to need for your visit.

Red goes North/South but you will be taking it exclusively North--"To Howard." The following neighborhoods are on Red, in order from South to North:

Uptown (Wilson, Lawrence and Argyle stops)
Andersonville (Berwyn and Bryn Mawr stops)
Edgewater (Bryn Mawr and Thorndale)
Rogers Park (All the rest of the stops going North)

For Blue you'll want the branch that goes Northwest--"To O'Hare".
Logan Square is at the Logan and California stops, and Irving Park is waaaay wayyyy further Northwest at the Irving Park stop.

The Pink line runs in a circle around the loop, and then it runs Southwest.
Pilsen is on the Pink line at 18th st.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:39 PM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry that Lighthouse hasn't been super helpful. I've heard mixed things about their non-vocational services, so sorry to see that confirmed. There are a couple of other resources you can try while you're working out your move:

ACCESS Living offers referral services and maintains a list of disability-friendly landlords.

The Blind Service Association offers a referral hotline for housing and transportation. Call them at (312) 236-0808.

Second Sense also operates a hotline for referrals. You can call them at (312) 236-8569.

You asked about cardinal directions for CTA lines. Red goes north-south, straight through the loop. Blue starts west, goes east into the loop, and then loops back northwest again. Purple is north-south, but only to the loop. Brown is basically a northwest line, emanating from the loop. Green starts west from the loop (in between the two blue western branches), and then turns and goes south, closely mirroring red. Orange is a southwest line, emanating from the loop. Pink is west, emanating from the loop, a little further south from blue.

Something to keep in mind is that the CTA stops are named after their cross-streets, so there is an Irving Park stop on blue and on brown, there is a Belmont on red/brown/purple and on blue, there is a Pulaski on every line except red, there are two Kedzie stops on blue. This was really really confusing to me when I moved here!

People are going to tell you all sort of weird shit about Uptown, it's a very divided issue among us natives. The thing is, the nice areas of Uptown are lovely, and the bad areas can be very dangerous, and it's block-by-block. I'm not sure I'd recommend that a newbie to Chicago attempt to live there. It's, like, wait a year and get a feel for things at Beginner level, then graduate to Intermediate and find a place in Uptown once you have your bearings.
posted by juniperesque at 1:49 PM on February 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've lived in Logan Square for five years and like it quite a bit, but the rent has skyrocketed all around me. There may still be deals to be had but lots of people are trying to move here. It fits some of your specs well (transit, arts) but cheap's going to be the tough one. If you're not having any luck in Logan Square itself you may want to check around a little further up the Blue Line (Avondale/Irving Park/Portage Park neighborhoods, Belmont or Addison el stops) and just keep an eye on proximity to the train.

One bonus of the Blue Line corridor is no Cubs/Sox insanity. Also you can also get to O'Hare easily when it's time to get the hell out of here.
posted by evisceratordeath at 2:28 PM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

8 blocks = 1 mile.

I'm in a rush for dinner but in case this wasn't mentioned upthread earlier each block is 100 in the address system - so you can tell how far north, south or west a place is in miles by dividing it by 800.

This also gives you the ability to quickly orient yourself just by comparing two street addresses.

A lot of L stops in core have compass tiles in the ground right by their exits.
posted by srboisvert at 5:26 PM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

The buses also tend to have audio stop announcements.
posted by srboisvert at 5:31 PM on February 3, 2015

Some disconnected thoughts:

Pilsen has a reputation as a cheap neighborhood, but when I was looking a couple years ago, everything I found was more than what I'd been paying in Edgewater and the apartments were awful. Like, giant rotting holes in the ceiling awful. Maybe I just had bad luck or didn't know where to look.

I've lived in the Rogers Park/Edgewater/Andersonville area as long as I've lived in Chicago and I'm pretty fond of it. Andersonville is more yuppie-y (and getting moreso by the day); other parts of Edgewater and Rogers Park are much more down-to-earth. Uptown is great too; if people have told you it's dangerous, I'd take that with a grain of salt. If you look at the actual violent crime rates in Uptown they are pretty comparable to the surrounding neighborhoods. The previous alderman, who held office from the 1970s until only a couple years ago, was a strong believer in keeping the neighborhood diverse and affordable, to the consternation of many people who'd bought property in the expectation that Uptown would become a northern extension of ritzy Lakeview/Lincoln Park to the south, and I believe that much of the rhetoric about Uptown as a dangerous neighborhood comes from these people's discomfort with the continuing presence of poor people and especially poor Black people. If you can, walk around and form your own impressions.

That said, as much as I like this part of town, I would not consider it to be especially artsy. There is some comedy and theater, but not a ton of organized visual-arts or literary stuff going on (though I did seem to meet a disproportionately-high number of writers when I used to live a bit further north in Rogers Park proper, many of them with some kind of association with Loyola University).

One thing that might not be obvious unless you live here: on the north side, there is a sort of corridor of lakefront neighborhoods along the Red Line (which are all of the neighborhoods I've been discussing except Pilsen) and then there is another corridor of neighborhoods heading out northwest along the Blue Line (Wicker Park, Bucktown, Logan Square, Humboldt Park). Generally speaking it is very time-consuming and inconvenient to get from one of these corridors to the other on public transportation. If you're reliant on the trains and buses, don't move to Rogers Park thinking you'll be able to easily visit friends or reach amenities in Logan Square (or vice versa).
posted by enn at 5:40 PM on February 3, 2015

If you're reliant on the trains and buses, don't move to Rogers Park thinking you'll be able to easily visit friends or reach amenities in Logan Square (or vice versa).

You could, frankly, leave off the bit about reliance on trains and buses. When you get down to it, there are many Chicagos, and traveling between them can be as time consuming and maddening as visiting a distant suburb, even if you have a car.
posted by wotsac at 5:59 PM on February 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yeah. People in Chicago tend to live in their neighborhoods as if they were small hamlet villages.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:51 AM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Or they refer to their friends in groupings based on train line colors.
posted by srboisvert at 10:05 AM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Okie dokie. Quick update.

I've got several Logan Square places to check out in the morning and some Andersonville stuff in the afternoon. Also one lone Pilsen place. Couple additional questions.

1. Can someone recommend good food in any/all of these neighborhoods? Bonus points if it's an unpretencious divey joint that also happens to have a solid microbrew list.

2. How long on average does it take to get between Andersonville and Logan Square? Is it okay to tack Pilsen on the end of the itinerary? I realize I'm doubling back in doing so.

Not trying to have my hand held, but as a VI dude with basically no experience with Chicago transit, let alone large-scale public transit, I'm trying to get a handle on what to expect. I also value punctuality and don't want to keep anyone waiting.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 10:22 AM on February 5, 2015

Response by poster: final update. Moving up in mid May. Edgewater is my hood. Took two trips and a lot of headaches, but I like the area. It's quiet without being super distant from night life and so on. Thanks to all of you for your help. It's really appreciated.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 1:28 PM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Congratulations. Chicago is fairly stingy with their liquor licenses, so there actually aren't (or weren't when I lived there three years ago) a lot of divey food options that serve beer. BUT - this is probably a good thing for you, because it has created a broad acceptance for BYO in the divey to clean and inexpensive tier of dining. And you shouldn't have much trouble finding places that sell the sort of beer you want to bring.

My favorite spot to eat in Andersonville was always Sunshine Grill - a very homey Japanese comfort food place. And I rather enjoyed going a hair to the south on Argyle Street for Vietnamese food or Sun Wah's delicious, fresh Chinese.

A bar - I never personally liked Simons that much, but it's beloved by many of my friends.

As for getting down to Logan? I'd say it took me 30-45 minutes by car. The hour that Google Maps is currently showing for transit looks plausible, but it was not my thing.
posted by wotsac at 11:41 AM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

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