This is Chicago: Ravenswood

Places certainly means many different things to many different people. When you think of Chicago you may think immediately of the Loop with rumbling trains that weave their way around and in between skyscrapers. Or, you may think of the Magnificent Mile, Navy Pier, Millennium Park, or River North. You may also picture vacant lots, flashing blue and red lights, and corner stores. Whatever it is that you picture, that is only a small fragment of what ultimately makes Chicago what it is. This piece will be focusing on a place that is in certain ways a microcosm of the city: the neighborhood of Ravenswood.

Ravenswood is tree-lined, spacious, and architecturally romantic.  But, at the same time, Ravenswood is industrial, gritty, and unequivocally urban; established yet constantly evolving. In many ways, Ravenswood epitomizes Chicago; in Ravenswood you can find yourself under rusted L tracks, on a sidewalk in between multiple breweries, and on a street corner next to dense courtyard buildings and gorgeous victorian mansions. There are so many pieces to the city, and Ravenswood is emblematic of many of them.

The tricky thing though, is that you won’t find Ravenswood on a map of Chicago’s 77 officially recognized community areas.  Ravenswood doesn’t really even have agreed upon boundaries; some people (especially realtors) conflate it with the Lincoln Square community area. So, what is it that makes Ravenswood a true place, somewhere with an identity?

There are two main unique factors at play that differentiate it from other nearby neighborhoods: Ravenswood Avenue and the East Ravenswood Historic District. The historic district is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places is bound by Irving Park on the south, Clark to the east, Lawrence to the north, and Ravenswood Avenue on the west. Obviously, Ravenswood Avenue extends further south and north into different neighborhoods such as Bowmanville and West Lakeview, but it has a very consistent character between Irving Park and Lawrence, with very little residential uses and a whole lot of industrial, commercial, and mixed uses: these include everything from tech companies, theaters, restaurants, breweries, designers, and artists to non profits, professional services, artisans, wholesalers, manufacturers, industrial designers, and many others. This dichotomy between a gritty and eclectic post-industrial commercial corridor and wonderfully spacious, lush, and classical residential streets creates a distinct feeling to Ravenswood. 


History

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Hermitage & Wilson, 1908 | Lakeview Historical Chronicles
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Hermitage & Wilson, 2017 | Frank Kryzak

Ravenwood, particularly the East Ravenswood Historic District, is important because it was planned as one of Chicago’s first suburbs to function as a completely independent community. Additionally, it is notable for its varied residential and institutional architectural styles and building types.

According to the National Register for Historic Places, the East Ravenswood Historic District is significant for it’s association with the development of transportation, the growth of the region following the Great Fire of 1871, the rapid influx of immigrants, the changes to the city caused by the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, and the growth of industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is also notable for its physical setting and building stock which are both representative of the aforementioned transitions in Chicago’s history.  The character of this area and its built environment have remained relatively unchanged still to this day.

In 1837, Conrad Sulzer and his family, who were Swiss immigrants, purchased 100 acres of undeveloped land which would later become Ravenswood. Other folks eventually settled nearby and established farms around the Sulzer farmstead. The Sulzer’s are recognized as the first recorded non-native settlers in the area.

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Graceland Cemetery, 2017 | Frank Kryzak

Back in I860 when Graceland Cemetery was chartered, the surrounding town of Lake View was still mostly rural. In 1868, after Graceland was founded,  group of South Side businessmen formed the Ravenswood Land Company and purchased 194 acres to develop a subdivision in the still fairly undeveloped area north of Chicago. This original plot of land was located adjacent to the northwest corner of Graceland Cemetery, starting at Clark and Sulzer Road (now Montrose Avenue). This subdivision was generally bound by present day Lawrence on the north, Damen on the west, Clark on the east, and Montrose/Berteau on the south.

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Decorative bicycle racks in Ravenswood celebrating 1868 as the year Ravenswood was founded. | Frank Kryzak

The Great Chicago Fire in 1871 served as an incredibly important moment for the expansion of Ravenswood. Many people moved to Ravenswood and the surrounding areas for a place to rebuild their homes and start their lives over again. Folks chose to relocate to Ravenswood for a couple of reasons: first, many working-class people sought an area where they could build wood frame houses because they couldn’t afford to comply with new fire safety construction codes in Chicago. But it wasn’t only working-class people seeking refuge in Ravenswood, middle-class people also built houses in the area.  This diversity of economic backgrounds of early homeowners in Ravenswood is still evident as modest frame cottages can be found next to grand mansions.

Secondly, due to the rebuilding of Chicago and the increase in building north of the city during after the fire, the brickyards along the north branch of the Chicago River drew many immigrants, specifically German, to the surrounding area. Bricks were increasingly valuable to comply with new fireproof construction laws. As more immigrants moved to Chicago and the areas north of the city the farms that occupied the area began to disappear. Through additions to the subdivision of Ravenswood, by 1890 the boundaries expanded to Leavitt, Berteau, Clark, and Lawrence.

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Van Vechten’s map from 1870: The boundaries of the original Ravenswood appear to be generally Clark, Lawrence, Berteau, and Damen | Library of Congress
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Montrose Avenue looking west toward Ravenswood Avenue in 1905. Roughly a year before construction commenced on the Ravenswood branch of the elevated train (now the CTA Brown Line). | Calumet 412
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Montrose looking west, 2017 | Frank Kryzak
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Damen & Lawrence, 2017 | Frank Kryzak
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Damen & Lawrence, 1890 | Calumet 412

It is not quite known why the name Ravenswood was selected for the subdivision in the first place. There are a few different theories: some say that the community was named after Chief Raven, a Native American who had lived nearby in a densely wooded area of the region now called Bowmanville. Others speculate that Ravenwood was named for the abundance of ravens which lived in the woods nearby.  Another theory is that is was the name of a town in the Eastern United States that one of the settlers once lived in. Perhaps the most interesting theory is that it was named after a character in the novel “The Bride of Lammermoor” which was written by Sir Walter Scott in 1819. Still, even if the origin of the name Ravenwood has been lost over the course of history, it has proved popular enough to live on throughout the years.


Ravenswood Avenue

Probably the beating heart of the neighborhood is its namesake street which has historically served as the “main street” for the community. By the 1870’s and 1880’s Ravenswood Avenue was a local business district with grocery stores, a meat market, a post office, and a drug store, among other shops and offices. But the street also had lumber yards and commercial stables north of Wilson Avenue. There were generally three waves development for Ravenswood Avenue as a commercial and industrial corridor: the first being right after the Chicago and Northwestern railroad was established in 1855, then after the extension of the elevated train in the first decade of the 20th century, and the third beginning during World War 1.

The Ravenswood Avenue corridor generally first started as a business district, but by the 1890’s it started to transform into light manufacturing corridor. This was due to the fact that people began to take advantage of the railroad along the street which offered an easy way for goods to be transported, also land was affordable. The development of industry along the corridor facilitated the growth of residential uses nearby. As more people came to the area to live and work, the elevated railroad was extended to Ravenswood in 1907, with stations at Irving Park, Montrose, Ravenswood, and Damen serving the surrounding area.

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Brick street along West Ravenswood Avenue between Wilson and Sunnyside, 2017. | Frank Kryzak

The construction of the Ravenswood branch of the Northwestern Elevated train line, which began service May 18, 1907 brought with it an increase in industrial and light manufacturing to the corridor. The Ravenswood station, which no longer exists, was typical of the elevated stations built for the Ravenswood branch except that the station was situated mid-block, just south of Wilson Avenue rather than being located at a cross-street with the station house under the elevated structure. The station was most likely located here because the Ravenswood station on the Chicago & North Western Railroad was originally located south of Wilson Avenue, across from the elevated station’s location. Interestingly, the Ravenswood station, with commuter service now operated by the Union Pacific on behalf of Metra, was later relocated two blocks north between Leland and Lawrence.

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Ravenswood Station located at Ravenswood Avenue and Wilson Avenue, 1952 | Chicago Public Library
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The Damen Brown Line station in 2016. This station, along with the Brown Line Irving Park and Montrose stations, services Ravenswood. | Frank Kryzak
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Montrose, looking west toward Damen Avenue from the Montrose Brown Line station, 2017 | Frank Kryzak
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1801 W. Belle Plaine Avenue, a manufacturing building built in 1930 now hosts a wide array of tenants from the professional, industrial, and creative sectors. | Frank Kryzak
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Ravenswood Meat Market, ca. 1916. Street view of businesses on the 4500 block of Ravenswood Avenue. Signs for the following businesses are visible on the shop windows: The London Beauty Shop; L. Richman Tailor Cleaner; The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co.; Ravenswood Meat Market B. A. Riemenschneider; Barnard Drugs. | Chicago Public Library

Thankfully, many of the industrial buildings in the corridor from that time still exist. For example, 4335 N. Ravenswood which was once occupied by the Boye Needle Company. The company was founded in 1905 by John L. Flannery, and was located on Wabash Avenue between Randolph and Washington Streets but relocated to 4335 N. Ravenswood after the original building was destroyed by fire. By 1918, they employed 150 people in the manufacturing of sewing machine supplies, hardware, and dry goods novelties. This building now houses the neighborhood gem Architectural Artifacts.

Starting in the 1970s, Ravenswood Avenue began to slowly evolve from its industrial past into a center for cultural production. Large and relatively affordable available factory spaces have allowed small businesses and creative industries to thrive. For example, the Lillstreet Art Center now occupies 40,000 square feet of space and Architectural Artifacts occupies 80,000 square feet of space in former industrial buildings. The area has benefitted from fairly low rents, flexible leases, free parking, and an abundance of transportation options. All of these conditions have created a friendly environment for the development of small businesses and creative uses along the corridor.

The owner and founder of Architectural Artifacts, Stuart Grannen, expanded his retail business of salvaged architectural artifacts by joining the building that housed the Boye Needle Company with another building built in 1920 with a glassy and modern atrium. This is a great example of adaptively re-using and enhancing historic buildings in the corridor for creative uses.

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Architectural Artifacts, 2017 | Frank Kryzak
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Entrance to Architectural Artifacts, 2017 | Frank Kryzak

Another gem of the present day Ravenwood Corridor is the aforementioned Lillstreet Art Center. It started in a small warehouse on Lill Street (Avenue) in 1975 and has since grown out of its original space and since 2003 has occupied a large 40,000 square foot building on the corner of Ravenswood and Montrose. The art center is wildly popular as a place to learn everything from ceramics, jewelry making, printmaking, to digital arts, textiles, and even comic book illustration. It is not just a place to take classes though, as it also houses galleries that feature work from local and national artists. First Slice Cafe, a community focused cafe which donates meals to homeless people in need, is also located in the building on the first floor. It is a true community space.

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Lillstreet Art Center, 2017 | Frank Kryzak
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Lillstreet Art Center, 2017 | Frank Kryzak
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The CTA Brown Line tracks that run parallel to Ravenswood Avenue, 2017 | Frank Kryzak

Just north of the Lillstreet Art Center is Beyond Design Inc., an industrial design firm that transformed an old brick barrel vaulted warehouse for their new facilities in 2007. It was the owner’s vision to purchase the adjacent vacant lot to create an outdoor garden to compliment the newly renovated building. The resulting open space adds much needed greenery and landscaping to the corridor. There is a beautifully restored entrance gate that was provided by Architectural Artifacts. There are plantings that provide wonderfully colorful displays throughout the year, particularly in the spring as well as a fountain and a large terrace for gatherings.

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Beyond Design Entrance Gate to its outdoor space. | Frank Kryzak
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A Metra commuter train passes over the Union Pacific/North Line tracks. The Ravenswood Metra station is located between Leland & Lawrence on Ravenswood Avenue. | Frank Kryzak
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CTA Brown Line tracks at Cuyler just west of Ravenswood Avenue. | Frank Kryzak

Perhaps the defining characteristic of the Ravenswood Avenue corridor presently is that it has become rich with a dense concentration of craft breweries and even a whiskey distillery. The building stock, which mainly consists of buildings that were built for industrial uses, is very conducive for brewing and there is easy parking and good public transportation nearby; the same favorable conditions that have helped Ravenswood become a successful creative corridor as mentioned earlier. The momentum from the opening of breweries such as Begyle, Dovetail, Empirical, Band of Bohemia, and others has led the corridor to now be dubbed “Malt Row“.

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Begyle Brewing along the Ravenswood Avenue corridor. | Frank Kryzak
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Dovetail Brewery also resides in the Ravenswood Avenue corridor, just around the corner from Begyle. | Frank Kryzak

An important building that exemplifies the Ravenswood Avenue corridor is the Manz Engraving building. Manz Engraving was founded by Jacob Manz, a wood engraver, in 1867. They moved to Ravenswood in 1908, occupying the existing building at 4001 North Ravenswood in 1914. The company is credited with introducing the zinc process and the system of making halftones to the engraving industry. By 1922, the company employed nearly 600 people. The building is a six- story, 90,000 square foot brick structure with a tower on top. With the decline in manufacturing in Chicago in the 1960’s and the socioeconomic changes of the surrounding area, the Manz Corporation vacated the building and moved to the suburbs. While the neighborhood has lost much of it’s population and industrial employers over the last few decades, it has also become increasingly wealthy with the expansion of professional jobs. The change in character of the neighborhood and Ravenswood Avenue’s economy is shown in the following charts.  Thankfully, the Manz building was purchased and completely remodeled by Hayes Properties in 2008 and now houses an incredibly wide array of businesses, which highlight the aforementioned changes in the neighborhood.

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Ravenswood Avenue and Irving Park Road looking Northeast, 1938. | Chicago Public Library
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Source: U.S. Census
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Source: U.S. Census
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Source: U.S. Census

Today there is a very eclectic mix of tenants in the Manz Engraving building: everything from mortgage, realty, IT consulting, marketing, law, and architectural firms to graphic designers, software designers, artist and writing studios, and even a gym and buddhist temple now call the building home

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Manz Engraving building in the background, view from Ravenswood Avenue looking southeast. | Frank Kryzak
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Interior corridor in Manz Engraving building. | Frank Kryzak

Perhaps the most iconic building in Ravenswood, the Deagan Unicut building, is another wonderful brick structure with a large clock tower that was built around 1912 at 4201 Ravenswood. The red brick building has classical details made of limestone and terra cotta. J.C. Deagan, Inc. manufactured musical instruments for bands, musical bells and the “Una-fon” musical keyboard that was used in skating rinks, theaters, and even the Ringling Brothers Circus. They also made the tower, clock, and cathedral chimes that sit atop the building.

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Deagan Building, 2017. | Frank Kryzak

Architect F. E. Davidson designed the Deagan building for approximately $150,000 in 1919. The tower on top of the building is a clever way of actually concealing a water tank.  Just like others in the area, this building is also now owned by Hayes Properties, who has really helped revitalize and transform the corridor in order to adapt to the 21st century. It’s critical to point out that the buildings have retained their original industrial and manufacturing character because Hayes Properties and others have opted for adaptive reuse of older buildings as opposed to simply tearing them down; this investment in the neighborhood to help retain the character of its built environment should absolutely be commended.

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A restaurant occupies part of the Deagan Building. | Frank Kryzak

Nearly all of the buildings in the industrial corridor are still in use, whether for industry, art, or business.  This collection of buildings illustrate an important part of not only Ravenswood’s history, but the history of industry and light manufacturing in the early 20th century.

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Filipino food wholesaler, highlighting how in some cases the Ravenwsood corridor has remained true to its past. | Frank Kryzak

Perhaps the quirkiest structure in Ravenswood isn’t a building, but rather something on top of a building. If you are riding the CTA Brown Line in Ravenswood you might notice something intriguing: a 1960’s airstream trailer perched on top of a building on Sunnyside and Ravenswood. The former industrial building at 1807 W. Sunnyside was renovated in 1989 to house Chicago Associates Planners and Architects, a design firm led by architect Edward Noonan. This airstream trailer was hoisted up onto the roof of the building to act as an amenity for the company’s employees.

 

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1807 W. Sunnyside | Frank Kryzak
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The airstream trailer on top of the 1807 W. Sunnyside building. |Frank Kryzak

The neighborhood hasn’t managed to retain its unique character and adapt to a post-industrial economic landscape solely because of private developers and entities. City intervention has assisted in the ongoing development in Ravenswood, particularly the Ravenswood Corridor. The Ravenswood Corridor between Irving Park and Lawrence is a Tax Increment Finance (TIF) zone with an active Small Business Improvement Fund (SBIF) program, and there are Special Service Areas (SSAs) within the area, which provide expanded services and programs funded through a localized property tax levy that can only be spent within the area that the funds are levied.

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Nadeau is a national furniture company specializing in hand made furniture from around the world, particularly India. | Frank Kryzak
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Evanstonia Antiques, 4555 N. Ravenswood. | Frank Kryzak
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Julius Meinl, a coffee shop serving workers along Ravenswood Avenue. | Frank Kryzak

Residential Streets

In contrast to the Ravenswood Industrial Corridor, the neighborhood as a whole consists of many fine residential buildings with spacious yards and a whole lot of greenery.  From 1868 when the subdivision was first platted, Ravenswood was intended to be an area of fine single family homes and beauty, and in many ways this is still the case.

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Looking west toward Hermitage Avenue in early spring. | Frank Kryzak

The area has an abundance of foliage and spacious yards. In the springtime the neighborhood is flooded with bright colors, it is awash in green during the summer, and then slowly transitions to bold reds, oranges, and yellows in the autumn. It even  looks pleasant in winter.  Also, a portion of the train tracks that run through the heart of the the Ravenswood Avenue corridor are now green: as part of Metra’s landscaping contract for the reconstruction of the Union Pacific North tracks in the area, they provided a community garden along the tracks between Montrose and Berteau.

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Montrose Metra Community Gardens. | Frank Kryzak
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Ravenswood in the springtime. | Frank Kryzak
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Even alleys in Ravenswood blossom in the spring, in this case with lilacs. | Frank Kryzak
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Cherry blossoms along Paulina Street just south of Belle Plaine with the Kingdom Hall of Jehovahs Witnesses in the background. | Frank Kryzak

The existing single family homes in the neighborhood provide excellent examples of the stylistic evolution of late 19th and early 20th century residential architecture. They were primarily built from 1880 to 1920. The earlier homes from the 1880’s s are variations of the farmhouse style that include Italianate details. These urban houses from this time period all have gables perpendicular to the street.

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A block of mainly sing family homes in Ravenswood. | Frank Kryzak

The simplest forms of residential architecture from this era are versions of the Chicago cottage, with similar proportions to Greek Revival homes. These houses have various types of ornamentation tacked on for aesthetic purposes, not just exclusively Italianate details. From these relatively simple styles, the houses in the area eventually evolved into Queen Anne and Victorian influenced structures.

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Victorian era style house in Ravenswood. | Frank Kryzak

Queen Anne style homes became ubiquitous in the country throughout the early 20th century.  The Queen Anne style is known for irregular shapes, contrast, eclectic ornamentation, and a variety of bold colors and textures. These distinctions of the Queen Anne style are evident in many of the houses found in Ravenswood.

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4647 N Paulina – a “gingerbread” Victorian built in 1886. | Frank Kryzak

One of the best examples of the Queen Anne style in the neighborhood is the Abbot House and laboratory at 4605 N. Hermitage, home of the Abbot family and location of the first Abbot laboratory.

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The Abbot house, built in 1891. | Frank Kryzak
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The Linthicum’s house at 4223 N Hermitage. | Frank Kryzak

When walking around the neighborhood it becomes apparent that the lots in Ravenswood are more spacious than typical lots in Chicago. This can be attributed to folks such as Charles and Eva Linthicum, who moved to the area in 1884. They proposed a number of street improvements in the 1880’s, when Ravenswood had wooden sidewalks, open ditches, and dirt streets. Specifically they proposed narrowing the streets and creating wide, grassy plots between the sidewalks and curbs. Large Victorian and Queen Anne-style houses sitting on these large plots of land really lend an air of grandeur to the residential streets in the neighborhood.

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Paulina Street, between Berteau and Belle Plaine. | Chicago Public Library

The late 19th and early 20th century also saw the rise of the Arts and Crafts style, which was defined by symmetry and simplicity as opposed to the complex decorative elements of Queen Anne and Victorian inspired architecture. There are examples of this style in Ravenswood as well.

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The house on the right is a good example of a four square house. | Frank Kryzak

By the 1920’s and 1930’s single family homes being built in Ravenswood most often were bungalows. Additionally, the multi-family buildings in Ravenswood from this period are of several types – the most common being the two- flat and the six- flat. Two-flats have become synonymous with Chicago architecture, and they are particularly a microcosm of architecture in the city for the period between 1890 and 1930. Two-flats come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from greystones, brick houses, Queen Anne, prairie style flats, and many more.

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Two flat in Ravenswood

In Ravenswood, single family homes are intermingled with two and three- flats, six- flats, and courtyard apartment buildings. In some cases these flats were built to resemble single family homes in an attempt to mask the fact that they are indeed meant for multi-family housing. Due to these varying styles, the built environment of the residential streets in Ravenswood are dynamic and eclectic, allowing for a diversity of residents in the neighborhood.

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Home built in 1896 on Hermitage Avenue. | Frank Kryzak
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Carl Sandburg residence where he wrote his famous poem “Chicago”. | Frank Kryzak
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A stucco clad house built in 1914 in Graceland West which is part of the East Ravenswood Historic district. | Frank Kryzak
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Victorian house built in 1895 in Graceland West. | Frank Kryzak
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One of the oldest residential buildings in Ravenswood, built in 1890. | Frank Kryzak
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Hermitage Street single family and multi unit buildings. | Frank Kryzak
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Courtyard apartment building with some English Tudor style detailing. | Frank Kryzak

Landscaped courtyard apartment buildings started being built in Chicago in the early 20th century and it was conceived as a way of allowing light and open green space for all residents of a building. These buildings blend in well with the surrounding built environment of the neighborhood but allow for more density, which is crucial in areas with an abundance of single family homes.

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Typical courtyard apartment building from the early 20th century in Ravenswood. | Frank Kryzak

The courtyard apartment buildings in Ravenswood are typically three stories on a raised basement, and generally date from the 1920’s. These buildings usually have bays that face the courtyard to add dimension and let more light into the units.

 

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4400-4406 N. Paulina, another courtyard apartment building from the early 20th century. | Frank Kryzak

Not all of the housing stock in Ravenswood is from the early 20th century however. On the southeast corner of Hermitage and Wilson and on contiguous lots on Paulina there are townhouses built in the mid 1980’s. The townhouses on Hermitage were built on the site of the Ravenswood YMCA which was founded in 1905. By the 1970’s the building was failing to meet certain building standards and was razed. The resulting prairie-style influenced town homes are integrated well into the neighborhood, even though they are simultaneously unique compared to much of the other building stock.

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Prairie style-esque homes built in the 1980s. | Frank Kryzak

 Religious & Education Buildings

The settlers of Ravenswood were also interested in creating ample educational and religious opportunities for residents. They figured that places to worship and good schools were a way to retain residents and attract other people to the neighborhood. Thus, shortly after Ravenswood was founded, the Ravenswood Land company offered a free lot at Montrose and Hermitage to any congregation who would build a place of worship with no indebtedness. The First Congregational Church of Ravenswood erected the first church in the community in 1869 and it opened in 1870. The church eventually closed in 1969, but by then Ravenswood had become a community full of churches with beautiful architecture from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Located on Wilson and Hermitage, All Saints Episcopal Church is the oldest existing church in Ravenswood. It was built in 1883 by John Cochrane, who also designed the Illinois Statehouse, and is a wood and stucco frame Queen Anne stick style building.  Earlier congregations included descendants of Conrad and Christine Sulzer as well as Carl Sandburg when he lived a block away on Hermitage Avenue. The church has gone through some hard times over its history, nearly closing a handful of times due to dwindling attendance as many people moved to the suburbs in the mid 20th century, financial insolvency, a couple of fires, as well as structural decay. The church was designated as a Chicago landmark in 1982 and since then it has recovered financially and has been lovingly restored. It is now the oldest wood frame church still in use in Chicago.

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All Saints Episcopal Church. | Frank Kryzak
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This mansion, built in 2014, sits on the site of the first church in Ravenswood at Montrose and Hermitage. | Frank Kryzak

The Ravenswood Methodist Episcopal Church built in 1873 was the second church to be erected in the neighborhood. That building was moved to the northeast corner of Hermitage and Sunnyside where a new church was built in 1890. This building is a made of heavy stone and has a Romanesque design which was popular in the late 19th century for institutional buildings.

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Ravenswood Methodist Episcopal Church. | Frank Kryzak

In 1913 a unique Spanish Baroque church was built at the southeast corner of Ashland and Leland named Our Lady of Lourdes Church. The building was designed by Worthman and Steinbach Architects, and is made of yellow brick with stone, copper, and tile detailing. It looks quite different it from the other church buildings in Ravenswood that existed at that time. Famously, in 1929 the entire edifice was moved across the street to the southwest corner of Ashland and Leland as Ashland was being widened.

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Our Lady of Lourdes Church, 2017. | Frank Kryzak

In 1917, another unusual and stylistically unique church was built in Ravenswood, the Fourteenth Church of Christ Scientist at Paulina and Sunnyside. It was designed by the architecture firm Dumming and Jensen in the Classical Revival style. They took inspiration from Greek Classical buildings, such as the Pantheon. It is a monumental building consisting of yellow brick and terra cotta ornamentation, with a gabled roof and portico supported by grandiose columns.

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Philadelphia Romanian Church, originally the Fourteenth Church of Christ Scientist. | Frank Kryzak

Just as Ravenswood is a diverse socio-economic neighborhood, there is also a diverse mix of places of worship. Located on Damen Avenue just north of Montrose is the colorful Chùa Quang Minh Buddhist Temple. These churches, which are within blocks of each other, all represent the time period in which they were built and show that the vision that Ravenswood’s early residents had for their community has endured.

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Chùa Quang Minh Buddhist Temple located at 4429 N. Damen Avenue. | Frank Kryzak

In 1869 the Ravenswood Land Company constructed its first school. It was a one room schoolhouse on the corner of Hermitage and Wilson  It was known as the Sulzer school, and was replaced by the Ravenswood School at the corner of Montrose and Paulina in 1873. The school building was remodeled in 1887 and sthen shortly after that it was replaced by the new Ravenswood School in 1892-93. This original part of the now expanded building was made of red brick with limestone trim and is nicely classically designed. It was added to in 1916 and is one of the oldest elementary school buildings in the Chicago.

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Sulzer School on the present day site of Ravenswood Elementary, 1873. | Chicago Public Library
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Ravenswood Elementary, 2017. | Frank Kryzak

Eating, Drinking, & Shopping

Aside from residential and institutional uses, Ravenswood today is a neighborhood that houses some of the city’s finest food, drinking, and shopping. It has matured into a community that can support industrial, creative, and professional uses, high quality residential and institutional structures, as well as an eclectic mix of unique retail and dining businesses. These commercial uses are generally found along Montrose, Damen, Irving Park, and Lawrence but with others near or on Ravenswood Avenue.

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One example, Spacca Napoli,  is an incredibly popular authentic Neapolitan pizzeria located on Sunnyside and Ravenswood. On warm nights you will find dozens of people eating and drinking outside, congregating on the sidewalk waiting to get into the restaurant, or just simply socializing. Even in the winter, Spacca Napoli is generally  bursting at the seams with patrons.

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People eating and gathering outside of Spacca Napoli on a late spring evening. | Frank Kryzak

Jonathan Goldsmith spent a significant amount of time in Naples, Italy learning the craft of pizza making from Italian chefs. Once back in Chicago he founded Spacca Napoli and even had his oven made from imported Italian brick and other materials. It is a place that truly makes one feel as if they have transported to Italy and many go for the experience, warm atmosphere, and the incredible Neapolitan food.

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Mosaic on the side of the building occupied by Spacca Napoli. | Frank Kryzak

Located further north, and on the west side of Ravenwood Avenue, is Band of Bohemia – a Michelin starred culinary brewhouse. This stretch of Ravenwsood, from Leland to Lawrence, across from the Ravenswood Metra station, is transforming from its industrial roots to a more eclectic mix of commercial and residential uses.

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Band of Bohemia, a Michelin rated brewhouse located in an industrial building built in 1906. | Frank Kryzak

On southeast corner of Wilson and Ravenswood sits a building that has housed some venerable neighborhood institutions.  The Pickard Building was built in the 1890’s to house the artists who hand painted imported white china for the Pickard China Company. Many years later Zephyr Ice Cream was located in the building. Now it houses the popular Irish pub O’Shaughnessy’s Public House.

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O’Shaughnessy’s Public House, located now in the Pickyard Building built in 1910. | Frank Kryzak

Zephyr Ice Cream was founded by Byron Kouris, a Greek American who founded the famous Byron’s Hot Dogs in the 1960s, which had locations in Lincoln Park, the Near West Side, and two locations still in operation in Lakeview and Ravenswood (at Paulina and Lawrence). In 1976 he started Zephyr and it was located in the Pickard Building for three decades, closing in 2006.

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An ice cream parlor called the Zephyr once operated in the Pickard Building, from 1976 to 2006. It was owned by Byron Kouris, better known as the owner of Byron’s Hot Dogs. |Chicago Public Library

Just a couple blocks south from the Pickard Building, lies Montrose Avenue – arguably the most successful commercial corridor in the neighborhood. From Ashland to just west of Damen, Montrose is a street with a dense concentration of mixed use residential and commercial buildings. There is a wide array of businesses, many of them locally owned and independent. This certainly gives Montrose Avenue a true urban and unique character compared to commercial streets in some other areas that can now only sustain big box retail for reasons such as sky-high rents.

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Celtica Gifts, an Irish goods store located on Montrose Avenue in Ravenwsood. | Frank Kryzak
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Fountainhead, a lively restaurant with an extensive beer list and a rooftop garden on the corner of Damen and Montrose. | Frank Kryzak
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Glenn’s Diner, located on Montrose Avenue, specializing in seafood and cereal. | Frank Kryzak
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Ravenswood Used Books, locted at Montrose and Damen 2017. | Frank Kryzak
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Oakwood Bar & Grill, 2017. | Frank Kryzak
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20th Century TV & Stereo Center, a relic of the neighborhood from years past. | Frank Kryzak
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ORD Pizzeria, Montrose Avenue. | Frank Kryzak
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Bienmesabe, a popular Venezuelan restaurant at Montrose & Paulina. | Frank Kryzak

 

Although there aren’t actual defined boundaries for it and it is not an officially City recognized community area, Ravenswood absolutely has an identity all its own. It is the mixture of the Ravenswood Avenue industrial corridor and the beauty of the residential blocks surrounding it that truly makes this neighborhood a unique place. There are elements to the neighborhood that certainly can be found elsewhere but it’s the coalescence of these unique factors- everything from towering industrial buildings that now house breweries and art centers to modest two-flats which sit next door to large Victorian mansions and everything in between -that create a community like no other.

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Do Eyes on the Street Matter? Exploring the Relationship Between Density and Crime in Chicago

The notion of “eyes on the street” generally assumes that the more people there are on a street the less opportunity there is for crime to occur. Therefore, one of the easiest ways to deter a significant amount of crime is to have a constant presence of people acting as a sort of surveillance for the neighborhood. This is accomplished by having a mix of commercial and residential uses on a street, thus promoting a street ballet at all hours of the day and night. As Jane Jacobs wrote in her seminal book The Death and Life of Great American Cities:

“There must be eyes upon the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street. The buildings on a street equipped to handle strangers and to insure the safety of both residents and strangers, must be oriented to the street. They cannot turn their backs or blank sides on it and leave it blind. And third, the sidewalk must have users on it fairly continuously, both to add to the number of effective eyes on the street and to induce the people in buildings along the street to watch the sidewalks in sufficient numbers. Nobody enjoys sitting on a stoop or looking out a window at an empty street. Almost nobody does such a thing. Large numbers of people entertain themselves, off and on, by watching street activity.”

The idea of eyes on the street makes sense to the typical urbanist, and it seems reasonable to assume it is a valid and effective theory. However, there have not been many substantial studies done on the subject. In this post, I am looking at the relationship between the density of the residential built environment (housing units per acre) and rates of crime in Chicago community areas. There are of course other variables that affect eyes on the street, such as land use, vacancy, tourist attractions, etc. but they will not be covered in this post. And, as a disclaimer, crime of course cannot simply be generalized; there are multiple complex reasons for why crime occurs and where. There are many deep rooted systematic problems that affect crime and it is a subject that is incredibly complicated and nuanced. In this post I am simply interested to see if there is any correlation that can be drawn between data on the density of the built environment and crime in Chicago.

One issue that seems to be occurring with regularity is that when home values reach a high point and people start deconverting multi-family homes to single family ones, neighborhoods become more homogeneous and lose density. This can be a problem because, in some cases, very wealthy people may have multiple homes and thus do not live in any of them full time and homes that are vacant for any significant length of time begin to turn streets into deserted blocks with little street life. I have seen this happen on the North Side in Ravenswood for example, where occasionally someone will tear down an entire house next door to transform the lot into their private yard. Instead of creating higher density and encouraging more people to live in an area, the opposite occurs. In desirable neighborhoods, it seems to me, this is happening at a high rate. But, does loss in density have any correlation with increase in crime?

As a starting point, see the below map for a general idea of density levels throughout Chicago. The map is divided by census tract (using the US Decennial Census and the US Census ACS 5 Year Estimates (2010-2014)) and based on housing units per acre rather than the more traditional people per square mile.

densitymap6.7

To look at the relationship between the eyes on the street theory and density, I analyzed Little Italy/University Village, a neighborhood I had spent years living in,  because I feel it is a good representation of the basic tenants that Jane Jacobs wrote about. While this neighborhood has lost people over time, in many cases due to students and professors replacing larger families, the number of housing units hasn’t decreased and there is a fairly constant presence of street life at different times of the day and night. Let’s use the Polk and Carpenter intersection as an example.

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Polk & Carpenter intersection looking north. There is a good deal of triangulation near the intersection: with a park, baseball fields, people walking to and from campus, and restaurants (Tufano’s, Carm’s, Fontano’s). There is also an elementary school, a fountain, and a religious center. However, there is no commercial business or building immediately near this intersection that stays open past 9 or 10 pm.

People sit outside at Carm’s, and on the sidewalk outside of their buildings in lawn chairs when the weather is favorable. Those who own and work at Fontano’s still live on the block. There are eyes on the street, and there is a mix of uses in a residential area. This sort of mixed use  is not generally supported by current zoning in residential areas.

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Polk & Carpenter intersection looking east

 

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New dense development at the Polk & Carpenter intersection

But, is there any evidence to support the idea that this type of density and mixed use that creates eyes on the street in Little Italy/University Village can actually help curb crime?

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Mixed use buildings on Taylor Street in Little Italy/University Village

Anecdotally, I know of someone who was robbed on Taylor Street a few years ago around 2:00 am. A resident in a nearby apartment building witnessed the crime and called the police who then found the perpetrator and recovered and returned the stolen items to the victim. Just for purposes of discussion, if that apartment building were not facing the street with no setback, or if it weren’t an apartment building at all, then perhaps no one would have heard or seen the crime, or if it were a single family home perhaps everyone would have been asleep. Of course, this is purely hypothetical, but I truly believe that no one would have seen the crime if the built environment was of a less urban, dense, mixed use character. Then again, maybe the perpetrator wouldn’t have even been looking to rob someone if it was a residential only street. Such hypotheticals are part of the problem with the lack of studies on the efficacy of the eyes on the street theory.

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Notice that the buildings on Taylor Street have no setbacks and there is a very friendly pedestrian environment with bike racks, short street lamps, wide sidewalks, and a narrow commercial street that is not intimidating to walk along.

The following maps use data from the US Decennial Census, the US Census ACS 5 Year Estimates (2010-2014), and the The Chicago Tribune (The 2001 crime statistics from the Chicago Tribune run from February 2001 to January 2002, the January 2001 data were not available). The Chicago Tribune data defines violent crime as consisting of assault, robbery, battery, sexual assault, or homicide. The Chicago Tribune defines property crime as consisting of arson, theft, burglary, or motor vehicle theft.

Below I will consider correlations first between density and crime rates and then between changes in density and changes in crime rates over time.

Comparing Density and Crime Rates

The following maps compare the density of each community area in Chicago and the annual violent and property crime rates for each community area.

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Interestingly, there seems to be a general pattern in which the community areas with the highest densities have some of the lowest violent crime rates when looking at the chart below. However, there are community areas sprinkled throughout the density spectrum that also have low violent crime rates, especially toward the lower density community areas. This may suggest that, perhaps, a really high density or really low density built environment may have some sort of correlation with lower violent crime rates.

The following chart shows density, property, and violent crime for all 77 community areas. A higher resolution chart can be found here.

densvcrimepcrime

The correlation coefficient for density and violent crime rate per thousand people is -0.2 which is weak. The correlation coefficient for density and property crime rate per thousand people is 0.37 which is also weak. Interestingly, the correlation, although weak, is positive for density and property crime, which would suggest that there is a weak correlation between higher density and higher property crime (when simply looking at the chart, though, it is clear that this may be skewed because of the outlier that is the Loop).

There is a greater concentration of high peaks for property crime in the middle of the density spectrum, with some more towards the bottom of the community areas in terms of density. The Loop is an outlier. As noted above this could be for any number of reasons, such as the high number of tourist attractions, etc. The same pattern appears for violent crime, with a concentration of peaks in the middle and near the bottom of the density spectrum. Generally speaking, many of the community areas that have a higher peak in one type of crime also have a higher peak in the other, and even though a number of community areas have very similar density, the amount of crime in many cases is not correspondingly similar.

Comparing Changes in Density and Changes in Crime Rates

The following maps show the change in density per community area, the change in violent crime per community area, and the change in property crime per community area.

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Interestingly, some of the communities, for example Washington Park, had a larger decrease in violent crime yet still have an incredibly high violent crime rate relative to other community areas (for example, Washington Park saw 56.69 violent crimes per 1,000 residents in 2001 and 26.95 violent crimes per 1,000 residents in 2015; that is a 52% drop in violent crime, which was higher than most other community areas, but still has the 7th highest violent crime rate in 2015).

The following chart shows the change in density and property and violent crime for all 77 community areas. A higher resolution chart can be found hereNote: the y-axis (vertical) for property and violent crime data points represents percentage drop in crime, for example the Near South Side had an 80% drop in violent crime and a 75% drop in property crime. This means the higher a peak is on the y-axis the higher the decrease in crime.  

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The correlation coefficient for change in density and change in violent crime is -0.29, which is a weak correlation. The correlation coefficient for change in density and property crime is -0.45, which is a higher negative correlation but is still weak. For example, if the correlation coefficient were -1, that would mean there would be a strong correlation between, say, loss in density and rise in crime. These two charts show that changes in density and crime essentially have no correlation.

 

After determining that there is weak correlation between changes in density and changes in crime when considering all 77 community areas, I was curious to look at a smaller sample of community areas that stood out (for example, the communities with the smallest and largest change in violent crime). I also added changes in household median income to see if any patterns  might be revealed regarding why there may have been a large or small change in crime. The following table shows community areas with the smallest drop off in violent crime and corresponding change in density and change in household median income (source: US Census ACS 5 Year Estimates 2009-2013):

Community Area Change in Violent Crime Change in Density HH Median Income 2000 HH Median Income 2013
West Garfield Park -15% -2% $31,278.74 $25,133
South Chicago -16% -2% $38,256.63 $29,748
Armour Square -17% 9% $30,784.96 $24,101
North Lawndale -20% 0% $43,723.40 $23,066
Auburn Gresham -22% 3% $46,318.13 $29,167
Dunning -23% 2% $66,785.07 $60,370
Fuller Park -23% -5% $24,908.27 $16,966

Interestingly, while all of the community areas with the smallest drop in violent crime had a wide variance in density change, all of them had a drop in household median income of at least $6,000.

Conversely, this table shows community areas with the largest drop in violent crime and corresponding change in density and household median income (source: US Census ACS 5 Year Estimates 2009-2013):

Community Area Change in Violent Crime Change in Density HH Median Income 2000 HH Median Income 2013
Near South Side -80% 164% $46,441.24 $73,763
Montclare -71% 14% $63,090.49 $43,739
Logan Square -70% 3% $49,033.25 $53,149
West Town -69% 3% $52,645.31 $69,640
Grand Boulevard -69% -12% $19,180.40 $30,523
North Center -68% 3% $70,019.68 $87,889
Garfield Ridge -67% -4% $61,467.10 $62,947

The Near South Side had the largest drop in violent crime and also the highest jump in density. Grand Boulevard on the other hand had the second largest decrease in density of all the community areas yet still had the fourth largest loss in violent crime. There was an increase in household income for all of the community areas with high loss in violent crime, except for Montclare. Interestingly, in Montclare density increased at a much higher rate than many other community areas but the median income not only decreased but decreased by a very large number.

This table shows community areas with the largest drop in property crime and corresponding change in density and household median income (source: US Census ACS 5 Year Estimates 2009-2013):

Community Area Change in Property Crime Change in Density HH Median Income 2000 HH Median Income 2013
O’Hare -76% 56% $58,904.84 $44,300
Near South Side -75% 164% $46,441.24 $73,763
Loop -63% 97% $88,106.99 $86,314
Garfield Ridge -62% -4% $61,467.10 $62,947
Edison Park -61% 1% $77,223.49 $80,230
Clearing -60% 2% $61,598.32 $61,598
Montclare -60% 14% $63,090.49 $43,739

The top three community areas in terms of decrease in property crime all had incredibly high increases in density. However, the other four community areas with the highest change in property crime did not have nearly as much of an increase in density and in the case of Garfield Ridge, actually lost density. There is also a very high variance in change in household income for these community areas.

This table shows community areas with the smallest drop in property crime and corresponding change in density and household median income (source: US Census ACS 5 Year Estimates 2009-2013):

Community Area Change in Property Crime Change in Density HH Median Income 2000 HH Median Income 2013
Pullman -14% -3% $41,891.68 $40,818
Riverdale -16% 2% $17,827.57 $14,008
South Deering -16% -2% $47,063.54 $31,482
South Chicago -17% -2% $38,256.63 $29,748
Auburn Gresham -23% 3% $46,318.13 $29,167
Oakland -24% 11% $14,528.02 $21,306

These community areas also had variance in density change, although not a very high variance other than Oakland, which had a fairly high increase in density at 11%. All of these community areas lost household median income except for Oakland, but the amount of income change varies pretty significantly.

What Does All of This Mean for the Relationship Between Density and Crime?

I must admit, when I began this analysis I was not expecting to see results indicating there is weak correlation between density and crime rates in Chicago. Certainly, the notion of eyes on the street is a valuable planning theory. While the correlation between density and crime did not support this theory as strongly as I expected, this is not necessarily surprising considering the myriad of other factors that affect eyes on the street, which are beyond the purview of this analysis. Further, the theory of eyes on the street was developed by Jane Jacobs’ observations of a specific location during a specific time. Many things have changed since the theory was developed in the 1960s and each place is unique. It can be misleading to take ideas from a certain place and time and assume they will be universally applicable.

Perhaps, I will look at eyes on the street through the lens of land use in the future, because looking at density (in units per acre) may not be the best indication of how many eyes are on the street. It is also important to take in to account the type of density as well. A very dense tower that sits alone in a sea of parking or a large park will not have the same eyes on the street as a row of three-flats that bump up directly to the street. Unfortunately such considerations are not possible when simply using census date and would require additional field research. It is also possible that doing the same analysis but using density in terms of people per square mile would reveal different correlations. At this point, however, the conclusion I draw from looking at communities in Chicago, is that the density of the built environment has less to do with crime than I originally assumed.

 

Image at top from yochicago, all other images from Google, all maps by Frank Kryzak.

 

 

A Different Way of Looking at Density in Chicago

If you have ever been to a community meeting you likely know the word density can be very scary to many people. Density is associated with congestion and parking issues. The word causes images of a high rises and “other” people who are not really “part of the community” to pop into the heads of those who live in the neighborhood. These negative associations, while common, do not do justice to what density signifies. What are we really talking about when we talk about density? The most ubiquitous method of calculating density is in terms of people per square mile. This is a fair and sensible way of looking at density but it does not necessarily tell the whole story of the built environment. This is particularly important because urban designers and planners often think of density in terms of residential units per acre rather than people per mile. While density doesn’t necessarily tell a comprehensive picture of the built environment in any particular place, it is helpful to look at density in multiple ways.  Thus, after scouring the internet and finding nothing, I decided to create a density map of Chicago in terms of residential units per acre.

Density as measured by people per square mile is interesting and it is certainly important to know how many people live in a particular area. However, if you simply look at a residential density map of a city it could be misleading. People often have certain perceptions of the city in terms of the built environment, not necessarily with how many people actually live in a particular area. In some cases, there is a large discrepancy in census tracts between the density of people per square mile and units per acre. For example, an area with single family homes might have a fairly high density of people per square mile but low units per acre. Conversely, an area with large apartment or condominium buildings with only 1 or 2 people living in each unit might have a lower density of people but a much higher density of units per acre.

To create a map of units per acre in Chicago, I took the number of housing units for each census tract from the 2014 American Community Survey 5 year estimates. I then measured each census tract using Google Earth (as an important note, I only included developable land in the measurements, for example I excluded highways and water). Once I had the measurements, I divided the number of units by the land area in acres.

The following is a map of units per acre for all of the census tracts in Chicago broken into five ranges with CTA rail lines overlaid on the tracts:

DensityMap4
If you mentally map the built environment of the city, this map will make sense: The northern part and some of the southern part of lakefront is incredibly dense. Parts of the north side and near south side are very dense. And the density takes an almost radial pattern outward, declining toward the edges of the city.

When density is broken into three categories rather than five, the discrepancies in density in the city become much clearer. Essentially, the following map shows that the not-so-dense parts of Chicago make up the majority of the city while the dense parts make up the bulk of the North Side, including: neighborhoods along the Milwaukee Avenue corridor such as River West, Ukrainian Village, Wicker Park, Logan Square, Bucktown, and Avondale; Bridgeport; the South Loop; select neighborhoods along the south shoreline; Pilsen, Little Italy, and other neighborhoods that follow the Pink Line such as Little Village; and a small number of scattered census tracts throughout the city. These findings tend to correlate with  popular perceptions of Chicago. The extremely dense parts of Chicago are along the north part of the lake shore and three census tracts along the southern lake front.

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The following maps are the same as the previous two but with major street names included for reference.

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Additionally, density can mean different things even if the numbers are the same. Take census tracts 502 and 3504 into account. Tract 502, located in North Center, has 17.4 units per acre which is nearly the same as Tract 3504, located in Bronzeville, which has 17.1 units per acre. Even though the densities are the same, the built environment is very different; the North Center Tract is more walkable, has more mixed-use buildings with commercial components on the first floor, and a consistent street wall.  The census tract in Bronzeville has a built environment that is reminiscent of Le Corbusier’s Radiant City and the “towers in the park” theory.

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Lincoln Avenue in Tract 502: a walkable and vibrant mixed use street.
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Federal Street in Tract 3504: Lots of landscaping and green space, with tall residential-only buildings set back from the street.

Now, let’s look at an aerial view of the Bronzeville and North Center tracts. Even though the density is nearly the same, it is evident that the settlement of the land use is much different. The Bronzeville census tract is not nearly as walkable – which is to say that while it may be nice to walk around in, certainly in the summer, everything is more spread out and there is little to no mix of uses, certainly no commercial activity integrated with housing. The tract in North Center, even on the residential-only streets, has buildings that bump up closely to the street and sidewalks with very little space dedicated to cars. The Bronzeville tract ends up being more automobile-centric because, other than playing at the park or going to and from one of the towers, residents have to drive a car or walk a long distance to do anything else; it is almost like a city unto itself, but with little more than housing.

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Aerial view of tract 502.
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Aerial view of tract 3504.

The following images are examples of the different categories of densities that the previous density map shows. These images make it easier to visualize what the different categories of density really look like. To some the variety in housing settlement patterns in Chicago may come as a surprise. For instance, census tracts 1005, 1701, and 6505 have low density and look and feel incredibly suburban. As you can see in the map below, these three census tracts are at the edge of the city.edgetracts

Tract 1005, Oriole & Foster- 5.3 units/acre:

Tract1005OrioleandFoster5.3units

Tract 1701, Bittersweet Place- 7.6 units/acre:

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Tract 6505, Tripp & 68th- 10.2 units/acre:

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The next examples of density ranging from 20 to 35 units per acre are located in Logan Square, Lakeview, and University Village- all much closer to the city center than the previous tracts.

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Tract 2209.01, Shakespeare & Central Park- 20.0 units/acre:

Tract2209.01ShakespeareandCentralPark20units

Tract 8419, Halsted & 14th- 27.6 units/acre:

Tract8419Halstedand14th27.6

Tract 621, Clark & School- 32.7 units/acre:

Tract621ClarkandSchool32.7units

And finally, the next examples are of density ranging from 65 to over 130 units per acre. The census tracts are located in East Lakeview, the north portion of the lakeshore, and River North in the city center.

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Tract 715, Lincoln & Lincoln Park West- 68.3 units/acre:

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Tracts 633.01/633.02, Pine Grove -85.8/101.7 units/acre

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Tract 811, Dearborn & Elm- 132.6 units/acre:

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The following example shows why it is beneficial to look at density in multiple ways, including residential units per acre. Census tract 3301 in the South Loop has 48.3 units per acre, which is quite dense, but it only has 16,298 people per square mile.  When you look at a typical density map and see that census tract 3301 has just over 16,000 people per square mile, it is likely that you don’t envision the built environment looking like this…

SouthLoopTract

Now, if we consider census tract 1904.01, it has a population density of 16,528 people per square mile, a nearly identical population density of people per square mile as the South Loop census tract above. However, the density of housing units per acre is only 9.5! That is nearly 40 units per acre less than the South Loop census tract, and this is what tract 1904.01 looks like…

WestBelmontTract

Density can be a polarizing topic but I believe it is important to look at it in many different ways to get a more fully realized picture of exactly what it is we are addressing when we discuss density. The difference in the built environment between the two tracts discussed immediately above, which have nearly identical people per acre density, is a perfect example of why multiple approaches are necessary. The units per acre maps that I have created are meant to make the conversation around density in Chicago more robust and informed. This certainly will not be the last post regarding this topic, as there will be following posts looking at density and its relationship with transit and crime, and surely additional posts in the future. This post is simply meant to jump start the conversation and to take an inventory of what the built environment looks like in Chicago while illuminating some of the different ways density can be considered.

Photo at top from shayhata.com, all other photos from Google.