Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood currently lacks the sense of neighborhood identity which it once might have had. Walking around the main commercial area, on N. Lincoln Ave, there are clear allusions to the area’s German and eastern European past: there is a specialty foods market with German cuisine, a traditional sausage eatery, and a bar whose façade is covered in German flags. That is essentially all there is with regard to a cohesive territorial heritage. The majority of stores in Lincoln Square are the type one would expect to see in a neighborhood in the last stages of gentrification; there’s an independent bookstore which doubles as a beer and wine bar; a bourgeois kitchenware store; an overpriced, locally-produced clothing store; and a “general store” selling expensive candles, Chicago-branded wine glasses, and other knickknacks. That is to say, the commercial district of Lincoln Square is incredibly white, but upper-middle-class, liberal, American type of white. Most of the eateries on the main drag reflect this. The only ‘diverse’ cuisines represented are Greek and Mexican, and there are, effectively, one of each. But there are plenty of cafés which specialize in fair-trade, organic brews (my iced Americano only cost $4)!
The makeup of Lincoln Square’s commercial district betrays its current demography. The neighborhood is roughly 64% white, with the majority of the other population being Hispanic, black, and Asian.[i] The looks and makeup of the neighborhood whitewash its population. Despite the undeniable diversity of pedestrians, the institutional aspect of the neighborhood ignores this and gives the impression that it is, essentially, a whites-only community. This speaks to the disconnect between what a theoretical neighborhood is and the inherent diversity of city populations.
Despite this neighborhood-like homogeneity, Lincoln Square still does not feel like a neighborhood. Rather, it feels like its own micro-city within the boundaries of Chicago. Lincoln Square, in partnership with the adjacent Ravenswood neighborhood, even has its own chamber of commerce. It seems like Lincoln Square has its own sub-neighborhoods, such as the main commercial area, and the stretch of N. Lincoln Ave just north of it where there are less boutique-y, big box stores. This is to say that no, downtown Lincoln Square does not have a cohesive sense of neighborhood identity. (The other commercial areas are more different.)
The residential area of Lincoln Square furthers this point. The only architectural cohesion is that many of the single-family homes are done in the classic Chicago Bungalow style. Yet even the bungalows can look radically different, save for their basic shape and features. While this does identify Lincoln Square as being one of the more historic neighborhoods, it does not mark it as being one specific neighborhood. Chicago Bungalows are present in many different parts of the city, and their being in Lincoln Square does not afford it a sense of neighborhood identity.
No parts of Lincoln Square presented a sense of a cohesive neighborhood identity. This begs the question, though, of whether a truly diverse neighborhood can still be aesthetically, commercially homogenous.
Chicago, 1836: Swiss-born farmer Conrad Sulzer buys a plot of land to the northwest of downtown. Other agrarians quickly followed suit, especially those of German and English heritage. These farmers dealt mainly with celery, giving name to the area’s reputation as being the celery capital of the world. In addition to the green vegetable, the men would cultivate flowers and jar pickles; they would then make the trek to downtown Chicago to market and offload their goods. These farms and crop factories employed hundreds of Polish workers from around the city, whose seasonal migration to the area prompted the opening of handfuls of Eastern European pubs and bars around the main intersections. This neighborhood of Chicago is today known as Lincoln Square.
The neighborhood’s first residential subdivision, known as Bowmanville, was established around the 1850s, shortly followed by the demarcation of the Rosehill Cemetery in ’59. When the Ravensville Elevated train line opened in the early 1900s, new residents flocked to the city. The neighborhood’s farmland began to be filled with the famous Chicago bungalows––though many residents were white, new demographic groups began to pop up. This included many Greek Chicagoans immediately following the construction of the east-west artery that is the Eisenhower Expressway. Its development required the razing of what was then Greektown and prompted the large-scale migration of Greek immigrants to the Lincoln Square area. In fact, so many Greeks moved to the neighborhood that it became known as the New Greektown. Though their presence has since become significantly less noticeable, their mark on the neighborhood’s history is certainly undeniable. Remnants of this past are noticeable today in the handful of Greek eateries along the main commercial drag.
Despite its continued reputation as being a neighborhood of Germans and Eastern Europeans, the past few decades have seen an increased diversification of the Lincoln Square. The 2000 census notes that roughly 25% of Lincoln Square residents are Hispanic, and 13% are of Asian descent. This much is clear from visiting the neighborhood. In the fashion typical of modern cities, restaurants catering to natives of their respective cuisines dot the streets surrounding the main shopping boulevard. Unsurprisingly and unfortunately, though, this diverse heritage is mainly ignored on the main drag save for one Greek restaurant and an Americanized, Mexican, fast-casual eatery.
Lastly, the history of ‘Lincoln Square’ as the neighborhood’s name must be addressed. The area had commonly been referred to as “Ravenswood”, an allusion to the prominence of residential areas within its boundaries. In 1925, however, the Chicago City Council declared it to be called Lincoln Square, and roughly one score and ten years later, a statue of its namesake was erected at the entrance to the main commercial strip (which also happens to be on N. Lincoln Ave).
“Lincoln Square.” The Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, n.d. Web. 9 October 2017.
The following tables contain demographic information for the Lincoln Square community area of Chicago. The latter 4 tables employ the Simpson Diversity Index in order to quantify how diverse the neighborhoods actually are.
Based on the variables explored, it is fair to conclude that the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago is somewhat homogenous, especially in comparison to the city’s demography. This is most apparent in the variable of race. The Simpson Diversity Index calculated the neighborhood as scoring a 2.2 out of a possible 6 with regard to its racial diversity. That is to say, the vast majority of residents fell into one or two categories: white and Hispanic. This is significantly lower than Chicago’s SDI for race of 3.5, though this does not mean that Chicago is diverse as a city, either. Lincoln Square was more diverse when it came to household types, having scored a 3.4 out of a possible 5. It was interesting to see that there were roughly equal numbers of male and female homeowners who did not have a family. This points to Lincoln Square being a neighborhood with both families and childless-individuals. The fact that there are very few single-parent homes explains why the SDI is not a perfectly diverse 5, as these were two more categories into which the population was divided. Lastly, Lincoln Square is very diverse with respect to the education levels of its residents, with the Simpson Diversity Index being a 4.2 out of a possible 5. It trails Chicago closely, with the city scoring 4.8.
Despite strong diversity regarding education, the most salient feature of Lincoln Square’s demography is its racial homogeneity. A whopping 64.5% of its population is white, which is over twice the relative percentage for Chicago as a whole. The experience of walking through Lincoln Square––arguably how one encounters its qualitative demography––conveys the same message as this quantitative analysis. The neighborhood is very white, and the stores in the main commercial area seem to cater to younger families, as well as relatively young urban professionals.
Within Lincoln Square, there are many areas with a sense of ownership. That is to say, people give the impression they care about these streets, they are invested in them and their wellbeing. Yet there are also vacant areas, ones which people rarely visit and write-off as, essentially, non-existent. This map focuses on the commercial spaces within Lincoln Square, given that the majority of the neighborhood is a residential island surrounded by arterial roads with commercial activity and, to the North, a park. Shaded in red are the ‘owned’ commercial spaces; these include N. Lincoln Ave between W. Lawrence and W. Leland, and sections of W. Lawrence Ave between N. Western and N. Ravenswood. Outlined in green is the vacant, unowned, ignored space: Lincoln Avenue north of W. Lawrence and south of W. Foster. This distinction is based on two primary factors, observed foot traffic and aesthetic appeal of the stores and sidewalks.
The ‘owned’ spaces, which include the main commercial drag of North Lincoln Avenue, are vibrant, beautiful to look at, and full of pedestrians. Even on a rainy (read: monsooning) day in October, what must have been a few hundred people walked through the shops and streets, looking at items, chatting to familiar faces, sipping cappuccinos. The deluge only brought the public closer together, myself even chatting up some strangers in the store I took refuge in about the sudden downpour. The streets give Lincoln Square a small-town feel in that they foster a sense of community focused around locally-owned stores and a built environment which encourages pedestrian activity (such as wide sidewalks, benches, small squares, and, interestingly enough, copious garbage cans). The vacant area of Lincoln Square contrasts this starkly. There are no aesthetically pleasing sidewalks and storefronts; boring, boxy, and barren shops abound, along with unattractive neon signage, impersonal retail outlets, and an overwhelming sense of neglect. Not only were there almost no pedestrians walking this stretch of N. Lincoln Ave, but there was nothing inviting them there from a formal perspective. With the construction of the neighborhood’s main commercial drag, traffic along N. Lincoln was rerouted, and it made it so that it was easy to get into but hard to leave the shopping district. The planning board rendered the northern stretch of N. Lincoln obsolete for passers-by and residents; it is not that this section of road never had a sense of ownership, but rather it was stolen from the neighborhood and has yet to be reclaimed. Which is not to say that the shoppers and pedestrians in the area have not been complicit in there being a strict concentration of activated, owned commercial space.
Despite the present dichotomy of owned-unowned space in Lincoln Square, the neighborhood chamber of commerce is actively trying to change this. As explained to me by the owner of a shop in the main commercial zone, they are sponsoring new developments, stores, and institutions which would encourage people to care about that stretch of North Lincoln, to ‘own’ it. For the time being, the sense of ownership or lack thereof is obvious, though it must be revisited a couple years from now to see how the government’s incentives affect the area.
With regard commercial districts, there exists the concept of the anchor. This tends to be a big, chain store which attracts shoppers to the area, thereby drawing customers to the smaller stores nearby who would otherwise be unable to draw so many crowds. Typically, anchor tenants are supermarkets, or stores like Target or Nike. Almost every store in the same shopping area as these anchors benefit, especially if the others are small, locally-owned businesses. Lincoln Square, Chicago, breaks from this mold. It’s almost as if the neighborhood hasn’t even heard of the concept of corporate commercial anchors. On the main shopping drag of Lincoln Square, there exists no big-box chain to draw customers. Rather, the stretch of North Lincoln Ave consists of small, locally-focused stores––or at least shops which dissemble very well as such. Consider the following image of one stretch of this road:
Immediately juxtaposed with one another are a gourmet, European grocer and sausage shop and a phone service retailer. Is the Verizon store part of a national chain? Yes. Does it serve as an anchor for the main commercial district of Lincoln Square? No. Upon visiting, was the phone store busier than the locally-owned specialty market? Again, no. Surprising, sure, but this speaks to the overarching commercial ethos of the area: the myriad small businesses are what draw customers and pedestrians to shop, and the chain retailers benefit from them. Another significant feature of Lincoln Square’s chain stores is that they do not disrupt the architectural and physical style of the commercial district, as they might elsewhere. That is to say, the Verizons, T-Mobiles, and Orange Theory-s have the same aesthetic prominence as the small, local shops, and perhaps even less than they.
Here, we have two popular, independent stores on the right, directly adjacent to a chain fitness studio (and, just out of frame, is a Chicago-based outdoor clothing store, with locations in Lincoln Square, Evanston, and Highland Park, Illinois). Note the grandeur and size of these local institutions as opposed to the newer shop. Not only are these local businesses physically larger, but also their facades are more ornamented and eye-catching than the chains’. There is more care that goes into these neighborhood businesses than national, or even regional chains, and observed pedestrian traffic reflects that. While Lincoln Square gives no impression of avoiding the gentrification-y, higher-end stores for unnecessary home goods and processed-in-Chicago selvedge denim, these retail outlets still preserve and emphasize the fact that they are based in and service the neighborhood. All of this is not to say that there are no boring, uninviting, ‘typical’ chain stores in Lincoln Square. At the northern tip of the main commercial drag sits a Walgreens done up in a bland brown stone and sad neon lettering. It comes into competition, of course, with the local, neighborhood-based Merz Apothecary, a quaint, vintage-looking drugstore on the southern end of the street. And yet, the small apothecary still seemed to be more popular than the chain, despite the latter’s slightly higher prices. Who can blame those able to afford slightly higher soap, though; a glance at the storefronts themselves make it clear which is more inviting and which makes toothpaste even drearier than it already is.
This Walgreens is one of the only impersonal, corporate stores in the entirety of Lincoln Square, and the dichotomy present between it and the local apothecary applies to the neighborhood as a whole. Here, people want to shop small, to shop local. It is likely that Lincoln Square is one of the few community areas in Chicago where this is the case. Yet Lincoln Square has one aspect to it which cannot be overlooked and which undoubtedly contributes to the popularity of its local businesses. The neighborhood is kitsch. Many of its stores, the way it markets itself, and even the aesthetics of the main commercial drag are horribly, obviously, aggressively kitschy. The area is famed for its German heritage, and many establishments attempt to carry that into their storefronts. Going to Lincoln Square is like trying to go back to some European hay-day where every other store was a Biergarten and there were no divides in society like there are today. This kitsch is nonetheless enjoyable, and makes going to the personal, local shops more pleasant than the cookie-cutter brownness of a store like the Walgreens.
As is clear from this map of Lincoln Square (Google Maps), the neighborhood conforms to the Elongated Block typology established in the Lexicon of the New Urbanism. There is a well-established grid to the area’s streets, though the rectangular nature of the blocks, as well as the occasional irregularities, render it impossible to be characterized as a square block. With regard to the network type in Lincoln Square, though, there is no clear answer. Its thoroughfares do not conform to any of the six patterns in the Lexicon of the New Urbanism. Though one might assume it echoes Savannah, Georgia’s pattern, it does not because of the lack of regular public squares dividing the neighborhood into cellular wards.
A drive is defined by the Lexicon for the New Urbanism as a thoroughfare which separates an urban environment from “a natural condition, usually along a waterfront, Park, or promontory.” Upon looking at the previous map of Lincoln Square, it is easy to assume that North Bowman Avenue would qualify as a drive; but this could not be further from the truth. Unlike an actual drive, such as Lake Shore, Bowman is bordered on the one side by small, single-family homes, and a walled-off cemetery on the other. As is clear in the above image, the green space (and the paths within) are walled off and blocked from its bordering street, as well as the Lincoln Square neighborhood as a whole.
Notice the grey spaces between the vertical streets in Lincoln Square. A feature throughout much of Chicago, these rear lanes afford vehicular access to the lots without needing to make use of the residential roads. Though not its intent, pedestrians make use of these as shortcuts between blocks in the neighborhood, too. Another thoroughfare type can be seen here: the aforementioned roads. This is without a doubt the most prominent type of thoroughfare in the neighborhood, though that is unsurprising given the neighborhood’s being either a T-3 or T-4 transect zone.
The last thoroughfare type present in Lincoln Square, Chicago, are avenues, circled here in green. These are short connectors between urban centers with heavy car traffic with low to moderate speed, according to the Lexicon for the New Urbanism. Here, these avenues connect the main commercial areas of Lincoln Square, as well as serving as the boundaries from the more suburban, mainly-residential roads. In addition to serving as the bridges between commercial activity, the avenues in Lincoln Square are lined with stores as well as the one or two new apartment complexes being built in the neighborhood.
As a whole, Lincoln Square, Chicago is a well-connected neighborhood. It allows for easy movement for various modes of transportation, especially walkability. Moreover, the juxtaposition between its roads and its avenues promote connectivity in a way that lends itself to a positive urban fabric for a mixed-use neighborhood. Lincoln Square, though mainly residential, has a strong and growing commercial element to its busier thoroughfares. Yet these thoroughfares still make up an integral element of the neighborhood’s connective tissue. There is immense ease of walking to the different commercial zones along the roads, and the longest distance between two points the neighborhood is a mere 1.8 miles. Further, despite all the negatives of cars and automobile traffic, it is remarkably easy to drive within and through Lincoln Square. The layout of the avenues enables neighborhood connectivity internally, as well as with the surrounding Chicago community areas without needing to cut through the more quiet, residential areas.
From a connectivity perspective, Lincoln Square resembles a smaller version of the Chicago Loop in that it is a network of busier thoroughfares sectioning off smaller, more quiet streets. This is not at all to say that the Loop is quiet and residential, nor is this ignoring the fact that the ‘loop’ refers to public transportation; this emphasizes the ease by which one can enter and leave the central parcel, and the ease with which one can go from one hub to another.
One might even go so far as to say that Lincoln Square is unique in that its main areas prioritize pedestrian traffic over automobiles, and potentially even discourage the use of cars. The central commercial district is a sectioned-off stretch of North Lincoln Ave., where the sidewalks dominate the streetscape and there are limited parking spots, low driving speeds, and multiple speed bumps. The only detriment here is that it is difficult for cars to leave the shopping area of Lincoln Square, which raises the question about why it is so pedestrian friendly: Was it done for urbanism’s sake, or to ensnare patrons in a capitalist trap?
It is also interesting to study the neighborhood from a more empirical perspective. The Victoria Transport Policy Institute outlines thresholds for criteria such as density in an area with high connectivity. In Lincoln Square, not only are there essentially no cul-de-sacs, but the standard block is below the VTPI’s maximum 5 acres.
To summarize, Lincoln Square is very well connected, both internally and externally, and it makes excellent use of different thoroughfare types to promote this sense of connectivity.
A medium-sized neighborhood on the far north side of the city, Lincoln Square is not a utopia; despite multiple errors in urban design, there are three significant areas in it which are in dire need of intervention. All of these are issues with the public space in the neighborhood, though its connectivity is also a way of analyzing these problematized spaces. Firstly, it is important to showcase just how discordant public space is in Lincoln Square.
As is clear from these two images, there is a clear mismatch on the design of public spaces in Lincoln Square. The first image shows the main commercial drag of the neighborhood, which has been discussed at length elsewhere on this neighborhood’s profile. It is pleasing and inviting from an aesthetic perspective, pedestrian activity is highly prioritized over cars, and, on warmer days, the sidewalks are overflowing with people walking, shopping, and dining. However, as can be seen in the second image, this is more of an exception to the ‘rule’ for public space. The rest of Lincoln Square is boring, depressing, and uninviting towards pedestrians. The shops are not architecturally pleasing and, it may even be said, plain ugly. There are no opportunities for outdoor seating, and the design gives the impression that residents and visitors alike simply do not care about it. This contrast is made even more sharp by the fact that this second picture is directly across the street from the neighborhood’s main street.
The first intervention for Lincoln Square is at the corner of W. Lawrence and N. Western avenues, directly adjacent to the titular Lincoln Square and the neighborhood’s main commercial corridor. As shown in the above two images, the intersection is of two major arterial avenues for the neighborhood. From the street level, it is quite an imposing crossing, given how highly trafficked the two streets are. Additionally, the red pin marks the current location of the Lincoln Square for which the neighborhood is named. This is a problematic area because: one, the intersection is too high-speed to be directly adjacent to a pedestrian-based shopping area; and two, the square’s being in the uglier part of the neighborhood’s public space makes it much less popular than it otherwise could be. For these reasons, the following intervention is proposed.
Turning the intersection into a traffic circle would remedy the issue of connectivity here because it would likely slow traffic to a more humane speed. Further, Lincoln Square would be relocated to the center of the traffic circle. This would take advantage of the public space created by the traffic circle, as well as make the famed statue of Abraham Lincoln more prominent in the civic mind. This could resemble Columbus Circle in New York, for instance.
The second intervention in Lincoln Square refers to the residential roads in the neighborhood (as defined by the Lexicon for the New Urbanism). Specifically, the intervention refers to the area circled in green on the map, and this image of W. Carmen Ave shows what the roads look like: houses with a front yard, then a sidewalk, and then another strip of grass.
My proposed intervention is to redesign the streetscape with Hess, Hata, and Sternberg’s model of pedestrian pathways. This change to the urban fabric promotes a sense of public space because it unifies the separated walkways into one attractive civic space. Sidewalks, while still important, split pedestrians in two; this intervention would stitch them back together.
The third and final intervention for public space in Lincoln square has to do with Rosehill Cemetery on its northern border. Currently, the cemetery is zoned as being residential, which is odd for an open green space. Therefore, I propose that it be rezoned towards POS: parks and open space. This would legally render it a free and public green space, something which Lincoln Square lacks. Additionally, this rezoning would prevent any possible structures from being built on the cemetery (though this begs a question of who would want to live in a cemetery anyways). Regardless, this intervention promotes an official public space for Lincoln Square. Of course, one might attack this by arguing that it is still a cemetery, but to this it is replied that some public green space is better than none.
In summary, the three proposed interventions restore and enhance the sense of public space in Lincoln Square, Chicago. It is especially important that it does so while also removing public space from capitalistic activity. Currently, public space is intimately tied to commerce in the neighborhood, but these proposals divorce the two, thereby creating true public and civic space.
Daniel Baldwin Hess , Hiroaki Hata & Ernest Sternberg (2013) Pathways and artifacts: neighborhood design for physical activity, Journal of Urbanism: International Research on Placemaking and Urban Sustainability, 6:1, 60-63.