The approximate population of University Village is 27, 557 people. This is very big population for a neighborhood, but many of the residents are college students living in a dorm.
The approximate area of University Village is 1.30 square miles. This is pretty big, hundreds of times larger than the size of a football field.
The identity of University Village seemed to be a blend of the Old Little Italy and the new college town of University Village. In the center of the neighborhood and towards the west, there were many obvious signs that there is a sense of identity. The University Village Marketplace had many shops that declared they were apart of University Village.
However, the further I went from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) the less “University Village” signs there were. There definitely seems to be a strong relationship between University Village and UIC. Once I left the boundaries of the campus I saw more signs of Italian Heritage. Even architecturally the buildings were very different. In the east and north side of town the buildings were more residential and old. Many buildings were even regal looking.Below is one of the three huge Roman Catholic Churches in University Village and St. Ignatius College Prep. The style of these buildings reflects the general style of this area of the neighborhood.
Towards the west and center of the neighborhood though, the buildings were mostly huge university square university buildings. These buildings were newer than in the east and north of the neighborhood. It seemed less clear to me why the residential area was a part of University Village. This areas seemed more representative of old Little Italy than of new University Village. Overall though, this area didn’t have signs or store front that mentioned either University Village or Little Italy.
University village falls under three alderamanic wards: 28, 25 and 11.
I made this map using public adlermanic boundaries from Chicago Data Portal.
Twelve census tracts fall within the boundaries of University Village.
I made this map using public census tract boundaries from Chicago Data Portal.
University village is a neighborhood on the West-side of Chicago that used to be called Little Italy. University Village was dubbed “Little Italy” because in the 20th and 19th century century many Europeans immigrated to the west side of Chicago. This was a national trend in America of a huge up tick in European immigrants.
The influx of European immigrants was supported by Little Italy's Hull House in the north of present day University Village. The Hull House took in immigrants and offered food, citizenry classes, and other community building opportunities.
Historically, Little Italy was multi ethnic, but Italian culture had a strong impact on the neighborhood. Especially on Taylor street, there were many Italian restaurants and institutions. Today a few vestiges of the Little Italy past remain especially in the form of big Roman Catholic Churches. Additionally in the north west of the neighborhood there is a National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame.
Like many neighborhoods in Chicago though, the development of interstate highways caused big changes in Little Italy. In the mid 20th century The Eisenhower Highway, which now serves as the northern boundary for the neighborhood --- drastically decreased the size of the neighborhood. The building of University of Illinois at Chicago in the 1960s caused even more impact. With the arrival of University Illinois at Chicago, many Italians were pushed outside of the neighborhood as university buildings took up more and more land.
As time went on, the neighborhood became more and more racially and ethnically diverse. In 2000, Little Italy re-branded itself as University Village. As its name suggests, the identity of University Village no longer rests in Italian heritage but in the proximity to University of Illinois at Chicago.
Now, the northern boundary is Eisenhower Highway, the western boundary is Ashland Avenue, the eastern boundary is Interstate 90/94, and the southern boundary is 18th street.
“University Village Neighborhood Profile.” Tribunedigital-Chicagotribune, 23 July 2010, articles.chicagotribune.com/2010-07-23/classified/ct-home-0723-university-village-20100723_1_university-village-town-houses-college-town/2.
“Little Italy.” The Chicago Neighborhoods, www.thechicagoneighborhoods.com/Little-Italy
When it comes to racial diversity, University Village isn’t super diverse but it matches up to the level of diversity for the Near West Area Community Village. Although it only has a 2.27/4 the amount of Asian people in Near West Area Community Village is very high. The amount of black people, however, is very low consider the number of black people in Chicago. These demographics can probably be attributed to the demographics of The University of Illinois at Chicago which is a huge part of University Village.
University Village is pretty diverse in education but not very much. Again, this is probably because of the university. Most of the diversity in education comes from the fact that there are many people who obtain professional and doctorate degrees. However, there is very little representation for people who did not finish high school.
In terms of diversity in income by race (which is arguably a bad thing) University Village was pretty high, but not as high as Chicago as a whole. In University Village white people make the most money by far ($131, 328), while Asian people make $110, 492 and Black people only make about $59, 315.
The major center in University Village is on West Taylor street, starting at the intersection of Taylor and Ashland and going eastward until Morgan Street. The graphic below shows the boundaries of this center.
This is one of the busiest streets in University Village and serves as a major commercial street. I walked up and down this street on a sunny day, and saw many people shopping and eating outside.
West Taylor street has wide sidewalks and I noticed that on nice days, large groups of people congregate on the sidewalks outside of stores. West Taylor is also flanked with benches and although many go unused, outside of the most popular restaurants the benches seemed to always be filled.
Restaurants and Italian Heritage
West Taylor is mostly filled with restaurants and cheap eateries like Golden Thai and Potbelly. There are very few restaurants that aren’t fast food so when I was walking I got the impression that Taylor street was accessible to many types of people.
Additionally, many of the restaurants are Italian (ex: Pompei, Mario’s Italian Lemonade, Conte de Savoia). The picture below is one of the biggest Italian restaurants on West Taylor.
So while although the rest of University Village’s identity is wrapped in UIC, Taylor Street serves as a vestige of the Little Italy that used to exist. This seemed to be important to the ability of Taylor and Ashland to function as a commercial center because as I mentioned in the ‘Overview’ tab, residents with Italian connection mostly reside near Taylor Street and the western and southern boundaries of the neighborhood.
Commercial Center but not Social Center
Additionally, because of how close it is to UIC (it’s right down the block) I saw many students on Taylor Stret as well. In this way, Taylor Street strikes me as a street that serves both students and affiliates from UIC, as well as non-university residents with Italian and European connections.
However, although this street was a commercial center and the benches were able to marginally make this street a social center --- overall West Taylor Street has little to no large public, social spaces. This can be seen in the above map which shows several places to eat but no green space. Regardless though, Taylor street definitely does seem to bring people together for lunches, dates, and even just hanging out.
University Village has a really even mix of franchises and local businesses. Local businesses tend to be restaurants and fast-food places while franchises and chains tend to be for services like haircuts and banks.However, these locally owned business and chains never seem to coexist in the same places in the neighborhood.
For example, the intersection of Maxwell and South Halsted Street is almost entirely franchises like Subway, Cold Stone Creamery, Popeyes, and Great Clips. This is probably because the intersection of Maxwell and S Halsted is right down the street from the UIC Forum, which is arguably the anchor of UIC.
Map of S. Halsted Street with franchises circled.
In this area of the neighborhood, the big franchises seem to have a negative impact on the few small business that are in the area. When I was in the area, these huge restaraunts and stores were really popular with college students and the smaller places were consistently less busy.
Similarly, West Taylor Street is mostly locally owned businesses and outside of a few notable exceptions (Starbucks and 7/11), the franchises seem to really fade in the background. The local restaraunts really thrive in this part of the neighborhood especially Pompei and Vintage Lounge.
Map of West Taylor Street with local businesses circled.
Overall though, University Village has a nice mix of local and large-scale businesses. Additionally, both types of businesses seem to provide different benefits to the neighborhood. The local businesses contribute more to the identity of University Village and the franchises seem to provide practical and necessary services to the neighborhood.
The North East of University Village is mostly composed of square blocks and elongated blocks.
Extremely elongated blocks in the North West area of University Village.. Horizontal and Vertical.
Irregular block pattern in the South East area of University Village.
The center of University Village most closely matches the Radburn Pattern. This is because a major road, Roosevelt, serves as a thorough fair that divides the entire neighborhood in half. However, unlike the Nantucket plan, this plan creates a controllable variety of blocks in University Village that are mostly blocks or elongated.
In the North West of University Village, there is a Nantucket Pattern. This pattern centered around Taylor Street,a major street in University Village. This pattern creates more of a wide variety of blocks in an uncontrollable fasion.
Thin red line: Boundaries of University Village
Thick red line: Streets
Orange line: Avenue
Black line: Interstate 90
Yellow line: Road
University Village is a neighborhood almost entirely composed of streets. This is probably because University Village is so residential and based around a University. In fact, the North East of University Village is almost completely void of roads, streets, and avenues because UIC is centralized here and is pedestrian heavy. This being said though, the few roads and avenues in University Village play a big role. Roosevelt Road divides University Village in half and concentrates traffic in the center of the neighborhood. Similarly, an avenue cuts perpendicularly through the neighborhood. Together, this major road and avenue divide University Village into four quarters.
The square blocks and elongated blocks in University Village seem really strategic and purposeful for the overall connectivity. The elongated blocks are mostly centered around residential areas and commercial centers. Here, they help residents have a good sense of where they are. Additionally, although they're long --- they seem to be pretty walk-able. The few square blocks in University Village are almost all centered around churches, schools, or museums. This works really well for University Village because these sorts of places require the shortest amounts of walking and the number of landmarks decreases the need for residents to know where they are.
On the other-hand, the irregular blocks seemed to impede connectivity in University Village. They're very awkward, random and create weird traffic patterns in the southwest area of the neighborhood.
In terms of thoroughfare, University Village is primarily streets, but has a major road dividing it in half horizontally and a major avenue dividing it in half vertically. The Radburn and Nantucket patterns that are prominent in the neighborhood creates a traffic pattern that centers around this major road and avenue. Even though there's no social "center" of the neighborhood, these patterns create a center at least in terms of traffic. These patterns also seem to help connectivity because it's clear for residnts how they need to get in and out of the neighborhood.
Strengthening Sense of Identity and Cohesion in University Village
Overall, University Village generally lacks a sense of identity and cohesion. This is because until very recently, University Village was known as Little Italy and it's demographics were predominantly Italian. With the expansion of University of Illinois at Chicago and the building of Einstein highway — the demographics and identity of University Village changed dramatically.
Now, parts of University Village still feel like Little Italy and other parts of it it feel like University Village. There's not really any cohesion between university affiliates or non-university residents. In fact, there are still signs that say ‘Little Italy’ in parts of University Village. Even worse, parts of the neighborhood – especially the east—seem to be neither Little Italy or University Village.
I’d argue that this problem is facilitated by gaps in the public space of University Village. I think three main public space improvements could increase the sense of identity and cohesion in University Village.
First, I would propose creating a social center on Taylor Street. In University Village, there are very few active public spaces. There are a few parks like Addams Medill Park and Arrigo Park, but they are rarely very populated. Additionally, they seem to only be of interest to non-university residents and there’s no sense that these parks are specific or special to University Village. As it is, there doesn’t seem to be any social center of University Village that unites the whole neighborhood.
The Jesse White Park Community Center is an example of an effective community center on the Near North Side. This center has hang out spaces, class-rooms and gyms. [Source: Design Excellence Work]
The closest place to a center is Taylor Street which is a commercial hub for both University affiliates and non-university affiliates. Therefore, Taylor Street would be a perfect place for a community center like the Jessie White Community Center & Field House in the Near East Side. A University Village Community Center would increase the sense of ownership residents have for their neighborhood while also reaffirming the identity of University Village and uniting university and non-university residents.
An optimal spot on Taylor Street for a community center.
Second, I would propose the installation of several historical markers about University Village and Little Italy. These signs could be similar to the ones they have in Louisville, Kentucky. An example of this is below.
These signs are similar in function to big sings that say “Welcome to University Village.” They constantly reaffirm the identity of the neighborhood and help residents have a sense of location. Additionally, they help bridge the gap between history and present. The history of Little Italy doesn’t have to be in opposition to the identity of University Village. In fact, the history of Little Italy can be a facet of University Village’s identity. This can be demonstrated with historical signs and markers throughout the neighborhood that discuss the historical events in University Village.
An example of a few locations for historical markers. Ideally, they should be all around the neighborhood, but these locations are especially important for Italian landmarks such as Taylor Street, St.Ignatius, and and Hull House.
Third, I would install murals throughout University Village. As it is, University Village is lacking aesthetic appeal and novelty. There is little to no public art in University Village or any landmarks. Without anything artistic or inspiring, it's hard for people to have a sense of ownership and identity.
Not only would murals increase aesthetic appeal but they would also increase the sense of identity by exploring values, images, and art that explores the past of University Village.
These murals could also be used to improve the aesthetics of big green spaces.
Potential places for murals. These centers are high traffic and very popular. Thus, murals in these locations would receive a lot of attention.
An example of a mural in Humboldt Park that explores the identity and history of the neighborhood. [source:chicagomurals.wikispaces.com]