Years ago at the bar, a man named Paulie told me all about the neighborhood that I live in now. It’s west of Canaryville, north of Englewood, east of Back of the Yards, and south of the Stockyards proper. I sometimes call it New City, after the original official community area name for this area, but that can get confusing for people, and lately I’ve been relenting and using “Back of the Yards” even though it doesn’t feel right because I always thought Back of the Yards started at Ashland. Paulie grew up here and had a vivid memory of a cow running down Racine to escape its fate at the Stockyards, and a wrangler riding on a white horse, chasing it down.
I moved out of Chicago in 2011 after a lifetime here and went to Philadelphia, another city of neighborhoods. Parts of South Philly are so much like Archer Avenue that I always expected to see old friends walking past. West Philly and Germantown reminded me of Rogers Park and Garfield Park with their moments of nature combined with history, mixed with the social diversity that makes cities great. I returned to Chicago last fall and moved back into my New City by the Stockyards. There is so much space to move around in on the south side, and most people are pretty friendly (they say “Hi!” and wait for you to respond). It reminds me of sweet neighbors we had by my family’s old house near Grand and Western. I started living on my own pretty early, and I’ve rented all over, including Roscoe Village, Humboldt Park, and Edgewater. I can tell you about both terrible and beautiful Chicagoans that I met in all of these places. None of them were perfect. None of us are perfect. There is no “Best Neighborhood in Chicago,” because if you lived in all 77 community areas, you would have 77 different songs to sing. As Carl Sandburg said in his 1922 poem “The Windy City,”
“I will die as many times
as you make me over again,
says the city to the people . . . “