Chicago, IL

Is the Loop a Real Chicago Neighborhood?

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Some say the Loop lacks important characteristics used to define Chicago neighborhoods
The Loop in Chicago (CC BY-SA 3.0 Kharkovski/Wikimedia Com

Similar to other large cities, Chicago is divided into neighborhoods. Some of these are more centrally placed with famous landmarks such as River North with the MART on the award-winning Chicago Riverwalk, or the Gold Coast where you can find the original Playboy Mansion. Others are off the beaten path, aren’t well known even by those living in Chicago and don’t have any major landmarks, such Schorsch Village on the northwest side, whose most notable features are a large park and lots of ethnic restaurants.

Chicago has 77 community areas which some say include more than 200 neighborhoods and there are significant cultural differences between them. At times these can become a bit confusing because some neighborhoods are smaller areas within larger neighborhoods. For example, Wrigleyville, which is where Wrigley Stadium is located, is within the larger Lakeview neighborhood.

It’s not always clear when people mention the Loop if they’re referring to it as an area or a neighborhood. The Loop in Chicago, a 35-block area whose boundaries are Michigan Lake, the Chicago River and Roosevelt Road, is one of Chicago’s fastest growing areas. Since 2000, the population has increased by 158 percent, growing from a population of 16,388 to one of 42,298. But is it an actual neighborhood?

Many in Chicago believe that even if the exact characteristics can’t be described, neighborhoods have a small town feel to them. The Loop, definitely does not have a small town feel. Is there a way to qualify what that means exactly?

Newspaper columnist Mike Royko, tried to give a better description of what a Chicago neighborhood is. He described it this way:

“In every neighborhood could be found all the ingredients of the small town: the local tavern, the funeral parlor, the bakery, the vegetable store, the butcher shop, the neighborhood drunk, the neighborhood trollop, the neighborhood idiot, the neighborhood war hero, the neighborhood police station, the neighborhood team, the neighborhood sports star, the ball field, the barber shop, the pool hall, the clubs, and the main street.”

According to Royko then, the Loop has some features of what he considers to be a neighborhood, and others which don’t fit as well. It has taverns and even a dive or two, at least one funeral parlor, bakeries and fruit and vegetable stores. To my knowledge it doesn’t have a public elementary school or a ball field. I don’t know that it has any neighborhood drunks, trollops or idiots either (unless they are perhaps homeless which I don’t think is what Royko was getting at here), as it is quite expensive to live there. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the Loop is listed as 2,096 while the median price of a home as of December 2021 was $390,000.

While there are nice residences in the Loop, when you are down there, I don’t think many people would describe it as a neighborhood. First of all, it is a large area where you are more likely to find working people who live outside the area and tourists there than actual residents. It is filled with all manner of businesses, office buildings, tourist attractions, hotels, upscale eateries, and crowds.

The Loop is really more of Chicago’s financial and shopping district, than an actual neighborhood. It is the home of several large department stores. LaSalle St. often considered to be Chicago’s Wall Street and it also has other large financial institutions, the Chicago Board of Trade and the Chicago Stock Exchange.

Home to the first skyscraper in the world, the ten story Home Insurance Building, the Loop now has numerous sky scrapers including the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) which is one of the tallest buildings in the world. There is a strong cultural component to the Loop and it is where Chicago’s main theater district is found along with numerous art galleries and museums. There are several colleges and universities that have campuses in the Loop.

When you are in the Loop it is not unusual to feel as if you are walking around a little Manhattan, and it has similar features to this borough in terms of being a financial, shopping and cultural district. Just like Manhattan is the heart of New York City, The Loop can be viewed as the heart of Chicago. You may be able to call it a lot of things, but, given everything that it encompasses and what it does not, you can’t really call it a neighborhood.

Here are some fun details about how several of the actual Chicago neighborhoods got their names:

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Chicago, IL

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