When I was asked to profile a Chicago community for this post, I honestly had no idea which one to choose – or even how to go about choosing it. Chicago offers an incredibly unique mixture of cultures, especially for a city that is labeled “hypersegregated” by most sociologists. Albany Park, for example, is one of our country’s most diverse neighborhoods, reporting over forty languages spoken in its public schools.
With so many viable options to choose from, I’ve decided to stick with what I know: my home community of Logan Square. And yes, I realize that writing about my own neighborhood is a bit of a cop out, but Logan Square has become a hot bed for community organizing and a focal point of the ongoing debate over gentrification (not to mention that Chicago’s best tacos can be found at Logan Square’s own Taqueria Moran. That’s right Pilsen and Little Village: I said the BEST).
The Logan Square we know today became fully annexed by the city in 1889. Logan Square began as the town of Jefferson, a farming community with a large population of German and Scandinavian immigrants, but quickly industrialized when the Chicago & North Western Railway was extended west of the river. At the time of the fire of 1871 Logan Square was technically outside of Chicago’s fire limits, which allowed cheaper, wood-framed houses to be built, resulting in a population boom.
The population and economy of Logan Square peaked just after World War I, as Polish and Russian immigrants moved in to replace the German and Scandinavian residents who had already migrated further up Milwaukee Avenue. Circa 1930, however, Logan Square’s prosperity began to decline. The wooden houses that had sparked its initial population boom were now beginning to break down, and the construction of the Kennedy Expressway effectively cut Logan Square off from the rest of the city. And if this wasn’t enough, construction of what is now the Blue Line kept the neighborhood cut off for the next ten years.
The 1960s marked the revitalization of Logan Square as large populations of Hispanic immigrants moved in to take advantage of its affordable and plentiful housing market, launching a cultural revolution that remains strong today.
Sorry for the history lesson; I promise I’m getting to the point.
In 1962 a group of Logan Square’s residents came together to encourage a sense of shared values and community spirit – in their own words: “to convene a network of neighbors.” These residents formed the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA), and in doing so provided Logan Square with something it had never had before: a consistent identity.
Until this point, Logan Square had been dominated by various European cultures, each deteriorating as a new group moved in – and not one had organized. By latching onto and encouraging the cultures of its new Hispanic residents, the LSNA was able to provide some stability to a neighborhood that had previously undergone significant changes about once every quarter-century.
Today, the LSNA focuses largely on fair housing practices (rent in Logan Square is on par with the city average despite the fact that median income and property values lag appreciably behind), education, and employment, all with a slight bent for helping immigrant populations get on their feet.
LSNA is a current community partner of Chicago Cares. Our efforts with the LSNA are so meaningful in part because of the deeper implications of supporting their work. By collaborating with the LSNA to improve the lives of Logan Square residents, our volunteers have become a vital part of the network of neighbors, whether they reside in the community or not. So, please, come join us for ESL Coaching in Logan Square or GED Math Tutoring with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association sometime and meet the residents of Logan Square yourself — and don’t forget to stop by Taqueria Moran on your way home.
Want to agree or disagree about the best taco in the city? Leave a comment!