Near South Side

Near South Side Chicago: A Dynamic Community Area

The Near South Side is a vibrant and ever-evolving community area in the heart of Chicago, Illinois. Located just south of the bustling downtown central business district, known as the Loop, this neighborhood offers a rich history, diverse culture, and an array of attractions. From iconic landmarks like Soldier Field and McCormick Place to the serene beauty of Burnham Park and Lake Michigan, the Near South Side has something for everyone. In this article, we will explore the history, development, and notable features of this dynamic community area.

A Historical Journey

From Native American Homeland to Blue Collar Settlement

The Near South Side has a fascinating history that spans centuries. It was originally home to Native American tribes who inhabited the area along Lake Michigan. As Chicago began to grow, the Near South Side became a hub for blue-collar workers, thanks to its proximity to the Illinois & Michigan Canal. Settlers working in the lumber district and the expanding railroads brought light manufacturing and shops to the area.

Elite Residential District to Center for Vice

In the late 19th century, the Near South Side transformed into an elite residential district, with some of the city’s finest mansions and affluent social families calling the neighborhood home. However, as rapid transit advanced, many families moved slightly farther from the Loop, leading to the area’s transition into a center for vice. The infamous “Levee” vice district, with its brothels and gambling dens, thrived on Cermak Street and State Street until its closure in 1912.

Slums to Gentrification

The early 20th century brought significant changes to the Near South Side. The construction of Burnham Park and various institutions marked an era of urban renewal. However, the aftermath of World War I and the Great Migration led to the creation of a low-rent area known as the “Black Belt.” Over time, the neighborhood experienced public housing projects and slum replacements. By the 1940s, the Near South Side was grappling with issues related to poverty and urban decay.

The Century of Progress

One of the most significant events in the Near South Side’s history was the Century of Progress International Exposition, held from 1933 to 1934. This World’s Fair celebrated Chicago’s centennial and showcased technological innovation. The fair attracted over 40 million visitors, symbolizing hope during the Great Depression. It left a lasting impact on the neighborhood and set the stage for future developments.

Modern Transformation

Dearborn Park and Central Station

In the mid-1990s, the Near South Side began a remarkable transformation. Former factories gave way to loft condominiums, breathing new life into the neighborhood. The development of Dearborn Park apartments, townhouses, and walkways on reclaimed railyards was a pivotal moment. Central Station, a mixed-use development on former rail yards, further revitalized the area, featuring residential towers and luxury townhomes. The Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance was formed to represent the growing community.

Near South Side

Parks, Museums, and McCormick Place

The Near South Side boasts an impressive array of parks and museums. Burnham Park and Northerly Island, created in the 1920s and 1930s, offer scenic green spaces along Lake Michigan. The Museum Campus, home to the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and Adler Planetarium, attracts visitors from around the world. McCormick Place, a renowned convention center, has been a prominent feature of the neighborhood since the 1960s. It hosts events such as the Chicago Auto Show and offers extensive hotel accommodations.

Notable Structures and Historic Districts

Prairie Avenue Historic District

The Near South Side is home to several notable structures and historic districts. The Prairie Avenue Historic District, with its stunning architecture, includes iconic houses like the John J. Glessner House and the Henry B. Clarke House. These well-preserved buildings provide a glimpse into the neighborhood’s affluent past. The district also features the former R.R. Donnelley & Sons printing company building, now repurposed for city network infrastructure.

Museum Campus and Soldier Field

The Museum Campus, located along Lake Shore Drive, is a cultural hub within the Near South Side. It encompasses the Field Museum of Natural History, Soldier Field (home of the Chicago Bears), the Adler Planetarium, and the Shedd Aquarium. These world-class institutions offer educational and entertaining experiences for residents and visitors alike.

Grant Park Extension and Mark Twain Park

The Near South Side takes pride in its park spaces. The Grant Park Extension, situated east of One Museum Park and south of Roosevelt, provides a serene oasis in the heart of the city. Mark Twain Park, nestled between South Indiana Avenue and Lake Shore Drive at 15th Place, offers a tranquil escape for residents to enjoy nature.

Residential Development and Community Growth

The Near South Side has experienced a significant housing boom since the 1990s. New condominium and apartment towers have reshaped the skyline, attracting residents seeking a vibrant urban lifestyle. The South Loop neighborhood, including Printer’s Row, has seen a surge in residential development. Dearborn Park, Central Station, and Museum Park have become sought-after addresses, blending modern amenities with historic charm.

Politics and Community Engagement

The Near South Side community area has historically supported the Democratic Party in presidential elections. In both the 2012 and 2016 elections, a majority of residents cast their votes for Democratic candidates. The neighborhood’s diverse population actively participates in community organizations such as the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance and the Greater South Loop Association, advocating for the interests of the community.

Education and Schools

Families living in the Near South Side are served by the Chicago Public Schools system. K-8 schools, including Drake School, National Teacher Academy, and South Loop School, provide quality education to the neighborhood’s younger residents. Phillips Academy High School is the zoned high school for the Near South Side, ensuring a comprehensive educational experience for older students.

Embracing the Future

The Near South Side continues to evolve and adapt to meet the needs of its residents and visitors. The neighborhood’s rich history, cultural attractions, and ongoing development projects make it an exciting place to live, work, and explore. With its prime location and vibrant community spirit, the Near South Side remains a dynamic and sought-after destination within the bustling city of Chicago.

The Near South Side neighborhood in Chicago offers a captivating blend of history, culture, and modern development. From its humble beginnings as a Native American homeland to its transformation into a bustling residential and cultural hub, this community area has seen it all. With its picturesque parks, world-class museums, and iconic landmarks, the Near South Side continues to attract residents and visitors from near and far. As the neighborhood evolves and grows, it remains a testament to the city’s vibrant spirit and unwavering resilience.

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