Sunday, July 12, 2015

Chicago: Bloomingdale Trail and Bucktown


This week marks the first "monthiversary" of Chicago's Bloomingdale Trail, also known as the 606, which opened with great fanfare and no coincidence on June 6. It's a high-trestle trail, constructed along abandoned railroad tracks, running east-west for 2.7 miles on the west side of Chicago. As can be seen on this map, it runs alongside Bloomingdale Avenue (1800 N)--hence the name--between Ashland (1600 W) and Ridgeway (3750 W) Avenues. No doubt it was inspired by New York's High-Line Trail. 80,000 people live within ten minutes' walk from the trail.

We walked on the morning of what would become a hot, humid Monday. The trail was well-used by people of all ages and physical conditions--mostly pedestrians, with some cyclists. My friend Mary Scott-Boria, who lives nearby and is a tireless evangelist for the trail who has been on it at least four days a week since it opened, reports it gets more crowded towards mid-day and stays so well into the evening. Use is particularly heavy on weekends. The trail seems mainly oriented to recreation, but it would give someone in Humboldt Park or Logan Square at least a start on their commute downtown.

The trail is nicely landscaped, with inviting entrances (here, at Milwaukee Avenue near the CTA blue line) :

...and this stylin' bridge over Milwaukee Avenue:

A more basic entrance, but handicapped-accessible, at Damen Avenue:

Maps are posted along the trail near major streets:

The east end of the trail is flanked mainly by condominiums...

...and (here) artists' lofts; about Rockwell Avenue the built environment switches abruptly to houses.

The trail seems to have stimulated development, or at least the search for synergy. If you lived here, you'd be home now:

There's a nice overlook of Humboldt Boulevard (the large Humboldt Park is two blocks south of the trail).

A number of public and private schools are convenient to the trail...

...and indeed we met a group from a summer school program on their way to the park for some fishing:

At the west end of the trail, near its terminus at Lawndale Avenue, there is a sort of curlicue track around a hill, which makes for an elaborate turn-around if trail users so choose.


Along with construction of the trail, four new neighborhood parks are being developed at street level. This is the play space at the enlarged Kimball Park:

Trees and shrubs are being planted along the trail--we saw numerous park district employees at work on various projects. This is clearly a project in which the City of Chicago is heavily invested, but I expect the amount of effort needed to keep the plantings watered and weeded is not sustainable by the city alone. The 606 website is soliciting donations through the Trust for Public Land; perhaps local outdoor organizations could also contribute volunteer efforts.

The trail begins at Ashland Avenue in the Bucktown neighborhood; west of Western Avenue it runs along the boundary between Humboldt Park and Logan Square. According to entries in the encyclopedic Chicago Neighborhoods and Suburbs: A Historical Guide, edited by historian Ann Durkin Keating of the esteemed North Central College:
  • Bucktown is believed to be named for goats that used to graze there in the 19th century. It was annexed to the city in 1863. After that it was a Polish working-class neighborhood, and now is gentrifying (Essig 117). Parts of this area are also considered parts of Logan Square, West Town and Wicker Park. For example, both Bucktown and Wicker Park lie between Ashland and Western Avenues. Wicker Park extends from Bloomingdale south to Division; Bucktown extends from North north to Fullerton. All of these areas south of Bloomingdale are within the official boundaries of West Town (Essig 117, Essig 301, Best 307). One's best approach as an Iowan is to smile and nod knowingly. I guess this is why we need banners.
  • Humboldt Park has been part of Chicago since 1869, and is named for the 207-acre flagship park, which in turn was named for Prussian naturalist Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859). Then it was ethnically dominated by Danes, Germans and Norwegians; today it is primarily Dominican, Mexican and Puerto Rican, as well as African-American. In contrast to the condos of Bucktown, Humboldt Park is mostly small, single-family homes (Badillo 174-175).
  • Logan Square is more upscale than Humboldt Park, but also primarily Latino. It was annexed in three stages between 1863 and 1889. Milwaukee Avenue was once to be a farm-to-market road. It's a mix of single-family homes and apartments (Patterson 199-200).
The east terminus of the trail is in the clearly-gentrified Bucktown neighborhood, convenient to two establishments I'd been advised to check out. Ipsento Coffee, 2035 N. Western Avenue, near the CTA blue line, was named one of the twelve best independent coffeehouses in the U.S. by Culture Trip.

I can't comment on that level of comparison, but I can say the coffee was smooth and delicious, and the interior was cozy.

Decorative shelves built from books, including the autobiography of the notorious Donald Trump, were a quirky and creative touch.
 
Quimby's Bookstore, 1854 W. North Avenue, is near the Damen stop on the blue line.

They stock a variety of offbeat selections, including comics and zines by local authors. 
Quimby's is at press time the only place you can purchase It's Still Happening: A Sequel by Theora Kvitka.

We finished our morning in Bucktown with lunch at Goddess and Grocer, 1649 N. Damen.
 
BACKGROUND MATERIAL: Ann Durkin Keating (ed), Chicago Neighborhoods and Suburbs: A Historical Guide (University of Chicago, 2008). Entries by David A. Badillo ("Humboldt Park"), Wallace Best ("Wicker Park"), Steven Essig ("Bucktown" and "West Town") and Elizabeth A. Patterson ("Logan Square")

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