I live in Forest Park.
It hasn’t always been easy to say this. For a while after I moved here, my answer to “Where do you live?” was “Chicago.”
I was raised in the Bridgeport neighborhood, and this distinction comes with an added layer of allegiance to Chicago. My love for this city took shape there, and so to raise children well on other streets—to give another setting the great weight of childhood—is to ask much of a place.
Out here we call Forest Park a village, but it’s more like a neighborhood than anything. My wife and I raised two sons here. They grew up with Little League baseball and park district floor hockey; the sound of the Blue Line on one end of town and the Green Line on the other. They played Wiffle ball in the alleys; they know what alleys are. They know what it’s like to have the mothers of others watch them through windows peppered across three square miles; they had to watch their mouths on Marengo and Thomas streets, but they were OK on Wilcox. And they’re as comfortable around a Clincher—a 16-inch softball—as any kid from Bridgeport.
On Madison Street we’ve got Jimmy’s Place, where you can get a mostaccioli with braciole, and Louie’s Grill, where you can get sunny-side-up eggs with grits on the side. We’ve got Gaetano’s when you’re up for high-end Italian from a chef who never fails to delight. We’ve got Caffe De Luca for a meal, a view, and a martini that’ll make you feel big-city special. And around the corner there’s Blue Max Coffee, where you’ll think you’re on vacation.
And I’m not much for statistics off the baseball diamond, but our boys have grown up with an appreciation for Forest Park’s myriad diversities as well—something I didn’t know much about on 33rd and Wallace in the ’70s. Our restaurants, churches, streets, stores, and schools reflect those diversities. Why, there’s even a Cubs fan down at the end of my block.
Forest Park is a place where you can raise a kid and still give him a good shot at growing up with an urban sensibility—still give her a shot at big-city smarts. We have trees here and green, softball and children in strollers, bookstores and wine shops, gelato and artists and schools. A Sox fan for a mayor. We still have hope here, too. And a good cup of coffee.
Photography: Chris Guillen