You never leave the nabe,” a fellow Rogers Parker once told me.

“Why should I?” I responded. “I can buy my groceries here, I can go to the tavern, I can go to church. If I go somewhere else, I’ll have to pay for parking.”

Neighborhood life is the essence of the Chicago experience. The city is designed to discourage us from leaving the few blocks around our home. As Mike Royko wrote in Boss, “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 drugstore. … With everything right there, why go anywhere else?” Royko was writing about Chicago in the 1950s, but even in the 2020s, plenty of neighborhoods still contain all those ingredients.

A few years ago, I decided to burst out of my neighborhood bubble, by visiting all 77 community areas, and writing about each one for this magazine or its website. It was a personal, as well as a reportorial, challenge. Of course I had to write about my own neighborhood, which I did with a story titled, “In Rogers Park, Only the Weird Survive,” explaining why it’s such a comfortable place for eccentrics. I described Vivian Maier, who went through the garbage bins across the street from my apartment while the negatives that would posthumously make her a world-famous photographer remained stashed in a storage bin. Actual Rogers Park weirdos appreciated the article, but a former candidate for alderperson wrote an angry rebuttal, titled “Rogers Park Is Not a Cliché.” For another story, I went to the neighboring community area of West Ridge, where I visited several houses of worship on Devon Avenue, each representing one of the world’s major religions — Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism.

There is a perception, often accurate, that North Siders never go south of Roosevelt Road or west of Western Avenue. I did both at once, taking the L to the least trafficked stop on the system: Kostner, on the Pink Line. I stepped off the train and walked around North Lawndale. On 16th Street, I discovered Upp ’n the Kitchen, a corner store with a stingy selection of diapers, pancake mix, and motor oil and an all-Chicago menu of Italian beef sandwiches and pizza puffs. My walk through North Lawndale gave me the idea to write about the Burlington Northern Railroad tracks, which form a racial barrier with Latino-heavy Little Village, known as South Lawndale until the neighborhood, then populated by Poles and Czechs, adopted a Central European–sounding name to dissociate itself from its African American neighbors. “I would rush across the dividing line and go home,” a Little Villager told me, describing the other-side-of-the-tracks sentiment. “It was just kind of understood that you didn’t go there. Across the tracks, it looked more disheveled — a lot of vacant lots, empty buildings.”

Click on any one of the community areas below to read what McClelland wrote about it. (Pinch zoom for a closer look.)

Map Key +-

# Community Link
1Rogers ParkIn Rogers Park, Only the Weird Survive
2West RidgeA Whole World on One Chicago Street
3UptownThe Upscaling of Uptown
4Lincoln SquareYou See a Toothpick, This Lincoln Square Resident Sees Art
5North CenterThe Brown Line Is a Lesson in How Chicago Changes
6Lake ViewStaying Collegiate in Wrigleyville
7Lincoln ParkHow Lincoln Park Gentrified
8Near North SideAre People Really Leaving Downtown?
9Edison ParkRunning Up the Chimney to Edison Park
10Norwood ParkEverything Old Is Old Again in Norwood Park
11Jefferson ParkRiding Down the Most Dangerous Bikeway in Chicago
12Forest GlenThe Chicago Legacy of Billy Caldwell
13North ParkThe Wizard’s Radio Magic
14Albany ParkWhy Are So Many Chicago Businesses Named After Michoacan?
15Portage ParkSharking, Running Out, and Dogging at Chris’s Billiards
16Irving ParkFreemasons Still Support Chicago Communities
17DunningFollowing the Once-Significant Great Lakes-Mississippi Watershed
18MontclareThe Long-Foretold End of the Neighborhood Tavern
19Belmont CraginDecades of Chicago in 10 Miles of Belmont Avenue
20HermosaThe Beat Goes On in Hermosa
21AvondaleThe Spookiest, Most Metal Neighborhood in Chicago
22Logan SquareA Tale of Two Chicagos in the Runoff
23Humboldt ParkThe Last Fight of Wilfred Benítez
24West TownFrom North to South on Western Avenue
25AustinYou Can Still Get a Good Shoe Shine in Austin
26West Garfield ParkWhile Chicago Honors Black History, the Present Has Gotten Worse
27East Garfield ParkAssessing the Nice-Guy Rahm Routine
28Near West SideFrom North to South on Western Avenue
29North LawndaleA Visit to the Least-Trafficked ‘L’ Stop
30South LawndaleBridging the Divide of the Burlington Northern Railroad
31Lower West SideFrom North to South on Western Avenue
32LoopIs the Loop a Neighborhood?
33Near South SideRiding the Lakefront Trail, Part Two: The South Side
34Armour SquareThe Omega Sox Fan
35DouglasUrban Exploration Is ‘100 Percent More Difficult’ These Days
36OaklandRiding the Lakefront Trail, Part Two: The South Side
37Fuller ParkMurals Hit a High Note on this CHA Building
38Grand BoulevardA Stop at the Chicago Hip Hop Heritage Museum
39KenwoodThere Is No Place Like the Blackstone Library
40Washington ParkOlmsted vs. Obama: Inside the Pushback Against the Presidential Library
41Hyde ParkOlmsted vs. Obama: Inside the Pushback Against the Presidential Library
42WoodlawnWhat About Us?
43South ShoreLakefront Dwellers Await a Plan as Beaches Disappear
44ChathamGet Off Our Lawn: Photos of Chicago’s Block Club Signs
45Avalon ParkGet Off Our Lawn: Photos of Chicago’s Block Club Signs
46South ChicagoThe Best Place in the City to Watch Boats
47BurnsideBurnside: ‘It’s Not Much Over Here’
48Calumet HeightsA Groovy Slideshow of Chicago’s Mod-est Neighborhood
49RoselandThe Once-Bustling Michigan Avenue on the South Side
50PullmanThe Pullman Neighborhood Is a Time Capsule
51South Deering‘This is the end of Chicago’ (Geographically)
52East SideYes, Chicago Really Has an East Side
53West PullmanWe Sow We Grow Wants to Make West Pullman an Agri-Neighborhood
54Riverdale‘This is the end of Chicago’ (Geographically)
55HegewischA Trip to Hegewisch, Chicago’s Most Remote Neighborhood
56Garfield RidgeIn the Land Beyond Midway
57Archer HeightsFrom Lipinski to Garcia: How Archer Avenue’s Guard Has Changed
58Brighton ParkFrom Lipinski to Garcia: How Archer Avenue’s Guard Has Changed
59Mckinley ParkNature Always Bats Last
60BridgeportA Very Daley Tour of Bridgeport
61New CityBack of the Yards Looks (and Smells) Different These Days
62West ElsdonThe Restaurant that Will Bring You to West Elsdon
63Gage ParkThe Mystery Millionaire of Gage Park
64ClearingIn the Land Beyond Midway
65West LawnThe Only Thing To Do in a Dying Mall
66Chicago Lawn“These Dances Cannot Be Separated From the Culture”
67West EnglewoodRiding the Ashland Bus for 14 Cents a Mile
68EnglewoodThe Rise and Fall of Chicago Neighborhoods
69Greater Grand CrossingGet Off Our Lawn: Photos of Chicago’s Block Club Signs
70AshburnRevisiting What Has Disappeared
71Auburn GreshamGet Off Our Lawn: Photos of Chicago’s Block Club Signs
72BeverlyFrom North to South on Western Avenue
73Washington HeightsRiding the Ashland Bus for 14 Cents a Mile
74Mount GreenwoodA Tale of Two Chicagos in the Runoff
75Morgan ParkThe ‘Blaccent’ That Defines Chicago
76Ohare‘Look at How Beautiful and Majestic that 747 Is’
77EdgewaterThe Wes Anderson Spirit of Andersonville
image/svg+xml Chicago Magazine 1 2 4 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77

To paraphrase Hamlet, there are more things in Chicago, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Whenever I crossed a four-lane street, or river, or railroad track, the city renewed itself, transforming into someplace I’d never seen before. After I visited a neighborhood, I blacked it out in pencil on a map of Chicago’s community areas. At first, the map looked like a checkerboard, then a series of white islands in a sea of graphite.

On the South Side, I started in Burnside, the city’s smallest official neighborhood, with nary a bar or restaurant in its 400 acres. “It’s not much over here,” a man living in a senior apartment building told me as he walked to Chatham to get lunch at a taco truck. Burnside did, however, offer a lesson in ethnic succession: I spotted an Orthodox cross atop St. Mark Church of God in Christ, which began its ecclesiastical life as Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Church, ministering to immigrants who worked on the Illinois Central Railroad. Chicago is a dynamic city, always evolving with the arrival of refugees and transplants. Stuart Dybek once titled an essay “You Can’t Step Into the Same Street Twice.” If you want a town where the surnames and the colors of the faces in the high school yearbooks never change, move to Effingham.

Whenever I crossed a four-lane street, or river, or track, the city renewed itself, transforming into someplace I’d never seen before.

Then I went even deeper south, exploring the city’s boundary — as far as I could get from home. In Hegewisch, that took me down an abandoned railroad spur to a swampy stand of reeds. At Altgeld Gardens, I discovered there was still more of the city beyond its most isolated housing project, where Barack Obama began his community organizing career. I followed an oiled road that runs past Peter Rock Church of God in Christ and into the woods to 134th Place, a dirt road on the north bank of the Little Calumet River. It was Appalachia in Chicago: As I passed a house surrounded by old vehicles — an RCN van, a cruiser bearing the markings of the Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, police department — dogs barked from behind a wooden fence.

Yet there was still more of Chicago across the river: The city continues all the way to 138th Street, where St. Mary Catholic Church was abandoned by its dwindling congregation. That’s 32 miles south of Rogers Park. Chicago just keeps going on and on, even after you think you’re finished with it. “This is the end of Chicago,” a man working on his car told me. “When I saw you coming down the street, I thought, He’s lost.”

Sometimes, I covered half a dozen neighborhoods in a single trip. One Sunday, I rode a Divvy e-bike the 23.5-mile length of Western Avenue. The motorized boost to every pedal felt like a superpower. Chicago’s longest street begins in West Ridge and runs through Lincoln Square, West Town, Pilsen, Gage Park (its auto dealerships closed for the Sabbath), eventually ending in Beverly, where I refreshed myself with a beer at McNally’s, an Irish pub with a tattered “Back the Blue” American flag over the door. Behind the bar was a framed photo of Ella French, a Chicago police officer killed in the line of duty. All around me, gray-haired men discussed the “gawf” on television. Academic studies have recorded the decline of the classic Chicago accent, but it can still be heard at McNally’s, whose regulars greet every patron by name and know which Catholic school his daughter attended.

The city’s longest bus route, the No. 9 Ashland, took me through Lake View, Lincoln Park, McKinley Park, and West Englewood to Washington Heights, a cross-section of Chicago demographics. As the per capita income of the neighborhoods declined, the bus filled, its riders lugging plastic grocery bags from Dollar Tree: In poor neighborhoods, people depend on the CTA.

Neighborhood life makes us parochial. In Mount Greenwood, before last year’s mayoral election, I met a firefighter who didn’t know anyone voting for Brandon Johnson and couldn’t understand why anyone would. An urban peninsula surrounded by suburbs, that southwest nabe is populated by conservative city workers who want to live as far as possible from where they work. In blue Chicago, Mount Greenwood voted for Trump. But that’s the value of visiting every neighborhood. Every time I shaded in a space on my map, a Chicago stereotype was shattered. A city of two-flats and bungalows? There’s a trailer park in Hegewisch. Dangerous to walk the South Side? On a trek from Steelworkers Park, on 87th Street, to the 75th Street L stop, I was hassled only once, by a drunken man sitting in front of a liquor store. He jumped in front of me, demanding, “Give me a dollar, white boy!” I kept walking.

And then there was one neighborhood left: Kenwood. To pencil it in, I took a guided tour of the Blackstone Library, conducted by local historian Max Grinnell. Modeled on the Erechtheion, a temple on the Acropolis in Athens, Blackstone has an inner dome that is painted with figures from antiquity representing art, science, literature, and labor. The bookshelves are bronzed, and a pair of Ionic columns marks the entrance to the reading room. Andrew Carnegie built 2,500 libraries worldwide, but skipped over Chicago, so local rail baron Timothy Beach Blackstone paid for something fancier.

“With today’s tour of the Blackstone Library, I have now visited all 77 neighborhoods on behalf of Chicago,” I wrote on Twitter, as X was known then, last June. Mayor Johnson read the tweet and congratulated me at his next press conference: “That’s quite an achievement.”

It’s an achievement I would recommend to every Chicagoan. I could print a fresh map and start all over again, but I think I’ll stick around Rogers Park for a while.