Ayako and I will be moving to Bucktown in July, a Chicago neighborhood famous for possibly being the same thing as Wicker Park, but probably not. It’s north of there, right? Or south?
Bucktown, maybe more than any other Chicago neighborhood, is like Brigadoon or the island in Lost. Nobody really knows where it is. We know the Map Room is there and possibly that Costa Rican place with the Oatmeal milkshakes. But other than that, it’s a mystery.
Until now. As someone who’s spent a good portion of his life living on islands, I refuse to live in a place with amorphous borders. So, sit back, ladies and gentleman, and I shall draw you the map.
Now, Wikipedia claims Bucktown is part of Logan Square, which is ridiculous. That may be true politically, but culturally it’s off. Logan Square is easily definable as the neighborhood around the square called Logan Square, the one with that little monument that looks like a leftover prop from Triumph of the Will.
You always know when you’re in Logan Square. It’s easy. If you look around and go, “wow, this is a really beautiful neighborhood, I’d love to live here… let’s leave before it gets dark,” you’re in Logan Square.
Bucktown isn’t Logan Square. So, where doth the twain meet? I’d say Western, the great river of real estate lava that is only somewhat ironically called “the White Wall.” Plenty of white people live beyond its burning shores (me included), but they’re the exception that proves the rule since they always find a way of dropping the shocking phrase “west of Western” (the young Caucasian’s version of “back when I was in ‘Nam”), into any conversation about where they live… or maybe it’s just me.
A bit further south, the western border is much easier to define as Western. In many parts of Chicago, you can tell when you’ve changed neighborhoods when the language on the street changes. Ukrainian Village becomes East Village when Ukrainian gives way to Spanish.
Similarly, cross Western from what may or may not be Bucktown and you’ll start hearing Spanish. You’re in Humboldt Park. You should stick around. There may be a parade.
For now, everyone seems happy to define the northern border as Fullerton, the only street in Chicago whose east-west trajectory is a straight line from douchy to sketchy. To the east is the Kennedy Expressway and the Chicago River. Done and done.
Now, we get to the tricky part. The southern border. Wicker Park. The difference between the two is so fuzzy that most people have just given up and call it Wicker Park/Bucktown. But that’s too unwieldy for me.
I’ve heard a few people claim the area around Division is Bucktown, but that’s just wrong. A lot of people say the North/Damen/Milwaukee traffic apocalypse is in Bucktown, but then that would mean the actual Wicker Park Park is not in Wicker Park, and then… hell.
I guess you could say North is the border, but the Six Corners area has such a distinct feel of its own, it feels wrong to divide it in half between Wicker Park and Bucktown. That’s what the real estate agents want. They cannot be allowed to win, otherwise everything past State Street will magically become “West Gold Coast!” and we’ll all just have to move to New York and gag over neighborhood names like TriBeCa and NoLiTa. We’re better than that, Chicago.
The Six Corners of North/Damen/Milwaukee should be Wicker Park. Wicker Park Park is right there, after all.
So, where does Bucktown start? You can’t draw a chalk line down a stretch of asphalt and say, “here, this is Wicker Park and this is Bucktown.”
It’s not a geographic border. It’s a reproductive border.
Walk around the area known as Wicker Park. Notice a lot of 20 somethings. Hipsters, Yuppies, Yipsters, Huppies, etc. They’re young and beautiful and free from any responsibility except for a few college loans, that outstanding ComEd bill, and showing up to their part time job on time.
Now, walk north on Damen. The population thins a bit, especially when you cross under the old Metra tracks. The people start to look a bit older. The beards not so much ironic as lazy. The visible tattoos more sensible. Eyebrow and nose piercings in want of their studs.
Listen closer and you’ll hear it. The border to Bucktown. It’s the pattering of little feet, the mewling of babes. It’s children.
From my jaunts around the neighborhood, I’ve found that the vast majority of Bucktown residents are in their early 30’s and have kids (note for my mom: Ayako and I are an exception. Put the baby name book down!). They’re everywhere. Bucktown is indeed Wicker Park, just five years and a broken condom later.
So, where is Bucktown, exactly? It’s the area between Fullerton, Spanish, the Expressway, and spawning.