This year I am working as an Oral Health Educator at a community health clinic, and a large part of my job is to give dental health presentations at schools and community centers around the city. As a result I have been ping-ponging all over Chicago to present to parenting groups and schools in diverse neighborhoods. Driving the alleged “grid system” of Chicago without a GPS has been a (slightly stressful) crash course in orienting myself in this city that seems to morph and expand exponentially each day, but this has been one of the aspects of the year that I feel most blessed to have. Because I spend hours and hours each week navigating the streets from my scribbled Google Maps directions I have had an opportunity to observe some of the most interesting, and most challenged, areas of the city.
People in Chicago really identify by their neighborhoods, and each and every neighborhood has its own unique taste. One thing I have noticed as I drive around is the abrupt and significant shifts that occur in neighborhoods in just a few blocks. These shifts can be seen clearly in the types of stores, restaurants, language, and populations of neighborhoods. I can drive down one street for a few miles and feel like I have passed through ten different towns.