Edgewater is a north Chicago, Illinois, community seven miles north of downtown bordering the neighborhoods of Rogers Park to the north, Uptown to the south, Lincoln Square to the west and south and West Ridge to the west and north. Edgewater has the highest population density of any of the neighborhoods in Chicago. According to the 2000 U.S. Census the zip code 60640, one of two zip codes in Edgewater (the other being 60660), had the highest concentration of gay and lesbian couples in the city, and fifth highest in the country.
Edgewater was first developed around the 1890s as a summer home for Chicago’s elite. With the exception of pockets acknowledged as historic districts (like the Bryn Mawr Historic District), Edgewater boasts a skyline of apartment buildings, condominium complexes, and mid-rise homes. Edgewater is highlighted by two main corridors: North Winthrop Avenue and North Kenmore Avenue to Loyola University Chicago. Winthrop and Kenmore are rehabilitated areas with homes touched up to harken back to Edgewater’s glory days of the past.
Uptown’s population declined in the 1950s as Chicago’s suburbs were developed and opened, absorbing Chicago’s middle and upper classes. With the flight of residents came disrepair and high crime rates for what once was one of the most affluent districts of Chicago.
In the 1980s, the Chicago Board of Aldermen and local business owners orchestrated a revival for the Edgewater community. Edgewater seceded from the Uptown community and once again called itself its own community. New businesses were brought into the community, old buildings were refurbished and homes touched up to harken back to Edgewater’s glory days of the past.
The high-rise condominiums that line Sheridan Rd. and the Lake were known to have large numbers of retired and elderly persons, many living on fixed incomes. The prices have been more affordable than Lake Shore Drive addresses farther south. Meanwhile, Kenmore and Winthrop streets a couple blocks west suffered in mixed conditions of poverty and crime that were a far cry from their prior prestige. Recognizing the value of lakefront living close to the Red Line elevated train, conditions began an improvement and influx of residents. Many of Edgewater’s new residents are from Africa and the former Yugoslavia. The area has a great density of Bosnian, Serb and Croat residents. These people, troubled by civil war and tough conditions in their homeland, have been encouraged to settle in the area. The city is known for accepting new, thriving enclaves of ethnicities in centuries past. This new settlement of Europeans is a modern revival of that tradition.
Meanwhile, Edgewater is also home to a large African community. Ethnic Ethiopians, newly independent Eritreans, and Nigerians, to name a few, live and socialize in Edgewater. Due to increased restrictions on the industry, taxis must park on main (non-residential) streets or spots with meters. Consequently, Broadway Avenue is often full of taxis parked there by their African immigrant operators. (The African community also extends farther north into the Rogers Park and Loyola University areas.) Walk the streets of Edgewater and one will mix with women in traditional African costume and Serbian grandmothers strolling with their grandchildren while the middle generation is out making a living in the new world of Chicago.
Native Americans, former Yugoslavians, Africans of every part, young hipsters, new parents, first-time homeowners, students and many more make their home in Edgewater. The average resident is beyond classification.
An unexpected influx of gay and lesbian residents has recently moved in and land values have skyrocketed. The community now boasts one of the largest gay and lesbian populations in the United States. It shares that distinction with neighboring community areas of Lakeview, home of Boystown, and Rogers Park. Edgewater is home to the Gerber/Hart Library, the largest gay and lesbian library and archives in the Midwestern United States.