Irving Park on Chicago’s Northwest Side is a spacious community area with a variety of local businesses and provides easy access to transportation.
Within the community there are multiple neighborhoods, one of them is Old Irving Park, which is going through a revitalization with new businesses and projects coming to the area.
One of those is a new Northwestern outpatient medical center along Irving Park Road and North Kenneth Avenue.
“It was originally proposed to be a five-story building, but we worked with the alderman’s office to get them to bring it down and put extra parking underground so they could make it a four-story building which is more in line with the other buildings along the stretch,” said Adrienne Chan, and president of the Old Irving Park Association.
More than 200 residents come together to address “quality of life” matters through the Old Irving Park Association, according to Chan, who says the group works with local leaders to push for change.
Recently, the city has committed to adding protected bike lanes along Milwaukee Avenue.
“One of the things that brings a lot of people to the neighborhood is proximity to transportation,” Chan said. “We have access to two metro lines, including a Metra and Blue Line stop. There’s also easy access to the Kennedy, but we also have Milwaukee Avenue which is a great direct path to downtown. A lot of people are interested in biking both to downtown and other neighborhoods along Milwaukee Avenue, and it’s important that it’s a safe area for people to bike through.”
Interactive maps: More from our community reporting series
LYDIA Home is another nonprofit organization that has been active in Irving Park for more than 100 years. It’s a foster care agency that aims to bring hope and healing to children in foster care. It currently houses about 40 children at the center.
“One of our teenagers recently said, ‘There’s no one who cares about me that isn’t paid to care about me.’ Think about that for a minute,” said Jon Ebersole, director of programs for LYDIA Home. “The sad thing is she’s right. That’s what LYDIA Home is about: to bring hope and healing, and a home, to kids that need it that are involved in the foster care system, or that we’re trying to keep out of the foster care system.”
LYDIA Home has strong partnerships in the community, including the Irving Park Community Food Pantry, Chicagoland Truck Rental, Berman Subaru, Bethel Community Church, Park Church, and Cityline Bible Church.
Ebersole said they’re always in need of more mentors and foster families.
“We need people to go to our website and sign up to mentor or foster, or just to get more information on that so that more kids can say, ‘There’s people that care about me and they’re not getting paid for it,’ ” Ebersole said.
Overall, Chicago is home to a large indigenous population with multiple tribes dispersed across the city, including a large Native American presence in Irving Park.
Indigenous community leaders have been working for years to provide public housing to Native Americans in Chicago, and in 2024 the first affordable housing complex catering to Native Americans is expected to be completed.
“I feel like we’re not newcomers to the area, and it feels really good to finally have a place where we can make home permanently,” said Pamala Silas of Visionary Ventures NFP. “We’re looking to have about 40 units of affordable housing. The first floor is going to be commercial. We want to make sure the space is rented out to Native American nonprofits and businesses to be able to provide more support for our residents.”
The development will be along Irving Park Road and within walking distance of Horner Park and the Chicago River. Both Shelly Tucciarelli and Silas of Visionary Ventures said the process had been an emotional one, but ultimately a big victory.
“I’ve seen us lose community members to other states because of affordability. These are the core culture keepers of our community that couldn’t afford to stay here, and I hope we get a few of them to come back,” Silas said. “Even the concentration of families that will go to a local school so we will have a presence where a community is visible.”
The neighborhood is home to Native American institutions, including Saint Kateri Center, a faith-based organization focused on providing outreach programming for the indigenous community in Chicago. The center serves people of all ages with the goal of giving elders and youth a space for worship.
“We are highly engaged with our youth to make them confident in their cultural identity because sometimes these youth are the only Native Americans in the class or even their school…building up that confidence of who they are and being comfortable being able to speak about their culture,” said Jody Roy, director of St. Kateri Center of Chicago. “Being in an urban setting there sometimes is a disconnect from their roots of the reservations so embracing that culture is important.”
Residents that WTTW News spoke to describe the neighborhood to be family-friendly with great parks and many local bars with a diverse dining scene. JT’s Genuine Sandwich Shop is still fairly new to the area, but owner Chris Cunningham has brought some of his roots into the neighborhood.
“We make Coney dogs from Detroit and tenderloins from Iowa and Indiana,” Cunningham said. “People come to get a bite of comfort here, and it’s nice to see them come in instead of hanging a bag outside the door.”
Cunningham has been a resident for 10 years and his restaurant is named after his two children. He says the people are what has kept his family here.
“Great community of neighbors and businesses,” Cunningham said. “We have some of the best parks in the city. Independence Park, Horner Park are within walking distance of beautiful homes in tree-lined trees it’s a whole package.”
Liz Kavanaugh, another local business owner, started Lizard’s Liquid Lounge 14 years ago. The building itself has long been a “refuge” for the community.
“I originally bought it when it was called Lost and Found, which was the oldest lesbian bar in the country,” Kavanagh said. “It’s a privilege to take it over. It’s not just a gay bar anymore, but it’s open to everybody…the community has been amazing. Lately we’ve had music festivals, live music and artists come to me and say, ‘I’d like to play,’ because it’s not one of the big venues.”
Video: Watch our full interview with Liz Kavanaugh.
Community Reporting Series
“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.
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