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Evergreen Park: At the Crossroads of City, Suburbs

Surrounded on three sides by the City of Chicago, Evergreen Park holds a unique place in the Southland.

Evergreen Park is what planners call an "inner-ring suburb." These are towns that, as you might infer from the phrase, border larger cities. Often they serve as a transition area between the more urbanized city and what we know as traditional suburbs, with their wide streets, strip shopping centers and larger lot sizes. Other examples of inner-ring suburbs would be Oak Park, Evanston, Park Ridge and Blue Island.

When I try to describe to people not from here where Evergreen Park is in relation to Chicago, I tell them to look at a map of Chicago and on the southwest side find where it looks someone took a bite out of the city. That's Evergreen Park. In the late 1800s, when Chicago was annexing towns right and left, Evergreen Park said "no." According to the village's history page, on Dec. 20, 1893, residents of the then-largely rural farming community voted 40-11 to incorporate as an independent town.

And so here is Evergreen Park, surrounded on three sides – north, east and south – by Chicago, with Hometown and Oak Lawn to the west. And what I said about strip malls not being the basis for a real downtown is still valid. But Evergreen Park certainly has more of a "town center" feel than, say, Orland Park. I'd take the 95th Street corridor over LaGrange Road any day of the week and twice on Sunday. At least 95th Street has functional sidewalks.

And we enjoy – or at least I do – the extension of Chicago's street grid system and street numbering system. I hate driving into suburbs with numbering systems I don't understand. With a few exceptions – 95th Street between, say, California and Western, and parts of 87th Street being the most notable – Evergreen Park is a walkable, bikeable community. One of the things I used to enjoy about living in Brooklyn, N.Y., for a time was walking out of our apartment and having three grocery stores, a movie theater, two book stores, transit and more than a dozen restaurants within a five-minute walk. Evergreen Park doesn't have that, but it's not meant to. (And unlike Brooklyn, Evergreen Park stuck by its initial insistence not to be annexed into the larger city next door.)

But I can step out the front door of our house and walk to two grocery stores and three restaurants easily, and more if I work a little at it. I can walk to Home Depot and Ace Hardware. Really, there isn't anything I truly need that I can't walk to get, which when I think about it isn't much different from the convenience that urban dwellers in Lincoln Park, the West Loop or Manhattan tout.

At the same time, though, I can sit on my back porch under the shade of a giant fir tree looking at our small yard and our vegetable garden and our garage and write this column. I hear the wind in the trees and somewhere in the distance a lawn mower. Across the street, there's hammering from the sound of an extensive home remodel. Which, by the way, is another nice feature of Evergreen Park. People are investing in homes here for their families. The house flippers and the price inflation they brought are gone. The people here want to be here, and that, along with the blueprint for a walkable village, is the basis for a solid community with a future.

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