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Getting a Handle on Neighborhoods

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Curbed University delivers insider tips and non-boring advice on how to buy, sell, or rent a home or apartment. Additional questions welcomed to Curbed Chicago's tipline.

What Neighborhood is Best for Me?
If you already live in Chicago, you've probably developed neighborhood preferences based on school districts, where you work, where your friends live, how close you want to live to the lake, etc. However, if you're new to the city, choosing from Chicago's 77 community areas and more than 200 neighborhoods is a daunting task. The website Movesmart.org is a tool that we've found to be a useful starting point. The site uses a combination of neighborhood amenities including schools, arts, transportation and walkability to help narrow the field and match you with a neighborhood that fills your needs.

And speaking of transportation and walkability, the website WalkScore.com ranks neighborhood walkability on a 0-100 scale based on how many neighborhood amenities, like restaurants, grocery stores and parks, are within walking distance. Walk Score also recently launched a Transit Score search function on the site, which ranks addresses based on how well they are served by public transportation. If you want to get a little more nuanced about transportation and its costs in a particular neighborhood, spend some time playing around with the Center for Neighborhood Technology's Housing + Transportation Affordability Index and the recently-launched site Abogo, which provides an estimate of what it will cost you to get around in a particular neighborhood.

Stretching Neighborhood Boundaries
Of all the dishonest things that agents do, describing a home that's on the wrong side of the tracks as being in a more reputable neighborhood is the easiest and probably the most common. On the North Side, agents will often describe anything from Ravenswood to Edgewater as being in "Andersonville," a smaller, upscale neighborhood with more cachet than many of the surrounding neighborhoods. Other North Side neighborhoods that get similar treatment include Lake View (for homes in Uptown and Buena Park) and Lincoln Square (for homes in Ravenswood or Albany Park). On the South Side, homes are routinely miscategorized and placed in Bronzeville when they are actually in Grand Crossing or Washington Park.

Neighborhoods that Aren't Really Neighborhoods
Instead of simply stretching neighborhood boundaries, more creative agents actually dream up new neighborhoods for their listings. The poster child for such truth-stretching is "West Bucktown," a non-existent neighborhood that real estate agents have been using for much of the past decade. The "West Bucktown" label is generally slapped on the Logan Square / Humboldt Park area west of Western and between North Avenue and Armitage. At this point, the "West Bucktown" moniker has been bandied about so much that it's actually gaining acceptance. Following the trend, parts of Humboldt Park that are adjacent to Wicker Park are sometimes labeled as "West Wicker Park."
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