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Getting to Know Albany Park, One of Chicago's Most Diverse Neighborhoods

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Albany Park has a thriving small business community

While Chicago holds a reputation of being a notoriously segregated city, the Albany Park neighborhood is a striking example of how ethnically diverse a community can be. The area is not only one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Chicago, it's also quite affordable and contains a solid inventory of classic Chicago-style bungalows and brick two-flats.

Casey Smagala, a longtime Albany Park resident and Director of Development and Community Engagement at the Albany Park Community Center tells us why Albany Park is so unique and why it's also a great place to open a business or buy a home.

What's your relationship with the Albany Park neighborhood?

I’ve lived in Albany Park since 2008 when I moved here to go to school and play football at North Park University. I work for the Albany Park Community Center, I'm on the board of directors at the North River Commission, was elected to Roosevelt High School LSC as a Community Representative, and am also a planning member of the Albany Park World Fest.

Albany Park is often listed as one of the most — if not the most — ethnically diverse neighborhoods in Chicago. At the same time, Chicago has a reputation for being quite segregated. How has Albany Park managed to be so different?

What sets Albany Park apart is that our business community reflects our ethnic community. This has created an equitable business district that respects the many cultures we have in the community, rather than dividing them. You’ll walk into a shop and meet three wonderful generations of a family that are proud to serve you. No dividing lines there, just a deep passion to succeed!

Say you're walking down one of the major roads in Albany Park, what kind of local businesses would you find?

It’s like walking through an authentic Epcot, you’ll be able to sample food from everywhere in the world but you won’t need a passport or to empty your wallet to enjoy yourself.

Do you need a car to get around in Albany Park?

Absolutely not, my girlfriend and I got rid of our car last September and never regretted it. We bike and take the CTA everywhere we need to go.

What are a couple of places that visitors have to check out?

No trip to Albany Park is complete without a visit to some of the classics: Lebanese cuisine at Semiramis, authentic Persian dishes at Noon-O-Kabab, Swedish favorites at Tre-Kroner, the best Korean barbecue at Chicago Kalbi, and fine Filipino food at Merla’s kitchen. Some of the area's newer places are becoming Chicago staples, not just hot spots in the neighborhood. For example, Rojo Gusano has people traveling from out of state to sample their Mexican-inspired experiments.

Albany Park is a relatively affordable area. With the cost of living rapidly climbing in neighborhoods like Logan Square, Roscoe Village, and Avondale, has there been a noticeable change in Albany Park?

I’m noticing a lot more people coming into Albany Park to eat and drink for just that reason. Rent, food, and booze are getting more expensive but folks still want authentic eateries and original watering holes — and that's us.

What's maybe not so swell about Albany Park?

We’ve got some cleaning up to do. As one of the city’s most dense community areas, we often get some garbage on the sidewalks. Fortunately we have Special Service Area #60 and an active civic association in Albany Park Neighbors, both of which have helped reduced a lot of the mess.

If someone is interested in starting a business in the area, what are some things for them to consider?

Albany Park is open for business! We have one of the highest walk scores in the city, affordable commercial rents for entrepreneurs, an active chamber of commerce, and a responsive representatives in aldermen Laurino, Mell, and Rosa. What we could use more of is entertainment and retail. People travel from all over Chicago to eat in Albany Park, but we need places for them to shop in between or stop in to catch a show after they finish dinning.

Who would like living in Albany Park?

I’ve chosen to live in Albany Park since I moved to Chicago in 2008 and will never leave! It’s affordable, accessible to the CTA, and is all-around a great community to set roots in.