Wicker Park: top-ranking hipster ‘hood

By Emily Ornberg

Chicago’s usual sea of beards, plaid, Buddy Holly glasses and skinny jeans are paired with apathetic faces this week as the eclectic neighborhood of Wicker Park, home to many Columbia students, was recently crowned fourth in Forbes Magazine’s and Nextdoor.com’s inaugural list of “America’s Hippest Hipster Neighborhoods.”

Morgan Brennan, real estate editor and reporter for Forbes, said the list was compiled after qualitatively crunching numbers on 250 neighborhoods in major cities throughout the country. Categories such as walkability, number of coffee shops per capita, number of farmers markets, frequency of food trucks and the live music scene were all considered.

“We do a lot of cities and geographical lists here at Forbes, and this is our first time doing a story quite like this,” Brennan said. “Obviously, words like ‘hip’ and ‘hipster’ are very open for debate, but that’s the methodology that brought us to this particular list.”

Scoring 91 out of 100 in walkability and having a large number of locally owned bars, restaurants and coffee shops were the main reasons Wicker Park placed No. 4, Brennan said. Silver Lake in Los Angeles placed first, followed by San Francisco’s Mission District and Williamsburg in New York.

The Pear District in Portland placed fifth—making Wicker Park officially more hipster than the hometown of ironic indie TV series “Portlandia,” according to Forbes data.

Even though the list may be controversial to some, it is meant to playfully define the hippest neighborhoods with data not previously looked at, Brennan said.

We are not putting any connotation [on the word hipster] one way or the other,” Brennan said. “This was just supposed to be a fun list running through the data we had available.”

Dabney Lawless, surveyor and vice president of Nextdoor.com, a private social network for neighborhoods, said Chicago might have three or four really “hip” neighborhoods, but the website wanted to include geographic diversity in its criteria, making Wicker Park the obvious choice.

“Just because we said Wicker Park doesn’t mean there aren’t other really hip neighborhoods in Chicago,” Lawless said. “But we did a survey of our members, and Wicker Park came up time and again. It has that reputation already.”

Brennan explained that the list has brought attention to the selected neighborhoods’ common history of continuous gentrification. Because of this, the list will continue to change every year, parallel to the neighborhoods themselves.

“As [these neighborhoods] get cooler, as they get hipper, more stuff comes into the area,” Brennan said. “All these stores and restaurants and boutiques pop up in these places that maybe 10 or 15 years ago were in need of development. The area becomes gentrified, home prices go up and maybe some of the artists move out.”

Connor Murray, sophomore theatre major and Wicker Park resident, said the title isn’t so bad. He said he was well aware of the neighborhood’s hipster stereotype when he and his roommates moved in.

“We knew what we were getting into because it already had that connotation, but it’s really not that bad,” Murray said. “There’s a ton of bars. It’s a place where people come to hang out, and we live here. If anything, it’s a good thing.”

Hip to the title or not, Wicker Park has been nationally ranked as a happening place to be. Lawless explained that the list helps publicize neighborhoods to those who may be looking for places that follow the hipster criteria, though she has heard mixed feedback.

“At the point at which anybody is really hip, [they] wouldn’t want to be classified as such, so it’s that Catch-22,” Lawless said. “People don’t like to be labeled. I think it’s a point of pride. We’re getting a positive reaction to this across the country, but there’s a little bit of ‘I’m too cool to be labeled hip.”