View Chicago’s neighborhoods through website’s fresh eyes

By ARTS & CULTURE EDITOR

Tired of misconceptions and assumptions being made about Chicago neighborhoods, Andersonville resident Jason Sofianos created a project to shed light on the real Chicago.

After researching Chicago’s architectural and cultural history, Sofianos created the “City of Neighborhoods Project,” a travel website that highlights neighborhoods and their businesses and organizations. The website, which includes interviews and pictures of neighborhood residents, gives people an authentic perspective of Chicago and distinctive sites and locales, Sofianos said. 

“I was struck by how much of the city is absent from blogs, websites and newspapers featuring Chicago destinations,” Sofianos said.

After starting it in September, Sofianos’ wife Eleanor Sweeney decided to help by editing interviews and taking photographs.

Duo Sofianos and Sweeney completed three profiles on Andersonville, Greater Grand Crossing and Little Village, which wrapped up Nov. 14. He said he plans to rotate between Chicago’s North, South, and West sides as well as some suburbs. More locations will be added regularly.

Sofianos started with his own neighborhood as a test model and interviewed 15 people from the community who support the local economy and contribute to minimizing ecological footprints. Some of the businesses include KOVAL Distillery, the Swedish American Museum and the Andersonville Sustainable Community Alliance.

Michael Ashkenasi, sustainability director of the Andersonville Sustainable Community Alliance, was part of the project and said it  portrays organizations working well  within the community.

“It is serving to highlight communities at the local level and especially neighborhoods that may not be as fortunate as Andersonville in terms of the press giving [them] that attention,” Ashkenasi said.

One such neighborhood is Sofianos’ second chapter of the project: Greater Grand Crossing, published Oct. 10. The website highlights seven organizations working in the neighborhood, including the Gary Comer Youth Center, 7200 S. Ingleside Ave.

Director of the youth center Ayoka Mota Samuels said the “City of Neighborhoods Project” balances out the amount of negative press the South Side receives and shows its diversity.

“It gives us an opportunity to further explain [the neighborhood] and expose others that may live in Chicago or not,” Samuels said. “It gives us some understanding in particular for South and West side communities. The South Side is made up of several neighborhoods and they all have their own values.”

Sweeney said that despite the challenges in getting information from sources and the time-consuming production, the project has been gratifying and she has experienced new parts of Chicago.

“When you put in the time and research and see it all come together at the end, it is pretty amazing,” she said.

Sofianos said interacting with the local businesses and hearing people’s stories is engaging and helps him learn more about the area. Sharing ideas puts a human face to the community, he said.

“Some people dismissively talk and write about large parts of the city” he said. “There seems to be this repeated narrative for certain neighborhoods and parts of town. These places deserve to have more than just one narrative.”

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