Public spaces can be found throughout the neighborhood, such as “The Mile of Murals,” located on Glenwood Avenue. These murals reflect the multicultural influence of the community. (Una Cleary)
Public spaces can be found throughout the neighborhood, such as “The Mile of Murals,” located on Glenwood Avenue. These murals reflect the multicultural influence of the community.

Una Cleary

Rooted in action: Rogers Park named top five neighborhood in U.S.

October 16, 2022

On the edges of Chicago’s city limits, 25 minutes north of the Fullerton ‘L’ stop, lies the activism-rooted, community-based neighborhood of Rogers Park.  

Recently rated fifth on’s list of top 50 places to live in the U.S, it is loved by residents for its multiculturalism and welcoming nature. 

“I think Rogers Park is the best example of community I can ever point to,” said neighborhood resident Thomas Milligan. “You meet different kinds of people, but what you find similar from person to person is just friendliness, which is not necessarily a city thing.” 

Maya Oclassen

Milligan was born and raised in the neighborhood and remembers some of his fondest memories at Loyola and Leon Beach. 

Jazz clubs, arcades, witch shops and activism organizations all congregate within a block of each other. The Glenwood Sunday Market appears every week on the corner of Morse and Glenwood, providing fresh produce and community bonds. 

“That’s the guy that runs the jazz bar,” Milligan said as he pointed to the dimly lit storefront. “As you are walking by at night you hear music, you hear people talking and having a good time and then you watch people playing video games and having a beer.”

The multiculturalism of Rogers Park bleeds throughout the neighborhood in vibrant street art, international cuisine and a major college campus: Loyola University. 

“Rogers Park is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country,” said DePaul freshman and Rogers Park resident Carla Barry-Esteban. “It’s very cool to see how many communities can live together and be so drastically different.”

Rogers Park holds the history of Irish, German, Jewish, and English families who settled during the 1930’s and 40’s. In the late 1960s, the neighborhood became home to Russian and Eastern European immigrants. The turn of the decade saw the growth of the African American population in the 1970s. “There was a lot of progressive people who cared about it and cared about the politics,” said former Heartland Cafe owner and DePaul adjunct Professor Michael Gaylord James.

The Rogers Park Business Alliance estimates that roughly 80 languages are spoken in Rogers Park. 

PO Box Collective is an organization seeking to provide the Rogers Park community and beyond with safety trainings, a seed library and food distributions. (Una Cleary)

The Heartland Cafe, a former Rogers Park focal point, was a stomping ground for politicians, athletes and community members across the neighborhood and the city, attributing to this diversity. 

“The food attracted people across a spectrum of politics and neighborhoods,” James said. “We had Obama here when he was running for Senate, we had [former] Governor Quinn and Harold Washington two nights before he was elected mayor.” 

Opened on Aug. 11, 1976, the cafe ran under James for 36 years, along with co-owners Katie Hogan and Stormy Brown. 

“The idea was they would have a place to work, they would make a buck and they would have free time to devote to the revolution,” James said. 

James, as well as the co-owners, were activists themselves. 

“Two of us did Rising Up Angry. We had dealt with the police, we had a legal program and we were a part of The Rainbow Coalition with the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords organization and I would even include the American Indian Movement,” he said. 

Michael Gaylord James, Katy Hogan, former President Obama pose for a photo during his senatorial run, taken at The Heartland Cafe, which was once a focal point for politicians and community members. (Courtesy of Michael Gaylord James)

The cafe, now demolished and being turned into condominiums, was sold by James in 2012 and run by new owners until 2019. 

“We were a hard act to follow. We were always in trouble money-wise, partly because we had more people working there than we probably needed. But to me, it was like a little political machine,” James said. 

On the corner of Farwell and Glenwood avenue, a former local Postal office is now covered with different activist posters, QR codes and volunteer sign-up sheets. PO Box Collective is a creative collective and intergenerational social practice center dedicated to building the Rogers Park community through radical art-making, mutual aid, & programming, according to their website

“I describe it as activism as a form of activism,” said volunteer Gerardo Mircino. “We are the umbrella for various parts of the store. We are responsible for doing the memorial across the street which is every single person that has been killed or murdered by the police for the last 10 years.” 

Across the street, Black Lives Matter posters color concrete arches under the red line ‘L’ tracks of Glenwood and Farwell. Faces of lives lost due to police violence are surrounded by flowers, prayers and quotes from famous activists with ‘We Miss you’ is signed thousands of times on colorful stickers. Free Black Lives Matter posters fill a newspaper box where residents are encouraged to hang them up in their homes. Every Sunday from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm, Cheap Art for Freedom (CAF) and PO Box Collective join to remember and maintain the memorial encouraging visitors to show their solidarity. 

The memorial provides free Black Lives Matter posters for visitors to take. (Una Cleary)

PO Box Collective puts on training, has a Seed Library and does weekly food distributions on Sundays. 

“We do movies about things like Line 3,” Mircino said. Line 3 is a proposed oil pipeline expansion bringing million barrels of tar sands from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin.

“Right now, I’m here to make coffee and lemonade because we are going to Touhy Park to feed the [homeless] encampment there.” 

PO Box Collective states on their website they are committed to never requiring payment in exchange for programming associated with its collective. They also do not endorse any political candidates or host political events. 

Gentrification continues to expand as it affects every neighborhood in Chicago, Rogers Park included. 

The “Memorial for Victims of Police Violence,” takes place every Sunday from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. organized by PO Box Collective and Cheap Art for Freedom (CAfF). (Una Cleary)

Milligan noticed a drastic change in the neighborhood before Covid-19 compared to now.  

“I came back to the neighborhood after two years and it felt like this portion of Rogers Park changed the most I’ve ever seen it. Like all of these are pretty much new developments,” he said.  

The average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Rogers Park is currently $1,200, a 5% increase compared to 2021 according to Zumper. Residents have partially attributed this to Loyola’s expansion. 

“I think a lot of people move to this neighborhood because they like the idea of diversity,” James said. “Whether we keep class diversity is a real question.”

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