Near South Side

Near South Side

Depending on who you talk to, the Near South Side of Chicago is defined by different borders. According to the city, it is one of Chicago’s official 77 communities, which includes several neighborhoods (South Loop, Printer’s Row, the Prairie District, Dearborn Park and Chinatown). It is also considered an individual neighborhood of its own, bound by the Stevenson and Dan Ryan expressways to the north and west, Dr. Martin Luther King Drive to the east, and 31st Street to the south. 

The Near South Side shares a border street with Chinatown—the third largest Chinatown in the country after San Francisco and New York. The pagoda-lined lanes offer the best Chinese restaurants in the city. Catering both to native-born Chinese and Chicago’s non-Asian population, the eateries have menus in English (many with pictures of the dishes to boot). Chinatown’s culture spills over into the Near North Side with a few Asian food joints tucked along Wentworth Avenue and 26th Street. 

A significant part of the Near North Side is occupied by the grounds of Mercy Hospital and Medical Center. The medical campus is situated in the northeast corner of the neighborhood between Michigan Avenue, 26th Street, Dr. King Drive and Stevenson Expressway. The surrounding blocks are less congested than most areas of Chicago because they primarily house industrial parks and offices set amidst landscaped green spaces. Starting in the 1990s, some of these industrial warehouses were converted into residential lofts and artist studios. However, the Near South Side didn’t see the gentrification that nearby South Loop experienced, so the neighborhood still has a “rough around the edges” appeal that is muted by tall trees and grassy commons. 

There are a couple of big parks in the Near North Side equipped with baseball fields, tennis courts, a running track, and ample picnicking spots. Twenty acres of land was set aside for Dunbar Park, located on the southeast side of the neighborhood. The recreation space was named in honor of acclaimed African American writer Paul Laurence Dunbar, who authored many novels, poems and short stories in the late 1800s. On the other side of the neighborhood, Williams Park also provides a large patch of green for Near North Siders to play ball. The park is dedicated to prominent African American surgeon Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, who earned global distinction as the first person to ever successfully complete open-heart surgery. Williams was also responsible for establishing a principally African American hospital in 1891 (just blocks from the current park site). It was the first institution in the United States to offer nursing school to African Americans.

Two major highways border the Near South Side, giving motorists easy access to Chicago’s expressway system.