Russell chooses to raise her children in the neighborhood. “I like the open-mindedness of people. The possibilities are endless here. It has always been a fun, safe place to be. So when buying a place to plant my roots, this is where I wanted to be. I wanted my kids to grow up in an integrated community like this.”

Several blocks west of Big Girl, I talk with Jonathan T. Swain, the owner of Kimbark Beverage Shoppe. “We’re kind of like the everyman’s store. Here you can get high-end craft beer or you can get a keg of PBR.” In the tradition of the neighborhood, the store is in a nearly 50-year-old strip mall that is part of a commercial cooperative.

Swain is in favor of the changes in Hyde Park, with one caveat. “Change is good. As a business owner, your job is to learn how to adapt. If you can’t learn how to adapt, you won’t be in business very long. I like the development that’s going on. There’s only one big concern that I have: [I’m worried] that some of the development might erode the neighborhood flavor that Hyde Park has.”

He defines that flavor this way: “There’s no more unique a place in the entire world. What’s great about Hyde Park is that it’s diverse — and always has been. When you add the University of Chicago to the local residents, it brings an influx of people from around the world, fresh every nine months. You can be talking to someone from Latvia, Estonia, Argentina or Madagascar. It doesn’t matter. You can sit here and meet anybody from anywhere in the world.”

My last night in Hyde Park, I head over to Medici on 57th, a long-established neighborhood hangout recently made famous by the Obama girls’ pizza parties. In Malia’s and Sasha’s honor, I order the Mediterranean pizza. Goat cheese, black olives, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes with mozzarella and pesto sauce. (I can also recommend the pork chops at another local restaurant, the Greek diner Salonica, just a few blocks east of Medici.)

It’s Friday night and Medici is packed with UC students and faculty, as well as folks from the neighborhood enjoying a beer and a burger. Medici opened in 1955, the year I was born at nearby Lying-In Hospital on the UC campus.

Decades of scrawls and formulas are etched on the wooden tables and brick walls. “Blind squirrels take Chicago.” “Grant & Natalie — Love,” written right below “Balika and Jan — Love.” My favorite epigram sums up my native neighborhood’s feisty against-the-grain attitude: “The crowd is untruth, Kierkegaard.”

After dinner, I join the promenade of walkers down the leafy streets past more cafes and bookstores to O’Gara & Wilson, Ltd. “Chicago’s oldest used bookstore,” established in 1882. The owner and another man are discussing the latest tragedy du jour. Here are typical Hyde Parkers — dissecting and deconstructing, searching for common ground and justice, South Side style. Before long, I am right in the middle of the passionate discussion about race, politics and the media. I feel right at home chipping in with my two cents. It’s as if I never left.



If You Go

Big Girl Makeup Bar & Spa
5239 S. Harper
(773) 752-1100
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Hyde Park Art Center
5020 S. Cornell Ave.
(773) 324-5520
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Istria Café
5030 S. Cornell Ave.
(773) 324-9660
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Kimbark Beverage Shoppe
1214 E. 53rd St.
(773) 493-3355
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Medici on 57th
1327 E. 57th St.
(773) 667-7394
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Museum of Science and Industry
General admission: $15, $14 (seniors age 65 and older), $10 (children ages 3 to 11).
General admission for Chicago residents: $13, $12 (seniors age 65 and older), $9 (children ages 3 to 11).
57th Street and Lake Shore Drive
(773) 684-1414
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O’Gara & Wilson, Ltd.
1448 E. 57th St.
(773) 363-0993
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Oriental Institute
1155 E. 58th St.
(773) 702-9514
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Ramada Chicago Hotel
4900 S. Lake Shore Dr.
(773) 288-5800
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Robie House
5757 S. Woodlawn Ave.
(312) 994-4000
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Salonica
1440 E. 57th St.
(773) 752-3899
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STEPHEN J. LYONS’ latest book is The 1,000-Year Flood: Destruction, Loss, Rescue, and Redemption along the Mississippi River. He is at work on a book about the Driftless Region of the Upper Midwest.