Document Type


Publication Date

August 2010

Publication Title

American Sociological Association Annual Meeting


Civic and Community Engagement | Human Geography | Place and Environment | Urban, Community and Regional Planning | Urban Studies | Urban Studies and Planning


This paper examines the contemporary processes at work in urban areas without clear spatial identities that are simultaneously facing the challenges of cultural change and gentrification. I do so through the close analysis of one such ‘liminal place’ on Chicago’s West Side. I use the phrase ‘a community on the edge of the island’ to describe the area, inspired by an interview subject who referred to the tenuous search for a sort of ideal bohemian hipness as the need to stay as “close to the edge of the island” as possible without actually leaving it. Making use of ethnographic and geographic field work in the area and a review of relevant literature, the study examines how neighborhood identity is imagined, projected and negotiated by different actors, and the role of socio-economic processes, institutions, and spatial histories and mythologies themselves in these processes. First, I discuss the idea of a place without a name and introduce the area that I call Edgetown. This is followed by a more detailed analysis of the transitional nature of the area, leading in turn to the core discussion of the communities – both long-established and newly forming – that are to be found there and the specific time and space that make the “the edge of the island” such a revealing subject for understanding current neighborhood change.