Chicago Insider: Lincoln Park Urbanologist Max Grinnell

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Max Grinnell is a writer, teacher, researcher and general man-about-town -- hence his job as an urbanologist. He tells us why Chicago's Lincoln Park, with its mix of people, interesting buildings and free zoo, is where he makes his home. And yes, it does involve a restaurant Sinatra frequented. Lovers of Elks temples read on.

Name, Age, Occupation: Max Grinnell, 34, Urbanologist [or sociologist who studies cities and urban life].

Neighborhood: Lincoln Park, Chicago.

Abode: One-bedroom apartment.

How long have you lived in Lincoln Park? Five years.

What do you love most about your neighborhood?
Walkability. You have a unique mix on Fullerton Parkway of late 19th-century mansions and a mix of people, many of them post-college, who have been drawn into Chicago. I like dense, urban neighborhoods. You also have some of Chicago's movers and shakers, of which I am not one. It's also close to the Lincoln Park Zoo, which is one of the last free zoos in the U.S. The other thing that is neat about it is access to Downtown Chicago, but it's a little bit quieter than living downtown.
Do you talk to your neighbors?

I do, however the people above and below me changed a lot in the few years I have been here. My building only has four units and some of the buildings in the area have a transitory feel. With people out of college, they are just there a year or two. But there are those in the neighborhood that have been there 20 years. They make sure the grass is cut just so and the paint job on the metal fence is holding up. There are neighborhood characters.

Best kept secret in Lincoln Park?
Duke's [Bar & Grill]. It's a retro, hunting-lodge feel, Plexiglas deer heads on the wall.

Any extra, extra kept secrets? You are an Urbanologist after all.

The Elks Memorial Temple. It's a tremendous, monumental building. Most young people would probably think it's an old-school fraternal organization -- it's got that presence. I like to go in and sit and think. You stumble into it and you think its a cult-type building.

And there is Caldwell Lily Pool. It's north of the zoo and it's a peaceful, natural environment. It's a good place to sit and think. You don't feel like you are in the city of Chicago. It's a 'natural' environment. A beautiful little escape.

Favorite way to spend a Saturday night in your neighborhood?
That's a tough one. I like to go out to a neighborhood place called Twin Anchors. It's a spot that celebrities like Frank Sinatra used to hang out in, and you get Tribune journalists and local characters. It's renowned for the barbecue and has a neighborhood feel. It's a nice place to sit and have a drink.

So what does an urbanologist do?
I go out there and talk to people about their experiences in cities. One of my favorite things to do is to wander in cities. Something I do when I get there is take the longest bus ride possible, which can be time-consuming. Or I take one of the longest train rides in the city; you get a mix of people. So that's one thing that I do, get out there and talk to people. And then I write it up to make ends meet and live.

As an urbanologist, why did you choose Chicago to live in?
Despite being a city of 3 million people, with a metropolitan area of nine to 10 million, you still have this downhome feel. It's got a nice community feel and people are friendly. There's a Midwestern cordiality and I really like that about Chicago. It's also got a lot of working-class people. Sometimes you have to dig deep in a city to get that socioeconomic mix. Even with gentrification and the transformation of neighborhoods around it, you get that spirit in Chicago. It's an electric feeling when I am here.

That being said, in the summer it's too awful hot sometimes.

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