5 Things To Know If You’re New To Chicago

Every city has its quirks. As our welcome to you, here are a handful of things every Chicago newcomer should know.

Who You Gonna Call?

Chicago’s aldermen aren’t Ghostbusters, but they handle just about everything else. The 50 aldermen who comprise the city council call the shots in their ward, thanks to the longstanding tradition of “aldermanic privilege.”

They decide what’s best for their ward’s constituents — putting the kibosh on a new development, downzoning to prevent tear-downs and preserve historic homes; dealing with a nuisance bar on the corner or missed trash pickups.

They also provide a range of random community services — from flu shots and shred events to parking passes and block party permits. If they can’t resolve an issue, they likely will know who can. You can always call the city’s information line by dialing 311; just don’t be surprised if they suggest you call your alderman.

Find your ward and alderman here and get to know him or her (although they’re still called “ aldermen,” about a dozen of them are women).

Check’s in the Mail 

It’s no secret Chicago has a long history of let’s just say sub-par postal service. It’s well documented by audits and anecdotally by Chicagoans who have experienced their fair share of mail gone missing. USPS now has a program for that — “Informed Delivery”.

Sign up for the free service — available in most areas — to get an email with a scan of every mail piece coming your way. If it doesn’t show up in your mailbox (sooner or later), you can report it missing with one click. Although it’s not a solution, it’s a start. Just one more line of defense so you know who to blame when you’re told: “the check’s in the mail.”

Vote Early & Often 

Voting often may be a part of the city’s storied past, but voting early is now a thing. Chicagoans can vote at early voting polling places weeks before the election; vote by mail without giving a reason, or vote old-school at their regular polling place on election day.

Need to get registered? Voters also have several options when it comes to registering to vote: You can register online; when you renew or apply for a state driver’s license; or bring two forms of identification to your polling place when you go to cast your ballot.

There are additional options to accommodate voters with a permanent disability or those in long-term care centers.

Tis the Season

Winter, spring, summer, and fall. In Chicagoland, we have one more season: construction. After commuting through sleet and snow, you might think ahh, it’s time to hit the open road and enjoy summer. Be prepared to hit the brakes.

Sure, it may seem like Chicagoans just like to complain about road construction but as you will see, the struggle is real. Expect delays, detours and traffic jams in just about every direction.

The good news? Public transportation options abound. Chicago is a very bike-friendly city and one of the top cities when it comes to walkability.

On the Bright Side 

Now that you have an idea of how the city works, let’s talk about how the city plays. When you make your home here, you have an all-access pass to “the city in a garden” — with 600 parks, 300 sports fields, 80 swimming pools 29 beaches and 26 miles of wide open lakefront, according to the Chicago Park District.

You’ll find 73 music festivals, 40 annual film festivals, hundreds of theaters and music venues; free movies in the park and world-class museums. Stop by the library to check out a Family Museum Passport, which admits a family of four to 17 museums free of charge.

Get out and explore some of the city’s 77 neighborhoods and discover their unique architecture, history, sights, restaurants, character, and charms.

Written by Linda DiJohn
Linda DiJohn is a marketing communications consultant and storyteller with a passion for all things Chicago. She is a former reporter and senior executive with global PR and advertising agencies. She lives in Andersonville with the loves of her life -- husband Tony and rescue pup Cooper.