The neighbors who give Edgewater its edge

Alakiotou came to Chicago to study architecture, and as a young mother lived along Sheridan, which parallels the lakefront. She was bothered by what she called the street's "canyonization," and by how hard it was for her kids to cross the road to play safely at the lake.

Today if you drive up Sheridan Road, you might be surprised to see two old mansions and beautiful Berger Park. Without Alakiotou's nine-year fight for that patch of history and tranquillity, Sheridan might be a relentless strip of modern high-rise congestion.

A few of the people who made the "treasures" list have had their share of publicity. Three are politicians, which stirred some argument in the selection process.

"But some politicians go above and beyond to help," Nygren said.

So the politicians are there along with the man who promoted block clubs and the woman who works to fill empty storefronts.

As Stewart and Nygren talked, the phone rang.

The caller was the oldest of their living treasures, Rabbi Herman Schaalman. He has been working in Edgewater since 1955. His efforts to bring people of different faiths together seeded the ground for all the community work that followed.

He was coming to a ceremony for the living treasures on Saturday and wanted to know: Would there be a place to park?

As I walked through the exhibit — photos, text and short video interviews — I thought about everything we take for granted in neighborhoods that work. That nice cafe. A pretty public garden. The friendliness on the street.

"Living Treasures of Edgewater" is a reminder that neighborhoods are the work of ordinary individuals, each picking up a piece of the job and carrying it.

I found myself wishing that every neighborhood in Chicago would do an exhibit of its living treasures.

In the meantime, there's this one.

The museum ( is open Saturday and Sunday afternoons. It's free. Great pie across the street.