While Chicago is a place, it could also be considered a region. Regions are a group of places with something in common. We create them and label them to help us organize and understand the world around us. They can range in size from as small as your block (local) to as large as an area spanning several countries (global). They can overlap or be mutually exclusive. They can have precise boundaries or describe only a general area. It all depends on the criteria that you use to define them.

Geographers distinguish between three different types of regions and a city like Chicago can be broken down into each of them depending on the criteria used. The first is a formal region which is a group of places with similar features. These features can be human such as a shared language, religion, or political identity; or physical such as a common climate, vegetation type, and precipitation totals. The entire City of Chicago, when defined by its political boundaries, is a formal region that shares a common political identity. Chicago can also be broken into smaller formal regions. Each of the 77 community areas of Chicago (delineated according to certain criteria such as a common history, local trade areas, and natural and artificial barriers) is a formal region.

The second type of region is the functional region which is a group of places that are linked together by the flow of something. These linkages are usually organized around a node or focal point. The six county Chicago Metropolitan Area as defined by the US Census Bureau is a typical functional region. It is linked by flows of goods, services, people, and communications organized around the central city of Chicago. This large functional region could also be broken into numerous local subregions such as the ones found in the neighborhoods and suburbs of this region.

The third type of region is the perceptual region. This region reflects people's mental maps and attitudes about an area. The North, South, and West Sides of Chicago are perceptual regions which Chicago natives think of as distinct spatial units. This is despite the fact that few Chicagoans could agree on the borders or distinguishing characteristics of each region. Each of us has a different idea of where these regions begin or end and what they each represent. However, they are no less real to us.

Recognizing and understanding the regions that surround us is an important geographic skill. Through the study and comparison of regions, we can break down the complexity of the Earth and deepen our understanding of the physical and human processes that have shaped it.

How many different regions can you break Chicago into?

Please continue to the Perceptions of Place and Regions page

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