Where Spenard ends and Midtown begins: A look at Anchorage’s neighborhoods

Encompassing nearly 2,000 square miles, the municipality of Anchorage is nearly about the size of the state of Delaware. From Portage to Eklutna, the Municipality of Anchorage encompasses many diverse towns and neighborhoods. According to the Federation of Community Councils, there are 29 distinct neighborhoods in the Anchorage Bowl.

Beginning with four original neighborhoods, Government Hill, Fairview, South Addition and historic Downtown, the city of Anchorage spread across the outwash plain it inhabits.

It can be difficult to determine where one neighborhood begins and another ends. According to the Municipality’s “My Neighborhood” application, one can input an Anchorage address and a map will appear, pin-pointing the neighborhood where the address belongs.

What neighborhood you are in is typically determined by the schools in the neighborhood or district.

In a Buzzfeed article published earlier this month, Buzzfeed named Anchorage’s Spenard neighborhood the most hipster neighborhood in Alaska. In the article, they cited Anchorage’s coffee shop, Black Cup, as being a popular hipster hangout in the neighborhood of Spenard. Black Cup, on the corner of Benson Boulevard and Northern Lights Boulevard, is actually in midtown.

According to the municipality’s My Neighborhood application, Black Cup is in the North Star neighborhood. My Neighborhood, does not recognize Spenard as a neighborhood, but the municipality’s zoning map does. Most locals wouldn’t recognize Black Cup as being in the Spenard neighborhood, but rather in Midtown.

“I wouldn’t really consider Black Cup to be on Spenard,” Orianna Greenberg, a barista at Black Cup, said.

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Neighborhood borders may be easier for locals to decipher than the municipality or out-of-state publications.

When discussing her neighborhood of Fairview, justice student Jasmine Alleva knows the borders and distinct culture of her neighborhood.

“The lines are kind of iffy and I don’t think someone who isn’t from Fairview would know where the lines are. It borders one of the richest neighborhoods, South Addition, and an upper middle-class neighborhood, Rogers Park, as well as an extremely poor and impoverished neighborhood, Mountain View, while itself being poorer,” Alleva said. “I do believe the culture of Fairview is distinctly different from the rest of Anchorage. It encompasses a load of social services, more than anywhere else in the city. It also boasts the most service calls. The people of Fairview are proud to say they are from there and work continuously to make it a better place, even if that message is silent to our assemblymen and women.”

Research taken by Chad Farrell, assistant professor at UAA, looked at census data in the United States and found that Anchorage’s Mt. View neighborhood is the most diverse neighborhood in the entire country. In fact, Farrell’s research found that Anchorage was home to the top three most diverse census tracts in the country.

In her popular blog Mt. View Post, Kirsten Swann documents the life and times of the unique and diverse neighborhood.

“I believe the neighborhood has its own distinct culture, but I think you have to live there for an extended period of time to understand it. It is complex, evolving and influenced in countless ways by the myriad people continually moving in and out. Personally, I feel like I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface,” Swann said.

Mountain View, unlike other neighborhoods in Anchorage, has distinct borders and landmarks.

“Physically, we have distinct borders — the JBER fence to the north, the Glenn Highway to the south, Boniface Parkway to the east and Post Road to the west,” Swann said.

Anchorage, a relatively new city, is developing local neighborhood colloquialism. Neighborhoods that were once in-between, or unnamed, now have their own distinct name. ‘Spenardigan’, a neighborhood between Spenard and Turnagain is starting to be affectionately known by locals as ‘Spenardagain.’ Even other neighborhoods, like Russian Jack, developed new local nicknames.

“Russian Jack was once called ‘South Mountain View,’ and many people still know it as that. Which, in a way, affects the neighborhood culture: Things that happen south of the highway are still attributed to Mountain View, and I think that has subtle, cumulative impact on how our neighborhood views itself, and is viewed by residents of other neighborhoods,” Swann said.

Whether the municipality recognizes the neighborhood we call home or not, Anchorage is proud of its many diverse neighborhoods.