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We will be moving to Chicago in the next 3 months, and looking for an area that isn't the typical cookie-cutter houses with shopping malls. We'd appreciate any insight on finding areas where creative non-conformist types live....we are 40 and 53 with no kids. We're fairly open as to the location, but would probably prefer something out of the city with some trees. Of course, if the neighborhood was interesting and funky we would probably consider something more urban.
My hubby is in sales and his job hours aren't the usual 9-5, and I mostly telecommute from home, so traffic and commutes aren't such a big issue for us.
We're fairly open to the location, just want to avoid sterility.
Last edited by marianna203; 03-21-2007 at 07:44 PM..
The first place that comes to mind is Oak Park, the first suburb immediately west of the City. Known for its incredible collection of Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes and churches, it is a diverse and eclectic suburb with a vibrant downtown. It also offers great access to the City via Metra and CTA trains as well as I-290.
Other ideas would be Hyde Park, a city neighborhood that's home to the University of Chicago, or Evanston, the first suburb north of the city that's home to Northwestern University. Evanston and Oak Park are generally considered the most urban suburbs in the sense that they are diverse, fairly liberal overall, and have interesting commercial cores that don't consist of the typical chain stores. They both have a mix of densities (Evanston has everything from large single-family lots to high-rises, Oak Park is more single-family homes, townhomes, and multi-unit buildings of 4 stores or less). Hyde Park is one of the more racially diverse city neighborhoods and has a mix of professors from the University, doctors/lawyers/etc., and your typical urban mix of folks.
The areas of the city that are usually considered more artsy are Wicker Park, Bucktown, and Logan Square. (Pilsen, a largely hispanic community, is seeing more and more artists as well). Wicker Park skews toward the younger artistic set; Logan Square is a huge urban mix that is benefitting from the run-up in housing prices in Bucktown/Wicker Park; and Bucktown, while probably the most appealing of that bunch to you given your age and stated housing desires, has become fairly mainstream yuppie as of late.
I have to agree with SloopyJ, Oak Park sounds like the perfect fit for you.
If you want to live far out from the city but still want the Metra there to go downtown, St. Charles is really interesting, lots of old business and homes along the river, close to bigger suburban areas like Elgin, Naperville, etc.
It's hard to find an artsy enclave outside of Chicago/Oak Park/Evanston.
Further south you have other artist friendly communities like
Pullman, the first company town built for rail car workers
and Blue Island, a mini New Orleans on the cal sag channel it is one of the few areas in the region that predate the city of Chicago. These areas have a gritty steel town feel to them and are extremely affordable. Make sure to check out Olde Western Ave in BI, it is literally walking back in time and not in a "rose colored glasses main st disneyland" way either.
I would suggest touring these two areas first to make sure you can handle them, they aren't for everyone.
We live in Oak Park and love the urban vibe, but also appreciate our SFH. There is a fair degree of appreciation and support for the arts in OP, we're known and proud of our collection of Frank Lloyd Wright homes. There are a bunch of art galleries in town.
One caveat about OP, the property taxes here are pretty insane, you might also want to consider the surrounding towns of Forest Park and Berwyn, two traditionally blue collar suburbs directly adjacent to OP. They're in the process of gentrification as OPers move in search of cheaper housing and lower taxes. They have worse school systems than OP, but that shouldn't be an issue for you.
I'll second the above. I'm a former Oak Parker who moved to Berwyn a few years ago and I love it. We were able to get a 1920s Chicago bungalow with oak floors, leaded and stained glass windows, and a solid brick garage for the price of a 2-bedroom condo in Oak Park. Berwyn's full of these deals and people are starting to discover them. An arts council just formed in Berwyn too. I believe there's a CLTV Metromix program on Berwyn coming soon.
Don't know anything about Crystal Lake, but I work in Geneva, so I'm somewhat familiar with it and adjacent St. Charles. Both are upper-middle class suburbs which were founded along the Fox River. Both have quaint older, downtown areas which hug the river. These downtowns have older buildings, small walkable blocks, lots of boutiques, some restaurants, and a Starbucks or two. Surrounding the business district are a collection of beautiful older homes (quite a few victorians), many of which are quite gorgeous and restored. Much of the riverfront is park, and its quite beautiful.
Beyond this older area is a large swath of new construction housing and retail which comprises the majority of the towns. Lots of Mcmansions on windy suburban lanes and cul-de-sacs. Standard suburban appearance. Randall Rd is a large, four lane, divided thoroughfare with every single national retailer you can imagine. There are big box stores (Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Best Buy, Circuit City), banks, grocery stores, Barnes and Noble and Borders, Starbucks, fast food, and quite a bit of upscale shopping as well (especially in the Geneva Commons "lifestyle center"). Again this is standard (upscale) suburban fare.
Advantages relative to Oak Park (in my opinion):
1. Housing is cheaper and newer (you can get the McMansion with the jacuzzi, 3.5 bathrooms, 3 car garage). Almost guaranteed to get good appreciation on your house.
2. Crime is virtually non-existent.
3. Although traffic is getting worse, the concentration of retail on Randall Rd makes shopping pretty easy (Drive to Crate & Barrel, walk next door to Borders, drive two miles to Home Depot, drive across the street to Trader Joe, drive across the street to get more money from bank, drive 0.25 miles to Best Buy, and finally drive across the street to Starbucks for a well-deserved break.
4. The downtown areas are nice, walkable, and surounded by beautiful non-"cookie cutter" houses. Boutiques and knick-knack shops galore. It reminds me of a small (touristy) New England village.
5. Geneva has commuter rail access to Chicago (about an hour ride into the city with none of the traffic hassle of driving).
1. Far from Chicago (for many, this is an advantage).
2. Every adult needs a car (urban sprawl).
3. If you're a fan of ethnic/racial diversity, this ain't the place to be.
4. Other than the small downtown areas, it lacks the special "sense of place" that older areas with more history (like Oak Park) have.
When we were looking for housing, we did look at living in Geneva. It would've made my commute a lot shorter for certain. Its a nice suburb, and rapidly growing, so it clearly appeals to the tastes of many (most?) modern Americans. Ultimately, it wasn't the place for us, but I do understand its appeal to others.
You all forgot about , Hinsdale. This is a nice suburb, with a downtown, and quick rail axcess to the big city. Granted, it has always catered to the upper crust, but in the last 20 years, many of the under 1% have moved to Oakbrook, and other more open areas.
One advantage to Hinsdale is Oakbrook mall. A refreshing open area upscale mall, that somehow retains a "small town" feel, with its open air axcess.
Thanks for the great info about Geneva and St. Charles, Sukwoo! We are definitely interested in looking at those areas. Do you know if the taxes are reasonable?
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