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Old 06-17-2008, 05:38 PM
450 posts, read 1,876,488 times
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Looking through the forum, I could not find a thread discussing suburban downtowns -- specifically, which suburbs have a downtown with some level of vitality.

For instance, I know about Evanston and Naperville, and I heard about others when I was first learning about the Chicago area, but I forget where they are.

So... hopefully this thread can be a discussion of suburban downtowns -- some discussion about what's there, what purpose they serve (retail, restaurant/bar, entertainment, housing, etc), and how busy they are.

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Old 06-17-2008, 06:51 PM
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Winnetka, Illinois - has "three" downtowns. People call them downtowns in Winnetka because originally Winnetka was three villages. The central business district is the newest downtown and is home to village hall, library, restaurants, and most of the condominium buildings. It spans both sides of the rail similar to Wilmette's Village Center. The first downtown going north is Indian Hill. It is named after the village of Indian Hill and it is small quiet and mostly serves as a place for proffesionals like doctors and attorneys. It is pretty much anchored by New Trier High School and that makes up for most of the shops business. There is a Land Rover dealership and 7Eleven. It is near Indian Hill Golf Club and it practically blends with Downtown Kenilworth as you drive on Green Bay Road. The Central Business district is great. It offers many shops, restaurants, and some proffesional offices. The east side of downtown is very nice and nicely blends with the single-family residential areas of Southeast Winnetka. The Village Green where MLK spoke to over 8,000 residents is right near downtown as well as the Winnetka Community House. Hubbard Woods is probably Winnetka's most popular and notable downtown. It is very pretty and has very tall dutch-inspired apartments with shops, restaurants, and offices below. You will find a GAP here as well as very high end home stores. Many apartments have been rehabbed and/or converted into condominiums. Part of Hubbard Woods lies in Glencoe. Each one of Winnetka's downtowns has it's own Metra train station.
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Old 06-17-2008, 08:13 PM
Location: Sugar Grove, IL
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St. Charles, Geneva, Oswego have nice downtowns. we recently visited Morris, they had a nice looking downtown. did not have the opportunity to shop etc because I was at a basketball tournament.
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Old 06-17-2008, 08:16 PM
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I'd add Oak Park, La Grange, Forest Park (sort of). Elgin, Aurora, Hammond, Gary, Joliet, and Waukegan all have sizeable downtowns, though they are not "nice".
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Old 06-17-2008, 08:32 PM
Location: Chicago
249 posts, read 670,935 times
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Skokie has a sleepy downtown with some potential -- there are a few restaurants, a hardware store, some other various retail, the library, several new condo buildings and the gem of the area is the renovated Skokie Theater, which hosts a pretty regular rotation of small-time touring and local performers. On the edge of the downtown area is the Illinois Science & Technology Park, which will soon be served by a stop on the CTA Yellow Line. The area also hosts the Skokie Farmers Market on Sunday mornings. ...
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Old 06-17-2008, 08:41 PM
Location: Chicago
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There are about 300 Chicago suburbs. There's really no practical way to adequately sort out which ones have downtowns and which ones do not. You'll get some responses but it won't begin to scratch the surface.
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Old 06-17-2008, 09:16 PM
Location: Chicago
305 posts, read 1,098,836 times
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Drover's right, unless you define some minimum level of activity that qualifies as a downtown, there's no way to come up with a list. I do recall a year or two ago the Tribune did a "Top 10 Suburban Downtowns" list. I don't have the energy to dig it up, but if I recall it included Evanston, Oak Park, Naperville, Highland Park, La Grange, Hinsdale, Park Ridge, St. Charles, Homewood (or Flossmoor, I don't know which and I'm not familiar with either), and maybe Tinley Park. I could be wrong about one or two of those, but I think that's pretty close to the list.

Also, it occurs to me that a reasonable criterion for judging a suburban downtown may be whether that downtown would be viewed as a destination by people not living in that particular suburb.

Last edited by SloopyJ; 06-17-2008 at 09:26 PM..
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Old 06-17-2008, 10:44 PM
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The Village of Skokie has been talking up a revitalization of our downtown and seems pretty optimistic. I grew up downtown and it was never comparable with those North Shore suburbs, but it was a close knit neighborhood with a lot of small, family owned businesses. Since then, many of those neighborhood shops and hangouts have just become empty store fronts and ugly condos. Johnny Northside is right, though, the place has always had a lot of potential. The refurbished Skokie Theater (which I liked better as a movie theater, but they do have some pretty good local artists even if it is geared toward an older crowd), Oakton Park, the churches, library, farmers market and surviving small businesses (sadly, Skokie Lanes will not be one) have kept it going, but it's been a little sleepy. I guess we'll have to wait and see if the Technology Park and revitalization effort is successful.
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Old 06-18-2008, 06:33 AM
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Although it is NOT a foolproof rule GENERALLY speaking the towns that are ON A TRAIN LINE all have SOME kind of business district around the train stop and GENERALLY that district comprises a reasonable "downtown"...

To get a little more specific the actual ORIENTATION of the roads & tracks can (and generally does) influence the size/vibrancy of the downtown. In DuPage Co. most of the railroads run due west and intersect the grid at right angles. Basically every town on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe thus has a pretty "classic" downtown", the same is true for MOST of the DuPage towns on the Union Pacific West line. Probably Villa Park is the least "downtowny"...

In the north suburbs the Union Pacific North line MOSTLY intersects at close to a right angle and thus those towns are also very similar in having "classic" downtowns.

The other train lines all are, to varying degrees, more likely to intersect the roadway grid at some angle. That angle SEEMS to have resulted in more challenges to the development of a classic downtown. Even given that limitation SOME towns DO have really nice downtowns, often becuase of a concerted effort to "focus" the downtown on some thing and build the grid around that development (examples of this would include Arlington Heights & DesPlaines) or where a portion of the road& rail DO align (Libertyville is one example).

Other towns have a sort of diffuse downtown that runs parallel to the tracks, that would be more like Itasca.

Following the RR will probably account for 85% of the downtowns.

It seems like the growth of SOME suburban malls came at the exact WRONG time for some south suburbs and that (along with alignment issues and various urban planning / zoning fads) seems to have hampered the development of more functional downtowns in many towns of that region.

It might be fun to have a photo thread to sort of catalog all the variations that exist. I know that Metra has pictures of pretty much ALL the stations, and though many of these are in downtown locations there is really not enough of the surrounding area in the photo to judge what the area really looks like / how well it functions.

This would seem a PERFECT sort of thread to get LOTS of hits from the various "google local" advertising efforts too!
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Old 06-18-2008, 07:35 AM
220 posts, read 732,604 times
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Downtown Arlington Heights is quite vibrant and "large" (for the northwest suburbs). The Village has made a concerted effort over the past 20 years to fine tune and encourage vibrancy and diversity of activities and services/retail/restaurant.

Plus, there is only about an 9% vacancy rate in the downtown, which is pretty good.
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