Riverside, IL- A Fredrick Olmested Designed Community and Arguabily America’s 1st Planned Community

Riverside is arguably the first planned community in the United States, designed in 1869 by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted. The village was incorporated in 1875. The Riverside Landscape Architecture District, covering most of the Village area, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970. Riverside’s location was sought out thanks to its highly desirable location next to the Fox River, a  Natural Oak forest, and convenient access to Chicago via a railroad line. Frederick Law Olmsted and his partner  Calvert Vaux had a hand in almost all aspects of the community’s design following the land’s contours and the winding Des Plaines River. The Village also has many stunning turn of the century homes designed by top architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan and many others. The second period of Riverside’s development came in the 1920s and late 1930s, when many more modest houses were constructed on smaller parcels. The remaining plots were developed during the post–World War II boom, and by 1960 the village was almost entirely developed. The population peaked at 10,357 in 1970 and dropped below 8,500 by the mid-1990s. Riverside’s population also increased by 5% between 2010 and 2020 thanks to some in-fill construction and now sits at just over 9,000 residents.

From an urban perspective Riverside is a mixed bag. The naturalist curvilinear streets provide excellent aesthetic value but create difficulties for wayfinding and imageability. The low density development limits walkability and more urban mixed-use fabric. Riverside also has very limited bike infrastructure, a handful of apartment buildings, often missing curb cuts, and more auto centric designed commercial corridors along its borders (Harlem and 26th Streets). The historic core of Riverside, however, is charming with some stunning late 19th century architecture (the Riverside tower, trains station, and several mixed-use buildings). Riverside also has decent retail and cultural amenities, great schools, decent diversity of for-sale housing options, and excellent tree canopy. With its recent rise in population Riverside appears to be allowing more mixed-use in fill in a sign that its allowing itself to densify. I hope this trend continues especially in the historic core and along its edge commercial districts of 26th and Harlem ave.

Click here to view my Riverside Album on Flickr

URBAN STRENGTHS:

* Good generational diversity and there are many families w/ kids and young professionals here.
* Extremely safe community.
* Good number of walkable schools and all rated well.
* For sale options are generally on the expensive side but some moderately priced smaller sized homes. A handful of condos are available with 1 beds selling in the low 100Ks, more 2-bed condos that sell btwn 125K-300K, 2-beds SF homes sell btwn 275-500, 3 & 4 beds range btwn 250K- 900K. Some larger mansions selling the low millions.
* Decent cultural amenities including a good # food & beverage bizs, a glass studio, a local Arts Center, a local historic museum, a couple Frank Lloyd Wright homes, and a major cineplex located just north of Riverside.
* The bulk of Riverside’s retail amenities are located just north of Riverside at North Riverside Park Mall, which is a very auto centric development. The mall includes several department stores, a Best Buy, Cosco, and lots of name brand clothing stores. Retail amenities within Riverside proper are a bit limited and include a supermarket, a couple pharmacies, a couple banks, a couple gift shops, several dessert joins, a couple gyms, several churches, a couple doctor’s offices, and a public library and post office.
* Good set of parks with lots of small and medium sizes parks thanks to all the leftover triangle wedges leftover from the curvilinear roads. Sizable wood along the Fox River as well.
* Some absolutely stunning turn of the century mixed-use commercial buildings in the town center and gorgeous early 20th century mansions. But also more plain residential homes from the 1940s & 1950s mixed in.
* Good urban massing and streetscaping in the historic core of Riverside along Burlington/Forest Ave and Riverside St.
* Tree canopy is about as good as it can get for an urban area.

URBAN WEAKNESSES:

* Pretty low dense for an older suburb.
* Ok public transit and decent access to Dwtn.
* Roads were intentionally design to be confusing. Designed by Fredrick Olmsted to be sinuous and highlight nature but not to move people efficiently through the village. At least it has decent connectivity.
* Very limited bike infrastructure.
* Limited economic diversity as this is a very wealthy village. Some racial diversity.
* Sidewalks are pretty consistent in Riverside but some newer areas without them. Most curb cuts do not have property ADA curb cuts but pretty consistent in the biz districts.
* Apartments are pretty limited with 1-bed leasing around 1K, 2-beds in the mid 1Ks-2K, and 3-beds around 2K.* Imageability is a mixed-bag as the heart of Riverside has a very unique and defined historic center but very challenging residential streets to navigate.
* Not much urban infill. Some 1950s homes, mid-century apartment bldgs along Harlem and 26th street along with auto centric crap.
* Pretty limited pedestrian activity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s