Downtown Naperville, IL- A New Urbanist Downtown with a Triving Retail and Culutural Scene

For this evaluation I considered Downtown Napersville to be between the DuPage River, Aurora St, Ellsworth St. and the railroad tracks.

Naperville was founded in 1831 by Joseph Naper. The settlement was incorporated as the Village of Naperville in 1857, with a population of 2,000. The population slowly grew from there only reaching 5K by WW II. A predominantly rural community for most of its existence,  beginning in the 1960s, Naperville experienced a significant population increase as a result of Chicago’s urban sprawl. The population reached 20K in 1970 and quadrupled in sized by 2000 and by 2020 reached a whopping 150K residents.

Unlikely other Dwtn’s of historic Chicagoland suburbs, Naperville is mostly modern in-fill construction. West of Eagle street is almost exclusively rebuilt homes built in a quasi New Urbanist-Suburban manner. Between Eagle and Ellsworth is the Dwtn commercial district where some historic 2-3 story buildings are mixed in with mostly modern in-fill. Fortunately most of the in-fill is good urban form but a mixed bag aesthetically. The urban form is best along Jefferson and Washington St but gets more auto centric on the side streets. Napersville, however, has used its immense wealth to create an amenity rich Downtown. Their parks along the DuPage River are the envy of any historic exurban community with tons of variety and diversity of amenities. Downtown also has great retail and cultural amenities and a good variety of modern housing options. Dwtn Naperville benefits with the spill over of high quality schools from the Naperville suburb at large.

For Dwtn Naperville to become a top notch urban district it needs more density, mixed-use infill on its existing surface parking lots and auto centric side roads, better bike infrastructure, more rental product and affordable housing, a downtown supermarket and perhaps a small department store like a urban Target format.

Click here to view my Dwnt Naperville Album on Flickr


* Solid public transit access and a Metro stop that goes directly to Dwtn Chicago.
* Excellent sidewalks and ADA curb cuts in the core of Dwtn Naperville where the commercial streets are located. A bit more hit or miss in the residential areas.
* Decent generational diversity due to a decent # of households with kids and all the college age students living here.
* For is certainly on the more expensive side but pretty diversity. 1-beds are extremely limited but good # of 2-beds selling anywhere btwn 175K-700. 3 & 4 beds sell btwn 300K-1.5M.
* The parks and recreational space around DuPage River are some of the best designed park space I’ve seen around a small dwtn including a river board walk, skating/volley ball park, amphitheater, playgrounds, gardens, hiking trails, pavilions, greenspace, ballfields, a sled hill, paddleboat facilities, fountains and even a main made beach! Also a great some great hiking in Burlington Park and couple small-medium sized parks in Dwtn.
* Excellent cultural amenities including lots of food & beverage bizs, several breweries, a  handful of art galleries, several theaters (most associated with North Central College), Naper Settlement Historic Village, Children’s Museum & several night clubs and live music venues.
* Excellent retail amenities too including a drug store, several banks, tons of boutiques, clothing stores & gift shops (including many name brand stores), several book & toy stores, lots of home goods/furniture/antiques, plenty of dessert joints & gyms, a post office and library, several churches and doctor office, and a hospital just to the south.
* Extremely safe dwtn.
* Excellent array of well rated public schools elementary- high school. Also a larger Catholic school.
* Good urban form and streetscaping on the main streets (Jefferson & Washington) but a good amount of surface parking and some auto centric uses on the side streets.
* In fill can feel tacky and cheap at times but generally its good urban form and lots of it.


* Density is low here for an urban area.
* Bike infrastructure is limited.
* Generally gridded streets but plenty of dead ends especially in the residential western half.
* Poor economic and racial diversity.
* Decent # of rentals but pretty expensive. 1-beds lease around 2K, 2-beds in the 2Ks, and 3-beds around 3K.
* Still missing a supermarket dwtn and target.
* Sadly much of the historic commercial fabric was demolished. Some remains and its very nice. Mostly of the residential historic fabric has been cleared dwtn replaced my new urbanist/suburban hybrid residential homes.

Downtown St. Charles, IL

For my Downtown St. Charles evaluation I included the area between both sides of the St. Charles river going to 5th to the west and east and south to Prairie St/South Ave and north to the train tracks.

Lack of regional connections in the early years of Saint Charles’ development kept the town relatively small especially compared to nearby Aurora and Elgin. St. Charles only reached 6K by WW II. Thanks to the auto mobile and Highways St. Charles became part of Chicagoland and grew rapidly in the post War years. Now the City’s population sits at 33K.

St. Charles in general is more affluent than most Fox River cities. This has led to much more high end in-fill and many townhouses and condos selling over 500K. Downtown has still managed to keep the Historic Hotel Baker open, which has helped spur lots of other entertainment, dining, and nighttime businesses. Dwtn St. Charles also excels at excellent park and retail amenities, has retained a significant amount of its historic architecture, and is safer and boasts a better tree canopy than other similar Fox River towns. But for Dwtn St. Charles to be a thriving urban district it still needs more population, which would help attract important retail amenities like a supermarket and drug store. Rentals are also limited here and public transit service is pretty limited.

Click here to view my St. Charles Dwtn album on Flickr


* Good sidewalk infrastructure but modern ADA curb cuts are limited on more residential streets but consistant on the commercial streets.
* Highly connected dwtn.
* Dedicated bike trail on both sides of the Fox River.
* Solid school options including several well rated schools both elementary and middle schools.
* Decent for sale options. A handful of 1 bed condos selling in the 100Ks, 2-beds sell btwn 200k-600K, 3 & 4 beds sell btwn 250K-800K. Good # of newer townhouses and condos available.
* Good park amenities including several riverside parks complete with recreational trails, 3 quality urban squares, and two larger parks north and south of Dwtn with lots of amenities.
* Solid cultural amenities including lots of food & beverage biz, several breweries, a couple art galleries, a couple theaters & local museums.
* Solid retail amenities as well including several banks, plenty of boutiques & clothing stores, a couple of bookstores, plenty of gift shops & unique stores, a couple florists, tons of dessert joints, a couple gyms, a post office and public library, and lots of churches.
* Dwtn St. Charles is a very safe area and so is  St. Charles overall.
* Solid architecture including plenty of historic commercial bldgs (some of them iconic) and good amount of modern in-fill generally to a high standard.
* Excellent tree canopy for a dwtn area.


* Pretty low density for an urban area.
* 50 min drive and 1 hr. train ride from Aurora to Dwtn Chicago. But dwtn Elgin has some jobs itself and only a 30 min transit ride to Dwtn Naperville.
* Rentals are limited to most 1-beds leasing in the low-mid 1Ks
* Public transit service is limited to a call for service model. No direct train service here. One needs to go a couple miles south to Geneva.
* Without direct train access, St. Charles has poor access to Dwtn Chicago or other satellite dwtns in the area. Its over 1 hr. drive to dwtn Chicago as well.
* So so diversity indicators. St. Charles is pretty white and affluent.
* Rentals are pretty limited and generally moderately priced.
* Missing a dwtn grocery store, a drug store, and really no medical offices here.
* Some surface parking on the edges of Dwtn but not too bad.

Downtown Aurora, IL- A Downtown built over the Fox River including an Island

The Downtown Aurora District is confined to a smaller 1/4 mile area between Lake St to the west, 4th St to the east, Clark to the south, and Spring St to the north. This unique mid-sized City Downtown traverses both sides of the Fox River and includes Stolp Island. Because of its unique geography, several gorgeous antique skyscrapers, well know buildings by Louis Sullivan and  George Grant Elmslie, and several historic theaters, Downtown Aurora is a very iconic district. Fortunately most of Downtown’s fabric has been preserved and the district has made great strides especially since 2010 with the expansion of Waubonsee Community College Campus, a revitalization plan putting in parks and new walking paths, and major investments in the arts.

Downtown Aurora also excels with great ADA and sidewalk infrastructure, solid public transit and bike infrastructure, great economic diversity, a riverfront recreational path, great cultural and retail amenities, good urban form, and lots of pedestrian activity thanks to all the college students here. For Dwtn Aurora to become a great urban district it simply needs more residents. Dwtn hosts less than 5K residents per square mile. Dwtn could also use more trees and more urban infill to replace a fair amount of surface parking lots and the auto oriented Lake St.

Click here to view my Downtown Aurora album on Flickr


* Excellent ADA and sidewalk infrastructure. 
* Solid public transit dwtn.
* Decent bike infrastructure including a dedicated bike path along the Fox River and 3 dedicated bike stations.
* Good diversity indicators, especially economic diversity.
* While few families w/ children live here good adult diversity.
* Solid school options including several elementary schools (mostly public) with generally good ratings.
* Several dedicated affordable housing buildings Dwtn.
* Decent park space including the lengthy Fox River recreational trail, McCarty Park, and the North River Street Park.
* Great cultural amenities in Dwtn Aurora including the Hollywood Casino, plenty of food & bev bizs, several breweries, lots of art galleries, several theaters including a mix of historic and modern, a couple live music venues, a couple local museums, and a local convention center.
* Pedestrian activity is pretty good here largely due to the sizable college population coming here.
* Solid retail amenities a Save a Lot, a couple Hispanic grocerias, lots of banks, several boutiques/clothing stores & Gift shops, a Campus bookstore, plenty of dessert joints, a couple gyms, a couple antique/home good stores, a dwtn library & post office, lots of government offices, a couple medical offices, and tons of churches especially in the eastern half of Dwtn.
* Excellent Historic architecture including some exquisite boutiques towers, a Louis Sullivan bldg, and historic theaters.
* Very distinct Dwtn built across the Fox River with an island in-between. Some bldgs are built right up to the River.
* Generally quality urban form and great streetscaping.


* Pretty low density for an urban area.
* 50 min drive and 1 hr. train ride from Aurora to Dwtn Chicago. But dwtn Elgin has some jobs itself and only a 30 min transit ride to Dwtn Naperville.
* Rentals are limited to most 1-beds leasing in the low-mid 1Ks.
* For sale housing is also limited and generally is pushed to the edges of Dwtn where there are SF homes. For sale prices are affordable-moderate.
* Not a ton of in-fill but some really quality recent infill. Some auto centric crud along the western edges of Dwtn.
* Tree canopy is so so.

The Historic North Side in Elgin, IL

I measured the borders for the Historic North Side in this evaluation to include everything north of Park St to Trout Park and between the Fox River and a couple blocks east of Liberty Ave where a straight line is formed by the census tracts. This includes the DC Cook/Lovell Area Historic District and Spring-Douglas Historic District where most of my photos are concentrated. This large district was developed between the late 19th century to WW II. Thanks to its era of development the Historic North Side has gridded streets, good sidewalks on its residential streets, and several walkable schools. The Historic North Side also excels with quality park and recreational amenities, a high level of safety, solid tree canopy, good diversity of attractive for sale homes, and solid diversity indicators.

But I would not consider the Historic North Side a walkable neighborhood as its commercial corridors (Summit, Liberty, and Dundee) are auto centric and host limited retail amenities. Residents along the southern edges of the neighborhood do at least have good walkable access to the retail and cultural amenities of Dwtn. Along with densifying/urbanizing its commercial corridors, the Historic North Side also needs better public transit access, more apartment options, and better ADA and sidewalk infrastructure along its arterials.

Click here to view my Historic North Side Album on Flickr


* Excellent bike path along the Fox River that connects easily to Dwtn but no dedicated bike stations here.
* Attractive historic homes from all decades of the first half of the 20th century. Some older stock closer to Dwtn.
* Overall a very safe neighborhood.
* Solid diversity across all indicators but especially economic.
* Racially the make up is pretty split btwn White and Hispanic households. Lots of family households here as well.
* Decent walkable schools including 4 public grade schools mostly rated well.
* Great tree canopy especially on the northern and western edges along the Fox River.
* Solid park amenities with the Fox River recreational trail, the pretty large and multi-faceted Lord’s park, the Forest Fen Nature Preserve, and a couple other small and medium sized parks.
* For sale options are generally moderately price but some diversity. 1-bed homes selling btwn 75K-150K, 2-beds btwn 125K-250K, 3 & 4 beds btwn 150K-430K


* Density is so so for an urban area.
* Public transit access is so so. And due to this its access to Dwtn Chicago is pretty challenging. Access to Dwtn Elgin is pretty good but not a ton of jobs and opportunities here.
* Pedestrian traffic is rather limited.
* Cultural and retail amenities within the Historic North Side District are very limited although the southern half of the neighborhood is within a 15-20 walk to Dwtn.
* Cultural amenities are limited to a couple restaurants, the Elgin Public Museum, and Lord’s Park Zoo.
* Retail amenities are limited to a supermarket, drug store, a couple banks, the main public library, a family dollar, a couple salons.
* Rentals are limited. Generally moderately priced. Limited dedicated affordable housing.
* In-fill buildings are limited to auto centric crap.
* Good ADA infrastructure with solid sidewalk coverage in the residential areas. Hit or miss on the largely autocentric arterial roads.
* Urban massing along the arterial/biz districts streets of Summit, Liberty, and Dundee are generally pretty auto centric.

The East Side Historic District- Elgin’s, IL Oldest Neighborhood

For the Elgin East Side Historic District I used Geneva as the western border, Park as the northern border, Liberty as the eastern and Villa St as the southern.

The East Side Historic District is the oldest portion of the city, and contains mostly residences and churches. The historic district was created in 1983 and includes a set of 697 buildings, of which, 429 contribute to the district’s historical integrity. The East Side Historic District is for the most part a stable residential, walkable neighborhood. Few retail amenities exist within the district, but most residents are able to walk to Dwtn in 10-15 minutes, which has a good concentration of retail and cultural amenities. The district is generally safe with good walkable school options, plenty of parks, and comfortable tree lined streets. In order for the East Side Historic District to become a great urban district it needs better public transit and bike access, more retail and cultural amenities mixed in, more density and rental options. One sensible way to urbanize the neighborhood is use the western edge with Downtown to prioritize mixed-use dense in-fill. This area also has the least number of historically significant structures alleviating concerns of widespread demolition as the district densifies.

Click here to view my East Side Historic District album on Flickr


* Good ADA curbs and sidewalk infrastructure.
* Good density.
* Good diversity indicators especially economic. Racial make up is about 70% Hispanic.
* Good number of schools in and around Downtown with a nice mix of grades and private versus public school options.
* The East Side Historic District is overall pretty safe.
* Several nice small and medium sized parks.
* Solid tree canopy.
* Really nice historic homes from the turn of the 20th century.
* Urban massing is generally good with few parking lots and auto centric uses. But not much retail amenities here.


* So so public transit
* Bike infrastructure is very limited.
* Rentals options are pretty limited but generally moderately priced.
* Not too much for sale housing diversity but housing is generally affordable. 2-beds sell btwn 100K-215K, 3 & 4 beds sell btwn 100K-400K. A handful of condos options as well.
* Modern in-fill is really non-existent.
* Pedestrian traffic is pretty limited.
* Cultural amenities within the East Side Historic District are limited to the Elgin Historic Museum, some historic homes and a couple bars. But most of the neighborhood has walkable access to all the cultural and retail amenities of Dwtn.
* Retail amenities within the East Side Historic District are limited to a drug store, a couple boutiques, a couple gyms, and a couple of salons.

Downtown Elgin, IL- A Large Historic Chicagoland Suburb

Downtown Elgin is a pretty compact area. I generally followed the boundaries set by google using Geneva/Welling as the eastern boundary, Lake as the southern, and Kimball St. as the norther.

While development in Downtown Elgin began in the 1830s, the oldest standing buildings in the district were built in the 1870s. Most of the district’s buildings were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Early Elgin achieved fame for the butter and dairy goods it sold to the city of Chicago. The dairy industry became less important with the arrival of the Elgin Watch Company famous for producing some of America’s finest watches and survived well into the mid-20th century. Like most midsized American cities Elgin lost most of its landmark business by the 1980s. Fortunately the Downtown area quickly experienced a renaissance in the 1990s converting many historic buildings into lofts, opening many new food and beverage bizs and local businesses, and fostering its arts community. 

The City of Elgin as a whole is the seventh-largest city in Illinois sitting at 115K residents and has experienced consistant growth throughout its history. It hosted almost 3K residents in 1860 and steadily grew from there reaching 22K residents in 1900, 38K in 1940, 55K in 1970 and more than doubled since then, an indication that Elgin has annexed much of the surrounding suburban growth around it. For Downtown Elgin to truly become an premiere urban district it needs more population, which can help attractive important retail services like a full service grocery store, drug store and perhaps some larger clothing stores. There are plenty of underutilized parking lots and auto centric buildings that could be replaced with compact mixed-use buildings.

Click here to view my downtown Elgin Album on Flickr


* Good ADA curbs and sidewalk infrastructure.
* Very nice dedicated bike lane along the Fox River. Really no dedicated bike stations.
* Great diversity indicators all around.
* Good number of schools in and around Downtown but generally smaller private schools.
* Good park amenities including a bike trail along the fox river, a couple nice river front parks, and many small parkettes and plazas.
* Some issues with the homeless population but  Dwtn Elgin is overall pretty safe.
* A good amount of the Dwtn Elgin historic fabric remains and some more recent attractive urban in-fill including a large townhouse community.
* Decent tree canopy.
* Solid cultural amenities Dwtn including plenty of food & bev bizs, several art galleries and night clubs, a couple local theaters and local museums.
* Good retail amenities include a couple smaller grocerias, a hardware store, lots of boutiques & gift shops, a couple bookstores, several antiques & banks, plenty of gyms and dessert joints, a dwtn public library and post office, several churches


* So so density.
* 50 min drive and 1.5+ bus/train ride from Elgin to Dwtn Chicago. But dwtn Elgin has some jobs itself.
* For sale product is a bit limited but lots of for sale product in the townhouse development btwn Prairie and Lake Ave. few 1-bed condos but plenty of 2-bed townhomes selling btwn 200K-350K, 3 & 4 beds sell btwn 200K-350K but limited product.
* Rentals are also pretty limited. 1-beds lease in the high 1Ks and 2-beds around 2K, and 3-beds lease for around 3K.
* Some crummy autocentric development and surface parking lots along the edges of Downtown.
* Dwtn Elgin’s image was not the best in the 80s and 90s but has steadily been improving since the 2000s.
* Dwtn could really use a full service grocery store and drug store.

Chicago’s Pullman Neigborhood- Home to the George Pullman’s Company Town designated a National Monunent in 2015

Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood encompasses a much wider area than its two historic areas stretching between W 115th St to 95th St and including the Cottage Grove Heights subdistrict built up in the 1920s-1940s. Historic Pullman was built in the 1880s by George Pullman as a full company town for his workers. The distinctive Victorian rowhouses were comfortable by the time’s standards containing such amenities as indoor plumbing, gas, and sewers. However, this Utopian vision for a company town quickly fell apart during the Panic of 1893. Demand for Pullman cars slackened and the Pullman company responded by laying off hundreds of workers and raising rents and provisions sold at the company town while keeping wages the same. This quickly led to the Pullman Strike in 1894 that lasted 2 months and only ended with the intervention by the US government and military. A couple years later the Illinois Supreme Court required the company to sell off the town as it was beyond the company’s charter. By 1899, the town and other major portions of the South Side were annexed by the city of Chicago and Pullman homes were sold to their occupants. The fortunes of the neighborhood would continue to rise and fall with the Pullman Company for many ensuing decades. The Post War era was not kinda to the Pullman neighborhood as many jobs were lost to deindustrialization and railroad restructuring along with many residents packing up for the suburbs. By the 60s, the original Pullman Town between 103rd and 115th Streets was threatened by demolition for an industrial park. Thankfully local residents formed the Pullman Civic Organization, and the community was preserved as a National Historic Landmark District in 1969. President Obama elevated its designation as National Monument in 2015.

Revitalization of the Pullman rowhouses has gained steam the last 10 years and now many of the rowhomes are selling in the 200Ks. Big box stores and distribution warehouses have moved into the area providing economic opportunity, albeit with  poor urban form. This has also helped reduced crime in the area and Pullman’s population decline appears to be slowing. But much remains to transition Pullman back into a quality urban neighborhood as industrialization and railroad lines have left it deeply scarred and disconnected, much vacant brownfield lands remain, and the community lacks any cohesive urban biz district.

Click here to view my Pullman Album on Flickr


* Solid public transit access, which allows residents to get dwtn in a 30 min train ride. Travel by car can be 20-25 mins without heavy traffic.
* Decent bike coverage with a couple north-side bike lanes and several rentable bikes available in the neighborhood.
* Good diversity indicators especially economic and generational.
* Crime has definitively improved here the best decade thanks to many new jobs in the area and higher incomes. Still some crime issues and areas of blight throughout.
* Good # of walkable schools but mixed ratings.
* Lots of parks space in and around the Historic Pullman neighborhood. Also the expansive Palmer Park just to the west in Roseland complete with a pool.
* Some very attractive working rowhouses in Historic Pullman, cute bungalows in the Cottage Grove Heights, and decent early 20th rowhouses in between.


* Very poor urban density thanks to the district industrial legacy and significant neighborhood disinvestment and blight.
* Good street grid where residential areas are located but poor neighborhood level connectivity thanks to the highways and rail lines that disconnect the community.
* Great ADA and sidewalk infrastructure in the residential portions of Pullman, pretty poor in the more industrial/big box parts of the neighborhood.
* Ok number of rentals (at least not many listed on Zillow). 1-beds generally lease around 1k, 2-beds anywhere in the 1Ks, Not many 3-beds available.
* For sale is pretty affordable but not much diversity. Few 1-beds available. 2-beds sell btwn 100K-225; 3 & 4 beds sell btwn 85K-300K.
* Limited park space outside of Historic Pullman District.
* Ok cultural amenities with the Historic Pullman District Site being the most important. Only a handful of restaurants & bars, and a couple art galleries.
* Retail amenities are pretty limited and generally autocentric still some good amenities including: a Walmart (complete with a grocery store as well), a Jewel-Osco, a couple clothing stores, a couple banks, a couple salons/barber shops, a couple dessert joints, a planet fitness, and a handful of churches and doctor offices.
* Not a ton of modern in-fill and what does exist is big boxes or auto centric development.
* Poor urban massing

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


* 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.


* 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.

Elmwood Park, IL- Dense mid-century Chicago Inner Ring Suburb

Elmwood Park was incorporated as a village in 1914 in order to prevent annexation by the greater city of Chicago. By this time the village only had a population of around 1K. This quickly changed as Elmwood saw the bulk of its development between 1910-1950 rising to 18K residents. and maxing out at 26K in 1970. The City has more or less maintained its population since then.

Elmwood City is a rare case of an rather dense and urban mid-century community. Development in most American cities between 1930-1960 would result in a much more suburban and auto centric form. The only cities that seem to run counter to this are Chicago and New York, which is much more akin to the type of mid-century urban development in Canadian cities.

That doesn’t mean Elmwood City is perfect however. Its commercial districts still have significant auto centric stretches, bike infrastructure is basically non-existent, the tree canopy is a bit wanting, and there aren’t enough rental options. But Elmwood City with its gridded streets, quality public transit, lots of smaller condo options, good retail amenities and a density of 14K residents per square mile (more dense than the City of Chicago) has great potential to become a great urban community. With significant in-fill development along its commercial corridors I can easily imagine its density increasing to 20K+ residents per square mile with a much more urban and walkable environment.

Click here to view my Elmwood Park Album on Flickr


* Solid density
* Excellent Sidewalk and ADA infrastructure although some areas that are pretty autocentric areas.
* Great connectivity in the street grid.
* Highly diverse demographic especially economic diversity.
* Decent # of walkable schools and well rated. Public High Schools is just across the border in River Grove.
* Good for sale housing options generally moderately priced. Lots of  mid-century condos  available. 1-bed condos sell btwn 90K-150, 2-beds 100K-400K, 3 & 4 beds btwn 200K-750K.
* Lots of small and medium sized parks well dispersed throughout Elmwood with quality amenities (Ballcourts, playgrounds, skatepark, and swimming pool).
* Overall a very safe community.
* Good retail including several supermarkets & drug stores, a hardware store, plenty of banks, a couple boutiques, several floral and gift shops, several bakeries and ice cream shops, plenty of gyms, a local post office and public library, plenty of churches, lots of doctor offices and the Gottliebl Memorial Hospital is in nearby Melrose Park.
* Some very cute 1920s/1930 bungalows in spots but also some more plain 1940s apartment bldgs.


* Limited bike infrastructure throughout.
* Some rentals moderately priced. 1-beds lease in the low 1Ks and 2-beds lease from the mid 1Ks to mid 2Ks. 3-beds Few 3-bed generally leasing in the 2Ks. A handful of dedicated affordable housing buildings.
* Ok cultural amenities including many food & bev. businesses, a couple live music venues but not much else.
* Urban form is a mixed bag. Lots of auto centric stretches along Grand.
* Some good urban infill along Conti Pkwy but most of the post WWII development is autocentric.
* So so tree canopy.

River Forest, IL

River Forest is closely tied to the larger neighboring community of Oak Park but developed a couple decades later. River Forest shares the same High School with Oak Park, is located just a couple blocks west of Dwtn Oak Park and also contains many great early 20th century buildings including a couple designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and others following the Prairie School design ethic. Development did not come to River Forest with any significance until the 20th century. By 1910 the Village had 2.5K,  4K by 1920, nearly 10K in 1940 and the Village’s population maxed out at 13K in 1970s. Population declined slowing in the ensuing decades thanks to smaller household sizes but recently reversed in the last decade. River Forest now has nearly 12K residents.

River Forest excels with the typical staple suburban amenities of great parks and schools, a very low rate of crime, lots of households with kids and solid retail and cultural amenities. But because of its strong suburban tendencies some of its urban qualities are compromised including a low density, limited pedestrian activity, really no bike infrastructure, limited racial and economic diversity, limited rental options and business districts with lots of auto centric stretches. The last decade’s population increase is likely the result of additional mixed-income developments along River Forest business districts (Lake, Harlem, and North) I hope this trend continues and this early 20th century suburban can continue to urbanize.

Click here to view my River Forest album on Flickr


* Solid public transit access and pretty convenient location to Dwtn.
* Solid connectivity as well. Pretty good for a suburb with most if its population growth after 1920.
* Lots of family households here.
* Lots of walkable schools and all are well rated. Good mixed of public and private.
* Extremely safe community.
* Wide range of for sale options thanks to the large number of condos in River Forest. Single family homes start out at around 500K. 1-bed condos sell btwn 75K-200K, 2-beds condos btwn 175K-600K, 2-bed homes sell btwn 425K-700K, 3 & 4 beds sell btwn 230k- the mid 1 Ms. Plenty of 3-be condos available selling around 300K.
* Excellent tree canopy.
* Great park amenities with several large wooded parks, and many small-medium sized parks with good amenities spread throughout River Forest.
* Very attractive historic homes.
* Even with larger auto centric strengths in River Forest, the streetscape design is of a high quality.
* Decent cultural amenities with good food & beverage options, a couple Frank Lloyd Wright homes, Art Museum at Concordia University, performing art amenities at both Concordia and Dominican Universities, and convenient access to the Lake Ave biz district in Oak Park which includes many cultural amenities.
* Decent retail amenities including 3 supermarkets, a target, several drug stores, a couple boutiques and clothing stores, several banks, several gift shop, a couple book stores, a hardware store, several dessert joints and gyms, public library & post office, lots of churches and plenty of medical offices. Good access to biz district in Oak Park too.


* Sub par urban density even compared to inner ring suburbs in Chicago.
* Bike infrastructure is very limited.
* Poor racial and especially economic diversity as this is a very wealthy community.
* Rentals are pretty limited here. 1-beds lease in the low 1Ks, 2-beds in the mid 1Ks, and some 3-beds that are more expensive.
* A couple decent biz districts but pedestrian activity is pretty limited.
* Modern in-fill is a mixed bag. Plenty of auto centric bldgs along North, Lake, and Harlem but some good more recent mixed-use infill.