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.

Downtown Riverside, CA- the Cultural and Urban Hub of the Inland Emphire

I evaluated Downtown Riverside as a neighborhood because it’s really not a major job center with only about 10K jobs here. Dwtn Riverside is also a large area of about 2 square miles with about 65% of its use as traditional early 20th century residential streets.

Riverside was founded in the early 1870s and a traditional street grid was quickly laid out setting the foundation for a well connected and walkable neighborhood. Downtown Riverside is also the birthplace of the California citrus industry and home of the Mission Inn, the largest Mission Revival Style building in the United States. It also fills the roll of cultural and urban hub of the Inland Empire; a title that San Bernardino unfortunately cannot claim given how disinvested its become.  Downtown Riverside hosts a great concentration of cultural amenities, decent retail amenities, an interesting pedestrian street along a couple blocks of Main St., good public transit, quality schools, great parks, and attractive historic architecture representing well the main historic styles common in California. What Downtown Riverside primarily needs to become a great urban district is more people. Its density is only 4,500 per square mile. I was shocked at how few apartment bldgs there are dwtn. Outside of the business core, the historic residential areas are primarily single family homes. Additional density would go a long way to attract additional retail amenities and expanding the mixed-use footprint of Downtown.

Click here to view my Downtown Riverside album on Flickr


* Generally consistant sidewalks and curbs (except for western edge going up to the mountains) but curbs generally not ADA compliant.
* Great location for if you have a job in Dwtn Riverside, but only about 10K jobs there.
* Public transit is generally good Dwtn but some transit deserts in the western and northern sections.
* Several dedicated bike lanes Dwtn, including recreational trails along the river. No dedicated bike stations however.
* Great economic and racial diversity. Some households with children but nice mix of college students and young professionals.
* Several excellent parks Dwtn including the expansive Mt. Rubidoux Park and Fairmount Park on the western edge of the district, the gorgeous White Park located near the center and the pedestrian street/plaza covering several blocks of Main St.
* Decent # of schools dwtn and generally rated pretty well.
* Decent retail amenities including a couple medium sized Mexican grocery stores, several drug stores, a bookstore, plenty of quirky boutiques, antiques, home goods and gift shops, several banks, plenty of dessert stores, a dwtn post office & public library, plenty of churches, and large hospital on Dwtn’s southern border.
* Dwtn Riverside is generally considered safe but some areas are best to avoid at night.
* Overall quality historic architecture both in the Business districts (Esp. with all the Spanish based mission architecture) and in the residential neighborhoods.
* Pedestrian traffic good in the core of dwtn. Pretty sparse in the res. areas.
* Good culturally amenities Dwtn including a plethora of restaurants, bars, & cafes, lots of art galleries, several live music venues & night clubs, a convention center, a couple performing arts theaters, and several museums and historic sites.


* Density is rather low.
* Hsg is pretty expensive but similar to other stable inner city neighborhoods. Limited 1-bed product. Surprisingly there are few condos dwtn. What does exist sells around 400-500K, 2-beds sell btwn 300K-650K, 3 & 4 beds 400K-1 M.
* Rentals are surprisingly limited. What is available seems to lease in the 2-3Ks.
* Urban form is a mixed-bag in Dwtn Riverside. Mission  Inn Avenue has the best form, Market Street is a mixed bag, the smaller streets btwn 14th and 5th Streets are more “dwtn” in feel and a mix of surface parking lots, office towners, and areas of decent urban form. Main St in the northern half of dwtn is awful. 

Wood Streets- an attractive early 20th inner-city neighborhood in Riverside CA

Riverside’s Wood Streets neighborhood was devoted to orange groves until about 1913 when fill was introduced to the Tequesquite Arroyo River, allowing Magnolia Avenue to connect with Downtown. Wood Streets was then built out as a typical early 20th century streetcar suburb with residential design reflecting a traditional aesthetic. This is likely Riverside’s most cohesive and urban neighborhood outside of Dwtn.

Other positive urban aspects to Wood Streets include good public transit, excellent racial, economic, and generational diversity, a decent # of walkable schools, good parks, and good retail amenities on its northern and southern edges. But in order for Wood Streets to become a truly quality urban district it needs to densify and modify its zoning to permit multi-family construction at least along its arterials. With a lack of density Wood Streets is missing quality mixed-use fabric, walkable cultural amenities, and vibrancy. There is also need for better bike infrastructure here and more affordable housing in this single family dominated neighborhood.

Click here to view my Wood Streets album on Flickr


* Consistant curbs and sidewalks just outdated ADA ramps.
* Good public transit and convenient access to Dwtn Riverside. Unfortunately Dwtn Riverside doesn’t host very many jobs.
* Excellent diversity across the board, especially economic diversity.
* Retail Amenities include a decent number of amenities on the northern and southern edges of the neighborhood. This includes a supermarket, several drug stores, a couple salons, Major Hospital, several banks, a couple boutiques & dessert shops, and a staples. Lots of retail amenities, bars, and restaurants at Riverside Plaza (a quasi-urban outdoor mall) located 2 blocks from Woods Street.
* Good park amenities including the expansive Ryan Bonaminio Park and recreational Evans Park to the North. The mountainside park of Mt Rubidoux, is only 1/2 mile to the north of the district.
* A decent # of walkable schools but of mixed ratings.
* Overall a very safe community.


* Density is pretty low.
* A couple dedicated bike lanes but not dedicated bike stations.
* Cultural amenities are very limited as there is a mostly residential only neighborhood. The only cultural amenities in the neighborhood that I see are at Riverside City College (College Art Gallery & Performing Arts Center). Decent access to cultural amenities in Dwtn to the North and Magnolia Center to the south. Score
* Hsg is pretty expensive but some moderately priced smaller units available. A handful of 1-beds sell around 400K. 2-beds 400K-700K, 3 & 4 beds anywhere btwn 500K-800K.
* Rentals are very limited. What does existin are SF homes for rent and there are few apt. bldgs here.
* Where commercial does exist its pretty auto centric (i.e. Jurupa Ave).
* Pedestrian traffic is pretty sparse here.