10 Great Neighborhoods in Chicago
Discover some of Chicago's best neighborhoods and find out which one is right for you.
Once known as the “Black Metropolis,” Bronzeville was the center of African-American culture in the 1940s and was home to historical figures such as Duke Ellington, Ida B. Wells and Daniel Hale Williams. It’s believed an editor of the Chicago Bee in the 1930s was the one who coined the name “Bronzeville” to refer to the skin color of the residents who replaced the white upper-class community members who lived there in the 1870s.
Primarily a working-class neighborhood in the first half of the 20th century, the area hit a period of decline in the 1950s when several public housing projects were constructed, including the Robert Taylor Homes. Banks and lending institutions stopped investing in the community, and crime increased dramatically between the 50s and the 90s. In the 90s however, real estate in Bronzeville began to make a comeback. The demolishing of the Robert Taylor Projects opened up land for fresh developments, and people moved back to the area to take advantage of its proximity to the Loop and the reasonably-priced brown and graystones that had been built for wealthier residents before the area fell into disrepair.
“It’s an up-and-coming area,” says Michael Bradley, a real estate broker with Bronzeville Realty. “There’s been a tremendous amount of construction and rehabs in the past five years. You can pretty much find new construction on many of the blocks in the Bronzeville area.”
Boundaries: Bucktown: Between Fullerton Avenue south to North Avenue, from Western Avenue east to Kennedy Expressway/Ashland Avenue; Wicker Park: Between North Avenue south to Division Street, from Western Avenue east to Ashland Avenue
Goats used to graze in what is now considered one of the hippest and trendiest neighborhoods in Chicago -- if not the country. The popular theory is that Bucktown got its name from the male goats, or bucks, that were raised by the Polish immigrants who fled their war torn country in the 1800s. Throughout the years, Bucktown saw many waves of immigration, primarily Polish until World War I, then Jewish in the early 1900s and Latino around 1960.
It was in the 1980s that Bucktown began to evolve into the artistic community that it is known as today. The lower rents in the undiscovered area and its proximity to downtown made it a natural choice for musicians and artists looking to stretch their bucks a little further. As the area became more popular, rents began to climb, pushing people south to Wicker Park. The dividing line between the two is North Avenue, with Bucktown to the north and Wicker Park to the south.
“Because of its infrastructure, [Bucktown’s] one of the easiest neighborhoods
to get in and out of,” says Thaddeus Wong, co-founder of @properties, a Chicago
real estate brokerage firm. “It’s a very diverse economic neighborhood. You’ve
got $2 million homes scattered throughout the neighborhood with condos, lofts
Gold Coast/Old Town
Boundaries: Between North Avenue south to Chicago Avenue, from LaSalle Avenue east to Lake Michigan
Old money and stunning lake views characterize this hot neighborhood that runs contrary to the Chicago phrase: “cooler by the lake.” Oprah lives on the border of this high-priced community, where homebuyers can pay millions for a two-bedroom condo. “People are drawn to this area because of the nightspots, the good food, its proximity to the lake and to the business district,” says Prudential Preferred Properties Realtor Carla Walker.
The main commercial center for this neighborhood is Oak Street, the Rodeo Drive of Chicago. Hermes, Versace and Gucci clothing stores mingle with four-and five-star restaurants offering outdoor seating in the summer. Oak Street runs right through the heart of an area known as the “Viagra Triangle.” This slice of the city, bounded by Rush Street, State Street and Chicago Avenue is nicknamed for the affluent, white-haired men that can be seen courting well-dressed women in their 20s at area singles bars. Coincidentally, Hugh Hefner’s original playboy mansion, at 1340 N. State St., is just down the street from the Viagra Triangle.
Boundaries: Between North Avenue south to Chicago Avenue, from Pulaski Road east to Western Avenue
Home values are rising in Humboldt Park, a diverse community on the city’s west side that is home to a large Puerto Rican community. “Five years ago this was a totally different neighborhood,” says David Diaz, a research analyst for JLSA Investment. “There’s been a lot of new construction in the area.”
The neighborhood, known for high crime and gang violence in the 1970s and 1980s, is seeing a lot of development where it borders Wicker Park. The neighborhood is named after the 207-acre park within it, which was named after German naturalist Baron Friedrich Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt in 1869. The area was a mix of Polish, Italian and German before urban renewal programs brought Puerto Ricans and low-income residents to Humboldt Park during the 1950s and 1960s. Many Puerto Rican rights organizations were formed as a result of deteriorating economic conditions and racial tension in the mid-1960s. Although more business is coming to the area, the community is determined to keep taxes low and resist the efforts of large chains to open in the neighborhood.
Boundaries: Between Diversey Parkway south to North Avenue, from Clybourn Avenue east to Lake Michigan
In the 1800s, the area that is now one of the most fashionable places to live in Chicago was mostly swampland and forest. Now, it’s a magnet for singles in their 20s and 30s, many of whom stay to start families here. The neighborhood is home to two private schools with great reputations for the education they offer kids from junior kindergarten through 12th grade. The community is very much like a college town within the big city, with a large variety of shopping, restaurants and nightspots all in close proximity.
People who live here don’t really need a car to get around, which is a good thing, because parking here is scarce. Residential streets are lined with cars bumper to bumper, and most of the streets require a permit to park. The neighborhood’s young energy is fed by the 3,000 students who attend DePaul University’s oldest and largest campus in the heart of Lincoln Park. Named for Chicago’s largest park (with more than 1,200 acres), the neighborhood offers an abundance of outdoor activities, including bike trails, jogging paths and athletic fields. There really is not a main artery in Lincoln Park, because every major street running through the neighborhood is a hub of commercial activity.
Boundaries: Between Addison Street south to Belmont Avenue, from Western Avenue east to Lincoln Avenue
German and Swedish workers settled in what is now Roscoe Village in the late 19th century when it was between two industrial areas on its eastern and western borders. Tough economic conditions during the Great Depression closed many factories and businesses in the area, and development slowed. The real estate market began to pick up in the 1980s, however, when developers began to see the advantages of its location only four miles away from the Loop.
Like a village within the city, this quaint community is very popular with young families. Parents are often seen pushing strollers past the shops with colorful awnings, small restaurants and trees that line Roscoe Street, the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare. Vintage brick walkups and well-maintained frame houses with front porches help maintain the atmosphere of this family-oriented community. Along with the newer designer boutiques that have sprung up in the area, residents of Roscoe Village can enjoy the largest concentration of antiques stores in the Midwest, located along the neighborhood’s Southern border.
Boundaries: Between Jackson Boulevard south to 16th Street, from the Chicago River east to Lake Shore Drive
In the early 1900s, the area that is home to some of Chicago’s top tourist attractions and the country’s largest media and arts college was filled with brothels, saloons and pawnbrokers. Known as the Levee District, the neighborhood housed one of the world’s most famous bordellos at the time. Prostitution flourished in an area protected from law enforcement by organized crime and crooked politicians.
Today, luxury high-rises and modern townhomes are being built in an area once known as “Satan’s Mile,” a stretch from Van Buren to 22nd that was so crime-infested an 1896 judge ruled that a man deserved whatever he got for entering it. Generally considered a slum, the South Loop was a far cry from the expensive neighborhood it is today. Now a thriving community where visitors flock to tourist spots like the Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium and the Field Museum, the South Loop is an area that draws executives who enjoy its proximity to Lake Michigan and the downtown business district.
“For many of my clients who choose to buy in the South Loop, this is not their first home,” says Walker of Prudential. “It’s the next step up for young people. A lot of people who have homes in Indiana or the suburbs, and they want space downtown, that’s where they’re buying.”
Boundaries: Between Grand Avenue south to the Chicago River, from Michigan Avenue east to Lake Shore Drive
While the housing crisis has hit many Chicago neighborhoods hard, development and home sales in Streeterville, southeast of the Gold Coast, remains strong. “Anytime you’re within a few blocks of Michigan Avenue, home values will be higher,” says Gail Lissner, a vice president of Appraisal Research Counselors. “More established, more well-located areas will do better even in a soft housing market.”
The people who live in Streeterville are moving up, literally, with taller highrises being built every year. Nicknamed the “platinum coast” by some Realtors, apartment buildings and condos in this area come with more than the usual amenities. Some come attached to banks, athletic clubs, convenience stores, hotels and in one case -- the Residences at River East Center -- a 21-screen movie theater and bowling alley.
Parking in this neighborhood, which has Northern Michigan Avenue as its western border, is expensive. Expect to shell out about $250 a month to rent a parking space. Residents can save the $3,000-a-year parking expense by taking advantage of the taxis that come right to their door.
Boundaries: Between Lake Street south to Eisenhower Expressway, from Kennedy Expressway east to the Chicago River
This former warehouse district is now an up-and-coming neighborhood of contemporary lofts, midrises and art galleries. “Most buildings are between five to seven stories,” says Jeneane Ally, a Realtor with Rubloff Residential Properties and a West Loop resident. “Developers are taking the existing buildings, gutting them and making them look like new.” The West Loop Community Organization has fought to control density and limit the number of high-rises that can be built here.
With larger units, two parks in the area and more parking available than other neighborhoods near the Loop, the West Loop is a draw for young families. Within its borders is the prestigious Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, alma mater of first lady Michelle Obama. Enrollment for this public school, which consistently ranks as one of the top high schools in Illinois, is highly selective and determined through test scores and academic standing.
Boundaries: Between Division Street south to Grand Avenue, from Western Avenue east to Damen Avenue
Chic boutiques and trendy nightspots continue to pop up in this west town village south of Wicker Park. Decorated with beautiful, ornate churches, the neighborhood has preserved the cultural heritage brought to it by German, Polish and Ukrainian immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although most of its residents are not of Ukrainian descent, the Ukrainian food here is some of the best in the city, and visitors can still hear the language spoken on backyard stoops and in neighborhood businesses.
Division Street and Damen Avenue are the community's commercial centers with a variety of shops and restaurants that are transforming this quiet village into a hot neighborhood for homebuyers. “In the last two years, we’ve seen a lot of younger professionals moving here,” says Helen Sobel, a broker associate for Baird & Warner. “It’s usually a young couple starting out with their dog. They can get a three-bedroom condo for $350,000 in the area that they can grow into.”
The Ukrainian Village is a very eclectic neighborhood containing low-rises, single-family homes and older Victorian homes that are inhabited by families who have lived here for decades. “It’s got a very Chicago feel to it,” Sobel says. “There are a lot of front porches still in the area, and people saying ‘hi,’ when you walk by.”