Chicago’s Suburbs Are Getting a Lot More Urbanized

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Chicago’s Suburbs Are Getting a Lot More Urbanized
© Chris Gash
Chicago’s Suburbs Are Getting a Lot More Urbanized
© Chris Gash

In April, after six years in Lincoln Park, computer scientist Brad Blumenthal and his wife packed up for the burbs. But the couple, both in their mid-50s, didn’t want to leave city life behind entirely. So they bought a snug house in Skokie, part of a development on Floral Avenue within walking distance of shops, restaurants, and the Oakton el stop. Built on 28-foot-wide lots, half the typical size for the area, these houses run as small as 1,800 square feet. “We’re aware of the health and economic benefits of compact development,” Blumenthal says. “To me, this is old urbanism rediscovered.”

New urbanism—the movement toward small lots, walkable villages, and eclectic houses that mimic the organic mix of cities—has been around for decades. Just look at the list of “walkable urban places,” where residents can get to work and go shopping without cars, compiled by Locus, an advocacy group for sustainable development. Eleven Chicago suburbs make the cut: Arlington Heights, Aurora, Des Plaines, Evanston, Highland Park, Joliet, Lake Forest, Naperville, Oak Park, Skokie, and Wheaton.

But thanks to increased interest from buyers and less resistance from village governments, developers are constructing more new-urbanism-style homes in the burbs. “Millennials and boomers are demanding it,” explains Drew Williams-Clark, principal planner at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. []

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