The grass is always greener, ain’t it? Clichés exist for a reason. Chicago has an abundance of real estate within its city and suburbs, and offers vibrant neighborhoods for people in various stages of their lives. From young professionals entering their first home buying experience, to growing families, to empty nesters looking to downsize, there’s options for everyone.
With so much to choose from, I’ve compiled the ultimate city vs. suburbs list to help you cut through the clutter, and decide what’s right for you and your family.
Pros of Living in the City of Chicago
Cons of Living in the City of Chicago
- Good Public Schools Are Lacking
- High Taxes
- More Expensive Per Square Foot
- Parking Is Going To Cost You
- Road Quality Is Lacking
Pros of Living in the Suburbs
Cons of Living in the Suburbs
Pros of Living in the City of Chicago – Transportation options, world class art and entertainment, and great job growth are part of the reason over 2.7 million people live here.
City dwellers enjoy having excitement right at their doorsteps, and Chicago is one of the few cities in the United States where you don’t need a car — a huge expense saver! Jim Dallke from Chicago Inno found that it costs $116 a week to own a car in Chicago, vs. $77 a week to commute via Uber.
If Uber is not your thing, you’re in luck because the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) operates the nation’s second largest public transportation system within its bus and famed “L” train offerings.
Regarding pricing, below is what’s currently stated on their website. Essentially, the more days you purchase, the more you save per ride.
- 1-Day CTA Pass: $10
- 3-Day CTA Pass: $20
- 7-Day CTA Pass:$28
- 7-Day CTA/Pace Pass*:$33
- 30-Day CTA/Pace Pass*: $105
Conveniently take the train to either Midway or O’Hare airports or from many of the neighboring areas in and out of downtown. With 1,865 buses that serve 129 routes and 1,492 rail cars with eight routes — including “Night Owl” service — commuting within the city is a breeze. When looking at homes within the city, be sure to check proximity to a local train or bus stop. Chances are it’s conveniently close.
Compared to Uber or owning a car, using the CTA is the cheapest way to get around in the city. Unless you count biking – which is free, and great exercise! Once you’ve gotten your Ventra transport card and you’re ready to explore, the only tough part is deciding what you’ll do.
Art & Entertainment
Museums – Just like its food, Chicago’s museums are world class. And while you’ve probably heard of the staples like the Art Institute, Museum of Science and Industry, and Museum of Contemporary Art – there’s a whole lot more. In fact, there are over 67 notable ones.
67 is a lot to handle. Here’s a handy list of Chicago’s best 18 museums by Nichole Schnitzler from Conde Nast Traveler to make your life easier.
Zoos & Aquariums – The city is great, but sometimes you feel like escaping the concrete jungle and getting closer to nature. In between Lincoln Park & Brookfield Zoo and the Shedd Aquarium, there’s enough cool critters to fill up your whole day.
Comedy – If laughter is the best medicine, then Chicago is a pharmacy. Home of The Second City, this legendary comedy club and training institute that has produced a ton of comedy stars: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mike Myers, Joan Rivers, Amy Poehler, Bill Murray, John Belushi, Stephen Colbert, Chris Farley, Eugene Levy, and Tim Meadows, among many others.
When it comes to having a slide splitting night in the city, you’ve got options. Check out Kris Vire and Marty Johnson of Timeout.com’s list of the 13 best comedy clubs in Chicago.
Live Music – Sip and tap at Intimate cocktail bars like The Green Mill and Andy’s Jazz Club. Work on your tan at summer dream outdoor amphitheaters like the Pritzker Pavilion, and unleash your inner rockstar at behemoth arenas like the United Center. There’s truly a size and vibe for everyone.
Pop, Rock, Pop Punk, Indie, Hip Hop, House, EDM, Jazz, Blues. You want it? Chicago’s got it. Start your search by checking out this list of Chicago’s best 30 live music venues.
Bars – Every one of Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods has a unique personality, and so do the bars. How else do you explain a Sponge Bob themed pop up display at Replay? Whether you prefer drinking at a local dive or a glamorous rooftop like London House in New East side, there’s tons of places to raise your glass.
Check out The Violet Hour, an incognito speakeasy with exquisite cocktails, or arcade gamers paradise The Emporium. For a handy review of the top 40, you’ll want to peruse Morgan Olsen’s awesome article on timeout. Happy drinking!
Sports – One thing you have to respect about Chicago sports fans is their loyalty. Win or lose, they show up, and have a good time doing it. Why else would Cubs fans wait 108 years for a world series win?
Cubs fans can catch a baseball game at Wrigley field. And unfortunate White Sox fans who had their stadium bought out by a mortgage company, can watch their team at Guaranteed Rate field. Seriously, what were they thinking with that name?!?
Moving on to basketball and football… The Bulls and Bears unfortunately have not been able to clinch a playoff for superbowl win since the 80’s and 90’s. But if you’re a hockey fan you’re in luck with the BlackHawks! They snagged Stanley Cup wins in 2010, 2013 and 2015, and we’ve got our fingers crossed for next season.
Summer – If summer is your jam, soak up the sun along Lake Michigan’s bustling beaches. Timeout.com features at least 24, from Oak Street’s volleyball tournaments, to the South Side’s 60-acre Rainbow Park’s Rainbow Beach Dunes, to arguably the most popular: North Avenue Beach. Who doesn’t love a good people-watching spot to grab a drink and lunch at Castaway’s?
Another amazing way to see Chicago during the summer is through boat tours. As Shane Kost from Chicago Food Planet cleverly dubs it the “Venice” of the Midwest due to its beautiful waterways, which connect downtown to the North and South sides of the city. You can make your way around via canoe, kayak or paddleboard, or take in the city’s architectural wonder through a tour service like ShoreLine Sightseeing.
Last but not least, check out Millennium Park. Timeout named Millennium Park the No. 1 “Thing to do” in Chicago, and even named it the “crown jewel of Chicago’s front yard.” The 25-acre Millennium Park houses the famed Cloud Gate, A.K.A “The Bean”, and features free lawn concerts and movie screenings at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion.
Great Job Growth
Leisure time is even better after a hard day’s work. And, according to the Chicago Sun Times, the jobs are in downtown Chicago. The news site reported late last year that downtown is where “most new jobs in Chicago are going to be — and it’s not just people with MBAs or law degrees who will get them.”
More than half of the city’s jobs are downtown, amounting to about 613,000 workers. And, downtown employment growth since 2010 has registered about 134,000 jobs. Sectors of growth include service industries, health care and technology. It’s a larger growth than the burbs, and the Sun Times doesn’t predict a slowdown until at least 2030.
Cons of Living in the City of Chicago – Good public schools are tough to find, square footage costs a premium, road quality is hurting, and taxes and parking fees will beat up your wallet.
Good Public Schools Are Lacking
Top rated private schools are expensive, and the Chicago Public School System has had its struggles as of late. In fact, NPR reported in August that one in three public schools went without a teacher for a year, most notably in schools needing special education teachers or in lower-income or high-crime neighborhoods.
Governor Rauner recently vetoed a part of a bill that would have increased state funding to Chicago Public Schools by $250 million, according to Chicago Mag, so parents are faced with taking a look at the private sector.
Chicago Mag ranked Hyde Park’s University of Chicago Laboratory Schools as No. 1, calling it “the mother ship of progressive education,” and also favored North Side’s Latin School of Chicago, where “tradition meets modernity.” Schools like these are highly sought out, and that is reflected in the year tuition price, which is $33,558 for Chicago Laboratory and $33,425 for Latin school of Chicago.
if you’re willing to go private, there truly is a great education out there for your children – it’s a shame that the price tag puts the vast majority of chicago families out of the running to participate.
Another drawback of living in the city’s confines is the high taxes that come with city living. Chicago is tied for the highest sales tax in the nation, but takes the lead when combining state and local taxes. Tax Foundation reports Chicago currently stands at a combined 10.25%; 1.2% goes to the city, 1.75% to the county, 1% to the transit authority and 6.25% to the state.
Shopping online or in the suburbs can help ease the wallet pain with sales and local taxes, which is good news because property taxes are also increasing.
Don Debat from LoopNorth.com gives a great breakdown of recent taxes, which included an additional 63 million property tax increase this year, the final phase of the planned total 589 million dollar raise for Chicago property owners. Don illustrates the increase with the following example: “the owner of a $250,000 home will continue to pay around $97 more”.
More Expensive Per Square Foot
Space is also at a premium in the city, so you’ll pay more per square foot for less than in the suburbs. Realtor.com reports that you’ll pay about $230,000 for a home in suburbs, but once you cross city lines you’re looking at $431,000 for a comparable home. So, when you’re looking to make the move into the city, be sure to assess what the tax damage will be and what type of space you’re willing to shell out the bucks for.
Parking Is Going To Cost You
Street – Street parking in the city, especially in the winter, is hard to find. The Chicago Tribune found that Chicago’s residents pay more for street parking — meters for two hours will ding you $13.
Public Garages – Garages and lots average at about $22 for two hours and downtown drivers lose a ton of time trying to find prime spots. Chicago ranked sixth in the nation in drive time and money simply searching for parking, amounting to about $1,174 per person in emissions and fuel.
Home Garages – When it comes to having a garage in your Chicago home, there’s a steep price to pay. Redfin notes that garages in Chicago are worth more than any other metro location in the United States. They sell for about 38% more than comparable homes without them, a whopping average $46,475 increase!
Road quality is lacking
Roads aren’t as great in the city, as NBC Chicago reported that the average motorist is spending an additional $2,485 on deteriorating roads and bridges, automobile crashes and general traffic issues.
Pros of Living in the Suburbs – Less crime, great schools and of course more bang for your buck in terms of property value top our pro list.
On average, there is much less crime in the suburbs. BackgroundChecks.org shows that the suburbs of the Windy City are among the safest in the country. With a 0.91 Safety Index score, Warrenville and Deerfield have been named Illinois’ two safest cities. Measuring a healthy 0.75 are Elk Grove Village, Burr Ridge and Wood Dale.
Spacewise notes that suburbs in general have more wealth, meaning more money goes into public school systems. This leads to better teacher-to-student ratios and less crowding. Check out Niche’s list of Chicago metro area suburbs with the best school districts to get your kids educated in – complete with comprehensive ratings and reviews from parents and students.
Backyard, Garage + More Square Footage!
A backyard, driveway and garage come standard in the burbs. It’s also worth noting that it’s much more fiscally advantageous to buy and not rent in the suburbs. Apartment Therapy reports that the median list price per square foot is $243 in the city compared to $165 in the suburbs.
Stack that up against median rent in Chicago, which is $1,750, compared to $1,696 in the metro area – a fairly small difference.
Neighborhoods in suburbia are on average quieter and safer than the city. Having a single family home means no longer sharing walls with neighbors. You can be as loud or quiet as you want in the privacy of your own home. It’s a great way to get some solace in your own backyard.
Cons of Living in the Suburbs – High property taxes, the need for a car, and possible boredom are the big three here.
High Property Taxes
If you thought property taxes were high in the city, head to the suburbs. So high in fact that the headline in Illinois Policy’s article says that they are “crushing Illinois’ middle class.” The organization reported that since 1990, “residential property taxes have grown 3.3 times faster than the state’s median household income.” Residential property taxes are an average of 6.4% of a typical household income in the states of Illinois, and some property taxes are becoming higher than the mortgage payment themselves.
You’ll Probably Need A Car
Work – Those with coveted city jobs will likely be driving to them. You could take the Metra down town, but you’re still probably going to need a vehicle for routine life activities like getting groceries or going to the gym. If only the places we needed to go in the suburbs were located right next to each other!
Nerdwallet reports that Chicagoans spend an average of 51 hours each year in traffic. Calumet City and Plainfield top the worst suburbs for commuters due to financial cost of gas and insurance. Those are the obvious costs. Also consider the stress resulting from long commutes, which can lead to higher blood pressure and a larger waistline. Calumet City dwellers pay on average $1,275.44 for insurance, $3.89 per gallon of gas and 34.7 minutes in traffic.
Play – With fun city offerings to head to, suburbanites must drive to get to them. Thrillist breaks down the inconvenience of some of the top suburbs in Chicago, which is enough to make the city look amazing! For instance, did you know that living in Libertyville makes it easier to drive to Milwaukee Wisconsin for a Cubs game than to battle the trip to Wrigley? Not great.
Comparatively Lacking in Entertainment options
Cookie cutter way of life can be a suburban reality, and the Chicago Tribune took this to heart with its top “Most Boring Place to Live” story. Poor Village of New Lenox won the “prize,” using factors of bars and clubs per capita; live music venues per capita; percentage of residents between 20 and 34 years old; and restaurant offerings. The City of Rolling Meadows, Calumet City, Village of Lake in the Hills and Village of Huntley rounded out the top 5.
But hey, boring isn’t the worst! Not everyone wants to be going to concerts and museums all the time. For those of us that prefer a family board game, movie night, or perhaps a Woodfield mall outing if you live near Schaumburg – the suburbs are a perfect fit.
Pro tip: If you ever find yourself yawning in your current surroundings, get a pet. For example, My lovely mother lives in the suburbs. Before “Beaker”, things were quiet, peaceful and let’s be real – boring. Now the house is just as noisy as the city!
No matter where you choose to put down roots, Chicago is one of the best cities in the country to live in. It’s a rare gem in that it provides a bustling downtown, a range of suburban neighborhoods to choose from, the option of going carless and a wide range of single and family-friendly activities — with a beach in the middle of the country! So, grab your windbreakers, put on your walking shoes and head to the Third Coast for your next home.