The Next Big Thing: Changes Coming to Chicagoland

by Peter Thomas Ricci


There are few cities that have experienced the roller coaster ride that Chicago has in the last 100 years. At the turn of the 20th century, its growth was rapid. The population exploded, nearly doubling from 1.69 million in 1900 to 3.62 million in 1950. Industry thrived, with many of the nation’s defining businesses, from Sears, to Schwinn Bicycle Company, to Montgomery Ward, to the Union Stock Yards, all basing their operations in Chicago. And coming off the heels of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, the city became a mecca of culture and architecture, with the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry and its world-famous skyscrapers.

Starting in 1950, though, things began to change. Suburban developments, which had grown moderately in the first half of the century, exploded in popularity, and Chicago residents – particularly families – began leaving the city in droves, creating an endless array of real estate opportunities for Chicagoland real estate agents. And the numbers certainly speak for themselves: from 1950 to 1990, the population of Chicago fell by 23 percent, while the populations of the collar counties soared, rising 111 percent in Kane, 188 percent in Lake, 166 percent in Will, 261 percent in McHenry, and 405 percent in DuPage, as the suburbs came to define the new frontier for real estate in Chicago.

Yet, beginning in the early ‘90s, the city again reversed course. Population declines slowed, and the city picked up residents. Businesses began returning to the Loop, including recent, high-profile leases by Motorola Mobility, United Airlines and Boeing. The city’s theater scene has prospered, and is second only to Broadway in New York. And Millennium Park, with its iconic Cloud Gate sculpture leading the way, has became one of the city’s defining tourist attractions.

Which all leads to an essential question – after six straight decades of declines, are consumers finally preparing a return to the city of Chicago? Or will the suburbs continue to be the prevailing real estate option for Chicagoland homebuyers?

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  • Ryan says:

    That’s a great article. Nice job! I will say, however, that although people/parents have been working together to make some Chicago schools better and safer for their children, the 800-lb. gorilla – Chicago politics/CPS/Teacher’s Union – has to be fully dealt with and undergo a broad and radical systemic education sea change. Until that happens, I don’t believe Chicago will experience a massive influx of new residents and ever outstrip suburban growth. I lived in the city (Lakeview/Roscoe Village) for a time in the late 90s/early 00s, and loved it. The city can’t be beat for its entertainment and many amenities. But, I am now a husband and father of 2 small children living in a near-western suburb. We want to give our children a shot at the best education possible, and that will probably mean living in the suburbs for that alone (never mind what I and many others perceive to be city government mismanagement not just in the education sector). So, yes, I believe that wherever the best schools are located, so there moves the bulk of the demographic.

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