The Best We Could Get Was 88th Place?

A new national ranking of suburbs came out last week, bringing with it two surprises for Chicagoans. The first surprise was that a place many don’t even know exists…

The village hall in Inverness

A new national ranking of suburbs came out last week, bringing with it two surprises for Chicagoans. The first surprise was that a place many don’t even know exists—Inverness, about 30 miles northwest of the Loop—ranked the highest of any Chicago suburb. And the second surprise: Inverness placed only 88th on the list.

Yes, even though other lists have identified Tinley Park, Naperville, and other local towns as some of the nation’s best suburbs, this latest survey didn’t have much love for the Chicago environs. In the entire top 100, we had only two representatives: Inverness and, in 94th place, Lincolnshire. The top five suburbs were outside of Denver, Seattle, New York, and Washington D.C.

Now, I’ve got no complaint about Inverness, a lovely, almost entirely residential town whose tree-lined streets rolling over gentle terrain look especially sweet this week adorned with the reds and yellows of autumn. There’s also a quirky charm in the four-silo village hall (pictured above), which in the 1930s was the sales office for new homes.

Inverness has long been known (by those who know it at all) as a relatively affluent place—though, says one resident, without a lot of attitude. “There’s no pretense, not a lot of fanciness or talking about yourself,” says Paige Wiser, the director of communications at St. Viator High School in nearby Arlington Heights. She grew up in Inverness and 11 years ago bought a house there with her husband, Jim (who works for the Chicago Tribune, which, like Chicago magazine, is owned by Tribune Company).

But 88th place? With picture-book suburbs such as Wheaton, Elmhurst, Hinsdale, Libertyville, and Oak Park, that’s the best we could do? “There are definitely a few surprises,” acknowledges Evan Jordan, a PR executive for Coldwell Banker, which partnered on the survey with the real-estate data company Onboard Informatics.

But Jordan was quick to note that, in an earlier Coldwell-Onboard survey about the best places for a fun social life, Chicago ranked third, after New York and San Francisco.

In this latest study, towns scored well if they had high numbers of car commuters, homeowners, and people who eat in. The emphasis on commuting by car would help explain why none of the Chicago suburbs that did well on a recent DePaul University study of the top train towns fared well here. “In our minds, suburban living involves putting the kids in the minivan and driving over to soccer practice, things like that,” Jordan explained.

Jordan hasn’t been to Chicago or its suburbs. But he knows that “a lot of Chicago suburbs generally rank pretty high on the ‘great places to live’ listings. We happened to choose a focus that Chicago suburbs didn’t have a lot of.”

John Tatooles, who has been the mayor of Inverness for 16 of the 27 years he’s lived there, extols the town’s advantages. “We feel our village is the jewel of the area,” he explains. “It’s kind of a bucolic place because we have very little commercial [space] in the town. We’re an island that way. The school districts are great, and we have very friendly, neighborly people—a lot of camaraderie.”

That’s not to say Inverness doesn’t have its problems. Wiser, a mother of two, says that, because houses in Inverness are so far apart, trick-or-treating can sometimes be a challenge.

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