Ask any Chicagoan where he or she lives, and you’re likely to get a very specific answer. Not Lake View, but Boystown. Not the Lower West Side, but Little Village. These pockets are considerably smaller than the 77 official “community areas” but reflect how people think about where they live. Crime levels, restaurants, home prices—all vary significantly from one little neighborhood to another. That can make shopping for a home tricky, given that most data are available by community area only. (See “What Your Home Is Worth.”)
On top of that, Chicago’s slow real estate rebound (up just 2.6 percent in 2015, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Chicago Home Price Index) hasn’t been slow at all in the most desirable parts of the city. The median sale price in North Center last year? Up 28 percent since 2006 (the peak year before the bust in most places), according to Midwest Real Estate Data. In Lake View? Also up 28 percent since 2006, to $1.34 million. You may find yourself priced out of your first-choice neighborhoods.
Which brings us to the latest edition of Chicago’s “Best Places to Live.” Two years ago, the editors used reams of data to drill down into the best places to live, period, in the city and suburbs. This year, we’re focusing on smaller neighborhoods—specifically, up-and-coming ones. Areas where you can get lots of value for your money and that appear poised to grow. You know the pattern: First the artists move in, then a hip restaurant or two, then more businesses—and by then, home prices have already headed north. Zillow did a study last year that found home values appreciated faster after a Starbucks opened nearby. The likely reason? Not a sudden lust for lattes. Rather, Starbucks did its homework and knew the neighborhood was a good bet.
So we did our homework, too. We consulted urban planners, developers, and real estate agents, looking at such factors as new or planned development (the upcoming DePaul arena in Bronzeville, the new Mariano’s in Cabrini-Green), sound infrastructure (pluses for soon-to-open el or Metra stations), and improving housing stock (old houses being renovated). And we kept in mind that the vibe can change a lot from one block to the next. Take North Lawndale. There’s a big difference between the blighted western side and the emerging eastern enclave of Douglas Park, where the Lagunitas brewery opened in 2014.
Sure, buying in an area that hasn’t quite up-and-come has its challenges. Crime might be higher. Schools might not be as good. Current residents might not be thrilled about gentrification (one person’s next-big-thing is another’s priced- out-of-the-neighborhood). If a little gritty and edgy isn’t your style, these places probably aren’t for you. But if you’re looking for an investment that stands a good chance of paying off—and not just in I-knew-it-first cred—check out these 11 up-and-coming neighborhoods.