One of the cool new things in urbanism is making your suburb more like a city, or at least a town, with a robust, walkable downtown and urban amenities. This could be even more important in post-pandemic life, if employers stick with a flexible part-time work-from-home schedule. If so, you could live in a suburb and not sweat the downtown commute as much, while having nice places to work and shop in on the days when you’re remote. (A potential uptick in coffee-shop videoconferencing is a concern.)

So I was curious: what can you get in the Chicago suburbs near public transit? A lot of suburban transit-oriented development is… not architecturally distinguished, if perfectly fine housing. But you can also find some interesting, not terribly expensive homes as well, especially on the North Shore, which established itself as a home to commuter suburbs when trains were the best way to get around.

555 Hill Terrace Apt 308, Winnetka, Illinois, $175,000

Winnetka condo for sale

For instance: you can live in Winnetka for less than $200,000 (HOA dues are a respectable $317 a month, which keep the complex so Tudoriffic). It’s a small one-bed, shower-only one-bath unit, but it’s well-lit and adorable. It’s also two-tenths of a mile to the Indian Hill Metra stop, which is a 40-minute train ride to the Ogden station downtown, and just less than a mile to Lake Michigan.

8037 Kenton Avenue 1S, Skokie, Illinois, $199,999

For the same look with a lot more space, this Skokie condo is 1,850 square feet with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and not that much more expensive, with $450/mo HOA dues. The galley kitchen is not as nicely dated as the gothic built-ins, but gives you a lot of counter space. It’s just one-third of a mile to the El on—wait for it—the Skokie Swift. The excellent Skokie Public Library, a 1960s SOM design, is a mile down Oakton, the Skokie Water Playground is practically next door, and the Emily Oaks Nature Center is close by as well.

520 South Washington Street, Naperville, Illinois, $895,000

At the other end of the architectural and cost spectrum is a three-bed, four-bath, 3,363 square-foot penthouse in a 2006 downtown Naperville building right on the DuPage River. That puts it about a third of a mile to the extensive Naperville Riverwalk, and just over a mile to the Naperville Metra station past North Central College. It’s over an hour to Chicago Union Station, so if you’re a downtown worker you’ll want a good WFH schedule, but why would you want to leave your two-story living room?

50 North Northwest Highway Unit 208, Park Ridge, Illinois, $950,000

Closer to Chicago, and more traditional in its interior despite being built in 2008, is this Park Ridge penthouse. Its extensive bay windows look out over the Park Ridge Public Library right across the street, and the Pickwick Theatre right across the street from that. The Park Ridge Metra station is just two-tenths of a mile away, and it’s also a short walk to the Park Ridge Farmer’s Market, Trader Joe’s, and a Whole Foods. Or should I say a short skateboard trip away, since the Hinkley Park Skatepark is nearby. No? That’s ok too.

115 Willow Boulevard, Willow Springs, Illinois, $315,000

The Willow Springs Metra station is at the crossroads of some of the southwest suburbs’ best outdoor spots: the John Husar I&M Canal Bicycle Trail, the Centennial Trail, and Willow Springs Woods. That, in turn, connects to a massive Forest Preserves complex that includes Pulaski Woods, Red Gate Woods, Cranberry Slough, Maple Lake, Bullfrog Lake, Saganashkee Slough, and the Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center. This pleasant family-sized townhouse—three beds, three baths, 1,890 square feet—is right in the midst of all of it. And it’s just a 20-minute bike ride to the buried remains of the world’s first nuclear reactor!