What’s the Difference Between Living in Chicago vs. the Suburbs?

Chicago, Illinois is known for its various neighborhoods that give it a small-town feel, but it’s still a densely populated big city with all the hustle and activity associated with such a large, world-class urban hub.

So, how does one choose between living in Chicago vs. the suburbs throughout the Chicagoland area? Is it a good idea to consider living in the actual city, or should you venture out to the dozens of suburbs?

The answer is – it all depends on what you want from the place that you live. Large cities like Chicago can be busy and vibrant places. Here’s a look at the benefits of living in the city vs. living in the suburbs.

Why Does it Matter?

There are always significant differences between living in a city and living in the suburbs, and the city of Chicago is no different.

While there are some similarities (for example, you’ll get that Midwestern feel and friendliness in both the city and suburbs), you’ll find the availability of diverse cultural venues, educational opportunities, density, and of course the overall vibe to be very different in the burbs versus the downtown area of Chicago.

By understanding what Chicago is like and understanding how the city compares with the suburbs, you can make a more educated decision about where you want to live.

Benefits of Living in Chicago

Rental Prices and Home Purchases Are Both Affordable

Chi-Town is 20% cheaper than similarly sized major cities like New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. As a result, the cost of living in the big city is comparable to living in the suburbs, with the city beating certain suburbs out in terms of cost.

Even if you’re looking at a luxury apartment, you’re looking at average rent at about $2700 instead of the $3500+ that you’ll find in other cities. Luxury living is more accessible than in other cities, even if you choose to live in downtown Chicago.

Property Taxes are Lower

Chicagoans also find that, if they buy a home in the city (which is also relatively affordable), they end up paying much less in property taxes than if they live in the suburbs. So, while things like sales tax end up being a bit more than what you’d pay in the suburbs, the lower property taxes make it worthwhile.

The City is Easy to Get Around

Due to the ease of getting around, many families find that they only need one car if they live in the city, which can save them a lot of money yearly. Transportation with the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is relatively affordable, so whether you go by foot, by bike, or by bus, you’ll be ready to go.

Benefits of Living in Chicago (cont.)

Diverse Neighborhoods

If you’re looking for diversity, Chicago has it. Every Chicago neighborhood has a little bit of cultural flavor to it, which allows people to learn more about other cultures and enjoy everything that they have to offer.

The diversity also allows for a lot of small shops and food businesses that offer unique products and foods. So, you’ve got more options when you go out to eat, whether you want a hot dog from the corner or a top-notch restaurant in a lakefront high-rise building. The fact is, Chicago is filled with opportunities to branch out and enrich your life.

Easier to Rent Property in the City

Lastly, people move to the city because of the possibility of upward mobility and opportunities for rental properties later on. An individual can purchase a smaller home in the city to start with and, as they get ahead in their careers, make changes.

When they decide to move somewhere bigger, they can find renters for the original real estate for some side income, especially if it’s in one of the best apartment buildings in Chicago. Suburban homes in Chicagoland are notoriously difficult to rent.

Difficulties of Living in Chicago

Traffic at Rush Hour Can Get Rough

As with any densely populated area, Chicago suffers from some intense rush hour traffic. It could take quite a while to get home if you need to drive from where you work to where you live. On the contrary, if you live in the suburbs, and work in the city, your commute is going to be a lot longer than city dwellers.

However, the excellent public transportation system, plus the ease of walking and biking throughout the city, make up for a rush hour. Streets and sidewalks may get a little bit crowded, but it’s not as bad as other large cities of similar size.

Lack of Privacy

No matter what city you live in, you are going to find that it’s really hard to keep your privacy. Apartment buildings take some measures to help their tenants to have the most privacy possible, but there’s only so much you can do.

This is common, however. You’re sharing space in a building that may have as many as several hundred people. Even in a luxury apartment building, there will be a few dozen tenants, so it can be hard to keep everyone out of everyone else’s business on a day-to-day basis.

Benefits of Living in the Chicago Suburbs

It's Not the City

The fact is, Chicago (and any other city) can be loud and busy. While Midwest weeknights are often calmer than in cities like NYC, it’s still a very busy and loud place to live. The weekend nightlife is quite exciting, and even coffee shops can get loud and packed on the weekends.

For some people, the lights and sounds of the city life are just too much to live in the midst of, and it isn’t good for them or their mental health. So, if you don’t think that city living is going to be right for you, then maybe the ‘burbs will give you that happy medium that you’re looking for in a home.

Schools Have Smaller Class Sizes

In many cases, suburban schools have smaller class sizes than you’ll have in the metro area. That being said, both Chicago and its suburbs have excellent school systems.

Difficulties of Living in the Chicago Suburbs

Public Transportation Only Goes So Far

While the CTA has done its best to ensure that their public transit reaches a lot of the suburban areas, it doesn’t hit everything. Some residents in the suburbs of Chicago may need to drive or walk quite a bit to a station to take public transit into the city.

That being said, it’s still more convenient than if you would have to drive to get into the city all of the time, so it could be considered a minor inconvenience for most.

Few Places to Walk or Bike

Most suburbs don’t have a lot of sidewalks to walk on and may have limited bike lanes. While there are likely more green spaces where bike trails can be found, it’s not likely that suburbanites can use walking or biking as the main form of transportation as is possible in Chicago proper.

Fewer Public Amenities

Suburbs often have smaller governments, and those government officials may only be paid on a part-time basis. Because of that, you may not get as many opportunities as you do within the city. You may have fewer emergency services and/or public services (recycling, trash, etc.) as a result.

Making Your Decision

There are a lot of different factors that go into figuring out whether or not you want to live in downtown Chicago or if you want to go out to suburbs like Arlington Heights, Naperville, Evanston, or others. Single-family homes and apartments exist in both, so you can find what you need whether you live inside of Chicago or outside of it.