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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
The Skyscrapper Page forum had an interesting thread, Favorite/Worst Chicago Suburbs, that seems to have gotten more traffic (43 posts) than suburban threads usually do here.

I was surprised to see how many people felt Evanston was the ultimate suburb and how the "new Evanston" affords an uban/suburban environment unparralled in suburban Chicago. A number of posts discussed the extraordinary change Evanston has experienced in recent years.

Many of you probably know that Evanston and Oak Park had (have?) a spirited rivalry that goes back to the 19th c.

They share so much in common: dowager suburbs, the first north and west of Chicago, with similiar grand old homes, similiar downtowns (they used to have identical Marshall Field's), similiar in size, similiar in how they related to their North Shore and west suburban bases, walkable tree-lined streets, mix of homes and apratments, sense of community, similiar CTA/Metra connections, and alot more.

Evanston has acquired more of the feel of a thrieving North Side lakefront neighborhood in the city than Oak Park has (perhaps because Evanston shares the lakefront with those Chgo neighborhoods).

Sure Evanston has the lake and NU and Oak Park has all that grand FLW architecture, but there were far more similiarities than differences.

Or are they?

Have the two become more different than alike today? Both have had more than their fair share of gentrification, cashing in on their close-in to the city locations and excellent public transportation connections.

But Evanston appears to have developed far more. Downtown Oak Park is a mere fraction of dowtown Evanston's size. Evanston is having a downtown building boom with condos and high end stores that just isn't happening to the same degree in Oak Park; downtown Evanston has no obscene bottle neckes like Harlme Ave. Evanston's building boom also is taking place in other transit oriented areas (i.e. Chicago Ave) that again Oak Park cannot parrallel. Evanston's restauratns have become legandary and exceed even the excellent selection that Oak Park has. Northwestern continues to thrieve and build.

Have we reached a point where Evanston has left Oak Park in the dust, or are the two really still quite competitive?
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
50 views and no responses? You'd think one stoned Evanstonian or recently parked Oak Parker would offer something (anything!) in reply!

Or even a knowledgable Chicagoan who knows these two share a lot with the city's most urbane neighborhoods (and particularly with Hyde Park).
 

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Your assessment hits it spot on. That might account for the lack of response. I frequent Evanston, but have been to Oak Park only a few times. Evanston is indeed a more lively atmosphere than Oak Park, perhaps it's partly a function of where developers of late have set their sights and ventured their dollars. Oak Park might be the next hot area.
 

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I don't know much about Oak Park, never been, but Evanston kicks ass. I often visit and its got a fabulous downtown.
 

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Evanston has a cool downtown, but Oak Park is my personal favorite, since i live several miles south, and visit often. Oak Park is like going back in time, since most of the architecture is 19th century or newer architecture that replicates that. The old FLW style is also very present in the suburb, giving it a very cool antiquated vibe. Modern isnt welcome here, and honestly, it shouldnt be. Wrong place for that.

Evanston has a modern glassy skyline, with a lot of tall glass towers. Different dynamic. Evanston is a little more lively, but that is because it is a center for a larger suburban base... the entire north shore drains into Evanston. Oak Park feeds off of only River Forest, Berwyn, and parts of Northwest Chicago. THen there is poverty to the east (Austin), and to the west (Melrose Park, Bellwood, etc) and to the southeast (Cicero, Lawndale, etc.). The rest of the money in the area drains to malls and lifestyle centers to the west.

So in many respects, Evanston has really left Oak Park in the dust. But, with rising property values in the city's west side bringing in residents with more disposable income, and the slow stabalization and gentrification of Berwyn and Cicero, as well as the skyrocketing property values in East Oak Park, its really giving OP a good and healthy shot in the arm. OP has excellent transit as well, arguably better than Evanston (Blue Line, Green Line, Metra, CTA+PACE buses), and is a growing tourist attraction for Chicago tourists, who visit OP for its FLW works, and make a stop at the Garfield Park Conservatory along the way on the Green Line :)
 

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Iv unfortunately haven’t been to Oak Park, but as for Evanston (the city I was born in -Evanston hospital) its been making some unbelievable strides lately. Loads of new construction, the new theater etc. I think it has to do with the fact that its next to the lake which makes it a more desirable local to invest in.
 

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No Oak Park left itself behind
 

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Can anyone explain the development explosion in Evanston? Is it something started by NU that reached a critical mass? It's not an urban renewal phenomenon, for it has sprung up in rather fallow ground. Isn't most of it west of the downtown and near the train tracks?
 

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Evanston just has two main advantages that are not afforded to Oak Park that seperate them as far as I concerned. That is Northwestern and the lake. The lake front in Evanston feels similar to a little Chicago lake front that gives it a great advantage. Northwestern also gives it an intellectual and young base that Oak Park can't duplicate to the same extant.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Frumie said:
Can anyone explain the development explosion in Evanston? Is it something started by NU that reached a critical mass? It's not an urban renewal phenomenon, for it has sprung up in rather fallow ground. Isn't most of it west of the downtown and near the train tracks?
Take all the stuff that was there before: the North Shore location, the lakefront, the outstanding cross between being a city and a suburb, the unique character of the place enhanced by being a college town for a major univeristy like NU.

Now fast forward to an era when people want access to the city, want good public transportation, want to be able to walk in a real street grid and you get Evanston 2005.

From Downtown Evanston south to Howard Street, CTA and Metra parallel each other. That's why condos are going up all along Chicago Avenue. Meanwhile downtown, where the two stations are adjacent, Evanston has created a critical mass that allows you to leave your (25 storey) condo and have shops, restaurants, movies, culture, transportation at your door step. Forgive the hyperbole, but it takes the best of Lincoln Park and downtown Naperville....and leaves the worst behind.

Transit oriented development has been the key motivator, but the fact that it is taking place in an incedibly special setting doesn't hurt one bit.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Frumie, one last note:

despite a horrendous history of town and gown battle (about as bad as it can get), Evanston and Northwestern did manage to come together to create the downtown you see today. First though the relatively failed Evanston-NU research park, but far more successfully in the more commercial elements you see there today.

I'm not sure where the areas west of the tracks are that you are talking about as far as devlopment, unless you mean the portions of Davis and Church streets from the tracks to Ridge, which have seen similiar devlopment to what is east of the tracks.

Other than that, the development in Evanston definitely leans to the east. The last large scale devlopment west in Evanston (and one very much out of tune with today's development) involved a series of large scale open air and big box malls in the area west of Dodge and east of McCormick (Ev-Skok city limits). And that stuff is anything but exciting.
 
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