Despite the fact that the Near North Side neighborhood is one of 77 official Chicago communities, with boundaries that have been in place since the early 1920s, the term Near North Side has come to be identified with just about the entire area just north of downtown Chicago. Today, this designation encompasses a number of popular neighborhoods, such as Old Town, River North and The Gold Coast. To discuss the neighborhood in more contemporary terms, however, it’s best to use the city’s more recent neighborhood borders, officially recognized in 1993 by the Chicago City Council. These boundaries place the Near North neighborhood off the lakefront and more northwest along the north branch of the Chicago River.
The Near North Side neighborhood is bordered by parts of Michigan Avenue and State Street along its eastern edge. On the north, the neighborhood extends to Division Street, on the south as far as Wacker Drive, and on the west its border runs along N Clark Street for the most part, though as far west as Sedgwick Avenue north of Chicago Avenue. It makes for a rather odd shaped boundary, but suffice it to say that the Near North Side is really more the Near North(west) Side.
The Near North Side is without a doubt the oldest part of the City of Chicago. The Michigan Avenue Bridge over the Chicago River is where Jean Baptiste Point du Sable built the first permanent settlement in the 1780s on the northern banks of the river. Today, a marker in what is now Pioneer Court honors that location. Close by that first settlement, a New Yorker by the name of William Ogden came to Chicago in the 1830s to oversee land that his family had bought along the Chicago River. Though appalled by the swampy conditions, he nevertheless recognized and benefited from rapidly increasing real estate values, inducing him to buy additional tracts of land, making him personally wealthy, and setting the stage for his being elected the city’s first mayor in 1837. Also in the same area was a section once known as McCormickville because so many of the city’s famous McCormick family built mansions around there in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Then there is the nearby fabled Water Tower, built in 1869 to provide drinking water to this growing city. Why fabled? The then-new tower was one of only five public buildings and a bungalow in the disaster area to survive the tragic Chicago Fire of 1871. It still stands today as the second oldest water tower in the nation. Needless to say, this neighborhood has a long and storied history.
Since the Near North Side is literally adjacent to downtown Chicago, the commute couldn’t be more convenient. Depending on where one resides, commuting to the city’s central business is often just a leisurely walk. However, for those adverse to hoofing it, there are a number of public transportation options that include bus lines (22 Clark Street, 29 State Street, and 151 Sheridan Road, which runs along Michigan Avenue, are just a few) and the CTA Red Line stops at Division, Chicago, and Grand, all of which connect to downtown or points north in the city. For cyclists, there are miles of bike lanes throughout the neighborhood and numerous Divvy Stations, where one can rent a bike.
One of Chicago’s premier selective enrollment high schools, Walter Payton College Prep, is located here, offering world-class math, science, world-language, humanities, fine arts, and adventure education programs. Also, close by, is the Ogden International School of Chicago, a full continuum (Grades K-12) International Baccalaureate School and the first in Illinois to receive the distinction of having authorized International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programs, Middle Years Programs, and Diploma Programs. Only 25 schools in North America hold this distinction. Also, the Catholic Archdiocese has one of its most noted schools here – the Frances Xavier Warde School – an elementary school that provides an academically excellent, values-oriented education to students of all ethnic, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds.
Statistics for the Near North Side community encompass an area larger than just the neighborhood of the Near North Side but are certainly reflective of the neighborhood, which ranks as one of the safer neighborhoods in the city for violent crime at 51st out of 77 communities. As for property crime, it ranks 4th out of 77 communities but above average in safety when it comes to quality of life crimes (36th out of 77 communities).
“The Near North is pleasant and walkable, frequented by tourists and local professionals”, says Nadia Balint, a long time Chicago resident. “It is one of the best neighborhoods you can wish for in terms of safety.”
Shopping and Dining
There’s never a shortage of choices for shopping and dining here but given the popularity of many of the restaurants, there can be a shortage of “seats”, especially if a restaurant doesn’t take reservations. That’s not the case for two excellent dining establishments, the Tavern on Rush and Joe’s Seafood. Tavern on Rush is a steakhouse offering an extensive menu of classic American fare, including USDA prime aged steaks and chops, fresh fish and seafood, and one of the best Sunday brunches in the city. Joe’s Seafood, one of the most widely recognized restaurants in the world, also serves great steaks but it’s their seafood that they’re known for, especially their famous Florida Stone crabs.
View this post on Instagram
If you’re looking for a sophisticated menu that’s both approachable and affordable, head over to Bistronomic. This delightful eatery’s modern menu combines the timelessness of French culinary culture with fresh ingredients sourced from Midwest farms. The best part is you can enjoy expertly prepared dishes such as coq au vin, beef bourguignon or housemade country pate in their beautiful patio area, which is both well-ventilated and warm even in the coldest of temperatures.
You won’t get a reservation at the Original Pancake House but you will get one of the best breakfasts in the city, especially the pancakes. Their signature item, the Dutch Baby, is an oven baked pancake served with lemon, whipped butter and powdered sugar, though their crepes and omelets are also hard to resist.
As for shopping, just about every boutique and high-end retailer calls the area home, especially along “The Mag Mile” of Michigan Avenue.
Cost of Living
The area is known for offering excellent shopping and dining options, access to top-rated education, and plenty of outdoor fun opportunities. But living here does come at a price, especially when it comes to housing costs. The average rent for Near North apartments is $2,439 – pretty expensive if you look at the overall city average which sits somewhere around $1,943/mo. Many of the shops and restaurants tend to be trendy (read: pricey) but, on the other side, residents here are well aware of where to find the affordable places to shop and dine. There’s also no shortage of grocery stores in the area, making cooking at home a much more reasonable alternative.
Why Live Here?
The question should be, why wouldn’t you live here? Given its “extremely livable” classification and its almost perfect Walk Score that makes the neighborhood a walker’s paradise, as well as all the shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues at your doorstep, you’d think there couldn’t be a reason not to live here. Then, of course, there’s all the world-class hotels in the area with their fabulous restaurants and incredible spas, such as those at The Peninsula Hotel, Asia’s oldest hotel company, which opened in Hong Kong in 1866. Its spa and wellness center alone could be reason enough to move into the neighborhood, much less, not one but three exceptional award-winning restaurants, where you can dine.
What You Can Rent in the Near North Side
The neighborhood has its share of trendy, luxury apartments as well as more reasonably priced studios and 1-bedroom places. Given the plethora of high-rises in the area, there’s never a shortage of available rental units, which means there’s always the possibility of finding one within your taste and budget.
Located at the north end of the neighborhood, both Jewel Foods and the European influenced Treasure Island Foods are right around the corner for all of your grocery shopping. In addition, Oak Street Beach and the lakefront trail are a mere couple blocks away, as is the CTA Redline stop at Clark and Division. If you have a car, sell it now! Layouts feature floor-to-ceiling bay windows with spectacular lake and city views and building amenities include a fitness center, dry cleaners, and outdoor pool with sundeck. Rents start at $1,476 for studio apartments.
Living here is living in the heart of the Near North Side neighborhood, with the CTA Redline stop at Chicago Avenue around the corner and all of Michigan Avenue shopping, including the magnificent Water Tower Place, at your doorstep. Life couldn’t be more convenient. Spacious floor plans from studio, 1-bedroom, and 2-bedroom apartments featuring private balconies, hardwood floors, and updated kitchens and baths. Laundry facilities and a fitness center are on-site. Convertibles start at $1,660/mo.
If you work in downtown Chicago, nothing could be more convenient. Sure you can hop the CTA Redline at Grand Avenue, but you could just as easily walk to just about anywhere downtown from here. Add to that the fact that Whole Foods is around the corner and Jewel Foods just a couple blocks away for all of your grocery shopping. Affordably-priced studio apartments feature hardwood floors throughout as well as newly remodeled kitchens and baths.
There’s no shortage of million dollar homes in the Near North Side neighborhood but there are also so many high-rise condominiums available that finding a place under $500,000 is never a problem. In fact, if a 1-bedroom unit suits your needs, you’ll find many under $250,000, which is nothing short of a steal considering the neighborhood amenities.
Make Near North Side Your New Home!
This neighborhood is without a doubt one of Chicago’s most livable and walkable neighborhoods with access to great transportation, and all the shopping, dining, and entertainment options you could possibly want. So come find your next place to live at www.rentcafe.com and enjoy all that makes the Near North Side such a great place to put down roots!
Check out more Chicago neighborhood guides:
Contributor: Don Gordon is an accomplished author and copywriter, having written two books, university course content, political speeches, and press releases.