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10 Little-Known Facts to Learn about Chicago before Moving There

Chicago can be quite polarizing – hundreds of thousands are moving in annually, but even more are moving out. Despite the 231,000 people who moved here in 2017, the city experienced a population loss of 22,000 from 2017 to 2018. However, the city has its staunch supporters – people who would never consider moving out – and it also attracts, as already stated, plenty of newcomers annually.

And there’s no shortage of reasons why people would want to move to Chicago. The city is beautifully located on the shores of Lake Michigan and boasts an impressive architecture, mirroring its long history and multicultural heritage. The area’s economy is probably the most diverse of all non-coastal US metros. Chicago hosts about 400 corporate headquarters, including 36 belonging to Fortune 500 companies. Due to its diverse economy, finding a job in the area shouldn’t be an issue. The unemployment rate was at 3.1% in the Chicago metro area in November 2019, lower than the national average of 3.5%.

In terms of housing and living costs, there’s mixed news. According to RENTCafé, the average rent in Chicago, at the end of 2019, was $1,947 per month, significantly above the national average of $1,474. However, housing in Chicago is still a lot more affordable than in other major metros, like Seattle, where the average monthly rent at the end of the last year was $2,121, or Los Angeles, where it was $2,546.

You can also save some money on rent by getting a small apartment and compensating for the lack of space at home with a self-storage unit. Renting a self-storage unit in Chicago is quite inexpensive – the monthly street rate for a standard 10×10 unit was $100 in November 2019, lower than the national average of $114 and almost half the $183 the same type of unit costs in Los Angeles, according to Yardi Matrix.

One thing is certain about Chicago – the city is anything but boring and predictable. There are so many fascinating quirks about it, that we decided to compile a list of lesser-known things about Chicago. Hopefully, these interesting facts will help you decide whether relocating to Chicago is the right move for you.

1. The City of Innovations

Chicago seems to stir creativity in people, since a pretty varied range of products that became staples of our daily lives originate here. Twinkies were first created here, in the 1930s, by local baker James Alexander Dewar. The deep-dish pizza is another iconic food that originates in the Windy City – the pie was first baked in the early 1940s at Pizzeria Uno in Chicago by Ike Sewell.

An apparently small but impactful invention – spray paint – also originates in Chicago. We should thank Joseph Binks, a Chicagoan working at a local store, for developing such a useful idea in the late 19th century – it was used to whitewash the city’s World’s Columbian Exposition buildings in 1893.

Arguably the world’s first vacuum cleaner, aptly named “the Whirlwind,” was also invented in the Windy City, in 1869, by Ives W. McGaffey. The original Ferris Wheel, the first blood bank, the first televised debate between presidential candidates, and the first successful atomic energy experiment all occurred in Chicago also.

2. Chicago Used to Be a Wild Onion Field

The name of the city comes from the French rendering of the Native American word “shikaakwa”, meaning wild onions – apparently, centuries ago, the banks of the Chicago River, where the city now stands, were a huge wild onion field. The word can also be translated as “skunk” – so, not the most glamorous name origin, truth be told.

3. Route 66 Starts Here

Route 66, also known as The Main Street of America, starts in Chicago. It’s one of the first highways in the county’s highway system and originally ran for almost 2,500 miles, from Chicago to Santa Monica in California. Today, it has mainly been replaced by the Interstate Highway System, but it is designated as a National Scenic Byway and renamed “The Historic Route 66.” Living in Chicago makes it easier to plan an epic road trip along the famous Route 66.

4. Batman’s Fictional Gotham City Is Modeled after Chicago

Chicago’s amazing architecture inspired all sorts of creators, including comic book artists and movie directors. The fictional city of Gotham, where Batman lives, is mostly modeled on Chicago. Both “Batman Begins” and its sequel “The Dark Knight” were actually filmed in the city.

5. You Can See Four States from Chicago’s Tallest Skyscraper

The Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower) was completed in 1973 and is the second tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. On a sunny day, from its observation deck, you can see four states: Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.

6. Its River, Unlike Its Residents, Is Backwards

Around 1890, local authorities decided to reverse the flow of Chicago River in order to protect Lake Michigan from pollution. Today, the river flows backwards. The titanic engineering project was completed by 1900, a huge accomplishment that, in 1999, got the “Civil Engineering Monument of the Millennium” award from the American Society of Civil Engineers. The river is dyed green each year for St. Patrick’s Day, a tradition that started on 1956 – and the dye’s recipe is a heavily guarded secret.

7. Plenty of Hot Dog Stands

Hot dogs are serious business in Chicago. The city has about 2,000 hot dog stands, more than the number of all the city’s Burger King and McDonald’s restaurants combined. And, as you probably know, Chicago-style hot dogs are topped with mustard, onions and pickles – and never ketchup.

8. The City Was Physically Lifted in the 1850s

Chicago is definitely the land of amazing engineers and large-scale projects. They not only reversed the flow of a river, but, prior to that, during the 1850s and 1860s, the city’s streets, sidewalks and buildings were literally lifted using hydraulic jackscrews, to solve drainage issues.

9. Free Fun at the Zoo

Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo was established in 1868, sprawling across 350 acres of land and featuring a large variety of species. It’s one of the last free-admission zoo in the country, so enjoy that while it lasts.

10. Plenty of Parks and Beaches

Chicago has no less than 552 parks and 15 miles of bathing beaches. About 8.5% of the city’s total surface is dedicated to parks, and its official motto, chosen in the 1830s, is “Urbs in horto,” which is Latin for “City in a garden.” The shores of Lake Michigan make for amazing urban beaches – living in Chicago means that you don’t need to get out of the city to enjoy nature, sunshine and water sports.

Whether moving to Chicago or just visiting, there are plenty of things here to see, explore and experience: art and architecture, a diverse historic heritage, outdoor attractions, amazing foods and even more amazing people. If you know something interesting about Chicago, please let us know in the comments.

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About the author

Maria Gatea

Maria Gatea is a creative writer for RentCafe with a background in Journalism and Communication. After covering business and finance-related topics as a freelance writer for 15 years, she is now focusing on researching and writing about the real estate industry. You may contact Maria via email.

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