The last time we looked at the state of Illinois, it was a dark, cloudy day. We used science to determine the worst places to live there, and heard back from many of you who failed to agree with our data-driven analysis. That’s never fun.
But today is a much happier day. I am the bearer of good news. We get to talk about the best places to live in your awesome state.
After analyzing 342 of the Prairie State’s most populous cities, we came up with this list as the 10 best places to live in Illinois:
- Wilmette (Photos)
- Buffalo Grove (Photos)
- Highland Park (Photos)
- Deerfield (Photos)
- Hinsdale (Photos)
- Clarendon Hills (Photos)
- Northbrook (Photos)
- Park Ridge (Photos)
- Glenview (Photos)
- Elmhurst (Photos)
Read on below to see how we crunched the numbers and how your town ranked.
How do you decide if a place is lousy or not?
In order to rank the best places to live in Illinois, we had to determine what criteria people like or dislike about a place. It isn’t a stretch to assume that people like low crime, solid education, great weather, things to do and a stable economy.
So we scraped the internet for those criteria, and it spit out the answer. Like magic.
How we crunched the numbers
We threw a lot of criteria at this one in order to get the best, most complete results possible. Using FBI crime data, the government census, Bureau of Labor Statistics and Sperling’s Best Places, this is the criteria we used:
- Population Density (The higher the better – meaning there’s lots to do)
- Lowest Unemployment Rates
- Adjusted Median Income (Median income adjusted for the cost of living)
- Low Housing Vacancy Rate
- Education (High expenditures per student and low Student Teacher Ratio)
- Short Commute Times
- Low Crime
- The best Weather
If you’d like to see the complete list of cities, from best to best, scroll to the bottom of this post to see a link to the entire data set. If you’re wondering where Chicago ended up, it was smack dab in the middle. It’s pretty common that larger cities are in the middle when we run this data.
The Village of Wilmette has it made. In fact, according to science, it’s by far the best place to live in the state of Illinois.
The unemployment rate is the 8th lowest in the state at 5%, and residents make a pretty penny. Average home incomes are $130,000, and the average cost of a home is $545,000. Which is an indication that lots of people want to live here.
Public school kids get a lot of attention. Students in District 39 get the 5th-highest amount of funding in the state, per student. And the schools are ranked 21st overall for student support.
We’re not the only ones to tout it here. This Chicago suburb on the banks of Lake Michigan was called the 7th-best place to raise kids by BusinessWeek Magazine a while back.
2. Buffalo Grove
We’re probably going to see a pattern here. The Village of Buffalo Grove, another affluent Chicago suburb, also has great schools, low crime and a low unemployment rate.
There are only five other school districts that spend more per student than the schools in Buffalo Grove. But here’s the kicker: The population here has actually gone down almost 3% in the last 15 years, despite recent gains in real estate prices.
Is it too expensive to live here, or is Buffalo Grove just a hidden gem that’s gone under the radar?
3. Highland Park
There isn’t a city in the state of Illinois that has a lower unemployment rate–4.6%–than Highland Park. And they are solid paying jobs as well. Households here bring in about $115,000 a year in combined income, which means lots of front row seats at the Wrigley.
People here simply have a good life. Many of the houses here are along the North Shore, which means super summers (but lousy winters!) But I’m pretty sure they can afford to keep their homes heated during the nasty months.
If Michael Jordan makes your city his home, then it must rock.
Just inland from Highland Park is Deerfield, a place where residents earn higher incomes and also enjoy great schools (District 109). Deerfield High School is always atop the state rankings when it comes to academics, and Deerfield is home to several leading technology and medical companies.
The crime rate is actually a lot lower in Deerfield than it is in Highland Park. Statistically, Deerfield is the 21st safest place you can live in Illinois.
Folks who live here get to enjoy “The Square”, which is a large multi-use shopping center in the heart of downtown.
Crime is something that doesn’t happen very often in the Village of Hinsdale. Statistically the 30th safest place in the state, there were only two violent crimes in the entire city in 2013. And that might have been a couple of Packer fans who took things too far after a loss.
It’s really beautiful in Hinsdale, and new homes continue to replace older homes. Resident earn $165,000 a year, and homes are valued at more than $700,000. And downtown Chicago is only a 20-minute train ride away.
What else could you possibly want if you’re a midwesterner who likes the city life?
6. Clarendon Hills
Crime is even lower in the Village of Clarendon Hills, a tiny little spot right next door to Hinsdale. There was not a single violent crime here in all of 2013. Unbelievably, it’s only the 8th-safest place you can live in Illinois.
The only real downside is affordability. Because the real estate prices are going through the roof, and the cost of living is 40% higher than the rest of the nation, it can be hard for a younger family to afford to live in Clarendon Hills.
Northbrook is another village on Chicago’s North Shore. The unemployment rate here is 7th-lowest in the entire state at 5%. Other factors that make Northbrook so desirable is the solid education and home prices. Several school districts serve the area, and, combined, the student-teacher ratio is the 8th-lowest in Illinois. That means lots of ‘me’ time for your kids.
Homes are valued at nearly a half million dollars, and parents earn a combined $110,000 a year.
There’s nothing like the American dream.
8. Park Ridge
Across the board, Park Ridge doesn’t really stand out as being amazing in any category. It’s just generally awesome here, according to science. The only issue residents have to deal with is the noise from nearby O’Hare.
There isn’t a city in the state with more employed people than the Village of Glenview. At 4.6%, everyone who wants a job can get one. And the residents command high salaries ($100,000 a year combined income), and live in big fancy homes ($447,000 each).
We’re not saying money is why these cities are the ‘best’ in Illinois. What we’re implying is that money means safety and peace of mind. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Elmhurst is another Chicago suburb with a low unemployment rate and where residents earn high salaries.
Said one reviewer on City-Data.com: “ We feel incredibly safe in Elmhurst. The houses and neighborhoods are beautiful, the people are friendly, and it’s wonderful to have such good neighbors. People watch out for each other here, they teach their children to be respectful of others and things.”
There You Have It
If you’re analyzing places in Illinois with the best economic situations, where there’s low crime and there’s not a lot to do, this is an accurate list.
It’s probably not surprising to many in the greater Chicago area that all of the cities to top the best cities to live in Illinois list would be Chicago burbs.
Nothing against small towns with great communities out in the country. It’s just that there’s more to do up there.
Click here to read our analysis on the 10 worst places to live in Illinois.
If you’re curious enough, here are the worst places to live in Illinois, according to science.
- Benton (Pop. 7,284)
- Danville (Pop. 32,977)
- East St. Louis (Pop. 27,616)
- Hoopeston (Pop. 5,601)
- Kankakee (Pop. 27,560)
Disclaimer: This article is an opinion based on data. It should not be taken as fact.