Chicago’s North Shore

Chicago’s North Shore

I had the good fortune to first move to Chicago in 1972 when the city was on the cusp of its rebirth. It was an exciting time to be a young advertising account executive in one of the world’s great cities that was about to reclaim the attention of the country as a dazzling jewel on Lake Michigan. I had moved to Chicago from Milwaukee and although the Windy City was in need of major rejuvenation, it was Oz to me! Over the next four decades Chicago would become a sterling example of how an industrial town could once again find vitality and its place in the sun as one of America’s most architecturally stunning cities. Most urban experts put Chicago in that second tier of international cities (e.g. Paris, Singapore, and Frankfort). Not bad company for this old meat-packing and manufacturing town that has managed to transform itself in the new millennium. Mayor Richard Daley has been a strong leader and his emphasis on creating a green and livable gives hope to the Clevelands and Milwaukees of this world!

Chicago has always been famous for its skyline and no small plans are in the offing. Trump’s new 1,362 foot tower is nearing completion on the Chicago River and ground was recently broken on the Chicago Spire, a 2,000 foot tall condominium tower. With 1,200 units to sell in a difficult market, it will be interesting to see if Santiago Calatrava’s tour de force will rise from Lake Shore Drive. For a wonderful tour of this spectacular tower click here: The Chicago Spire. If completed, the Spire will be the second tallest building in the world after the Burj Dubai (2,625 feet) currently under construction in Abu Dhabi.

Before I sound too much like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Chicago does have its fair quotient of the typical ills affecting large American cities: endemic poverty, racial strife, a nasty problem with police corruption, and the usual dreadful public school system. MCIC, a Chicago research and consulting organization terms 22 of the 77 recognized city neighborhoods as either “Emerging Low Income” or in the worst category “Desertification”.. swathes of despair amidst a generally improving city.

On a brighter note, the city, somewhat imperfectly, tackles its problems head on under the able and popular lead of Mayor Daley, a man that may have some flaws, but all would agree has the best interests of his beloved city at heart. Yes, I am a totally biased observer of Chicago. I have seen the city bloom before my very eyes over the last 36 years from dreary and tired to exciting and new.

City vs. Suburb

As typical of American cities in the Northeast and Midwest, the city of Chicago has dramatically lost population from the heights of its industrial heyday. Locked into a mere 224 square miles, the population has dropped from 3,620,962 in 1950 to 2,783,726 in 1990. After a rally in the 90s to 2,896,016, it is again on the decline as the Census has estimated the city’s population at 2,833,321 in 2006.

In that same period of time the population of the suburbs, with no limits to there physical growth, have increased from 1,874,402 (1950) to 6,691,996 (2006). Chicagoland’s Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area now stretches from Wisconsin’s Kenosha County on the North to Kankakee County in the South and well into Indiana to the Southeast.

There has been a strikingly divergence in the suburbanization among racial groups. The 2000 Census showed that Non-Hispanic Whites have suburbanized the most with 79.7% of households found beyond the city limits, whereas 63.5% of Asians, 47.5% Of Hispanics, and 37.2% of African-Americans are suburbanites.

When one looks at the city/suburb contrasts of the wealthiest households (over $200,000 mean household income), the numbers shed some light on the paucity of wealthy Blacks and Hispanics found in the suburbs. No less than 83.4% of the wealthiest category of Asian households have moved out of the city. This percentage is even greater than 79.8% the $200,000+ Non-Hispanic Whites that have left the city. Wealthy Latino (55.4%) and Black households (47.8%) are much less likely to have moved out of the city.

Racial Patterns in the Higley 1000 Neighborhoods of Chicago

There are 70 Chicago neighborhoods in the Higley 1000. Sixty-nine of these are in the suburbs as only one Block Group is found in the city in Lincoln Park. Even the core of the Gold Coast, Chicago’s most exclusive neighborhood, did not have a high enough mean household income to be included in the list. This is another case where the homogeneity of the suburbs triumphs the diversity of city life, even in the most gilded precints.

There were 45,587 households found in these most elite of suburban neighborhoods of Chicago. The racial breakdown: 93.3% Non-Hispanic White, 4.0% Asian, 1.1% Hispanic, and 0.9% African-American. Asian-Americans are heavily clustered in Oak Brook, a nouveau riche suburb in the Western suburbs of Du Page County. Oak Brook is famous for two things in Chicago: the headquarters of McDonalds and polo.

There are three main clusters of suburban wealth in the Chicago area: the North Shore, the Barrington Area, and the West Suburban area. There are separate postings on the Barrington Area and the West Suburban area of Chicago centered on Hinsdale and Oak Brook.

Two neighborhoods are found in the South Suburban area: Flossmoor Country Club and a neighborhood just South of the Prestwick Country Club in Frankfort. I have a word on the South Suburban area at the end of the West Suburban article.

The North Shore

View a Larger Map of Higley 1000 neighborhoods in North Shore Chicago

As every Chicagoan knows, the North Shore of Chicago is where the true movers and shakers of suburban of power and influence reside. Sheridan Road is the gateway to a sumptuous swathe of suburbia that bursts out Chicago’s East Rodger Park neighborhood and sweeps around lakeside Calvary Cemetery into Evanston. After a couple of blocks of preliminary apartments in the Oakton neighborhood of Southern Evanston, Sheridan Road bursts into Evanston’s gorgeous 19th Century mansions that are sprinkled with just about every imaginable style of residential architecture from Victorian Gothic to Modernist. Sheridan Road proceeds 27 miles north through the suburban communities that are the epitome old Social Register families and the nouveau riche alike: Kenilworth, Winnetka, Glencoe, and Lake Forest to name a few. The parade of wealth ends abruptly just past the Shoreline Country Club in Lake Bluff in impoverished North Chicago, a largely African-American community that is home to the Great Lakes Naval Station.

The heavily wooded ravines and dramatic bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan are dotted with the mansions of Chicago’s elite. As I chronicled in my book, Power, Privilege, and Place: The Geography of the American Upper Class, Lake Forest near the northern end of Sheridan Road has the largest number of Social Register families, distantly followed by Winnetka. The Onwentsia Club in the center of Lake Forest is at the heart of North Shore society.

View Larger Map of Indian Hill Club neighborhood

The wealthiest neighborhood in Chicago is the Indian Hill Club-Woodley Road neighborhood that lies partly in Southern Winnetka and a small patch of unincorporated New Trier Township. With a mean household income of $459,070, this sylvan patch of suburban bliss is ranked 5th in the Higley 1000. Although the Woodley Road enclave is marked “Private, Residents only”, this researcher was able to make a pass through unmolested by the authorities.

Of Chicago’s 70 neighborhoods found in the Higley 1000, 39 are found on the North Shore. The racial makeup is overwhelmingly Non-Hispanic White (95.3%) and there are few neighborhoods with significant Asian populations except a couple of areas in western Northbrook near the Tri-State Tollway. Northbrook is a second tier suburb in that is has no lakefront and is generally less affluent. The neighborhoods of Stonebrook-Woodmere (12.2% Asian) is the only place on the North Shore that showed any racial diversity in the 2000 Census.

The White population of the North Shore is not technically WASP in the sense that people of English ancestry dominate. WASPs make up only 22.1% of Kenilworth’s population and as low as 10.7% of the population in heavily Jewish Glencoe. The two largest ethnic groups found on the North Shore are Irish and German. One of the reasons why one can see so many blondes driving BMWs may have something to do with the rather large numbers of people of Scandinavian and Dutch ancestry that live in the area (around 10%).

In Conclusion

Chicago’s wealthiest suburban neighborhoods are heavily clustered on the North Shore where 39 of Chicago’s 70 Higley 1000 neighborhoods are located. The expansion of this elite slice of Chicagoland is blocked to the north by poor North Chicago and blue-collar Waukegan and has expanded to the West towards the old farming town of Barrington in southern Lake County. As is typical of the largest of American cities, there is more than one sector of high income growth and Chicago is no different. To the West there is a substantial cluster of wealthy neighborhoods centered on old money Hinsdale and nouveau riche Oak Brook. The southern suburbs have faced a decline in socio-economic status over the last 35 years as they have become increasingly African-American. It is important to remember that these neighborhoods are still beautiful, they just have not kept up with the Jones!

Posted in Metro Briefs, Racial Diversity on Jun 22nd, 2008, 9:29 am by Stephen Higley   

9 Responses to “Chicago’s North Shore”

  1. Mike
    December 8th, 2007 | 1:18 pm

    Wow, this is quite interesting and a great deal of research has been put into this work. However, the lack of blacks on the north shore of Chicago is something that happened between 1905-1920 the great “black migration” from the south is probably the biggest culprit. Chicago, was founded by a Haitian born black slave in the early 1700’s it is a bit ironic, that blacks do not live in the North Shore at greater numbers today than in 1700s. However, history provides us with the most likely reasons as to why this conundrum exists.

    Blacks and whites in Chicago prior to the “great migration” of poor southern blacks lived in very integrated neighborhoods with a large percentage of blacks residing in the North Shore area of Chicago (black pop was like 15k to 20k). It was not until the “lower class” relatively poor uneducated “redneck” blacks moved to the area during the great migration that restricted blacks from accessing upper middle, middle, and lower class white neighborhoods (note not all blacks from the southern migration were poor and uneducated, but the bulk of them were obviously). Following the influx of southern uneducated farming blacks whites gross generalized all blacks even the one’s that had been their neighbors for 30 years into one stereotyped bucked (very similar to today ie all blacks are poor & uneducated etc). They restricted upper class blacks from living in upper class white areas regardless of their class, education, and wealth. Also lower and middle class whites did the same even though they may not have been as wealthy or as educated as the black upper class. This would probably be the same middle class whose grandchildren now heavily populate the North Shore areas such as Winnetka and Glencoe etc.

    The reason so many blacks lived on the South Side of Chicago and still do is all historically related to the early 1900’s. It was the only place the city would allow them to have land after the great migration. The historical contexts to a lot of your questions are very relevant even to today’s discussion as to why blacks with money do not populate these areas in higher numbers.

    The question I believe you want to know is, why do upper class blacks, who now by law, are allowed to move into these areas choose not to at such a high rate. Clearly upper class Asians would have been subject to the same laws as blacks and restriction, but they seem to move into these elite north shore neighborhoods at higher rates than there upper class black counter parts.

    In most cases i would have to assume for blacks it is psychological. I think those blacks that grew up upper middle class around whites in the north shore are probably the most likely group of upper class blacks to remain in predominately upper class white neighborhoods (very small percentage). However, I would suspect that blacks who grew upper class around other blacks would probably remain very suspicious of all white neighborhoods and tend to choose to live around other upper middle class blacks. I think there are two segments of black upper class just like there are two segments of white upper class. The first segment of black upper class does not mind integrating with white upper class and will do so at any available opportunity. The second set of black upper class grew up in the 1970’s during the pro-black era and most likely lived amongst other blacks and probably has a healthy distrust of whites in general, so they would choose to live around upper class blacks as opposed to upper class whites. There are two segments of white upper crust society the less racist segment (older more establish whites who have been wealthy for a few generations) and the new money more racist segment as they typically come from the lower white middle and poor segment.

    I think when you’re trying to figure out why one group of upper class individuals live in one area you cannot discount race, education, and historical significance. I would be happy to hear how the whites treated their lower class as they were also subject to the great poor southern white migration and the influx of poor white immigration. Look at the transformation of the Irish in Boston. The Irish were the lowest people on the scale and now albeit illegal activities they practically run everything in the city of Boston and State of MA. However if you take a closer look you’ll notice that most Irish people in Boston are either poor or lower middle class (blue collar). The WASP still control the largest portion of the money and assets, but it would be interesting to take a look at that within the white community. I would be interested to hear the historical significance of how those whites who are currently the elite in Chicago’s north shore got there you know? Are they the decedents of the poor white southern farm families that moved there in the early 1920’s or are they the decedents of the immigrants of that same time period? It’s been talked about in the black community ad nausea for a decade now.

    Oh PS where do i go to get the book?

  2. Stephen Higley
    December 17th, 2007 | 9:41 pm


    Thanks for your great response! I think that historical processes did indeed have a great deal to do with Blacks first settling in on the South Side of Chicago. Don’t forget that the stockyards were on this side of town and the heavy manufacturers always had some dreadful jobs that even the immigrants didn’t clamor for.

    When Mrs. Potter Palmer built her mansion on Oak Street and Lake Shore Drive in the early 1890s, the mansions of Prairie Avenue were deserted by the Anglo Blue bloods whole scale during the following 20 years for the fashionable North side. Encroaching Horse-car/trolley lines and the Levy red light district also played a role in elite Chicago’s northward flight. Although it would take decades for other South side Chicago neighborhoods to decline (e.g. South Shore, Hyde Park, and Kenwood), the wholesale abandonment was indeed set in motion in at the turn of the century. Parts of Hyde Park and Kenwood would be able to hang on only through the efforts of the University of Chicago. Kenwood is currently being reborn as a solid middle class Black neighborhood.

    Although I have no first hand knowledge, I do think that your hypothesis that nouveau riche Blacks are not “comfortable” in wealthy white neighborhoods might have some validity. It would be an interesting research topic.

    In light of your observations about the ethnic make-up of the wealthiest suburbs, the 2000 Census clearly shows that the old WASP elite is in serious decline. I looked at entire suburbs instead of individual neighborhoods as this was the finest detail I could find on Ancestry in the Census. I analyzed four of the wealthiest suburbs: Kenilworth, Winnetka, Glencoe, and Lake Forest.

    The ethnic group that is most widely represented in these four suburbs are Germans. They came in first in Lake Forest (22.3%), Winnetka (23.1%), and in Glencoe (16.0%). Germans were third in Kenilworth (20.6%).

    The Irish were first in Kenilworth and a close second to the Germans in Winnetka. They were also second to the Germans in both Lake Forest and Glencoe. The WASPs could only manage a second in Kenilworth, and third in Winnetka and Lake Forest. The English fell to 4th in heavily Jewish Glencoe behind Russians. So much for the WASP ascendancy on Chicago’s North Shore. They only made up 22.1% in Kenilworth, 18.3% in Winnetka, 16.4% in Lake Forest, and a mere 10.7% in Glencoe.

    What accounts for all of those blonde hair blue eyed people running around the North Shore in their BMWs? There are quite a few Scandinavians and Dutch roamin’ them thar suburbs. These Germanic people make-up an additional 9.7% of Kenilworth’s population, 9.6% of Lake Forest, and 9.0% of Winnetka.

  3. Claire
    January 22nd, 2008 | 4:23 pm


    I’m doing a research project on the ethnic makeup of the region surrounding the Islamic Circle of North America Centre, on the corner of Granville and California.
    It looks like there are some very wealthy areas nearby in Evanston, but I can’t find much other information.

    Dr. Higley, do you have any information about the religions, ethnicities, or economic levels present in that area?


  4. Christopher
    May 22nd, 2009 | 2:48 am

    My parents purchased a house in a desireable part of Lincolnshire in the early 1980’s, becoming one of the neighborhoods first black residents. I can remember only one other black family up until the ’90’s. I have fond memories of riding my bike around the neighborhood and being asked if I was Michael Jordan’s son (who, by the way, resided in nearby Lake Forest).

  5. James
    November 27th, 2010 | 8:30 pm

    Mike and Stephen–

    I am usually not one to disabuse people of their notions about the utter lack of black upperclass families, but I find what both of you posit to be overly general and very problematic.

    To say that there was a sizable African-American population on the North Shore or a large black middle-class that had prospects of racial integration disrupted by the Great Migration seems like a heterodox way of reading and interpreting facts. I take issue with you calling black migration a “culprit” as well. I think it was less about intra-racial tensions between Northern blacks vs. Southern blacks because at the turn of the century 93% of African Americans lived in the South. Therefore, there were not many blacks in the North to begin with–the vast majority arrived after the turn of the century–and not because they wanted to drain the city’s financial resources, make it crime-ridden, or the like. They simply believed that they could earn a decent living, not be constantly assaulted by racial slurs, lynchings, or senseless murders, and give their families a better life. Once North, they found the situation was not much better; lack of resources, educational and income disparities, eventual white flight which took away the tax base (mainly because whites–even poor whites and newly immigrated Europeans–could get manufacturing jobs, had more extensive anchoring networks to help them, etc. Perhaps the lack of more upward mobility of blacks–whether it be lack of education and service, diminished expectations, or the all-time favorite of the “boot-strappers”: shiftlessness–is the fact that they have not attained as much as other groups and are constantly blamed for being poor and undereducated.

    Southern blacks did not migrate to the same places that blacks on the North Shore lived (which my research informs me would have been small segments of Glencoe and Evanston where they were permitted to live). How can you then conclude that black migrants completely changed white notions of ALL African Americans? Your logic does not seem cogent or practical, because Northern whites and the communities in which they resided were inaccessible not simply because of race, but also because of income disparities. The wealth divide, lack of education (or access to it), lack of more skilled labor, and housing covenants barring homeowners from selling to blacks exclusively has occluded black migration to the North Shore.
    Asians that live on the North Shore were in no way subjected to same scrutiny as blacks were

    I have a ton more to say but I don’t believe it is worthwhile.

    All the best,


  6. Carla
    December 12th, 2010 | 9:58 pm

    Your information seems to be incorrect. Wilmette is the closest to the lake, and it is by far the wealthiest community of the north shore. winnetka is 2nd. Kenilworth 3rd, lake forest 4th, glencoe last.

  7. December 14th, 2010 | 9:46 am

    […] Chicago's North Shore | The Higley 1000 22 Jun 2008. Racial Patterns in the Higley 1000 Neighborhoods of Chicago. Country Club and a neighborhood just South of the Prestwick Country Club in Frankfort… The reason so many blacks lived on the South Side of Chicago and still do is all. Look at the transformation of the Irish in Boston. Chicago's North Shore | The Higley 1000 […]

  8. Stephen Higley
    December 14th, 2010 | 10:42 am

    Dear Carla,

    And your information is based on what? You are wrong based on 2000 Census Block Group data. We will soon have the American Community Survey of 2005-2009 and you will be wrong again. Wilmette wealthier than Kenilworth or Winnetka, indeed! (or for that matter, Glencoe or Lake Forest!)

  9. John
    October 7th, 2011 | 7:07 am

    More info on Kenilworth IL. Median sales price in 2011 is $1.5M (Trulia). It’s considered the Midwest’s most exclusive community (Forbes). The Harvard Club of Chicago’s address is a PO Box in Kenilworth (Harvard University). 49% of the village’s residents aged 25 and over hold a graduate or professional degree (City Data). Median household income is approximately $250,000 a year (City Data & Forbes).

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