Tag Archives: Elgin

My City in the Suburbs

Elgin recently announced a new slogan: we are now “The City in the Suburbs.” In a lot of ways, this meshes with my own perception of Elgin, if the slogan itself is a bit drab.

I have always loved Elgin because it is a very unique blend of urban (walkable, lots of amenities, plenty to see and do) and suburban (every kind of big box store you could want, good park district, dark enough for stars), with just a twist of rural (farmstands).

Over on BocaJump, Paul Challacombe writes about our Burbtown, noting, “if your kid grows up, illiterate, unhealthy and bereft of culture, it should not be blamed on the city we live in.”

I’ve lived in areas on both ends of the spectrum. I grew up in a cornfield subdivision halfway between Crystal Lake and McHenry, where we were marooned seven miles from civilization, which I often bemoaned, especially without a car. My freshman year of high school, my family lived in Budapest, Hungary, where most people didn’t have cars, so an extensive public transit system whisked you around town. (Returning to the cornfields at 15, and remaining through the rest of high school, was especially difficult after a year of relatively free movement.) Then I spent 7 years in Chicago without a car, where I rode the CTA and walked anywhere I needed to go.

I didn’t know all that much about Elgin when I moved here, but I knew it appeared to hit that balance. I could have my walkability – to the train, the library, the grocery, entertainment and restaurants – and at the same time, a car puts me in easy range of anything else I could possibly need, though a tank of gas typically lasts 3-4 weeks. Heck, I can walk to the Symphony or bike to concerts in Wing Park – I couldn’t do that in Chicago!

A city with 100,000+ people is large enough to support the symphony, a great library system and lots of events. Our sheer size – and historic homes – helps set us apart from all those other suburbs. I’d rather live in a place with a huge variety of houses than another cookie-cutter subdivision. In my neighborhood alone, we have homes dating all the way back to the 1860s, with most built between 1890 and 1940, ranging from Victorians, Queen Annes, 4-squares, bungalows, Sears Kit homes, and even a few 40s ranches.

So while I’m not thrilled that consultants were paid a lot of money to develop a relatively mundane slogan, I think they got it right. We really are the city amongst all the northwest suburbs. While Schaumburg and Naperville may be larger as far as populations, they’re really less cities and more loosely strung together subdivisions, connected by overly congested arterial roads lined with strip malls. Sure, Elgin has that on Randall Road, but the majority of our city is concentrated elsewhere, in areas where sidewalks link homes with schools, parks, small businesses and other amenities.

What’s your impression? If you’re a native (or recent) Elginite, do you agree with the “City in the Suburbs” moniker? If you don’t live here, does it fit your conception of what Elgin is (or isn’t)?