Three-bedroom new-ish house with a yard on a quiet street in a diverse area, within walking distance of a good CPS neighborhood school, close to an El stop, with parks and restaurants nearby.
These were our requirements when my husband and I were looking to move out of our cramped two-bedroom condo in Edgewater with our then 2-year-old son back in 2015. A tall order, for sure. But Old Irving Park, a small neighborhood straddling 90/94 on the Northwest Side, delivered on all points — and then some.
"It's a little bit of suburbia in the city," I often say to people unfamiliar with Old Irving. Houses with decent-size backyards can often be found for less than $1 million; the community is tight knit (I'm a member of the Old Irving Park Association and the Irving Park Garden Club); my son's school, Belding Elementary, is a 2-block walk from our house and nearly all the kids on our block go there; and we know our neighbors — especially the many parents of kids my sons' ages.
Here are a few of our favorite family spots in and around OIP:
[Related: Family neighborhood guide to Sauganash]
Our go-tos are Mayfair Park (cute water feature in the summer), Independence Park (giant slides, climbing structures, and a zip line), playgrounds at Belding Elementary and Disney II , LaBagh Woods (wide open grassy areas, the southern start of the North Branch Trail, toddler-friendly hiking trails along the Chicago River), Portage Park (great pool with kids' spray park, big playground), and Gompers Park (fun playground and a perfect hill for sledding). Yeah…we go to a lot of parks!
We're partial to Belding, of course, but there are plenty of other top-notch schools nearby, including St. Edward Catholic School, Disney II Magnet School, St. Viator Catholic School, and lots of great daycares.
Our kids interact with other children from different countries, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds every single day. Belding is majority minority, more than 25 languages are spoken there, and my son is learning both Arabic and Spanish.
One drawback to living in Old Irving is its lack of retail density. Coming from Edgewater, where you could quickly walk to countless restaurants and bars, a Whole Foods, and independent shops, it was a bit of an adjustment to have to drive to pick up groceries or shop for clothes and gifts. That said, a number of great spots have opened in the past few years that are family-friendly and have great food (a rare combo!).
[Related: Family neighborhood guide to Buena Park]
We love Backlot Coffee for donuts, Eris Brewery and Cider House for its big outdoor patio, Community Tavern for its generous and delicious kids' meals (kids eat free Tuesday–Thursday and Sunday — score!), Old Irving Brewing for its cornhole area where kids can burn off energy (or just hoard beanbags like my kids do), and Easy Street Pizza for its delicious pizza and enclosed patio.
Other fun stuff
The beautiful, light-filled Independence Library is a great way to spend a couple hours — we can't wait for the wood toys in the kids' corner and child programming to come back. The Irving Park YMCA ties the community together with social events, affordable summer camp, swim and sports lessons, and a kids' club where little ones can play while parents work out. Chicago Costume is just a few blocks from our house — the place is bananas and a fun stop even when it's not Halloween.
Old Irving Park does more than check all our boxes — it's the first neighborhood we've lived in that really felt like home. When so many families seem to be moving to the suburbs, we continue to be thankful for our city/suburb hybrid 'hood.