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  1. I moved to Andersonville shortly before my oldest child was born. My husband and I were previously living in a one-bedroom condo in Bucktown, and we knew we wanted to start a family. Andersonville was appealing because of the easy access to the lake and parks, quiet streets with lots of trees, historic architecture, low crime, a diverse community and walkability to many shops and restaurants. Housing can be expensive in Andersonville, especially now. The single-family homes in the Lakewood/Balmoral historic district usually run over a million. However, for those open to condo living, there are plenty of options in the neighborhood. Andersonville feels like a small town within a big city. There are a lot of young families in the neighborhood. Many of the businesses along Clark Street have been around for many years, and there are less chains compared to other neighborhoods (let’s hope it stays that way!). People say hello or good morning when passing by on the sidewalk. Andersonville is known for its Swedish heritage, but nowadays Andersonville is celebrated for its acceptance of LGBTQ families, the Hispanic/Latinx community, and the Asian and African communities in neighboring Uptown and Edgewater. After five years, we are now a family of four. I am so grateful we decided to start a family in Andersonville. Here’s why. Parks The most prominent park in the area is the lakeshore. Most families congregate on Foster Beach on hot summer days or take bike rides along the bike path. There are many playgrounds in the area and each one is special in its own way. [Related: Family neighborhood guide to Logan Square] Schools The local neighborhood primary school serving most Andersonville families is Peirce School of International Studies, which is an authorized International Baccalaureate World School. The local high school, Nicholas Senn High School, is also an IB school. For families interested in private education, there are many options to choose from: Rogers Park Montessori School, Chicago Waldorf School, Chicago Friends School, St. Thomas of Canterbury School, Northside Catholic Academy and Sacred Heart Schools are all located in the area. Diversity The racial makeup of Andersonville is predominately white. There is also a sizable Hispanic/Latinx community, and the local public schools are very diverse. The Andersonville business community is supportive of social justice issues and the local public schools. Restaurants & Sweets Andersonville is not known for fine dining or cutting-edge restaurants but there are some good options, especially for kids. The Israeli restaurant Fiya has a large indoor and outdoor space and offers something for children and adults. My kids love their Challah French Toast. Parson’s Chicken and Fish recently opened a location on Clark Street with a very large patio. Calo Ristorante is an Andersonville institution and serves solid Italian American cuisine. A summertime favorite is George’s Ice Cream & Sweets. Our family likes to go late in the afternoon and then take our ice cream to the Andersonville Playlot around the corner on Ashland and Farragut. For amazing birthday cakes and Mexican bakery goods head to LaBaguette Panaderia. For grocery shopping, there is a Jewel Osco on Clark and Bryn Mawr and across the street is Edgewater Produce, which provides fresh and affordable produce and Mexican staples. [Related: Family neighborhood guide to Old Irving Park] Arts, Culture, & Other Fun Stuff The feminist bookstore, Women & Children First, has been in Andersonville since 1990. It has a large selection of children’s books and pre-COVID, they hosted a story time every Wednesday morning. The Swedish American Museum on Clark Street contains a Children’s Museum of Immigration (currently closed due to COVID-19). To celebrate Andersonville’s Swedish roots, the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce hosts a Midsommarfest in mid-June. There's also a family pride parade in June, as well. I always felt that Andersonville was the perfect mix of city living in a family-friendly environment. From toddlers to hipsters to the LGBTQ community to Black Lives Matter supporters, everyone has a place in Andersonville.
  2. My husband and I had no intention of moving. I am a Realtor and what I have in my condo, my block, and my neighborhood is golden! For us, we were settled. Then, COVID hit. (Insert eye roll.) After realizing it was time for more space, I started my strategic timeline. My oldest is diagnosed with autism and before COVID, he made great strides to be more flexible. However, when COVID hit, his entire world stopped. All the anxiety around everyday changes came crashing back. In some ways it is worse than before. With that in mind, I had to take a step back and listen to some of my own advice, which is usually given to my real estate clients who have special needs children. Considering this, COVID has raised a little anxiety in all of us so change is hard for everyone right now, especially children, and especially children with special needs. Your current home is their constant in an ever-changing world. Your current home is a place of safety and tranquility in a world that seems, at times, upside down. So this is a big change and needs to be approached with care. As a Realtor and mother of a special needs son, here are some tips I have told my clients. Start a casual conversation around the idea of a new space. Perhaps ask, “Wouldn't it be nice to have a basement so you guys have more space to play?” Or ask, “If you could have your own room, how would you decorate it?” Use whatever narrative that is personal to your situation. This plants a seed, so when you bring up the subject in the future, it is not a surprise. [Related: Chicago venues that cater to kids with special needs] If you can, give your child(ren) a voice in the process. Ask them to design what their new home may look like. Ask them to choose three neighborhoods they would like to live in and why. This will allow your children to take some ownership in the process. If you already know the areas you want to move to, consider putting shallow roots in those areas. Personally, my family is in this part of the process. My husband and I have discussed the three neighborhoods we would move to. Two out of the three neighborhoods are new for our family. So, we have switched some of our extracurricular activities into the two new neighborhoods we are considering. Weekly, we choose a different restaurant to patronize in the new neighborhoods. This is a natural, no-pressure way to explore the neighborhoods, and allow your kids to get to know the potential new neighborhoods. We also signed our kids up for activities at the park district in the new neighborhoods. This is a natural way to make connections with kids in the neighborhood. [Related: Back-to-school prep tips for parents of kids with special needs] Create a social story for each part of the entire process. This will be like a chapter-book social story, for which each "chapter" (e.g., "highlights" on Instagram) is a different part of the moving process. If your current home is to be put on the market, create a chapter around staging and showing your home. Create a chapter on packing up your current home; create a chapter documenting any construction or repairs needed in your current or new home before it can be placed on the market. Finally, create a chapter for the actual move day(s) to the new home. Really think through each step and create chapters in the moving "story" that your child can watch and re-watch as they wish. When you are under contract on a property and close to closing, ask your Realtor to set up a time for you to allow your special needs child to do a “sensory walk through.” I have done this for my clients and usually ask for a two hour block of time. This allows my clients to walk their child through their normal ADLs in the new space. Let them open the cabinet where their favorite snack will be. Let them fill up their water bottle from the refrigerator. Let them touch the walls, turn on the lights, check out the closet in their new bedroom. In their new bathroom, turn on the lights, the vent, the shower, and flush the toilet to let your child feel the water pressure and hear the noise level of the flush and vent. Whatever is an important or part of your child’s everyday routine, take the time to role play and let them feel the space. Does this mean that the buying and selling process may take longer? Yes it may. The suggestions above may or may not work for your special needs child, as every child is different. The fact of the matter is that moving is a major change that is hard for everyone, and if you have special needs child, you may need to take a step back to help support them through this change.
  3. When I bought my first home in Logan Square back in 2005, the neighborhood was more edgy than hip. I found an old fixer-upper I could afford, crowdsourced a roommate on Craigslist, and called it a day. I was 27, single, and could not tell you the name of the school down the street. A decade later, with a husband and new baby in tow, my starter home on a busy street wasn’t ideal. Still, we knew we wanted to stay in leafy, low-key Logan Square. Our neighbors, mostly in their 60s, were moving to make way for younger families, and the neighborhood schools were growing as a result. Restaurants and retail were popping up like crazy, but the wide boulevards and squares kept the ’hood from feeling crowded. We saw the writing on the wall: If we didn’t upgrade within Logan ASAP, we’d get priced out by the time our daughter was in kindergarten. [Related: Family neighborhood guide to Sauganash] In the end, we landed within walking distance of our first-choice school and our favorite restaurant, and found an incredible daycare up the block. As much as Logan Square has changed since my 20s, I’ve changed with it — and can’t imagine raising my daughter anywhere else. Here’s why. Parks With two separate playgrounds, Unity Park is great for toddlers and big kids alike. There’s a splash pad there, too, plus a big grassy area for lounging. Palmer Square has only a few little climbing sculptures, but it’s massive and features a half-mile track, great for beginning bike riders. Haas Park has a pristine soccer pitch and playground, and tiny Grape Park is, well, tiny! Just a short drive south is Humboldt Park, second only to Lincoln Park in size and beauty. Schools We’re a Brentano family, and love its Cinderella story: It survived the chopping block of mass school closures in 2013 thanks to the community’s involvement to help it grow. Darwin and Goethe are also good elementary schools in the neighborhood, while St. John Berchmans is a popular parochial school. Walkability Thanks to its wide, shady boulevards, Logan Square is incredibly walkable and stroller-friendly. It’s a large neighborhood with lots of little pockets, which means quiet residential streets far outnumber the noisier ones. The main “square” surrounding Centennial Monument and the Blue Line station is on deck for a major pedestrian-friendly redesign, and traffic-calming measures are implemented along the boulevard during the summer months. [Related: Family neighborhood guide to Old Irving Park] Diversity Though gentrified portions of Logan Square have caught a lot of flack from the Latinx community that’s dominated the neighborhood for the past generation, many newer residents have added to its diversity. In recent years, Centennial Monument has become a hub for all walks of community groups to make their voices heard to the Mayor, who lives a few blocks west. Restaurants & Sweets Lula Cafe, one of the country’s o.g. farm-to-table spots, is still serving the community 20 years in, and yes, it has a colorable kids’ menu. For treats, Pretty Cool Ice Cream, Black Dog Gelato, and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams are open year-round, while Miko’s Italian Ice and The Freeze are popular summer spots. For pizza, we favor Dante’s for slices and Paulie Gee’s for pies; Parson’s Chicken & Fish on the Humboldt border is great for brunch and dinner. Unfortunately, there isn’t a centrally located grocery store, so we shop around: Cermak Fresh Market on the west side for produce and pantry staples, Fresh Market Place on the east side for incredible meats, and Dill Pickle in the heart of the ’hood for staples and specialties. Arts, Culture & Other Fun Stuff Our family loves the handful of street fests that take over MIlwaukee Avenue during the warmer months, and the farmers’ market on the boulevard is one of the biggest in the city. During the summer, there’s almost always some kind of band performing at the monument, and the nonprofit–led Comfort Station across the square hosts everything from record swaps to avant-garde jazz and book fairs. The local library is pretty fantastic, and there's an incredible Halloween Parade down the boulevard every year. For all of the ways that Logan Square has changed over the past several decades, it feels like it's just becoming more and more family-friendly.
  4. 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] Parks 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! Schools 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. Diversity 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. Restaurants 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.
  5. When my husband and I decided we needed to stretch out a bit more than our then 1-bedroom condo would allow, we cast a wide net into Chicago’s neighborhoods, but our criteria was firm: close to the lake, strong residential feel, and good walkability. We stumbled upon a townhome close to the lakefront that had some architecturally cool features, was priced right, and had room for us to tackle some renovation work and add some equity to the home. Still relatively new to Chicago, we didn’t mind that the home was located in a neighborhood we were not very familiar with — Buena Park — and instead we focused on the investment opportunity and work we could put into the home. What started as a this-looks-good-on-paper purchase turned out to be a great decision for us. We fell in love with the blocks surrounding our home, the neighbors we became closest to, the local businesses that kept popping up, and the amazing access to the lakefront. I could go on and on about Buena Park, but there are a few key highlights that I mention often to my clients who are considering purchasing in the neighborhood: Walkability Buena Park is a small, primarily residential neighborhood that borders Lake Michigan. It seems like every street has sidewalks and mature trees, and there is a pedestrian path under Lake Shore Drive that provides easy access to the bike path, Montrose Harbor, and Marovitz Golf Course. Many don’t know one of the absolute GEMS of the city, architecture- and history-wise, is the enclave of beautiful homes and estates that reside on huge lots right off of Marine Drive — a perfect backdrop for a walk around the 'hood. [Related: Family neighborhood guide to Sauganash] Parks Buena Park may be small, but its park game is mighty. Buena Park Circle, Peace Circle (tranquility and waterfall!), Challenger Park and even Challenger Dog Park are all sprinkled throughout the neighborhood. And of course, immediate access to the lakefront trail, Montrose Harbor and beach, Montrose Lakefront Track, Montrose Point bird sanctuary (an amazingly peaceful spot) and Cricket Hill. Education Park View Montessori is a cheerful spot for pre-k kids, and Walt Disney Magnet is not only extremely popular for families in the neighborhood, but a sought-after school city-wide. Eating & Shopping For a relatively small neighborhood, Buena Park has a great selection of local dine- in or take-out spots along Montrose and Broadway. There are multiple grocery options, and a Target nearby that makes errands quick and easy. Plus, if you are looking for more action, Lakeview is so close you have the best of both worlds — additional restaurant and boutique options are hopping just minutes away, but you get to go back home to your quiet, residential street. [Related: 7 places in Hyde Park to explore with your family] Prices Compared to other neighborhoods south along the lakefront or west of downtown, Buena Park real estate can be very reasonably priced. For an extra 5-10 minutes north on Lake Shore Drive, you can maximize your purchase power with a lot more space and amazing access to Lake Michigan. Our family has doubled since we bought our beloved Buena Park townhouse and we had to move on to our next chapter, but I’ll always have a nostalgic love for the neighborhood. It’s one of those communities I never get sick of talking about…and I just may have recruited a buyer or two who has now planted roots in this Chicago gem!
  6. This is the first in a series of articles exploring family-friendly neighborhoods in Chicago. I’m a big planner. I like to be prepared, anticipate what’s coming next, and have a plan. So imagine my surprise (at myself) when bambino #2 arrived and we found ourselves in a townhouse that did not include a bedroom for the new little man in our life. Whoops! And then…global pandemic. No school. No childcare. Walls felt like they were closing in on us, we were craving more outdoor space, and absolutely needing more office space. And of course, more bedrooms. Aaaand a 2-car garage, and…the list was getting longer and I was becoming increasingly uncompromising in what I wanted. I had been looking casually for over a year. The planner in me envisioned our family in Lincoln Park, Old Town, or Bucktown. We also considered the North Shore. But all were either out of our budget, too far from the city, or didn’t have the space we were looking for. [Related: 7 places in Hyde Park to explore with your family] During the initial quarantine days, we drove over to the LaBagh Woods forest preserve to get some fresh air, and after walking through the amazingly secluded-feeling trails, spotting several deer, and waving at friendly kayakers, we stepped out of the woods onto Bryn Mawr Avenue and were immediately greeted by a family playing in their yard. As a realtor, I had been in Sauganash with clients before, but that day I felt like I had rediscovered the neighborhood: people gardening in their yards, kids riding bikes on the sidewalks, grandparents pushing strollers, and couples walking dogs. It just felt like home. We struck up a conversation with this family about how their kids knew all the other kids on the block and how generations of families plant their roots in the community. I remember looking at my husband and saying: Do we want to live here? Three months later we had closed on our new home, and it has made our lives so, so much easier. We now have plenty of bedrooms, two offices, multiple living spaces, a yard and a garage — hallelujah! Our family has absolutely fallen in love with Sauganash for so many reasons, but the ones that stick out the most are: The sense of community Sauganash feels like a village. Multiple generations populate each street, and you can run into someone who has lived in the neighborhood for 30+ years just as easily as you can meet a new young family. I’ve yet to encounter someone who doesn’t say hello, and I’ve met dozens of people just by walking around the neighborhood. Parents know all the kids up and down their street, and when someone new moves in, it’s not uncommon for neighbors to drop off welcoming goodies to their front door. Just yesterday I saw a sign in the window of a home that read: “Children, bikes and dogs are welcome on this lawn!” It truly doesn’t get any better. [Related: 3 reasons I'm happy my kids aren't growing up in the suburbs like I did] The architecture From 1920s Tudors to mid-century ranches to French revivals to Cape Cods and even new construction, Sauganash is anything but cookie-cutter. The Sauganash Community Association prides itself in being a resource for renovation and construction, encouraging property owners to embrace different architectural styles. The location This was a huge consideration for me. As someone who lived near the lakefront for over a decade, I never thought I could let that go. But living by the forest preserves means we have access to trails and nature, so jogging, biking and unicorn hunting is covered. And Sauganash’s proximity to I-94 means you can get downtown in 15 minutes or less (my husband and I can get to the West Loop for dinner in 12 minutes!), get to O’Hare in about 15 minutes, and easily bounce around the greater Chicago area. The value There is such a wide variety of homes in Sauganash, there truly is something for every price point. While the inventory does tend to get snatched up quickly (which is why you need a well-connected real estate agent…hiiii!), if you act quickly, you can find fixer-uppers in the $300s and more updated homes starting in the $600-$700s. For the square footage, you can easily double your purchase power for a home here compared to neighborhoods like Lincoln Park, Old Town and Bucktown. The schools There are excellent pre-k schools in and around the neighborhood. Sauganash Elementary is a highly rated (Level 1+) K-8 school that soon will have a brand new addition to house more classrooms — including dedicated STEM rooms — and a new gym. Queen of All Saints, which enjoys a robust athletic program, is also in the neighborhood. Since moving to Sauganash, our day-to-day life as a family has become so much easier, and we can still navigate around the city easily, too. Sauganash may be one of the not-so-best-kept secrets in Chicago. If you’re thinking about a move here, let’s talk! Just don’t tell anyone else… Image: Chicago Neighborhood Walks

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