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Chicago voted best big city for a second time by Condé Nast Traveler readers

For a second time, readers of Condé Nast Traveler voted Chicago to be the best big city in its annual reader survey. While it’s no surprise to locals, everyone else is finally catching on. Between the lakefront, our world-class museums, and award-winning restaurants—what’s not to love?

The travel magazine collected about 429,000 votes for the 2018 Readers’ Choice Awards. Due to the high number of responses, the results are divided up into two categories—15 best small cities, with populations under 1 million, and 15 best big cities.

Charleston, South Carolina; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Savannah, Georgia were the top three small cities. Charleston has topped the list for eight years running thanks to its extraordinary food scene, historic mansions, and charm.

Chicago beat out places like San Francisco, New Orleans, Denver, Boston, and even New York City. Here’s what CNT had to say about Chicago:

Find out what other places made the list—check out all 30 here.

Want to find out what makes this city so great? Look through our seasonal pocket guide for a curated list of 26 places to go that will help you see the city in a new way.


The latest thing in downtown rentals: Townhouses

Townhouses fill the lower floors of the 29-story Cooper at Southbank.

Chicago’s long-running apartment construction boom has spawned a boomlet: multistory townhouses built expressly as rentals.

While townhouses are nothing new, developers haven’t often built them as rentals. Until now. There are four townhouse-for-rent projects underway or recently completed, in the Gold Coast, the South Loop and River West.

“With the influx of people coming to downtown Chicago for jobs or any number of reasons, a townhouse may be a good landing place for them for a couple of years,” said Tom Weeks, executive general manager at Lendlease in Chicago, the firm delivering the largest single batch of rental townhouses, 26. They’re at the base of the Cooper, a 29-story apartment tower that is the first building completed at Southbank, a development on the east bank of the Chicago River’s South Branch between Harrison and Polk streets.

For the tenants, renting a townhouse provides other advantages, representatives of the four projects say: It’s a flexible way to test a neighborhood for a while before buying; and renting appeals to people who may need a place temporarily while they build a new home or go through a divorce or other life transition.

Another reason: “Some people just don’t want to deal with the politics of a homeowners association in a condo building, or property taxes and the other details of homeownership, but they like living in a house,” said Mike Lojas, director of marketing and leasing at Draper & Kramer, the firm developing 61 Banks Street, a rental building on Lake Shore Drive whose street level is lined with eight rental townhouses.

There are at least three other new residential projects that include rental townhouses: Spoke, a 363-apartment tower completed in May at Morgan Street and Milwaukee Avenue in River West, has three rental townhouses at street level on its Morgan Street side. Chestnut Row is a group of seven townhouses on Chestnut Street near Washington Square Park on the Gold Coast, scheduled for completion in November. And 61 Banks, an eight-story, 58-unit building at Lake Shore Drive and Banks Street, is scheduled for completion in April.

In all, that’s 44 rental townhouses coming to market in the course of a year, a puddle compared to the tens of thousands of new apartments flooding downtown neighborhoods but a test of a new style of rental.

These are luxury-level rentals, with prices starting at around $7,000 a month at both the Cooper and Spoke, three-bedrooms starting at $10,800 at 61 Banks, and $13,500 to $15,000 a month at Chestnut Row. Most of the projects are not yet open for leasing or just started. At the earliest out of the gate, Spoke, two of the three townhouses that are built are not yet rented.

The projects’ representatives all say they’re confident there’s a market for rental townhouses.

“People want the freedom not to have a long-term commitment,” said Claudia Najera, a leasing executive at Tawani Enterprises, which is developing the Chestnut Row group. The standard lease there is two years. “They don’t have to think about maintenance or any of that, especially if they travel a lot. It’s stress-free.”

Opening next week, the Cooper has 452 rental units in all, the great majority of them traditional one-level apartments. The 26 townhouses, Weeks said, give potential renters “another option, to live on multiple floors more like a house, and to be able to walk out directly at ground level.”

The latter is pivotal at Southbank, which is one of two large projects taking advantage of the open river frontage on the South Branch, with plans to include a riverwalk, kayak launches and other waterfront amenities.

“People with dogs, people with kayaks, people who want to have direct access out to the open space and the river” may find renting a townhouse appealing, Weeks said.

For the developer, townhouses can serve a practical purpose whether for sale or rent: They hide the multiple levels of parking an apartment tower needs. That’s true for two of the current projects, the Cooper and Spoke. (Parking is below ground at the Banks project, and on Chestnut Street it’s behind the L formed by the townhouses.)

“It’s an aesthetic solution,” said Rob Bond, president of Bond Cos., the firm that developed Spoke. While the Milwaukee Avenue side of the building is a commercial district, on the Morgan Street side it’s more residential, and “people don’t want to look at an eyesore parking garage on their street,” Bond said.

Covering the garage was a requirement of zoning, and the townhouse plan met those requirements, he said.

The new class of skyscrapers that will forever change the Chicago skyline

As the birthplace of the skyscraper and home to one of the world’s greatest skylines, Chicago is reinventing itself with new batch of very tall, high-profile towers.

While Chicago hasn’t completed an 800-footer since 2010, that’s about to change and in a big way. Three projects exceeding that mark are already under construction with more patiently waiting in the wings.

And with big name designers like Jahn, Viñoly, Stern, Pelli, Gang, Childs, Smith, and Gill on board, the newest generation of tall towers is raising the bar both literally and architecturally.

Here’s a look at new class of skyscrapers that will redefine Chicago’s iconic skyline. Under construction projects are listed first followed by green-lit and finally still-pending proposals.

Vista Tower.
Studio Gang

Vista Tower

Status: Under Construction

Currently rising along the south bank of the Chicago River’s main branch, the 1,198-foot Vista Tower is posed to become the city’s third tallest building. It’s angular design from Chicago architect firm Studio Gang is made up of three stacks of undulating geometric frustums wrapped in alternating bands of shaded of glass.

Work progressed quickly after Vista broke ground in 2016 and recently reached the halfway mark. Delivery of its 406 luxury condos, a 192-room five-star hotel, and impressive amenities is expected in 2020.

NEMA Chicago
Rafael Viñoly Architects

NEMA Chicago

Status: Under Construction

Formerly known as One Grant Park, this 76-story tower is climbing skyward at the southern edge of Chicago’s skyline at the corner of Roosevelt and Indiana and brings some serious height to the South Loop. Developed by Crescent Heights and designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects with a nod to the Willis Tower’s “bundled tube” layout, the 800-unit luxury rental tower broke ground in early 2017.

Expected to rise 893 feet, NEMA Chicago comes up a little short of the official supertall definition set by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. That being said, the project’s second phase does call for a taller twin tower which may exceed the magic 984-foot threshold.

One Bennett Park.

One Bennett Park

Status: Under Construction

After breaking ground in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood in 2016, the 70-story One Bennett Park project recently reached its final height of 836 feet. Developer Related Midwest selected New York’s Robert A.M. Stern Architects to design the neo-Art Deco style building. While the majority of the building’s 350 total units will be a high-end rental apartments, the top floors of One Bennet Park will contain 69 for-sale luxury condos.

The high-rise will be joined by a new park from Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, the firm that designed Chicago’s Maggie Daley and 606 trail. The tower and the planned green space get their name from architect Edward H. Bennett who co-authored the influential 1909 Plan of Chicago with famed urban planner Daniel Burnham. The skyscraper is on track for an early 2019 opening.

110 N. Wacker
Goettsch Partners

110 N. Wacker

Status: Under Construction

Though residential developments dominate this list, at least one purely commercial project is looking to leave its mark on the Chicago skyline. Known by its address of 110 N. Wacker, this upcoming Bank of America-anchored office tower is approved to soar 800 feet along the Chicago River. Designed by Goettsch Partners, it features a 45-foot-wide riverwalk, public pocket park, soaring lobby and a serrated western facade to maximize water views.

Now under construction, the high-rise replaces the low-rise General Growth building. In an usual move, a federal historic review of the old midcentury structure prompted a last-minute compromise to save incorporate panels from its metal facade into the new tower’s riverwalk space.

One Chicago Square.
Goettsch Partners/Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture

One Chicago Square

Status: Approved

Proposed to replace a block-sized parking lot across from Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral at the corner of State Street and Chicago Avenue, this mixed-use project from JDL Development calls for a pair of towers rising 49 and 76 stories atop a shared podium. The taller of the duo will officially top out at 1,011 feet.

One Chicago Square is a design collaboration between Chicago-based Goettsch Partners and Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture. It will contain a grocery store, high-end heath club, restaurant, commercial offices, 1,090 parking spaces, and a mix of 869 rental and condo units.

The River North supertall was approved by the Chicago Plan Commission in January. The project is hoping to break ground as early as this year and open some time in 2021.



Status: Approved

This Helmut Jahn-created condo building at 1000 S. Michigan Avenue will make a sizable impact on Chicago’s southern skyline when it eventually soars 832-feet over Grant Park. The glassy skyscraper will replace a surface parking lot with 323 luxury condominiums with interiors designed by Kara Mann.

Project developers Time Equities, Oaks Capital, and JK Equities are currently pre-sales mode and have listed a number of units including a South Loop record-shattering $8.1 million penthouse. Provided sales go well, 1000M could break ground later this year ahead of an anticipated 2022 completion.

First unveiled to the public in 2015 as an 86-story supertall comprised of offset cantilevered boxes, the design was shorted during the city approval process and redrawn into a curvy, 74-story tower seen above.

Golub & Co./CIM Group

Tribune Tower East

Status: Proposed

At 1,422 feet, this proposed addition to Chicago’s neo-gothic Tribune Tower is gunning for the title of Chicago’s second tallest building. Slated to replace a parking lot just east of its historic neighbor, the yet-to-be-named skyscraper will contain a 200-key luxury hotel, 439 rental apartments, 125 condominiums, and 430 parking spaces.

The design from hometown architecture firm of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill is quite slender by Chicago standards—partly due to a protected view corridor requiring Tribune Tower to remain visible from the Ogden Slip to the east.

While co-developers CIM Group and Golub & Co. seek approval for their new supertall, the duo are moving ahead with a conversion of the 1925 Tribune office building into luxury condominiums.


400 N. Lake Shore Drive

Status: Proposed

After years of rumors and speculation, Related Midwest unveiled its plan for the waterfront site of the failed 2,000-foot Chicago Spire in in May. The latest plan for the high-profile parcel includes a pair of stepped towers rising atop a shared podium.

The taller 1,100-foot southern tower will feature 300 condo units and 175 hotel rooms while the adjoining 850-foot northern tower is earmarked for 550 rental apartments. The architectual design from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s David Childs calls for a facade clad in glass and an old-school Chicago favorite: genuine terra cotta.

The Streeterville project will require city approval. If all goes smoothly, Related Midwest aims to simultaneously break ground on both towers in the summer of 2019 and deliver 400 N. Lake Shore Drive in 2023.

Site I.
bKL Architecture

Lakeshore East ‘Site I’

Status: Proposed

This 80-story tower slated for “Site I” in Lakeshore East’s alphabetical masterplan would rise at the opposite side of the mouth of the Chicago River across from 400 N. Lake Shore Drive. If approved in its current form, the bKL-designed residential tower wold reach 875 feet.

Developers Magellan Group and Lendlease first revealed their Site I plans along with two shorter neighboring towers last summer. More recently, local Alderman Brendan Reilly pumped the breaks on the multi-building plan, requesting that the development team address a number of design concerns. Stay tuned.

Wolf Point South.

Wolf Point South

Status: Proposed

This proposed tower will be the tallest of three new towers slated for Wolf Point at the junction of the Chicago River’s North, South, and Main branches. Tentatively zoned to rise 950 feet—a level just shy of the supertall mark—the South Tower is still subject to future design tweaks and could see its height grow.

Designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, the glassy waterfront skyscraper will slot between the 490-foot Wolf Point West high-rise and the 660-foot under-construction Wolf Point Eastbuilding. The southern tower could contain a hotel, office, and residential components.

This final phase of the Wolf Point project is unlikely to begin work until the eastern tower is complete in late 2019. It will also require a trip back before the City of Chicago to receive final approval.

725 W. Randolph Street.
Roger Ferris + Partners

725 W. Randolph

Status: Proposed

While its height of “only” 680 feet puts it below roughly two dozen other Chicago towers, the building slated for 725 W. Randolph Street is bid deal given its location. As proposed, the Fulton Market project will easy become the city’s tallest structure west of the Kennedy Expressway.

The architectural design from Connecticut-based Roger Ferris + Partners positions the upper portion of the tower on an angle and features an repeating exterior grid of steel, aluminum, and glass. Inside, the development would contain 370 rental apartments, an Equinox fitness club, and a 165-room Equinox-branded hotel.

The project has yet to get the nod from city officials. If it manages to move forward without a West Loop “neighborhood haircut”, 725 W. Randolph will create a new western peak on Chicago’s skyline.

Wanted: The Chicago bungalow for the 21st century

The venerable Chicago bungalow, a popular starter home for generations, may soon have a 21st-century descendant, according to the organizers of an affordable-housing design contest. “We’re trying to find the next iconic Chicago home, something that can be built new construction and affordable for a family,” said Sarah Brune, manager of innovation and public policy for Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, a not-for-profit neighborhood revitalization group.

Searching for a long-term solution to the shortage of affordably priced single-family homes in Chicago, Brune’s group and several others in the Chicago Housing Policy Task Force are launching a worldwide design competition to create the next Chicago bungalow. The goal is to have a design that can be replicated all over the city on standard lots and sold for no more than $250,000. “If we can provide a house that is good design work built of high-quality materials and doesn’t break the bank, we’ll be creating value and impact in Chicago neighborhoods” that need revival, said Rob Rose, executive director of the Cook County Land Bank and a member of the task force’s board.

The contest, called Disruptive Design, starts Nov. 15, and the goal is to have the first two homes completed and occupied by 2020, Brune said. They would be on lots in Bronzeville and West Humboldt Park. The new design could go on to be built on some of the countless vacant lots that pepper neighborhoods on the South and West sides, and less so on the higher-priced North Side. “These designs will fill an important gap in the market in my ward,” said Ald. Walter Burnett, 27th, in a prepared statement. His ward includes West Humboldt Park. In the contest’s first phase, which closes in January, architects and designers will turn in a written description of the structure they envision meeting the needs of 21st-century Chicago families.

Their ideas must allow for construction that costs $150 a square foot or less and meet standards for accessibility and environmental sustainability, and include, according to contest materials, “a flexible space that would accommodate a wealth-building component for the owner and their community—a live/work space or rentable unit.” Simply building more bungalows like the 80,000 or so that already exist in the city is not necessarily the solution, both because of the accessibility and live/work expectations and because building with brick may be cost-prohibitive now. Even so, “it will be interesting to see how influential the traditional bungalow is on the designs created by contemporary architects,” said Zurich Esposito, executive vice president of the American Institute of Architects’ Chicago chapter. “Why wouldn’t it? There’s such a great reverence and respect for the bungalow” in Chicago, he said.

Organizers expect to receive hundreds of first-phase submissions. After the Jan. 31 deadline, a jury will select five to move forward and create complete drawings and possibly models. By late 2019, at least one of them will be selected as the design for the first two homes to be built, Brune said. There will be cash prizes for the second- and final-phase winners, but the amounts have not yet been finalized, he said. Two contest sponsors have signed on so far. They are Related Midwest, the Chicago-based real estate development firm, and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage-backing entity.