How Many Chicago Suburbs Are There?

Chicago is, according to almighty Wikipedia, one of the 40 largest urban areas in the world, a place close to 10 million Chicagoans call home. Because of this Godzilla-like size people often confuse the city, its neighborhoods, and the suburbs, losing the notion of where they are. If that sounds like you, worry not because you are in the right place; we’re about to sort it out together.

There are approximately 100 suburbs in the Chicago Metropolitan Statistics Area. It spans over 15 counties and 3 states WI, IN, and IL. They cover a surface of 17,400 square miles. Although this is almighty Wikipedia hard data, it isn’t shared by all Chicagoans or official institutions.

That is the short answer to a very long topic that has been in the mouths of Chicagoans for decades. If you want to know the details about the true geography of this utterly populous region of the country buckle up and read on; we’re driving straight to the heart of the matter.

Defining Suburb

According to a recent interview given by Josh Ellis, who works at the Metropolitan Planning Council, the boundaries of Chicago’s suburbs are those of the Chicago Metropolitan Statistics Area. In other words, the Chicago – Naperville – Joliet area.

This decision, although Ellis himself says it’s complicated to trace a boundary, is not random. It is based on the same range of factors that the U.S. Office of Management and Budget uses:

  • Population density
  • Characteristics of each area’s labor force
  • How economically dependent communities are on the city center

Yet, according to Ellis, this is too much of a simplistic approach to defining a complex subject. His definition of a suburb is the place where commuting workers live. In other words, a community where most of the population leaves during the day to work somewhere else.

Times Are A-Changing (And Definitions Too)

But, as times change, that definition becomes more complicated. For example, suburbs like Oak Park are more dense and urban than the Chicago neighborhoods they share borders with.

Moreover, the “leaving for work” scenario seems to be a thing of the past in many business niches. Therefore, the definition gets even more complicated.

Delimiting Land

Still, in this complex scenario, it is possible to draw a map taking this idea of how independent each of the areas is from the city of Chicago. Not only because the population still commute to the city and participate in its cultural life but also because of proximity and population density.

Taking those indicators, in Ellis’s opinion, Chicago suburbs might span from the Fox River at the west, follow the Lincoln Highway and the train lines south to Michigan City, IN, and north all the way to Kenosha, WI.

The Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI Metropolitan Statistical Area- Image: ProximityOne

That stretch of land includes the 14 besides the city of Chicago

  • Kenosha County
  • McHenry County
  • Lake County
  • Dekalb County
  • Kane County
  • Dupage County
  • Cook County
  • Kendall County
  • Grundy County
  • Will County
  • Lake County
  • Porter County
  • Newton County
  • Jasper County

What Is Chicagoland?

Now that we have defined the Metropolitan Statistics Area, you might have heard the term Chicagoland a zillion times and still scratch the top of your head, lift your eyebrows, and wonder why Chicagoland is different from the Chicago Metropolitan Statistics Area.

Well, newsflash! They are different names to talk about the same!

The term was coined a long time ago, in 1926, by the Chicago Tribune. Nowadays, the same publication uses the term to refer to approximately 83 suburbs located in 11 counties. These are the rest of Cook County, Lake, McHenry, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Grundy, Will, and Kankakee counties. The definition also includes two Indiana counties: Lake and Porter.

The City, Sides, Neighborhoods, and Suburbs

Finally, another aspect of this matter that generates confusion is the relationship between sides, neighborhoods, and suburbs.

Chicago is a city. For example, if you were a helpless romantic and wanted to post an old-fashioned letter to someone living in Chicago, you’ll have to write Chicago, IL on the envelope. Let’s use this example to illustrate the differences between these terms.

  • Sides - The City of Chicago can be divided, roughly, into three sides: North, South, and West Side. To those three, you need to add “The Loop”. Although people often utilize them to find their way around, these are not official. Hence, they are not clearly delimited and are not neighborhoods. Still, your letter should be addressed to Chicago, IL.

Neighborhoods - Chicago’s neighborhoods are officially called “community areas” with an official count of 77. That being said, there are over 200 neighborhoods claimed by some. Regardless of official or unofficial, again, if you were to send an old-fashioned letter, you’ll have to address it to Chicago, IL.

  • Suburbs – Suburbs are not a part of Chicago, they are separate cities with their governments, fire and police departments, etc. if you were to send the same letter to an address in a suburb, you will have to write it to, for example, River Forest, IL.

What generates confusion in this sense is that many people living in the suburbs say they live in Chicago to simplify the matters and cut-down explanations.


Although demographics are dynamic because so are human lives, it is possible to draw a map of the suburbs and put a number to them with the information above. This is not a minor detail since life quality in the suburbs, away from the city noise, but close to its variety and attractions is the perfect balance for most families. Moreover, you can find your piece of heaven to call home with a nice backyard for your loved ones to grow safe, sound, and happy.

Trust the experts, request a quote today, and move into the life you’ve always dreamt of in the perfect Chicago suburb (here are the most affordable suburbs in Chicago). You’re only a few clicks away from a better future, dare to change your stars today!

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Posted by Rafael Velasco on
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