Naperville responds to the claim it is a snobby mid-sized city

Movoto recently named Naperville the 4th snobbiest mid-sized city in America. Here is their short description of the suburb:

If this place seems like a bit of an odd man out on our list, don’t be fooled. Naperville had the second highest household income, and over 66 percent of locals had a college degree, so these are some world-wise and wealthy people. Plus, they’re able to congregate together in their seventh place country clubs, probably to sample wine and discuss recent stock market trends.

This city may not have the highest ranking in refined restaurants, but it does have a somewhat refined palate. If you don’t believe me, you can try the cuisine at Morton’s The Steakhouse and you’ll know for sure you’re in a place all about class. Just be sure to bring a well packed wallet, these savory steaks do not come cheap. Who ever said the best things in life are free? It definitely wasn’t Naperville.

And here are two responses from Naperville residents:

1. Naperville Mayor George Pradel said:

Longtime Mayor George Pradel, considered by many to be the city’s most ardent booster, took a glass-is-half-full approach to news of the city’s snob ranking.

“I’m taking a positive attitude toward that. Actually it puts Naperville on the map again,” Pradel said. “Naperville is a great city. I think we are very fortunate to have us be recognized.

“If you look at their statistics, the background, homes, income, education, one could assume that this could be a snooty area. But it’s not until you actually get out in the community when you find out that’s really not what’s happening here,” he said. “That’s just kind of looking at it on the surface. You find that this is a very, very friendly city and people care about each other.”

Pradel echoes a claim a number of city leaders have made over the years: Naperville may be large and have money but what really sets it apart is its community spirit. Often invoked is the community’s efforts to build Centennial Beach in the early 1930s and then the volunteers that started the Riverwalk in the late 1970s. In other words, Naperville still has the spirit of a small town even though it no longer looks like one.

2. A Naperville resident wrote an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune that took a different tack:

To those of us who know the real Naperville, this is character defamation. Naperville, now a bustling suburb, was filled with rows of corn and old barns just 20 years ago. I’m in my late 20s, and the Naperville I grew up in was open land peppered with old strip malls and newish subdivisions. There is now less open space and there are more McMansions, but the Naperville I know is still comparable to most Midwest suburbs — packed with minivans, soccer practices, block parties, well-manicured lawns and chain restaurants.

Naperville isn’t North Shore affluence. Many label Naperville as “new money” — and this seems at least partially true. A majority of my classmates and friends from Naperville had parents who came from humble beginnings and worked hard to achieve their place in an upper-middle-class income bracket. This sounds more like the American Dream than snobbery…

Movoto ranked only “midsized cities.” The top snob list only includes towns with populations of 120,000 to 220,000 people. That means Chicago suburbs such as Hinsdale, Winnetka, Lake Forest, Glencoe and Barrington weren’t contenders in the competition. Just saying.

Also, Movoto is on a ranking spree. The site has ranked the happiest, most exciting, safest and most creative cities in America and is now doling out these individual rankings state by state. It recently dubbed Rolling Meadows and New Lenox as the “most boring” towns in Illinois. Well, who crowned Movoto as the all-knowing king of rankings? Not fair, I say. I bet people in New Lenox have fun sometimes.

Instead of appealing to the great community, this op-ed applies a scattershot defense. First, Naperville isn’t really that different than many suburbs because it still had open land nearby several decades ago. There may be some truth to this – as late as 1980, Naperville had just 42,000 residents so much of the explosive growth has happened since then, particularly by 2000 when the suburb had over 128,000 residents. Second, Naperville isn’t like old-money snobby Chicago suburbs, whether that is small North Shore suburbs or other pockets west of the city. Third, one could question the methodology of determining whether a suburb is snobby.

All together, I would suggest Naperville is unusually large and wealthy for a suburb. Traditionally, wealthier suburbs have been small, geographically-restricted areas where residents can protect their zoning and community character. But, Naperville has both size (around 144,000 residents over 39 square miles) and wealth (median household income over $108,000), drawing upon white-collar businesses and research facilities that moved in or nearby after World War II and annexing a lot of land. But, whether all of this makes a community snobby is much harder to measure. On the ground, suburbanites have perceptions about which communities are more or less snobby and as the op-ed above suggests, Naperville residents might often look to other suburbs as more snobby.

Just to note: this isn’t the first time such claims have been made about Naperville. I remember seeing one response to similar claims a decade or so ago that asked whether it was so bad that Naperville residents just wanted the best in life and in their community.

One thought on “Naperville responds to the claim it is a snobby mid-sized city

  1. Pingback: Historical irony: Naperville magazine suggests “discover Hinsdale” | Legally Sociable

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