In 1970, Edward Zabrocki was working as a counselor at a Chicago high school when he and his wife began looking for a new home. They went to almost a dozen South Suburban communities, attending town meetings, checking out the library, visiting the schools, stopping people on the street, looking for a home they could afford.
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Tinley Park, then a quiet village of 12,000, came out on top.
Almost four decades later, Zabrocki, now the town’s mayor, is getting some big-time validation. Tinley Park was named by BusinessWeekon Tuesday as the best place in America to raise a family.
With all three of its high schools ranked in the state’s top 100, its affordable home prices and low crime rate, this South Suburban village, which has grown to 60,000 residents, beat out thousands of towns and cities across America for the top honor.
Zabrocki wasn’t surprised, and says the same things that drew him and his family 39 years ago still characterize Tinley Park.
“We pride ourselves on creating a community that people want to stay in,” he says, noting that his two sons and four grandchildren all live in Tinley Park. “The word ‘village’ implies family values and being really involved in the community, not just living there.”
The study considered safety, school test scores and housing affordability most heavily, but also looked at quality of life indicators like park space, job growth and cultural opportunities. A 45-minute train ride from Chicago’s museum and art scene and housing prices starting around 0,000 for a two-bedroom home helped push Tinley Park to the top.
The runners-up for Illinois are Schaumburg and Arlington Heights. Christopher Huff, Schaumburg’s director of community development, cites an active business community, a public library ranked in the top 10 in the country and more than 85 miles of bike and walking paths for making Schaumburg a family-friendly place.
“We have people who are really invested in living here and making it a better place,” Huff says.
This award has been a windfall for Chicagoland suburbs. Mount Prospect won it last year, and Naperville has consistently placed high in similar rankings.
“What that emphasizes is the Midwestern, down-home values,” Zabrocki says. “Work ethic, devotion to family – that’s refreshing in today’s society.”