Norridge legend has it that in the mid-1950s, a group of determined residents banded together to protect a key patch of land. The parcel was being eyed for industrial development, but residents wanted it turned into a park. In 1957, the land was purchased by the newly established Norridge Park District, ensuring it would be a place for swimming and ballgames.
"Thank God for the people who had the vision to turn this property into a park," said Mark DeSalvo, director of parks and recreation. "The area became densely populated, and had they not, we wouldn't have a Park District."
That grassroots effort set a tone that would become a Norridge hallmark.
"Things that take place in this town are the result of people giving back to the community," said lifelong resident Larry Rogawski. "People have an inherent spirit that they want to make it better for everybody."
Incorporated in 1948, with a name based on its Norwood Park Township locale and on a ridge along its east side, Norridge covers two square miles and is home to about 14,000 residents. Along with neighbor Harwood Heights, with which it is often associated, Norridge is a rare suburban island surrounded by a city. Harwood Heights is the only suburb contiguous with Norridge, which shares the rest of its borders with Chicago.
This isn't the village's only distinctive feature, said Ronald Oppedisano, a nearly lifelong resident who became village manager in April 2009.
Because it reaps substantial sales tax revenue from two large shopping centers, Norridge doesn't levy a property tax to pay for village services. Its charge for water is among the lowest of those communities that pay Chicago to supply drinking water. There is no charge to residents for garbage collection. And it operates a 911 center without charging residents for 911 services, one of just five Illinois municipalities where that's the case, Oppedisano said.
Norridge is perhaps best known for Harlem Irving Plaza, nicknamed the Hip. Originally a strip retail center at the corner of Harlem Avenue and Irving Park Road, it was enclosed in the late 1970s and became a mall that's now home to anchors Carson Pirie Scott, Kohl's, Target and Best Buy. Across the street is Norridge Commons, a sprawling open-air retail center.
It's a good thing those centers are part of Norridge, Oppedisano said. Not only do they and other retailers generate most of the jobs for residents who work in the village, but they also provide a large portion of the tax base.
Revenues are buttressed by a robust mix of family-owned cafes and groceries, said Harwood Heights-Norridge Chamber of Commerce President Anthony Pinello, whose Rex Italian Foods on Harlem Avenue is an example.
Norridge officials hope retail revenues grow larger in the years ahead. "It's a strong possibility five years from now, our retail base will have expanded," Oppedisano said. The village is examining the possibility of transforming its more than 50-year-old light industrial corridor, just west and north of Harlem and Montrose avenues, into space for a big-box discounter such as Costco or Sam's Club.
Another village anchor is the parcel of land that became Norridge Park. For five decades, it's been a gathering spot for residents of Norridge and Harwood Heights, each of which lack traditional downtowns.
The 22 1/2-acre park at Lawrence and Overhill avenues has tennis and basketball courts, baseball and softball fields, an outdoor pool, and a field house with a gym. Norridge Park is also the site of the village's Island in the City summer festival, which is running through Sunday this year.
Carving out its own reputation as a community hub is a much newer arrival, Eisenhower Library, a $13 million facility in Harwood Heights that opened in early 2008 to serve Norridge and Harwood Heights.
The 44,550-square-foot, two-story structure, which replaced a former library housed in an abandoned sheet metal factory, is home to 29,000 books, 7,000 videos, 8,000 CDs and 9,000 books on tape.
Its quiet room boasts a fireplace, its e-cafe serves up coffee beverages and cookies decorated like open books, and its programs range from field trips to Chicago museums to a classic film series and computer classes.
"A community without a good library is like a body without a brain," said Eisenhower Public Library District Director Ron Stoch, who got his start in the community in 1976, piloting a bookmobile along Norridge streets. "The library is always going to be there for lifelong learning."
Other qualities that draw folks to Norridge include convenient location, good public transportation and a solid housing stock. The village's northern boundary is just blocks south of the Kennedy Expressway and the Harlem station on CTA's Blue Line, enabling quick commutes downtown.
Some 85 percent of homes are three-bedroom brick raised ranches built from the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s, said Rogawski, a real estate broker at ReMax Vision in Chicago and Elmwood Park. A change last decade in the village's longtime restriction on home heights made it possible for many of the 1950s-era ranches to be expanded up and out, he added.
Average price for a Norridge ranch peaked at $403,000 in 2006. The same homes average $273,000 today.
Norridge's public schools are well-regarded, Rogawski said. And the town's low crime rate is partly attributed to programs that help keep youths busy in positive pursuits, he said.
Village challenges include traffic, noise and revenue. Harlem Avenue can be a traffic headache on weekends, and gridlocked around the holidays. The town's location not far off the end of O'Hare runways has meant noise problems, but hundreds of homes on the north and west sides of the village have received no-cost noise abatement through the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission.
"Our biggest challenge is financial," Oppedisano said. "We're looking at alternative ways to generate revenue so we can provide good strong services for residents."
For resident Dusanka Jaksic, the quality of life is one of Norridge's biggest assets. "You've got city amenities, and quiet, family-oriented neighborhoods. You've got grandma and grandpa living one street over, and your aunt and uncle are probably a few blocks the other way."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times