Is Chicago A Big City? Exploring How It Stacks Up Nationwide

Chicago is famously nicknamed the ‘Windy City’ and ‘Second City’, but is it truly a big, major metropolis compared to other famous U.S. cities? As the third largest city in America, Chicago has a robust economy, a diverse population, and a lively cultural scene. But to fully answer whether or not Chicago is a big city, it helps to look at a range of factors.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Yes, Chicago is definitively a big city by any standard. It rates among the largest U.S. cities in population, economic power, tourism, infrastructure, and more.

Population Size and Density

When it comes to population size, Chicago is undeniably one of the largest cities in the United States. As of the latest data available, the city’s population stands at over 2.7 million people. This makes Chicago the third most populous city in the country, trailing only behind New York City and Los Angeles.

With such a significant number of residents, it’s no wonder that Chicago is often referred to as the “Windy City.”

Population Rankings Among U.S. Cities

Chicago’s population ranking among U.S. cities has remained relatively consistent over the years. Despite experiencing some fluctuations, the city has consistently held its position as one of the top three most populous cities in the country.

This speaks to the enduring appeal and attraction that Chicago holds for residents and visitors alike.

It’s interesting to note that Chicago’s population growth has slowed down in recent years. While it once experienced significant increases, the city has seen a more modest growth rate in comparison to other metropolitan areas.

This is likely due to a variety of factors, including economic shifts, changing demographics, and urban development patterns.

Population Density

When discussing population size, it’s essential to consider population density as well. Population density refers to the number of people living within a given area. In the case of Chicago, the city has a population density of approximately 11,900 people per square mile.

This high population density is a result of Chicago’s compact layout and its well-developed infrastructure. The city’s downtown area, known as the Loop, is a bustling hub of business, commerce, and cultural attractions.

This concentration of activity contributes to the high population density in the heart of the city.

It’s worth noting that while Chicago’s population density is high, it is not the densest city in the United States. Other cities, such as San Francisco and New York City, surpass Chicago in terms of population density.

For more information on Chicago’s population statistics and rankings, you can visit the official website of the U.S. Census Bureau. Their data provides a comprehensive overview of population trends and demographics across the country.

Chicago’s Economy and Business

When it comes to economy and business, Chicago is a powerhouse. With a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of over $700 billion, it is one of the largest economies not just in the United States, but in the world. In fact, if Chicago were a country, its economy would rank among the top 20 globally.

GDP and Fortune 500 companies

Chicago’s impressive GDP is driven by a diverse range of industries. The city is home to numerous Fortune 500 companies, including well-known names like Boeing, United Airlines, and McDonald’s. These companies contribute significantly to Chicago’s economic growth and provide employment opportunities for thousands of residents.

Major industries

Chicago is known for its robust and thriving industries. The city has a strong presence in finance, with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange being the largest futures and options exchange in the world. Additionally, the manufacturing sector plays a significant role in the city’s economy, with companies specializing in machinery, food processing, and automotive manufacturing.

The healthcare and education sectors are also major contributors to Chicago’s economy. The city is home to renowned medical institutions and world-class universities, attracting both domestic and international students.

Hub for transportation and trading

With its central location and extensive transportation infrastructure, including O’Hare International Airport and the Port of Chicago, the city serves as a major hub for transportation and trading. The airport is one of the busiest in the world, connecting Chicago to destinations across the globe.

The Port of Chicago, located on Lake Michigan, facilitates the movement of goods and supports international trade.

Chicago’s strategic location and well-connected transportation network make it an attractive destination for businesses looking to establish a presence in the Midwest and beyond. The city’s business-friendly environment, coupled with its skilled workforce, further adds to its appeal.

City Size and Urbanized Area

When it comes to city size, Chicago is undeniably a big city. Let’s explore how it stacks up nationwide.

Geographic size of Chicago proper

Chicago, located in the state of Illinois, covers an area of approximately 234 square miles. With its iconic skyline and bustling downtown, it is easy to see why Chicago is considered a major urban center.

The city is home to over 2.7 million residents, making it the third-most populous city in the United States.

Chicago’s geographic size is relatively small compared to some other major cities. For example, Los Angeles covers a vast area of around 503 square miles, nearly double the size of Chicago. However, what Chicago lacks in physical size, it makes up for in its vibrant culture, world-class architecture, and rich history.

The larger Chicagoland area

When discussing the size of Chicago, it is important to mention the larger metropolitan area known as Chicagoland. Chicagoland encompasses not only the city of Chicago but also its surrounding suburbs and neighboring counties.

This expansive region spans over 10,874 square miles and is home to over 9.5 million people.

The Chicagoland area is a hub for commerce, industry, and culture. It boasts a diverse economy, with sectors ranging from finance and manufacturing to technology and healthcare. The suburbs surrounding Chicago offer a mix of residential neighborhoods, parks, and recreational areas, providing residents with a high quality of life.

Urban sprawl and metro size

Chicago’s urban sprawl has contributed to the growth of its metropolitan area. The Chicago metropolitan statistical area (MSA) extends beyond the borders of Chicagoland, encompassing parts of Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.

With a population of over 9.5 million people, the Chicago MSA is one of the largest in the United States.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin metropolitan statistical area is the third-most populous in the country, following the New York and Los Angeles metro areas. This data confirms that Chicago is indeed a big city in terms of its metropolitan size and influence.

It is worth noting that the concept of “big” can be subjective and can encompass various aspects such as population, geographic size, economic influence, and cultural significance. Chicago’s combination of urban density, diverse population, and economic prominence solidifies its status as a major city in the United States.

To learn more about Chicago’s city size and urbanized area, you can visit the official website of the City of Chicago or the United States Census Bureau’s website for detailed statistical data.

Tourism, Events, and Attractions

When it comes to tourism, events, and attractions, Chicago has a lot to offer. The city attracts millions of visitors each year, making it one of the top tourist destinations in the United States.

Visitor numbers

Chicago consistently ranks among the most visited cities in the country. In 2019, the city welcomed over 58 million domestic and international visitors, according to Choose Chicago, the city’s official tourism organization.

This impressive number reflects the city’s appeal as a vibrant and diverse destination.

Major conventions, festivals, events

Chicago is known for its bustling convention scene and hosts numerous major conventions and trade shows throughout the year. The McCormick Place Convention Center, one of the largest convention centers in the country, attracts industry professionals from around the world.

Additionally, the city is renowned for its lively festivals and events, such as the Taste of Chicago, Lollapalooza, and the Chicago Air and Water Show, which draw large crowds and showcase the city’s vibrant culture and entertainment scene.

Museums, architecture, sports

Chicago is a haven for art and culture enthusiasts, with a multitude of world-class museums and architectural wonders to explore. The city is home to renowned institutions like the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum, and the Museum of Science and Industry.

Architecture lovers will appreciate the city’s iconic skyline, which boasts impressive skyscrapers like the Willis Tower and the John Hancock Center.

Sports fans also have plenty to cheer for in Chicago. The city is home to multiple professional sports teams, including the Chicago Cubs (MLB), Chicago White Sox (MLB), Chicago Bulls (NBA), and Chicago Blackhawks (NHL).

Attending a game at Wrigley Field or the United Center is an unforgettable experience for both locals and visitors alike.

With its diverse range of attractions, events, and cultural institutions, Chicago offers something for everyone. Whether you’re interested in art, history, sports, or simply exploring a vibrant city, Chicago is sure to leave a lasting impression on visitors.

Infrastructure and Transportation

Extent of public transit

When it comes to public transit, Chicago is known for its extensive network and reliable service. The city boasts the second-largest public transportation system in the United States, second only to New York City.

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) operates buses and trains throughout the city and surrounding suburbs, making it convenient for residents and visitors to get around. The iconic ‘L’ train system, with its distinct elevated tracks, is a symbol of the city and provides a quick and efficient way to travel within Chicago.


Chicago is home to two major airports: O’Hare International Airport and Midway International Airport. O’Hare, located on the Northwest Side of the city, is one of the busiest airports in the world and serves as a major hub for both domestic and international flights.

Midway, situated on the Southwest Side, offers a more convenient option for travelers looking for shorter lines and quicker access to downtown Chicago. Both airports provide a wide range of services and amenities to accommodate the millions of passengers who pass through their gates each year.

Roads, highways, and traffic

Chicago’s road and highway infrastructure is well-developed, allowing for easy access in and out of the city. The city is intersected by several major highways, including Interstate 90 (also known as the Kennedy Expressway) and Interstate 94 (the Dan Ryan Expressway), which connect the city to neighboring states and regions.

However, like any major city, traffic congestion can be a challenge during peak hours. It’s important for drivers to plan their routes accordingly and be aware of alternative transportation options, such as public transit, to avoid getting stuck in traffic.

For more information on Chicago’s transportation infrastructure, you can visit the Chicago Transit Authority website or the Chicago Department of Aviation website.


When you analyze the data, there’s no argument – Chicago is objectively one of the largest and most important cities in the United States. The population, economy, infrastructure, events, and global significance prove Chicago is a true powerhouse.

While some may call it the ‘Second City’, there’s no doubt Chicago is a highly influential American metropolis that competes handily with the largest urban centers in the nation and world.

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