Emanuel faces growing suburban dominance

Emanuel faces growing suburban dominance

Downtown Naperville


Rahm Emanuel may be the only Chicago mayor to have been raised in the suburbs.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. But it made me think about what might be Mayor-elect Emanuel's most lasting and profound problem -- the growing suburban dominance of the Chicago metropolitan area.

Almost symbolically, as Chicago voters were giving Emanuel a resounding endorsement, the new, 2010 census figures arrived. It showed that some 200,000 Chicagoans -- almost 7 percent of the population -- fled the city in the last decade. It's as if the entire population of Aurora, the state's second-largest city, had suddenly disappeared. What is this, Detroit?

Not that retiring Mayor Richard M. Daley hasn't left Emanuel with enough troubles: deficits, debts, pensions, schools, crime, the CTA. Chalk those problems up to bad decisions, human fallibility, greed and corruption. The new mayor and City Council, depending on their competence and integrity, can start fixing that.

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But just as the recession is a nationwide affliction, Chicago's new mayor and City Council are caught in the new reality of the American metropolis: suburban dominance. It is the result of understandable human cravings for a better life, and no amount of cajoling or 20-year plans can stop it. Suburban dominance has become so entrenched that old cities must actively adjust to the new reality. Here, for example, the majority of the region's residents and jobs now are in the suburbs, and such boneheaded efforts as, say, trying to bar Walmart stores from the city, can be fatal.

Yet, ending or even reversing that flight has been the unfulfilled dream of urban planners, civic groups and others in the grip of a romantic and nostalgic vision. It's as if they saw urban salvation in a return to the intensely dense form that gave birth to many American cities a century or more ago. They have hung on to that vision with remarkable tenacity, and when they saw a slight blip in the urban population of young, middle-class singles and retired empty nesters they heralded a "return-to-the city" movement.

Joel Kotkin, a best-selling author and urban futurist, noted in newgeography.com the "constant media drumbeat about the 'return to the cities.' " Urban real estate interests, environmentalists and planners have widely promoted this idea, and it has been central to the ideology of the Obama administration, the most big-city dominated in at least a half century. "We've reached the limits of suburban development," Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan opined last year, "People are beginning to vote with their feet and come back to the central cities."

Actually, the feet continue to head in the other direction; America's suburbanization, as the latest census confirms, continues unabated. Notably, one of the largest groups of emigrants from Chicago is African-Americans, joining new Hispanic immigrants who never bothered to live in the city. The lure of Chicago's superlative entertainment, sports and cultural attractions aren't enough to keep them in the city when their kids are getting shot up and forced into substandard schools.

But Emanuel faces the deeper economic and political challenges of increasing suburban dominance. Chicago will become a smaller player on a bigger stage. The suburbs, including vast new landscapes in McHenry, Kendall and Will counties, will compete with Chicago and consume increasing amounts of the region's and state's resources. Political power inevitably will flow outward with the fleeing population. Legislative reapportionment at the expense of the suburbs will become increasingly difficult. Mutually assured destruction or coexistence will be Chicago's ultimate choice in the city/suburban "cold war."

A real "back-to-the-city" movement would require Emanuel -- and city planners -- to examine what city emigrants seek in the suburbs. Not just better schools and safety, items that top Emanuel's priority list. There's more: space, freshness, local libraries, neighborhood schools. A government that's closer to the governed. And don't laugh at the mundane, such as parking places and excrement-free sidewalks. All the things that thousands of city workers want if they were allowed to live outside of the city. All the things that Emanuel enjoyed growing up in Wilmette.

The market is telling Emanuel something, and he should listen

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  • Your picture of the reduced population in the city proper is incomplete without a discussion of how the city is changing in other ways, such as the racial trends in city population. And don't forget, Chicago grew by 4% from 1990 to 2000. What 2010 to 2020 holds is impossible to predict, but there are so many benefits to city living that Chicago will continue to attract residents.

  • "[T]he city's black population went from just over 1 million in 2000 to 887,608 in 2010. The non-Hispanic white population dropped from 907,166 to 854,717, while Hispanics increased by about 25,000 to 778,862."

    In "Logan Square the non-Hispanic white population grew by 7,000, while the number of Hispanics dropped by 16,000. Many of the new residents are affluent white singles. That pattern of gentrification can also be seen in Humboldt Park, Uptown, Rogers Park, North Center and Lakeview. Redevelopment of land where Chicago Housing Authority high-rises once stood also drew whites to predominantly black neighborhoods such as West Garfield Park, Woodlawn, Kenwood and Oakland."


  • This has already manifested itself politically, as indicated by the 2008 RTA bill. Frank Kruesi and Carole Brown started the crusade in 2005 by basically saying that the suburbs were not paying enough for all the benefits the CTA provided. It turned out that north suburban legislators were carrying the water, and that to take care of the pension mess caused by Daley's minions, a real estate transfer tax was imposed only in Chicago. I don't think that was a city victory.

    Now Rahm says that the city must do something about its other pension plan. He didn't start off like Kruesi did.

    The real issue is that with the loss of population, legislators and congresspeople who now get 80-90% of the vote in the city do not want to be redistricted out of their jobs, so we'll have to see how the chronic malapportioners in the state legislature react. If you think that the 4th CD is gerrymandered, wait until the 1st heads out past Mokena or the 2d to Danville.

  • Dennis,

    Please help us get the message out ... Kendall County residents don't want the Chicagonization of Suburbia.

    That already happened in DuPage county and is a key reason I moved out of there last decade along with 45000 other Ex-DuPageians.

    In discussions with others who have moved to Kendall County, I have found the more we get away from Chicago, the more we like it.

    The closest connection I have with Chicago is the Chicago Tribune littering my beautiful brick paver driveway every morning. But, as soon as the new iPad 2 comes out, the Chicago Tribune is history specially since none of the Trib editors and mangers like Dold and Hunter seem to want to cover the news in Kendall County.

    Plus, we would like the Chicago Tribune managers and writers like you to recognize that Kendall County is an important part of Chicagoland's 7 county metro area. See my Chicago Tribune letter to the editor piece below about Planet Kendall.

    Just so you and your readers know, Kendall County is the fastest growing county in Chicagoland as well as in Illinois.

    Some of us take our "self-managed" Kendall County growth gatekeeper mentality seriously and we do not want people moving here with alot of little kids so our property taxes skyrocket to support more inept and overpaid union teachers.

    I really hope our Kendall County leaders would adopt an immigration policy for incoming Chicagolanders like the stringent ones in China on family size. One child per family with maybe 2+ dogs for added companionship and emergency nutrition if needed.

    Kendall County property taxes are already the 25th highest in the country. Our water rates are sky high also so that's a reason why I have switched to our excellent local wines.

    We are also accepting of a certain amount of non crouchy seniors / empty nesters for our new senior housing projects and to trim down the load of all the foreclosed homes that have caused our home values to sink to historic lows.

    In addition we are very very accepting of people moving here to open up new businesses to grow our industrial and commercial tax base to lessen the toll on Kendall County residential property taxpayers. People bringing new jobs to Kendall County could probably get local politicians to reward them with some hefty TIF and other financial incentives.

    Heck, I will even throw in a case of our local wine to anybody bringing in 10+ jobs.

    If Metra gets off their duff and brings Metra service out to Oswego, we would even welcome people from Chicago that want to have their second home out here along the beautiful Fox River. Heck, I bet even Rahm Emanuel would want a R&R weekend home here to get away from all the Chicago headaches he's going to face. The same goes from Chicago Police and Fireman ... come on out!

    Metra service is a two way street ... Kendall County residents can see more Cubs and Bears games and partake at times in more of Chicago's superlative entertainment and culturtal attractions you opine so much about. However, I prefer Milwaukee when I want some big city excitement ... the beer is better there ... the people more friendly ... and there's much less of a chance in getting robbed or shot there.

    Dennis, I really hope you and other Chicago Tribune writers and readers will want to come out here and learn more about the "real" Kendall County.

    George Jones
    Kendall County / Oswego, Illinois

    Region's limits
    The Tribune's Feb. 16 story on Chicagoland 2010 census data fails on several points.

    First, it failed to mention "Planet Kendall" either in the story or in the accompanying regional county map. The story says DuPage County lost 45,000 white residents between 2000 and 2010. But it fails to say where I and 44,999 of my friends went.

    Try Planet Kendall as a starter.

    Planet Kendall in 2005 was the second fastest growing county in the U.S. We came here because it's nice, more affordable than DuPage County, has lower crime and has more fun things to do.

    Second, in this story as well as other ones, the Chicago Tribune consistently fails to properly define Chicagoland as a seven-county area as other organizations properly do.

    Just as young children learn about the planets in our solar system, journalists and their editors should learn the names of the "seven planets" in the Chicagoland system

  • I don't think suburban growth is a direct measure of a decline in city living. I also do not believe growth in one area can be used as an indicator for the other.

    Chicago Florists

  • In reply to ChicagoFlorist:

    However, the real issue is that the south and west sides have lost much of its population. City living in those areas isn't so great, even if the north side might be holding onto its population.

    That is independent of where the people are migrating. Of course, it does not help that the city uses Section 8 to "deport" some of its population to the south suburbs.

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