Suburbs should annex Chicago

If that sounds unlikely, consider Friday’s Tribune op-ed, “Chicago should annex adjoining suburbs.” In it, Edward McClelland, the author of “Nothin’ but Blue Skies” and  “How to Speak Midwestern,” reveals that Chicago can regain its former Second City status by annexing adjoining suburbs. 

It would be a good way to capture their suburban populations, he wrote, and, more importantly, their tax base as a way to reverse the dismal fact that Chicago is a rarity among major cities: one that’s losing population.

Not all suburbs would want to get gobbled up by Chicago, he concedes, but some might be

Welcome to Chicago. Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Welcome to Chicago. Mayor Rahm Emanuel

attracted by Chicago’s lower taxes. And others, such as struggling south suburbs that are in a financial free fall, might be attracted by the city’s amenities and financial help. Besides, he argues, places like suburban Lincolnwood and Elmwood Park are “far from having their own culture” so they would want to be absorbed by   Chicago communities that have “a sense of distinctiveness.”

Not likely.

You could fill a phone booth (any still around?) with all the suburbanites who, having fled Chicago, would love to turn their communities back to Chicago City Hall. The corruption. The racial tensions. The approaching bankruptcy. The public employee unions. The crime. The (as sociologists like to call it) anomie that makes many more Chicagoans feel isolated and alone than what you’d find in suburban communities.

Judging by the comments posted by readers of McClelland’s op-ed, some people think the better plan is for suburbs to annex Chicago–the choice parts, of course. That is, if there are any suburbs that would want any part of Chicago. For example, would  Oak Park, which has successfully walled off  encroaching West Side problems, want to annex South Austin? How would  Evanston feel about appending the Juneway Jungle?

If Oak Lawn annexed Beverly and Skokie absorbed Edgebrook, were would all those cops, firefighters and other city workers that are required to live in Chicago go?

So, to turn the tables on McClelland’s idea, the suburbs should grab only the revenue-rich parts of Chicago. Such as the  tax-rich industrial stretches abutting some suburbs. And here’s some just deserts: Bensenville, butchered by useless and wasteful O’Hare expansion, should be allowed to glom onto the airport.

The  argument that the Chicago exodus can be halted by grabbing its neighbors is flawed because if Chicago expands it reach, so will the suburbs, as people and business move farther and farther way to escape Grendel.

No, what’s essentially needed to stop the exodus is to abandon the Chicago Way–the dirty politics, the greed and corruption that so many intelligent and practical people have fled. The chances of that happening are slimmer than Chicago being allowed to annex the suburbs.

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  • I similarly figured that the article made little sense. Annexat6ion laws in Illinois are irrational, but I don't think anyone wants to be under Chicago's dysfunction voluntarily.

    Some of the small villages in the south suburbs (and we discussed unincorporated areas before) are not viable, but maybe the solution is to establish a unified City of Poverty, Illinois.

    The other things I couldn't figure out:
    1. If property taxes are proportionately lower in Chicago (and the author wasn't clear whether that included schools), why the constant complaining about property taxes and TIFs?
    2. Why did the author assume that all the fragmented school districts would remain, instead of the annexed territories coming under the Chicago provisions of the School Code? And why would that be a good thing?
    3. As some of the comments to that column indicated, the problem is that the whole metropolitan area is losing population. Annexing Posen, Robbins, Phoenix and Dixmoor might marginally increase Chicago's population, but it won't repopulate Woodlawn.
    4. Would areas annexed to Chicago get stuck with Chicago's debt, and certainly interminable fees? Why would their taxpayers want to?

  • In reply to jack:

    Very good questions. I think we know the answers to all of them.

  • Some valid considerations...but then when you live in the suburb I do, you're just close enough in and far enough out to actually savor being right in the middle

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