Patterns in teardowns in Chicago’s inner-ring suburbs

An architecture professor has found some patterns in the teardowns in inner-ring suburbs surrounding Chicago:

Together, the data set Charles studied included 591,101 single-family houses in Cook County suburbs [between 2000 and 2010], and she determined that 4,789 were redeveloped during that 10-year period. That’s less than 1 percent, but that 1 percent was concentrated and not just in the obvious suburbs one might think.

She found that the teardown phenomenon didn’t affect all communities, wasn’t driven just by developers (often a homebuyer was behind the first teardown in a subdivision), and wasn’t confined to tony neighborhoods where the rebuilt homes were expensive McMansions that stretched from one lot line to the other.

In fact, some of the municipalities that saw clusters of teardowns were suburbs with moderately priced houses and families with moderate incomes, and it was those communities that saw the most conspicuous difference in size between the old house and the new one that replaced it. Charles also found that most teardowns occurred in white and non-Hispanic communities, and in areas with highly regarded school districts.

The article continues with the typical arguments for and against teardowns. Her conclusions?

“I’m not entirely convinced this is gentrification,” Charles said. “If you look that the new house is three times as expensive, you’d think the household coming in would have a considerably higher income. By one definition, that’s a form of gentrification. But I’ve heard examples in Norridge of people who grew up in Norridge and wanted to stay there.”

I wonder if this is what is going on: the Chicago suburbs have experienced teardowns for decades but they were much more likely in higher-class suburbs like Elmhurst, Hinsdale, and Naperville. These suburbs had relatively expensive property so only those with a lot of money and who were really interested in the particular status conferred by these suburbs could pursue teardowns. However, now with those with less money or who are looking for “original” neighborhoods have spread out to other suburbs that offer good schools, good deals, and some status. In other words, the locations have become more diffuse as the practice spreads. This won’t necessarily spread to all suburbs – some just don’t have the status or schools or demographics that those with money will want to buy into. Yet, those looking for unique teardown opportunities may continue to seek out new suburbs.

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