Two points of data hit me recently about the asymmetrical suburban development of the Chicago region:
1. I recently made a trip down I-355 from I-88 down to I-80. Once you are south of I-55, there is limited development. There are some signs of subdivisions and warehouses but still plenty of open land available.
2. I discussed the boundaries of the Chicago suburbs in a recent post and noticed on the map from the expert that the northern, western, and southeastern suburbs of Chicago extend far into the country but the southern suburbs do not go far. Indeed, suburbia goes further into Indiana or Wisconsin than straight south into Illinois beyond I-80.
Why is it that this area has not developed? In a region that expanded tremendously after World War II and that currently has need for affordable housing, why is this land relatively empty? A few quick hypotheses:
1. The area to the south and southeast of Chicago may have been more industrial earlier on. This would discourage residents from locating nearby. (On the other hand, residential locations close to work could be very valuable in such a large region where jobs and residents do not always line up.)
2. Given the history of race and ethnicity in Chicago and the region, these areas are associated with more black residents and whites wanted to live elsewhere (north suburbs, west suburbs, Indiana).
3. A cultural and economic mismatch between the area south of the city and the region. While Chicago expanded with its reach into the agrarian upper Midwest, the areas south of the city may have had stronger affinities with central Illinois and less urban areas.
4. These suburbs to the south are hesitant about approving development. In a region with little open land left for development (that has not been taken for green space by Forest Preserves or private landowners), this more rural feel gives these suburbs a unique feel. Adding hundreds of mass-produced homes may not be what these particular suburbs desire.