Call for Chicago to annex nearby suburbs

Amidst population loss and persistent social issues, could Chicago improve its situation by annexing suburbs?

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Chicago expanded aggressively, luring in the formerly independent entities of Lake View, Jefferson Park, Hyde Park and Pullman with the promise of city services such as sewers and electricity. But except for the addition of O’Hare, that movement ended in 1930. By the post-World War II era of suburbanization, Chicago was boxed in by established villages that marketed themselves as escapes from filthy, crowded city living.

By contrast, Houston has used annexation-friendly state laws to inflate itself to three times Chicago’s geographic size over the past 70 years.

“Houston and other Sun Belt cities are really different than Eastern cities, in that many of them have never been surrounded by municipalities,” says Kyle Shelton of Rice University‘s Kinder Institute for Urban Research. “Annexations were easier for them to pursue because they didn’t have anyone to fight.” As a result, seven of the nation’s 10 largest cities are in the Sun Belt. Toronto used a similar process to leap past Chicago in population, amalgamating with five neighboring suburbs. Miami, Nashville, Tenn., Charlotte, N.C., and Indianapolis have all merged with their surrounding counties…

But just because something makes sense financially doesn’t mean it’s easy to make happen. Politics and civic pride are two obstacles: In Illinois, annexation requires a referendum in both the annexing city and the targeted community. Village residents and trustees are reluctant to give up power and patronage. Consider the story of East Cleveland, a bankrupt Ohio suburb whose mayor was recalled after proposing annexation to Cleveland.

This may not make sense for those calling to contract cities (Detroit as one example) but annexation may make sense at a metropolitan level. David Rusk writes about this in Cities Without Suburbs: cities that are more “elastic” (have expanded through annexations since the early 1900s) have lower levels of inequality as cities have been able to capture many of the benefits of suburban life (wealthier residents, property tax monies, etc.). Cities that have been able to merge governments – whether through annexation or joining city and county governments (such as in Indianapolis) – have experienced benefits.

At the same time, this call for Chicago to annex suburbs doesn’t say much about how this would benefit the suburbs. Even as inner-ring suburbs have experienced many of the same problems facing big cities, would the residents and leaders want to join with the big city next door? I doubt it.

 

Four suburb annexation plans thrown out by a judge

Efforts to combine Warrenville, Woodridge, and Lisle with Naperville were derailed by a judge earlier this week:

Judge Paul M. Fullerton granted motions to dismiss the question filed by mayors of the three smaller communities, who oppose the idea of annexing their towns into their larger neighbor…

The question will not come before Warrenville and Woodridge voters because the idea’s originators — who have not come forward publicly — failed to gather enough signatures.

In Warrenville, 177 signatures are required to meet the threshold of 10 percent of the voters in the previous municipal election, but only 81 signatures were filed. In Woodridge, 235 signatures are necessary for ballot placement and 50 were filed…

The petitioners’ attorney Avila did not immediately return a call or email seeking comment. Avila previously said petitioners brought forward the idea as a way to decrease property taxes in Lisle, Warrenville and Woodridge, but mayors say there is no proof such a merger would have resulted in lower taxes.

An odd affair all around: not enough signatures, no public campaign to support the effort, the mayors of all four suburbs denounced the annexations, and the reason for the proposed changes has not been clearly explained.

Still, the idea raises interesting questions. In an era of tight budgets, it is worth it in American metropolitan regions to maintain separate communities and taxing bodies? Would there be advantages in some merging? In denouncing the idea of annexations, the mayors of these suburbs said it is not clear how the cost savings might happen (property taxes around here primarily support schools so merging municipal boundaries may have very little effect) and that residents of each community like their distinct characters. But, if voters were told that merging would reduce their tax burden at least $500 or $1,000 a year (particularly given the property tax burdens in Illinois), would that overcome an interest in local control and character?

Referendums to annex suburbs to Naperville filed in court

An annexation effort in several suburbs is official: papers were recently filed in court.

Petitions to put the annexation question before voters in Lisle, Warrenville, Woodridge and Naperville were filed Tuesday in DuPage County’s 18th Judicial Court and Will County’s 16th Judicial Court.

The referendum in each town would ask a basic yes or no question. In Woodridge, for example, it would ask voters “Shall the Village of Woodridge be annexed into the City of Naperville?”…

Officials in all four municipalities said the chances of actually merging the towns are remote and any such effort would be enormously complicated, adversely affect other taxing bodies such as park and library districts, and raise countless other issues…

Brummel, Chirico and Lisle Mayor Joe Broda said officials in their cities are studying the petitions and looking for potential flaws that would allow them to file an objection and try to scuttle efforts to put the question on the ballot. Brummel said the towns have until early next week to file such objections, although there’s some confusion as to the actual deadline.

This continues to be an interesting case. As I suggested before, the best reason I could see for this happening is for some ideologue to push the point that conservatives should put their money where their mouth is in wanting less government.

Some in Warrenville, Lisle want to annex to Naperville

This would be a rarity: at least a few residents of two suburbs are interested in being annexed by the large suburb next door.

Apparently spurred by the recent emphasis on government consolidation in DuPage County, residents in Lisle and Warrenville are circulating petitions to place referendum questions on the April 4 ballot to measure support for proposals to annex their communities to Naperville. A similar petition has been rumored to be circulating in Woodridge.

Officials in all four towns said Friday they don’t know what’s behind the effort and stress that the complexities and likely resistance to such consolidations make them extremely unlikely…

“I would oppose that proposal 100 percent,” Broda said. “Each town has unique characteristics that make them special. Longtime Lisle residents wouldn’t even want to think about it. We want to keep the uniqueness of our communities.”…

Naperville is a fine community, he said, “but we have a strong identity of who we are and we have no desire to be part of Naperville.”

The general idea is intriguing if you want to put some conservative ideals into practice. Illinois, in particular, has many local taxing bodies – over 6,000 – and reducing the number of these could streamline operations and possibly lower taxes.

But, why would these particular suburbs want to be part of Naperville? What would they gain? The only thing I could really think of is prestige: for a few decades, Naperville has impressed both with its growth and its amenities. However, that growth has slowed (and won’t significantly increase unless Naperville makes some big decisions about allowing denser developments) and to some the amenities might be outweighed by the downsides of being large (think more traffic, lots of outsiders, etc.). Leaders of nearby suburbs are very aware of Naperville’s growth and, like in this article, are quick to note that they do not aspire to be Naperville and their communities have their own strengths.

Generally, I can’t imagine many existing suburban communities would want to merge with another suburb. The only two scenarios I could imagine: one suburb goes broke and/or one suburb is so small and their infrastructure costs so high that annexation makes sense to spread the cost.

Just to note: the time to become part of Naperville was decades ago. Warrenville finally incorporated in the 1967 after several failed votes in order to help protect itself from Naperville’s expansion. Naperville and Lisle also had conversations in the postwar decades about where each wanted to expand.

Deannexation option could lead to smaller Tennessee cities

Efforts by the Tennessee legislature may make it easier for residents and neighborhoods to deannex from large cities:

The growing deannexation debate could ultimately shrink six cities in Tennessee, including Knoxville, Chattanooga, Memphis, Johnson City, Kingsport, and Cornersville.

For more than six decades, communities across Tennessee could simply pass an ordinance to forcibly expand their city limits, whether the people who owned the annexed property liked it or not.  In 2014, the state passed a law requiring residents to vote in favor of joining a city before their property can be annexed…

However, the 1990s and early 2000s were a time of rapid expansion under former mayor Victor Ashe.  Knoxville grew by 26 square miles during his time as mayor, mostly through what was nicknamed “finger annexation” that extended the city limits in the shape of fingers along the interstates…

Deannexation means the city would also lose out on some property taxes.  Rogero said if every annexed neighborhood left the city, it would add up to around $377,000 in annual property taxes.  That figure is actually much smaller than you may expect based on how much property Knoxville annexed in the late 1990s.  Rogero noted only residential property would be eligible for deannexation and much of Knoxville’s annexed property was zoned for commercial use.

Annexation stopped for many Northern cities around the turn of the 20th century as suburbs stopped wanting to join big cities but Sun Belt cities have often had different policies and more land growth over recent decades. Forced annexation would be one of the worst things one could do to many suburbanites who prize property rights and local control. But, it is another thing to allow them to deannex themselves. Would a better solution be to have both parties – those who want to leave as well as the larger community – both approve the annexation or deannexation via vote?

More broadly, there are various efforts for more metropolitan government, particularly to help balance out disparities (housing, education systems, tax bases, etc.) wrought by residential segregation, or to consolidate or limit the growth of local taxing bodies. Thus, it is interesting to hear of an effort to go the direction and let people continue to fragment within regions.

The doomed black suburb of Lincoln Heights, Ohio

Here is a look at an early black suburb outside of Cincinnati that has fallen on hard times in recent years:

Then, as Lincoln Heights residents waited to incorporate, the county allowed white landowners in nearby Woodlawn to incorporate, giving much of the western part of what would have been Lincoln Heights to the white town. Then the county gave much of the eastern part of what would have been Lincoln Heights to another new white town, Evendale, including the land where the Wright plant was located. The residents of Lincoln Heights challenged this move in court but lost…

When the county finally allowed the city to incorporate, in 1946, the boundaries were radically different than black residents had once hoped, encircling about 10 percent—one square mile—of the original proposal. The village now included no major factories or plants and no industrial tax base…

But over time, Lincoln Heights residents found it more difficult to maintain that sense of community. For one thing, the jobs in nearby towns in factories and chemical plants started to disappear as American manufacturing began to shrink in the 1970s and 1980s. As unemployment rose, Lincoln Heights lacked a tax base deep enough to underwrite community development and other social-welfare programs. Soon, it became obvious to anyone who grew up in Lincoln Heights that if you wanted to make something of yourself, you had to get out. People who grew up in Lincoln Heights and were lucky enough to go away to college didn’t come back. Those who stayed largely were the ones who couldn’t get out…

Last year, two nonprofit groups, the Cincinnatus Association and Citizens for Civic Renewal, put out a study that concluded that Cincinnati and its suburbs needed to cooperate—consolidate local governments and share services—to thrive. The idea was supported by an editorial in the Cincinnati Enquirer, which argued that cooperation could reduce inequality.

This is a common story among American cities and suburbs: when annexation boxes in communities, they lose the possibility of enlarging their tax base through acquiring more land and development opportunities. See David Rusk’s work in Cities Without Suburbs for more about how elastic cities – those that could annex because of different state laws (primarily in the South and West as compared to the Rust Belt) – have more positive social and economic outcomes. Any suburb would have a hard time recovering from the loss of major job centers and that it was a black community only made it worse.

This case also contradicts the argument that minorities moving to the suburbs is necessarily a positive thing. There are many poor non-white suburban communities and it may be even more difficult to provide social services and pursue economic development there.

For a look at some of the early black suburbs in the United States, see Andrew Wiese’s Places of Their Own.

How Naperville can present its suburban sprawl in its proposed bicentennial museum

Naper Settlement officials suggested they want to build a museum for the city’s 200th birthday:

Naperville’s 200th birthday is still about 16 years away, but Naper Settlement officials already are thinking about what the city should give itself to mark the occasion.

Their answer is Scott’s Block, a history museum made to look like a downtown building that existed between 1854 and 1975 as a bank and a gathering hall.

Imagined as a 31,000-square-foot museum to be built on the Naper Settlement campus at 523 S. Webster St., Scott’s Block would give Naperville’s historical stewards space to tell stories beginning with the city’s founding era in the 1830s. Stories of war heroes, women business leaders, even iconic ice cream shops could be displayed in the new space the settlement hopes to build in time for Naperville’s bicentennial in 2031, said Rena Tamayo-Calabrese, president and CEO…

Scott marked the nation’s 100th anniversary by building a gathering place, and the city marked its first 100 years in 1931 with the creation of Centennial Beach. Next for the city’s 150th anniversary came the Riverwalk, and Tamayo-Calabrese says now it’s time to think about what should commemorate the 200th year…

Having additional space would let the settlement bring many of the 55,000 artifacts it has in storage out for all to see in themed exhibits that could rotate throughout the year.

Naper Settlement primarily emphasizes the city’s early decades after the community was founded in the early 1830s. While these are important years, Naperville was quite small until after World War II. It is since then that the community grew to over 140,000 people and over 35 square miles. The Naperville of today is built on some of these early decisions but looks quite different now. So, what could Naper Settlement present about this era? I offer three key things Naperville residents and leaders like to discuss and one other feature that might be a bit harder to present:

1. The role of Harold Moser, known as “Mr. Naperville.” Moser ended up building dozens of subdivisions as the city expanded. The first major one was Moser Highlands just to the southeast of downtown. Moser was also involved in the community, giving lots of money and serving in a variety of roles.

2. The opening of Bell Labs in the mid 1960s just northwest of the intersection of Naperville and Warrenville Roads. The East-West Tollway opened in 1958 and Bell Labs announced the construction of a large facility in 1964. The arrival of high-tech white-collar jobs helped kick off a boom in such positions in Naperville. Today, the city is home to a number of notable companies.

3. The construction of the Riverwalk about the DuPage River. This park was part of a mid-1970s plan to help revive Naperville’s downtown that was facing stiff competition from areas like the newly-opened Fox Valley Mall (where the developer had sided with Aurora rather than Naperville). Volunteers and civic groups helped put together the first small stretch and the Riverwalk has expanded since then. It is a lively attraction during the summer and helped bring people and businesses to the downtown.

4. The one feature that might be harder to present because it doesn’t emphasize a particular person or event is the willingness of Naperville to annex land. After World War II, many suburbs across the United States had opportunities to expand. Naperville truly pursued this, annexing multiple large chunks and expanding to the north to encompass land around the interstate (capturing some of this white-collar job growth) and particularly to the south and west until finally running into other communities (Aurora in the 1970s, others in the early 2000s). One of the remarkable features of Naperville is its size and wealth; few communities its size have its level of wealth, good jobs, low crime, and low poverty.