From suburban to downtown growth in Aurora, Illinois

The suburb of Aurora grew tremendously in recent decades but now has little new land. Thus, to grow it must build up or become denser:

Today, the city’s once-booming growth has slowed to a crawl, census estimates show. Officials say there is room for growth, but that growth will look different.

There’s little room for more subdivisions to sprout across the community as they did in the 1990s and early 2000s. Instead, the focus will be on downtown and the city’s train line, building up, not out, said Stephane Phifer, a longtime Aurora city planner who now works with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning…

As growth slows, the city has an opportunity to focus on redevelopment of downtown and working with the city’s neighborhoods, Nelson said. Downtown is the “new frontier” for development, he said.

Interest is building in downtown Aurora, Nelson said. The area is developing its own identity, largely centered around the arts.

Three quick thoughts:

  1. A shift from such explosive growth – the population doubling in two decades – to less growth can be quite drastic. A community gets used to the new subdivisions, the new city employees needed to provide local services, the changes to local school districts, and other social impacts.
  2. The assumption in this article is that growth is good. This is a common sentiment across American communities. What if Aurora stayed at roughly the same population – would it automatically be a failure?
  3. Aurora is not the only Chicago area suburb facing this issue. For example, neighboring Naperville has been considering this shift in growth for at least a few years. Numerous suburbs closer to the city have had this issue for decades. Few Chicago suburbs have the potential to truly become huge suburbs – imagine Aurora at 300,000 residents with a really dense and interesting downtown along the Fox River. But, to do so will mean competing with other suburbs for residents, entertainment options, and amenities.

All together, this could be a significant turning point in the history of Aurora as a community. Will it pursue downtown and denser development in the same way it pursued suburban growth in the last few decades? Will it focus on quality rather than quantity?

Aurora, IL a large suburb or a place that should celebrate pumpkins and strawberries?

A recent interview with the director of Wayne’s World included some comments about the suburb of Aurora, the hometown of Wayne Campbell.

“It’s starting in February and ending on July 4 with a headbanging session to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in an effort to get more people than ever before together to headbang to that song,” Spheeris said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly posted online Thursday. “I can’t believe it. Don’t they have pumpkins or strawberries to celebrate? Isn’t that crazy?”…

For its 25th anniversary, the film is set to return to some theaters Feb. 7-8. Meanwhile, the Aurora Downtown group, the city of Aurora and the Aurora Area Convention and Visitors Bureau are organizing a celebration of the movie scheduled to start Feb. 3 and wrap up July 4.

Planned events include a children’s air guitar competition, a trivia contest and a headbanging event to try to beat the Guinness record…

“She may not be aware that Aurora is a city of 200,000. She may think it’s a lot smaller based on the ideas of the movie,” Rauch said. “I think she might just be thinking that her movie may not be as important as pumpkins or strawberries.”

This all sounds fairly lighthearted but it does provide an opportunity to highlight the second largest city in Illinois. Indeed, the Downtown Aurora group has a page dedicated to this topic: “Aurora, Beyond Wayne’s World“:

You might be aware that Aurora is the second largest city in Illinois. With a population of 200,456 it is second only to Chicago. But did you know that Aurora got it’s nickname “The City of Lights” by being the first city in the country to have all electric street lights? Or that Aurora has been scouted for top-name films in recent years? Here is a list of fun facts that you might know about Aurora, IL.

In the film, Aurora doesn’t look so big. At the same time, the population doubled over this time period (1990-today) from just under 100,000 residents to 200,000 residents.

Can you plan suburban growth around an Amazon distribution center?

Thanks to state tax breaks, Amazon will soon begin construction on a new distribution center in northeast Aurora. The new facility is said to bring 1,000+ jobs. The latest newsletter from the City of Warrenville discusses the new facility. The facility is located near the border with Warrenville and the city thinks this will be a good for Warrenville:

warrenvilletifamazon

Can an Amazon facility be an economic boon for a suburb, particularly in a portion of the community that is underdeveloped? At the least, the 1,000+ workers will have to live somewhere. Could there be certain facilities that pop up to serve the workers – fast food places? Gas stations? Dry cleaners? Tattoo parlors (wait, Warrenville has enough of those)? Adding students to the school system?

I’m sure the city is either working on estimates of this and it would be worth sharing with the public. Connecting the dots between a warehouse/distribution facility and other community amenities is not obvious and what is Warrenville willing to do to capitalize on this opportunity?

Illustrating problems with big retail in Naperville: push for more landscaping but offer sales tax rebate

The response from the city of Naperville to a proposal for a new Walmart in the suburb illustrates some of the issues communities face when approving big retail stores:

Councilman Grant Wehrli said he would like to see the store follow the lead of nearby Costco and Whole Foods by going “above and beyond” the city’s landscaping requirements.

“I would love to have Walmart come in, but I’m concerned about the landscaping. What I would like to see done there is for Walmart to follow the lead of the other two developments, literally across the two streets, and go above and beyond with the landscaping. It’s relatively inexpensive and the benefit to society is massive,” Wehrli said. “If we go to the higher standard of landscaping, we’re not just going to be like the Walmart in Buffalo Grove. It’s going to take that intersection to a higher level.”…

Wal-Mart representative Aaron Matson called the timing of the request “eleventh-hour,” but said they were doing the best they can to address the concerns…

“If we’re not careful with what we’re asking for, they may decide to say, ‘Hey, let’s move right across the street (to Aurora),” Krause said…

Wal-Mart officials still hope to break ground this year on the store that has also been awarded a $1.75 rebate in sales tax revenues over 10 years.

Here is how I interpret this:

1. The community is concerned with how Walmart looks and how it fits in with the nearby Springbrook Forest Preserve. Naperville has its share of ugly retail stretches, notably Ogden Avenue east of Washington Street and Route 59 south of the Burlington Northern tracks. In order to present a nicer image befitting of a wealthier suburb, Walmart needs to add some landscaping and go beyond typical requirements. I am amused by the comparison to Buffalo Grove. According to the Walmart Store Locator, there is no Walmart in Buffalo Grove though there is one very close by in Wheeling. Regardless, Naperville doesn’t want to have any run of the mill Walmart; they want one that reflects Naperville and helps distinguish it on the higher end from other suburbs.

2. Yet, the city may not be able to push the landscaping requests too far because Walmart could still locate their new store in nearby Aurora. In other words, the city has to offer a sales tax rebate because it cannot pass up this revenue source. Naperville officials may be particularly attuned to this because Naperville has lost retail business to Aurora before. In one notable case, the developer for the Fox Valley Mall played Naperville and Aurora against each other in the early 1970s, Naperville was less willing to budge, and the mall was built just across Route 59 in Aurora.

Overall, the community needs the tax money Walmart generates but they also want the store to be presentable. Such are the tensions today regarding big box stores.

Occupy Wall Street in Naperville

National coverage of the Occupy Wall Street groups has emphasized the city gatherings. But Occupy Wall Street has even made it to conservative Naperville:

About 50 people joined the event, forming a group just slightly larger than the one gathered outside a nearby Apple Store, for demonstrations modeled after the Occupy Wall Street encampment that began last month in lower Manhattan.

Organizers said they will return each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon until their demands are met. It’s a list that includes increased regulation of banks, rollbacks on the rights of corporations and forgiveness for student loans…

“Well, there’s at least a couple dozen people over there, and there’s what? Maybe (140,000) people here in town? I’d say that’s probably an accurate representation” of support for the demonstrators’ agenda, said Eloe, grinning.

Alesch began planning the event last week with a few friends at a Wheaton coffee shop after hearing about an Occupy Aurora demonstration.

This reminds me of research I’ve seen regarding the diffusion of riots in the 1960s. How widespread are the Occupy Wall Street protests? Is it unusual to find one in a suburb like Naperville that has over 140,000 residents? Are suburbanites more or less likely to support the movement?

If this group continues to protest in Naperville, it will be interesting to see how onlookers and the community responds. An Occupy Aurora protest might make more sense since Aurora is more diverse and less wealthy. But would a continuing protest in Naperville draw more attention?

Naperville, Aurora mayors among those who voted for Illinois toll increase

Amidst news that Illinois tollway directors voted today to raise tolls for a $12 billion capital project (see my earlier thoughts here), I noticed that Naperville Mayor George Pradel is involved:

But a majority of Illinois State Toll Highway Authority leaders said the move is crucial to repair existing roads and build some new ambitious projects such as the long-delayed Elgin-O’Hare Expressway extension into O’Hare International Airport and a western bypass road around the airport. The capital plan will create about 120,000 permanent jobs and ease congestion, officials said.

“My heart goes out to those going through tough times and that have lost jobs. One side effect of this is that it will enhance the economy in northern Illinois over 15 years,” said Naperville Mayor and tollway director George Pradel, who voted for the toll increase.

The decision didn’t come quietly — one board director called the move too hasty and proposed a scaled-back version.

Director Bill Morris of Grayslake, the only dissenter in today’s vote, thinks the toll authority could carry out a 10-year capital plan with a 15-cent increase at a 40-cent toll plaza now with more hikes expected later.

You can see the profiles of the Illinois Tollway Board of Directors here. Having never looked at these profiles, I was intrigued: Pradel is joined by the current mayor of Aurora as well as well a number of businessmen and two female public servants (one from education, one from Cook County government). On the whole, it seems like the directors bought into the economic development argument: good tollways, whether that means improved roadways or new roadways, will help northeastern Illinois prosper.

But looking at the backgrounds of this group, I wonder how many also were influenced by how better roadways might help their community or business interests. While this is not necessarily bad – indeed, northeastern Illinois needs businesses and jobs – it is a different perspective than the common driver might have. (And since this is Illinois, I assume there is some political process behind this board. Still, no “citizen” members?) Take Mayor Pradel: was his vote solely for northeastern Illinois and/or is this quite beneficial for Naperville? The regional argument is interesting (and I’m sure the job and economic estimates could be debated) but I would be interested in hearing about how local interests affected this vote.

Daily Herald highlights “immigrants moving to suburbs”

Focusing primarily on population growth in Aurora (read here about how Aurora is now the second largest city in Illinois), the Daily Herald says more immigrants are moving to the suburbs:

The trend of immigrants heading directly to American suburbs instead of starting in a major city intensified from 2000 to 2010 — and was one factor in Illinois’ 32.5 percent increase in Hispanic population in that period, according to recently released U.S. Census data.

Demographers say they aren’t just seeing it around Chicago. The same thing is happening around other major cities that have long been entry points for immigrants, such as New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

For many Hispanics in northern Illinois, Aurora supplanted Chicago as a cultural hub, and the growth has transformed smaller and smaller towns.

As I’ve noted before (see here as an example), this is quite a change for many American suburbs. In the coming years, it will be interesting to see how the residents already living in these suburbs respond. Additionally, community leaders will have to respond as well. Based on some of the comments regarding this news story, it appears that there might be some people who are unhappy with these changes.