The spread of suburban chickens in the Chicago region

Are suburban chickens different than chickens living in other places? Residents of more Chicago area suburbs now have an opportunity to find out:

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Once a novel concept, more and more suburbs are permitting residents to raise backyard chickens. Among the latest is Rolling Meadows, which enacted regulations in 2019 allowing them, after rejecting the idea in 2014 and 2018. Others include Bartlett, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glencoe, Grayslake, Highland Park, Schaumburg and Wheeling,

American suburbs have an interesting relationship with nature, or “nature.” Are chickens part of the natural realm or part of the human transformation of land into sprawling subdivisions dominated by single-family homes and cars?

There are clearly ideas in suburbs about acceptable wildlife and animals that are not as accepted. Dogs and cats are in. Coyotes are present but are viewed as a threat. Canadian geese are generally disliked. Bison are rare so therefore interesting when roaming suburbia. Chickens are somewhere in the middle. Here is how the same article describes the different opinions:

Suburban proponents of backyard hens laud their benefits, such as a source of healthy eggs and an affordable food option.

Opponents, however, worry about the possible impact on neighbors, from the noise and odors to concerns about attracting coyotes.

Are chickens enhancing the suburban experience or detracting from it? More Chicago area communities are coming down on the positive. How long until the majority of suburbs allow chickens or are there significant barriers facing suburban chicken expansion?

Of changing grocery store markets and food abundance or food deserts

Three decades ago, the Chicago area grocery market was very different:

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For years, Chicago was largely a two-grocery town: as recently as the late 1990s, Jewel and its No. 2 rival at the time, Dominick’s, controlled two-thirds of the local grocery market.

Times have changed:

But the grocery landscape in 2022 is vastly different. Dominick’s has been gone for nearly a decade, while Jewel and 21st-century rival Mariano’s face increased competition from major retailers such as Walmart, Costco and Amazon Fresh as well as specialty grocers, including Trader Joe’s and the Amazon-owned Whole Foods.

Jewel is still the most-commonly cited grocery-shopping destination for Chicago-area families, according to Nielsen data, but Aldi is nipping at its heels, having transformed itself from the stock-up store of the 1990s. Throw in a handful of online delivery startups that popped up during the pandemic and shoppers have more options than ever, squeezing Jewel from all sides.

Yet, newer grocery stores that once signaled hope are changing locations too:

The Whole Foods that opened in Englewood six years ago to live music, TV-ready politicians and out-the-door lines will close Sunday with little fanfare…

The city spent $10.7 million to subsidize the construction of the shopping center in which the store is located. When Whole Foods announced the 832 W. 63rd St. location’s closure in April, local activists said they felt betrayed, adding that the shuttering would limit access to fresh and healthy food in the neighborhood.

The company closed five other stores across the country “to position Whole Foods Market for long-term success” at the time, including a location near DePaul. It also opened an almost 66,000-square foot location in the Near North neighborhood the same week.

Few grocery options remain in the neighborhood. The handful of grocery stores remaining include a location for low-budget grocer Aldi close by and the smaller “Go Green Community Fresh Market” run by the nonprofit Inner-City Muslim Action Network. Another nearby Aldi in Auburn Gresham abruptly closed in June.

This highlights how much change can come to an essential market in a relatively short amount of time. New actors, new methods, new contexts.

The issue of food deserts was commonly discussed not too long ago but is not mentioned in this second article. However, these two articles highlight ongoing patterns even as the stores and brands change: some places have plenty of grocery stores (with Jewel and Mariano’s locations nearby) while others are not attractive to companies and residents have to search harder and further for food options.

Does this rapid pace of change suggest grocery stores will be quite different still in a few years? Can we imagine delivery only or virtual reality grocery shopping?

Suburban voters were split in 2022

As the data trickles out from the midterm elections, here is one summary about how suburbanites voted:

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In 2018, independents went for Democrats 54 percent to 42 percent. Moderates broke for Democrats by a 26-point margin, and the suburbs split. In 2020, according to the national exit poll, independents went for Democrats 54 percent to 41 percent, moderates broke for Democrats by a 30-point margin, and Democrats won the suburbs 50 to 48 percent. Fox had similar results.

This year, independents went for Democrats narrowly. Moderates broke for Democrats by 15 points. And the suburbs narrowly went for Republicans in the national exit poll, while narrowly going for Democrats in the Fox voter analysis. Our national stalemate continued.

In the current state of national politics, both parties want the suburbs to break their way. It appears suburbanites were fairly split this year, meaning that not a whole lot changed. Will either party have a platform or message in 2024 that is more appealing to suburbanites than the other side?

Seeing these results also got me thinking about redistricting, gerrymandering, and how suburban areas are incorporated in districts. Given their volatility and patterns (suburbs closer to big cities lean one way, those on the metropolitan edges lean another way), do party leaders want to consolidate suburban votes or break them up? I would be very interested to see an analysis on this.

UPDATE: In at least one metropolitan region, Democrats continued to make inroads in the suburbs. Referring to DuPage County and the Chicago region as a whole:

The once-impenetrable GOP stronghold was considered purple territory in recent election cycles. But in a watershed moment, Democrats captured the county board chair seat and appeared to hold onto their board majority Tuesday.

The shift in DuPage is part of a political evolution in suburban areas. Four years after Democrats made significant gains in the region, several of the collar counties turned a darker shade of blue on Tuesday.

Democrats flipped key state House districts in the Northwest suburbs. They solidified control of the Lake County Board. The GOP has no representation in Congress from northeastern Illinois. And in DuPage, Democratic state Rep. Deb Conroy became the first woman elected county board chair.

As noted in the article, this is a significant change over the course of several decades.

Removing a mound and landmark to supply 1800s development

The landscape of the Chicago region has a limited range of elevation. One of the natural mounds and an early landmark disappeared at the hand of a local company for local building:

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Long ago, a mound jutted up from the flood plain flatlands surrounding the Des Plaines River in what is now a mostly industrial area on the southwest side of Joliet.

It was a significant feature and guidepost for travelers plying the Illinois waterway in the earliest days of recorded history, and a mainstay on maps for decades. Some speculated it was a creation of the mound building civilization that had populated these lands for centuries, best known for its world class city at Cahokia.

Subsequent digging didn’t turn up valuable artifacts, but instead revealed valuable gravel and sand deposited during the ice age, and a short-lived company made quick work of Mount Joliet, dispersing its innards for use in roadways and other projects as the modern development of the region began in earnest in the second half of the 1800s…

Another feature used by centuries of travelers in the area has survived to the present day. In fact, besides giving river navigators a guide point, Mount Joliet may have been one of the landmarks as well along the Great Sauk Trail, an ancient roadway connecting the Mississippi River to what is now the Detroit area.

According to another source:

The mound was destroyed when it’s clay contents were mined to make sewer tiles by the Drain Tile Manufactory of the Joliet Mound Company in the 19th century.

White European settlers to northeast Illinois altered the landscape when they moved into the region in the 1830s. They altered waterways, cleared trees and forests, drained swamps, dug up prairie, made plowable farmland, laid railroad lines, and created plats for sale and development. It does not sound like this mound was in the way of anything; rather, it offered raw material for objects helpful to new development.

I am grateful for maps and other efforts that show what metropolitan regions looked like before white European settlers and then prior to all of the urbanization and suburbanization of the 1800s onward. For example, I have seen multiple versions of this for Manhattan and New York City, discussing and showing streams, hills, and habitats that are hard to imagine in such a large city. Likewise, maps and narratives of the Chicago region highlight a verdant area at the southwest edge of Lake Michigan – that just happened to be an easy portage point to connect the Great Lakes and the Mississippi. Today, it is hard to imagine significant hills or mounds in a region where the flat grid predominates.

All the construction at the same time + the other factors that increase traffic

A “perfect storm” of traffic has hit Chicagoland:

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The recent traffic backups aren’t a mirage, say transportation officials. It’s really a perfect storm of ongoing construction projects occurring at nearly all points of the expressway system. This includes the Jane Byrne Interchange project, the behind schedule and over budget construction job that offers one of the worst choke points for congestion in the heart of downtown Chicago…

The last week in September saw some of the worst traffic in recent memory, thanks not only to the ongoing construction — including the start of three-weekend lane reductions on Interstate 57 to accommodate ramp patching and resurfacing — but also an emergency closure of the outbound Dan Ryan Expressway ramp to the outbound Stevenson Expressway that isn’t expected to completed until Sunday, according to IDOT…

Transit experts say that Chicago, which has some of the worst congestion of any American city, is also grappling with its return to normalcy following closures brought on by the pandemic. The added congestion comes at a time when many workers such as Cavanagh are returning to the office after two years of work-from-home protocols. Rider usage of transit systems such as the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace also haven’t yet returned to normal…

“In other words, drivers are making more trips, but they’re shorter trips on average,” Dan Ginsburg, TTWN’s director of operations said in an email.

So the old joke in Chicago, “there are two seasons: construction and winter,” rings true again?

But, this is a bigger issue than just construction. The infrastructure needs help. More people are driving. People live and work in different locations. Mass transit is not being used much. Mass transit does not necessarily reach where it needs to reach. People want to drive faster. There is a lot of freight and cargo moving through the region and so on.

This “perfect storm” could be an opportunity to ask how to address traffic and congestion throughout the city and region for the next few decades? How will this get any better?

Updated figures on Chicago as “the country’s largest freight hub”

Freight and cargo continue to be important for Chicago and the region:

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Chicago is still the country’s largest freight hub, handling half of all U.S. intermodal trains and a total of $3 trillion worth of cargo each year, according to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

That is a lot of money and traffic.

Whether the Chicago region is acting as a good steward of all of this is another matter. The figures come from an article about pollution from idling trains and truck plus increased freight traffic. Additionally, is the Chicago area prepared to be a freight leader in the future? If so much traffic passes through the region, there is a lot riding on facilities and infrastructure making sure everything gets to its destination.

In the consternation over Caterpillar moving from Illinois to Texas, a reminder that the company moved from Peoria to a Chicago suburb in 2017

Caterpillar Inc. recently announced plans to move from Deerfield, Illinois to Texas. This prompted concerns about another big company (following the announced exit of Boeing’s headquarters) leaving the Chicago area and Illinois.

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While this fits one narrative of Chicago, the region, and Illinois losing residents and companies to places with growing populations and more conservative business climates, this is not the only move Caterpillar has made in recent years. The company started in 1910 in Peoria and stayed there for a long time before relocating to Deerfield in 2017. Here is how the Chicago Tribune described that move:

Caterpillar will take over the former headquarters of premium spirits maker Beam Suntory, which announced plans last year to move its 450 employees and global headquarters to Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, joining corporations including McDonald’s, Motorola Solutions, Kraft Heinz, Wilson Sporting Goods and Conagra Brands that have recently moved or made plans to relocate downtown. Beam Suntory’s move will be completed by the end of June.”

“Following a thorough site selection process, we chose this location because it is approximately a 20-minute drive to O’Hare airport and convenient to the city of Chicago via commuter train, achieving our goal to be more accessible to our global customers, dealers and employees,” Caterpillar CEO Jim Umpleby said in a news release Wednesday. “This site gives our employees many options to live in either an urban or suburban environment. We know we have to compete for the best talent to grow our company, and this location will appeal to our diverse, global team, today and in the future.”…

In 2011, Caterpillar’s then-CEO Doug Oberhelman talked of moving jobs out of Illinois because of the state’s tax and spending policies. But in 2015, the company said it would stay in Peoria and build a new corporate headquarters, reassuring employees worried about a move. That changed again in January, when the company said it was abandoning plans for the new downstate headquarters.

So is this a story about Chicagoland and Illinois losing important companies or a broader example of companies responding to global markets and leaving behind long roots? Caterpillar is a company started and based in a smaller Rust Belt city for decades and now will move to two of the biggest metropolitan areas in less than a decade. How long will it be in Irving, Texas before again seeking greener pastures and business advantages?

More warehouses coming to the Chicago region

Chicagoland will be adding a lot more warehouse space in the near term:

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Molto plans to break ground this month on a 1.1-million-square-foot distribution facility, the first phase of its 110-acre Minooka Ridge Business Park in Minooka, a village near I-80 and southwest of Joliet. The company is also developing Weber55 Logistics Park, a two-building complex on 60 acres at the northeast corner of Weber and Taylor roads in Romeoville, another Joliet suburb. That site will include distribution facilities of 627,840 square feet and 270,000 square feet…

Other developers are just as active. At the end of March, 44 buildings of more than 200,000 square feet, a record-breaking 23.7 million square feet in total, were underway across the Chicago metropolitan area, according to Colliers International.

And tenants are plentiful. In the second quarter alone, Amazon leased a 1-million-square-foot warehouse in Joliet, and another in Kenosha, while other companies, including NFI, SC Johnson and RJW Logistics, signed deals for more than 500,000 square feet.

The amount of big-box industrial space that is vacant in the Chicago area tanked during the first quarter of 2022 because so much space was leased or occupied. The industrial vacancy rate fell ”by more than a full percentage point to 2.61%, a record low by a wide margin,” Colliers reported.

As shopping malls and downtown brick and mortar sales struggle, warehouse space is booming. This helps service online shopping as well as big box stores.

Elsewhere in the article, the increase in warehouse space is tied to jobs and possibly cheaper prices for consumers. But, adding such space may not always work out so well in comparison to how else land could be used. And the locations cited in the article suggest Will County is a warehouse center as are other locations more on the edges of the Chicago region.

Chicago is a global leader in data centers

The Chicago region is a world leader in data centers:

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The Chicago area is tied with Atlanta as the fourth-largest data center market in the world, behind Northern Virginia, Silicon Valley and Singapore, according to a new study by Cushman & Wakefield. The study cites low cost of land, a robust development pipeline and lower power costs than most large data centers as advantages for Chicago.

The study also notes that Chicago-area sites come with “sizable incentives,” a factor that helped bring Facebook/Meta to DeKalb.

In 2019, Illinois created the Data Center Investment Program, offering an exemption from state and local sales and use taxes for companies that invest at least $250 million and create 20 new operational jobs in a data center. The program also requires the data center to be carbon-neutral.

In other words, there is money to be made by putting data centers in the Chicago region.

But, what do data centers offer back to the community? They might sit in buildings that the public does not know are data centers. They may not offer that many jobs; the data center under discussion in DeKalb in the article cited above is a more than 2.3 million square foot facility on 505 acres that will employ 200 people. They are getting tax incentives.

Of course, this is the way the development game is played in the United States. If these deals are not cut, companies will claim they will go elsewhere and they can find more favorable conditions elsewhere. The new data center will end up in Iowa or a “business-friendly climate.” The tech companies are desired by many communities so they will get good offers.

More positively, part of Chicago’s strength over the decades is its position in key infrastructure. The center of important railroad routes. Busy airports. The convergence of commodities from the whole Midwest. The creation of financial instruments. And now data centers.

How many people want to buy the split-levels and Colonial Revivals that need rehabbing in higher-end Chicago suburbs?

A look at women seeking homeownership suggests they might not be interested in many of the homes in more expensive Chicago suburbs:

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“They are not going to sacrifice,” Spaniak said. “They don’t have the time to rehab. And they want something newer, with quality, that expresses who they are.”

That’s a tall order that often isn’t in line with the split-levels and Colonial Revival houses common in higher-end Chicago suburbs. The scarcity of polished, modern houses in established suburbs further drives up the prices of the few houses that do meet that narrow criteria, Spaniak said.

This is an issue facing many suburban communities and potential homebuyers:

  1. Many existing homes do not have the features, finishes, or architecture preferred by homebuyers now.
  2. More mature suburbs have a limited number of newer homes as new construction is limited to small developments or teardowns.
  3. The housing prices in more expensive and mature suburbs are not that low that it will attract people drawn by fixer-uppers. The people who can buy and rehab homes in the wealthier suburbs have enough capital to buy in and fix or teardown the homes for a tidy profit.

Roughly five years ago, we were in a similar position looking for a larger home. Homes within our price range often needed updating or had disagreeable and unchangeable traits. The style of homes available fit into what is described above: split-levels, raised ranches, ranches, Colonials, and a few older structures. We had time and flexibility so it all worked out but I could see how the available options and at the particular prices available would frustrate some homebuyers.