How postwar DuPage County used zoning to limit poorer and non-white residents

I was recently reading the 1976 political science book Poliscide and part of Chapter 8 on the postwar zoning practices of DuPage County caught my attention:

Although no county can place guards at the county line to inspect the socioeconomic and racial characteristics of newcomers, such powers as zoning and control over subdivision and building codes make the county a highly effective arbiter of the types of structures to be built and, hence, the final arbiter of the types of people who will live in its jurisdiction.

For example, DuPage County enacts a subdivision ordinance requiring a developer to retain a large portion of his prospective subdivision for public facilities such as parks and schools; the county combines this with a zoning ordinance requiring single-family dwellings and a large minimum lot size. This effectively prohibits a developer from profitably building anything but high-cost housing not accessible to lower-income persons.

Stringent county building code standards, requiring expensive building materials and high-quality plumbing, wiring, and heating systems, also serve to increase housing costs. The county’s industrial zoning policy restricting heavy industry serves to limit job opportunity for lower-income persons and to prevent a decline in residential property values surrounding an industrial development – which might create housing opportunities for lower-income groups. Moreover, the county’s relations with various financial institutions make it difficult for a developer to secure financing for a project not approved by the county. Indeed, because of the obstacles the county is capable of placing in the path of a developer, the county’s objection may be sufficient to convince a financial institution that investment in a project would be unwise.

The county’s relations with other units of government give it yet another means of influencing the course of residential and industrial development. It is not, for example, an uncommon practice in Illinois for the county forest preserve district to condemn, at the count government’s behest, land on which an unwelcome development is planned…. And courts have made it a point not to intervene. If the acquisition was for a “public purpose,” there is no inclination to examine the underlying motives. (179-180)

And, as the political scientists point out, these were all legal procedures. Local governments, whether at the municipality, township, or county level, often have the power to dictate what can be built on the land over which they have jurisdiction.

At the same time, there have been court cases seeking to reverse these zoning powers. In 1971, DuPage County residents and a local fair-housing group brought suit against the county for exclusionary zoning practices. The Mount Laurel cases in New Jersey led to famous decisions suggesting municipalities cannot completely restrict cheaper housing (even if implementation has been messy).

More broadly, Sonia Hirt argues zoning in the United States serves one primary purpose: single-family homes. When wealthier suburbanites or urban dwellers get the opportunity to live in the homes they want or ones that have plenty of desirable traits, they tend to resist efforts to include cheaper housing nearby. (For a more recent urban case, see Portland.)

To some degree, the plan worked for a while in DuPage County. The authors of Poliscide say the county was the 3rd wealthiest in the nation, businesses were growing, and much of the development was relatively high-end. Yet, things changed over time. In the 2010 Census, DuPage County was the 62nd wealthiest county in the United States. (It would be interesting to analyze what role zoning played in vaulting all those other counties above DuPage County.) In the same census, the white along population was just over 70%. Some of this might be due to how the authors of Poliscide suggest municipalities fought back against the county: they moved to incorporate themselves as well as annex land so that they took over jurisdiction of land and DuPage County had less control over new development.

Dissolving governments in DuPage County proceeding at a slow pace

Reducing the number of governments and taxing bodies in Illinois can take a bit of time:

County board members on Tuesday approved a plan to dissolve the Highland Hills Sanitary District and provide Lake Michigan water to customers served by the Lombard-area agency…

The agreement paves the way for Highland Hills to be disbanded within 18 months, officials said…

Cronin said Highland Hills will be the fifth unit of local government dissolved in DuPage. He said it’s more proof that the county’s “accountability, consolidation and transparency model for local government is working.”

In 2013, state lawmakers gave DuPage the power to eliminate Highland Hills and a dozen other local government entities.

If consolidation is working, it is working slowly. A reminder: Illinois leads the way among states with nearly 7,000 local governments. Even when it may look like there are obvious ways to combine government units or get rid of other units, it often requires the approval of residents. Although many would like their taxes to stabilize or go down, giving up local control is also difficult as many then fear a decline in services or that they will have less input to processes that can affect daily life.

Chicago suburbs largely go for Clinton

Bucking historical trends, all but McHenry County in the Chicago suburbs went for Hillary Clinton.

The Democratic Party of DuPage got a sudden influx of young foot soldiers, like organizer Alex Franklin, who campaigned for charismatic Democrat Bernie Sanders until the Vermont senator conceded to Clinton in July, then went to work for Clinton. Clinton won DuPage County by 14 percentage points on Tuesday.

“If you look at the holes right now, even where Democrats lost in DuPage there were absurdly high numbers, which are a direct result of the Sanders people and what we were doing out here,” said Franklin, of Glen Ellyn. He sees the merger of Clinton and Sanders supporters as the beginning of a beautiful friendship that will spill over into spring municipal elections…

This year, support for local candidates by minorities down ballot helped Clinton at the top of the ticket, experts said…

Shunning the New York billionaire might have cost Illinois Republicans down ballot, said Mark Fratella, a Trump delegate and Addison Township GOP organizer.

A variety of explanations. Yet, one is ignored here: the Chicago suburbs have experienced a lot of demographic change in recent decades: more non-white residents, more immigrants moving directly to the suburbs (rather than to neighborhoods of Chicago first), more lower and working-class residents. In other words, the images of Lake County and the North Shore or DuPage County as looking like Lake Forest, Highland Park, Hinsdale, Elmhurst, and Wheaton (all white and wealthy) simply do not hold.

A great graphic shows the change over time in recent elections:

Elections since 1960

The trends are clearly away from Republicans in the collar counties.

See earlier posts about presidential candidates fighting over the suburban vote here and here.

The results of primary voting in DuPage County

The Daily Herald has an analysis of primary voting for president by Chicago area county. Here are the results for DuPage County:

The heart of this traditional Republican stronghold is bright red, with the central areas of the county and south through much of Naperville full of precincts that turned out big for the GOP primary. The same goes for the southeastern part of the county, including Downers Grove,

Overall, more than 17,000 more Republicans than Democrats turned out in DuPage, bucking the statewide trend.

But there’s Democratic blue in the DuPage County part of Aurora, as well as in Addison Township. That kind of Democratic turnout could hint at why Obama was able to pull off wins in DuPage County in the last two presidential elections.

Two quick thoughts:

  1. Displaying the data in a map like this is very helpful as you can quickly see the different bases of support for the two political parties. Additionally, showing the size of the margin of victory for the leading party is much better than just showing who won.
  2. The voting patterns show some correlations with demographic patters: more Republican areas are whiter and wealthier while more Democratic areas are less wealthy and more diverse. Again, seeing this on a map helps make those connections – as long as you know a few things about the spatial dimensions of the county.

DuPage County one of the best counties for poor kids to move up

A recent study by two economists shows DuPage County is one of the best in United States for social mobility for those who start toward the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder:

On the other extreme, poor children raised in DuPage, Illinois, have the best shot at climbing the economic ladder. The Chicago suburb is home to several large corporations, including McDonald’s and Ace Hardware, and is one of the nation’s wealthiest counties. Children from poor families in DuPage grow up to earn 15%, or $3,900, more than the national average by the time they are 26.

To conduct the study, Professors Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren looked at tax records for more than 5 million children whose families moved from one county to another between 1996 and 2012. Their analysis showed that where children are raised does have an impact on their chances of moving up economically. In addition, the younger a child is when he or she moves to a neighborhood with more opportunity, the greater the income boost. Neighborhoods matter more for boys than for girls.

Chetty and Hendren did not say why neighborhoods have such an impact on children’s success. But it did find that counties with higher rates of upward mobility have five things in common: less segregation by race and income, lower levels of income inequality, better schools, lower crime rates and more two-parent households.

The duo, along with Harvard Professor Lawrence Katz, also released Monday a second study that examined the impact of a federal program from the mid-1990s to move low-income families to better neighborhoods. It found that children who relocated when they were younger than 13 made 31% more, on average, than their peers whose families were not given vouchers to move. The relocated children were also more likely to attend college and less likely to be single parents.

DuPage County is not the most diverse place  nor is the most integrated but it is pretty wealthy, has a number of good school districts, and has lots of jobs (across a range of sectors). It also has a reputation of being quite conservative and wasn’t that open to non-whites in the decades after World War II. Yet, I don’t find it too surprising that it would be a good place for social mobility though I imagine this might differ quite a bit across communities within the county.

The second study mentioned above looks at the Moving To Opportunity program which didn’t have immediate influence for adults who move but may just have good long-term impacts for kids. Read more about the latest findings here.

Are Forest Preserves really about maintaining property values and quality of life, not protecting nature?

Each day on the way to and from work I drive past multiple Forest Preserve properties. They are generally green and open, providing a relaxing scene under the rising sun or after a long day. Yet, how much are they really about preserving or protecting nature as opposed to improving the quality of life of suburbanites? Are these two goals antithetical to each other?

The DuPage County Forest Preserve – alongside others in the Chicago metropolitan region – has been aggressive over the decades in purchasing land. The pace of acquisition picked up after World War II in the era of mass suburbanization where development eventually spread throughout all of Cook, DuPage, and Lake County. See an animation here of the land acquired by the DuPage County Forest Preserve since 1920.

The mission of the organization is stated here:

As mandated by the Illinois Downstate Forest Preserve Act, our mission is “to acquire and hold lands containing forests, prairies, wetlands, and associated plant communities or lands capable of being restored to such natural conditions for the purpose of protecting and preserving the flora, fauna and scenic beauty for the education, pleasure and recreation of its citizens.”

The mission mentions both nature and citizens. But, one way to look at the acquisitions is that they enhance the quality of life of wealthier residents by providing green and/or open space that will not be developed, offering recreational opportunities, and raising property values for nearby housing and not just for those that border the properties but for numerous developments who don’t have to contend with more nearby developments. Of course, forest preserves and parks can be used by residents of all class backgrounds. Yet, taking away all of the land from possible development means that affordable housing – already limited in wealthier places like DuPage County – may be even less possible. Property values are always lurking in the background of development decisions in the suburbs and I suspect it is relevant here.

Additionally, “protecting and preserving” nature is a tricky business. It is not exactly in a “natural state” as human beings have been in the area for at least hundreds of years going back to the first white settlers in the 1830s and Native American groups as least a few decades before that. These Forest Preserves present a particular kind of nature, one that this is never too far from busy roads, housing developments, tricky water run-off situations, and pollution. This is made more clear in the term sometimes used of “open space” where concerned suburbanites want empty land.

In the end, do suburbanites really desire Forest Preserves for the mediated nature they provide or the enhanced quality of life they bring? The answer might be both but we rarely discuss the implications of the second reason.

Anachronistic county fair in the midst of urbanized DuPage County?

The DuPage County Fair starts today and offers typical county fair activities:

For five days every July, DuPage County residents get a chance to step into a world dominated by monster trucks, bucking broncos and guys who like to smash their cars into other guys who like to smash their cars…

In addition to the animal exhibits, the carnival rides, the vendors and all sorts of food, this year’s fair offers shows each day, some of which require extra fees. A quick look at some of the best:

• Monster Truck shows at 2:30 and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday; free with admission;

• Michael Lynch from TV’s “The Voice” at 8 p.m. Thursday; free with admission;

• Rodeo at 1 and 6:30 p.m. Saturday; $8 admission;

• Demolition Derby at 1 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday; $8 admission.

DuPage County does have roots in farming and country living. First settled in the 1830s, the county was relatively unpopulated, the city of Chicago didn’t have that many people, and the railroad didn’t come until the late 1840s. But, much of the rural land disappeared after World War II as the population jumped from over 154,000 in 1950 to over 930,000 today. While the DuPage County Forest Preserve has been active in these decades acquiring land, much of this is green space, not agricultural land.

At the least, the DuPage County Fair reminds residents of the county’s roots even if the county now revolves more around white-collar businesses.