The billions in sales generated in a big suburban edge city

Joel Garreau defined an edge city as a suburban place with lots of office and retail space. Just how much retail activity takes place? A recent report found the edge city of Naperville, Illinois generated billions in sales in 2021:

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Naperville continues to reign as the top suburb in retail sales for the fifth year in a row, a recent report shows.

The city in 2021 recorded sales of $4.3 billion, $540 million more than No. 2 Schaumburg, according to the annual report from Chicago real estate and retail consultants Melaniphy & Associates…

For Naperville, 2021 restaurant and bar sales climbed to a record $443 million, up 34% from 2020′s pandemic plummet to $330 million after hitting $431 million in 2019…

By far the largest contributor to retail sales in Naperville is under the automobile dealership and gasoline category.

In 2021, Naperville figures rose by 33% over the previous year to $1.7 billion, which was the highest percentage increase throughout the Chicago metropolitan area, according to the report.

Some of the lead for Naperville could be tied to their large population and land area. Many suburban communities are not this big. For example, Schaumburg has roughly a little more than half the population of Naperville and about half of the land area.

But, I am more interested in the absolute figures. One suburb had over $4 billion in sales. This is a lot of money in one community. And hundreds of millions were spent in numerous categories, including restaurants, groceries, cars, and lumber, hardware, and building supplies.

Naperville has several areas that help generate these sales. In northeast Naperville, Ogden Avenue and Diehl Road (and adjacent areas) have retailers, restaurants, automobile related businesses, and more. Downtown Naperville is a vibrant food and retail scene. The Naperville area adjacent and near the Fox Valley Mall has a lot of activity. Business activity in southwest Naperville is a more recent addition.

In short, Naperville is not just a bedroom suburb with a high quality of life: it is full of retail activity even as it contains thousands of homes and dozens of subdivisions.

Tysons Corner: is the protoypical edge city evolving into a “real city”?

One commentator argues that Tysons Corner, the prototypical edge city located west of Washington D.C., is changing into a “real city”:

The expansion of Metro through Tysons Corner to Dulles airport on a new Silver Line will be key to making Tysons much more accessible to DC residents. Currently there is no real downtown and few pedestrians. In a cover story for the Washington Post Sunday business section, staff writer Jonathan O’Connell detailed how Tysons is changing…

Almost under the public radar, Tysons has quietly become a major destination for corporate offices and has 26.7 million square feet of office space, which is why tens of thousands of people drive into Tysons every morning for work. Five Fortune 500 companies have headquarters there.

One major question facing developers and urban planners is how to properly create walkable streets out of what currently exists in Tysons…

Visiting Tysons this spring was for me an odd experience as I felt the place didn’t have much character and seemed rather sterile. As I headed from one mall to the next, I was one of the few people walking along the highway as a never-ending stream of cars whizzed by. If all goes well, hopefully in a few years, Tysons will be more inviting to visitors looking to wander around a new downtown.

So sidewalks will transform this into a real city? I wonder if there is a lot more that would be needed included more housing spread out between the shopping centers and corporate offices. Sidewalks may help in the creation of a downtown but without many mixed-use developments, people will still have to drive from home to these places.

Additionally, simply adding places for pedestrians to walk doesn’t necessarily mean that it would be pedestrian-friendly – the commentator suggests the sidewalks now are sterile and located along highways. As the post suggests, there needs to be a shift toward a “walkable community,” a New Urbanist principle where shops, restaurants, and housing would line these streets and sidewalks so that there becomes a streetscape rather than simply a sidewalk. Plus, “authenticity” doesn’t simply come from a pleasant streetscape – you can find these at “lifestyle centers.” It requires a dedicated population of people, a shared history, and a municipal character that can pull these pieces of infrastructure into a cohesive community.

How much demand is there for such changes in Tysons Corner? On one hand, I could see envision that if things are going well (business is thriving, people are moving in, etc.), most people would say why both messing with the formula. On the other hand, if the shiny facade of the community is showing some cracks, changes might be desirable.

This highlights one issue I have with suburban types like edge cities: the suburbs themselves don’t necessarily stay within one category. Does Garreau’s criteria allow for a walkable edge city or would a transformed Tysons Corner have to be slotted into a different category?