Trying to split Naperville’s downtown streetscape improvement costs

Downtowns need regular upkeep and maintenance but paying for streetscape improvements can be a tricky matter:

In an estimated $15 million project that’s expected to take six years once it begins, the city plans to upgrade sidewalks, install new benches and street furniture and enhance street corners throughout its commercial core…

City staff members are proposing the work be paid for over 15 years, with the city contributing half and downtown property owners the other half.

They say it’s a fair cost distribution because a strong downtown improves the city as a whole…

Problem is, those same downtown property owners who could be asked to foot the bill for sidewalks and benches also are still paying off the Van Buren Avenue parking garage — and will be until 2021, 20 years after it was constructed. They’re also paying for ongoing downtown maintenance and marketing through a separate special tax that’s renewed every five years.

As is suggested in the article by local leaders, perhaps this is simply the price of doing business in a popular suburban downtown: you chip in to help make the downtown better. This sort of public-private partnership can work well when there is a vibrant business scene. But, I could also imagine that these added costs make it more difficult for certain kinds of businesses to participate.

It would also be interesting to know how these streetscape improvements compare with efforts of others – whether municipalities or shopping centers – to improve their appearance and amenities. One way to view retail competition is as an arms race: who can create and foster the most vibrant scene? Who has the mix of stores, restaurants, recreational opportunities, parking, weather, and events that would lead consumers to go there rather than somewhere else? Not making such proactive improvements, even though they may be costly, could lead to falling behind.

Naperville adds another corporate headquarters

It isn’t the full headquarters for the company – just the North American headquarters – but Naperville is gaining another impressive office as Chervon North America announced plans to move in:

A Chinese maker of power tools plans to bring more than 200 jobs to its new North American headquarters in Naperville over the next three years.

Chervon North America, the U.S. arm of Nanjing, China-based Chervon Holdings, confirmed plans to move workers from Michigan and several suburban Chicago locations when it opens a new headquarters in Naperville sometime in the spring…

Chervon also considered locations in California, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee, Turoff said. The company is not receiving any incentives from the Illinois or Naperville governments, Turoff said.

“In the end our decision came down to three key factors: proximity to talent, proximity to current and acquired employees (and) Naperville’s pro-business attitude,” Turoff said in the email.

No tax breaks needed. This has been the story of Naperville for several decades now: the community is attractive to a number of businesses. This started with the move of Bell Laboratories just north of the city in the 1960s along the East-West Tollway. Since then, white-collar firms have moved into the suburb, attracted by the quality workers and bucolic setting. These moves have boosted the reputation of Naperville even as it has helped attract even more residents. It is the sort of cycle that many suburbs would like to emulate but would have a hard time pulling off.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see whether this can continue for Naperville. There is increased competition for businesses. Naperville has a very limited amount of open land for new commercial or residential development (unless they make a major decision to build up). This space for Chervon opened up because another major company decided not to use the space.

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.

Connecting sundown towns and votes for Trump in Wisconsin

Sundown towns were once common in the North and one academic looks at the connections between such communities and voting for Donald Trump:

Did sundown towns elect Trump in Wisconsin? My research assistant, Kathryn Robinson, and I tried to find out. Since it is much easier to get county-level election returns than municipal ones, we concentrated on “sundown counties,” those having a county seat that could be established as a sundown town or likely sundown town in Loewen’s mapping. An incredible 58 of the state’s 72 counties fit into such a category. Of the 58 sundown counties 31 are 1% or less African American (and only eight more than 2%), suggesting that the proxy of the county seat works in identifying sundown areas at the county level.

The simple answer on Trump and sundown towns in Wisconsin is: “Clearly they elected him.” Sundown counties gave Trump almost 935,000 votes to Clinton’s just over 678,000. His margin in the sundown areas exceeded 256,000 votes. That Clinton won the fifteen non-sundown counties by almost 230,000 votes could not make up for Trump’s 58% to 42% margin in the sundown ones. Just short of two/thirds of all Trump voters in Wisconsin came from sundown counties. Only nine sundown counties chose Clinton with 49 for Trump…

Our appreciation of the critically important historical dimension to sundown voting—both Robinson and I are trained in that discipline—ironically came through a sociologist. That is, when I contacted Loewen to outline the project to him, he mentioned having recently been to Calhoun County, a tiny sundown county in Illinois near where I grew up. That county, he told me, had voted for Obama in the same proportions as the rest of the country in 2008. I then looked up its 2016 vote, a landslide for Trump. Robinson and I had reason to wonder if a similar swing from Obama to Trump characterized the 2008 to 2016 trajectory of sundown county voters in Wisconsin.

The pattern could hardly been more striking. In 2008, Barack Obama defeated John McCain in all but eight of Wisconsin’s sundown counties. These virtually all-white counties delivered to the African American candidate a majority of nearly 143,000 votes. The fifteen very small sundown counties discussed above supported Obama in 2008 by 57.4% to 42.6%. The countervailing continuity lay in the metro Milwaukee suburbancounties, where the vote went to the conservative candidate in both 2008 and 2016, by overwhelming margins in both cases. The intervening 2012 election proved a halfway house, with the Milwaukee suburban counties solidly for Romney but Obama splitting the other sundown counties with the Republican ticket. By 2016, just under 400,000 votes had switched from the Democratic to the Republican candidate in sundown Wisconsin. Outside of the sundown counties the pro-Republican swing from 2008 to 2016 was just 17,000 votes.

It would be worthwhile to see such research carried out elsewhere as there were more sundown towns than people imagine (even if actual laws or records about them are difficult to find).

While Loewen alerts us to this important history, it is also interesting to consider how sundown counties or towns can experience rapid racial and ethnic change. This article cites a rural community that suddenly had an influx of Latino workers for several manufacturing plants. Or, imagine some suburban areas after World War Two that had rapid development and demographic change. I’m thinking of Naperville, Illinois, a sundown town that due to high quality residential and job growth is a suburb today that is increasingly non-white and where city leaders praise the growing diversity. Is there a point where the effects of being a sundown town disappear or could such effects pop up again depending on the situation (economic factors, racial and ethnic change, certain leaders, etc.)?

Naperville marathon fastest-growing? Economic boost?

Two pieces of information about the just-run Naperville marathon caught my eye:

The Naperville marathon has been one of the fastest-growing events in the country, more than doubling in size over the past few years. Still, it maintains a sense of smallness that is attractive to some runners like Jennifer Maierhoffer, of Seneca. Running a marathon was on her “bucket list,” she said, and she chose the Naperville event due to its size…

Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico said the race is great event for Naperville as it provides not only an economic boost to the city, but also serves as a time in which the community can come together as volunteers to help run the event. This year more than 1,000 volunteers participated, he said.

Several quick thoughts:

  1. Naperville claims to have a small town feel despite its size (over 140,000 residents). So, what will they do to keep this event small?
  2. Keeping the event small could be at odds with the purported economic boost. If you had more runners, there would be more visitors. I suppose the spots in the races could become more lucrative, especially if this is tied to good causes (according to the end of the article, $1 million was raised for charity).
  3. Just how much of an economic boost could a relatively small event like this be? I’d be interested in seeing the figures.
  4. Naperville’s rapid population growth has slowed now that large parcels of land have disappeared but the marathon gives the suburb something fast-growing to hold on to.
  5. What is the saturation point for hosting marathons? Are there suburbs and other places that have stopped hosting marathons in recent years because they didn’t have enough interest or participants?

First Medicare patient was in Naperville

Edward Hospital in Naperville will on July 20 celebrate the first Medicare patient in American history:

A Chicago Tribune reporter informed 68-year-old Avery she would be the first citizen to have her bills paid under the then-new program. Her amused reply, “Oh boy! Now I can go to New York and get on the television program ‘I’ve Got A Secret.'”

It was no secret when Avery signed her Medicare forms in her hospital bed on July 1, 1966, the day the program went into effect for nearly 20 million Americans age 65 or older. In addition to front-page coverage in the Tribune, an Associated Press photographer snapped Avery’s picture, which made its way across the country and into numerous other newspapers and publications…

“Edward Hospital, birthplace of Medicare” is how Carlson wryly refers to the event. Carlson is the one who chose Avery for her distinction.

“The reason I was given the right to choose was that I was a member of the communications staff at the national Blue Cross Association,” Carlson said. He and the head of communications at the U.S. Social Security Administration coordinated Avery’s form-signing and photo opportunity.

Although Naperville was still a small town at the time – under 10,000 residents – this illustrates how social networks can help push small communities into the spotlight. Even large bureaucratic programs have to start somewhere and a personal connection between the Blue Cross Association and the Social Security Administration made this possible.

The article says the hospital will dedicate a plaque and hold a small ceremony to make the anniversary. Is this the best way to mark social welfare programs? How many people will know that the plaque exists and view it? The United States regularly crafts memorials for particular people, whether notable leaders (like the proposed Eisenhower memorial in Washington D.C.) or collections of soldiers, but doesn’t mark government programs as well. A memorial to the New Deal? The Monroe Doctrine? The Interstate Act? All of these were incredibly consequential yet it is more difficult to envision where and how these should be marked.

“Naperville named wealthiest city in the Midwest”

Add another distinction to those collected by Naperville over the last 15 years:

Naperville has been ranked the richest city in the Midwest in a list by personal finance website NerdWallet.

The city topped the region — and came in at No. 19 in the nation — in the rankings announced Monday…

NerdWallet rated cities with at least 65,000 people based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Zillow Research and credit bureau Experian.

In the Midwest, the runner-up — Carmel, Indiana — bested Naperville in only one category, with a median household income of $109,375, according to NerdWallet.

For its size – over 140,000 people – Naperville is unusually well-off with a high household income, a low poverty rate, and plenty of good white-collar jobs. There are certainly wealthier communities in the Chicago region and the Midwest but many of them are quite small and have little interest in growth.

How did Naperville get to this point? Two articles I have published help explain the suburb’s rise: a 2013 article in Urban Affairs Review that compares Naperville’s growth to West Chicago and Wheaton and a 2015 article in the Journal of Urban History that examines narratives about Naperville’s growth.