Selling Schaumburg, Illinois

Schaumburg, Illinois, nearly 30 miles northwest of downtown Chicago, is a prototypical edge city. Home to Woodfield Mall, hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space, and over 70,000 residents plus located at the convergence of I-290, I-90, and IL-390, journalist Joel Garreau mentioned Schaumburg in his 1991 book Edge City: Life on the New Frontier. When I heard Schaumburg advertising on the radio, I wondered: is this an aggressive or a desperate move in these particular times? Where does Schaumburg fit among other Chicago suburbs also trying to get their name out there (examples here and here)? A few thoughts on this.

-Woodfield Shopping Mall is one of the largest in the United States. Even with numerous shopping malls struggling plus the problems of brick and mortar retailers, Woodfield will probably survive due to its size, location, and status. It may need to transform significantly – can it still support hundreds of stores? – but it is likely in good shape compared to numerous other Chicago area malls that are exploring new paths (other examples here, here, and here).

-Office space may be hard to fill. Schaumburg is not in a city; other suburban office parks have become less desirable in recent years with firms looking to appeal to young workers. Add the complications of COVID-19 when more workers are not going to the office. At the same time, many workers going to Schaumburg are doing so via car and they may be coming from relatively well-off suburban areas.

Growth is important to American communities. Like many edge cities, Schaumburg experienced explosive growth early in its history: it had 986 residents in 1960, in 1980 had over 53,000 residents, and peaked in 2000 at over 75,000 residents. Where does it go from here? Population loss and/or the loss of businesses would not be a good image for the community as it tries to chart a bright future.

Compared to other Chicago suburbs, Schaumburg is likely in good shape. At the same time, the growth and status of the past and present does not have to continue amid new social pressures and internal decisions. If Schaumburg is advertising in order to attract businesses, perhaps this hints at broader issues across suburbs: can they all succeed in what may be a challenging several year period?

Schaumburg’s rise due to relocation of Pure Oil headquarters in 1958

Schaumburg may be well-known for Woodfield Mall but the Chicago suburb was helped on the path to becoming an edge city (see Joel Garreau’s 1991 book) when Pure Oil relocated from downtown Chicago to fields near Schaumburg in the late 1950s:

Frandsen knows it all started nearly 15 years earlier with the construction of the Pure Oil building on the opposite side of Golf Road — the same building that’s now Roosevelt University’s Schaumburg campus…

Though a corporation’s move from the city to the suburbs is a scenario that’s been repeated many times since, one difficulty at the time was establishing a fair and true price for land that had previously been purely agricultural, Frandsen said.

Along with the company’s move came its employees’ relocation to the suburbs as well. Frandsen and his growing family moved to Arlington Heights, one of the nearest residential areas to the office site which was then in unincorporated Palatine Township.

Unlike today, when the one-story building crouches behind a taller strip mall to the south and IKEA to the north, Pure Oil’s headquarters sat like an island among the fields that continued to be leased to farmers.

It is critical to remember that the post-World War II suburbanization boom in the United States wasn’t just about people moving to the suburbs: many businesses relocated as well. Businesses moved for a variety of reasons including being closer to employees, finding cheaper land and lower taxes, wanting to have more “campus-like” developments, and being closer to the homes of executives.

If Pure Oil really did help kickstart the corporate boom in Schaumburg, this story doesn’t sound too different than that of Naperville where the opening of a Bell Labs facility in the mid 1960s along the relatively new East-West Tollway led to a number of other firms also locating nearby. Both Pure Oil and Bell Labs were originally outside of municipal boundaries and were eventually brought into city limits through annexation. Both Schaumburg and Naperville were already communities prior to the coming of these firms and the arrival of new kinds of businesses pushed community leaders to pursue new opportunities. This shift toward office space and white-collar jobs transformed both suburbs.

Edge city Schaumburg sees growing minority population, declining white population

The Chicago suburb of Schaumburg has attracted attention in recent decades for being an edge city. The community, full of office parks as well as Woodfield Mall, was mentioned six times in the book that defined edge cities. New 2010 Census figures suggest Schaumburg reflects larger population trends in the suburbs:

U.S. Census figures for 2010 showed that while the overall population of Schaumburg dipped 1.5 percent in the last decade to 74,227, most minority groups grew and the white population decreased by nearly 12 percent.

“It’s good to have that kind of mix as far as population is concerned,” said Village President Al Larson. “That says that Schaumburg is a very attractive place to come to.”

The largest minority group is Asians that number 14,731, according to the census. That’s about 38 percent more than 10 years ago…

Schaumburg’s changes are happening elsewhere,  said Mike Maly, who chairs the Sociology Department at Roosevelt University. He’s studied census numbers and the changing demographics of the Chicago area.

“What’s happening in Schaumburg is part of a larger trend in suburban Cook County,” Maly said. Minority groups are moving out of the city, and into the suburbs. At the same time, the white population seems to be moving to the outskirts of the suburban area, he said.

So like many suburbs, Schaumburg is experiencing growth in the minority population. But it is also interesting to note that the Schaumburg’s total population declined and the white population dropped by over 11 percent. Some questions should emerge out of this:

1. What is the long-term future of Schaumburg? Declining population in a suburb is not particularly a good sign.

2. Where exactly is the white population going in the Chicago suburbs? If you look at the interactive map here, one might guess that the whites are moving to the outer edges of the Chicago region.

3. On one hand, it sounds good that more minorities are moving to the suburbs, particularly communities like Schaumburg. But if white residents are moving out of these places where minorities are moving, are the same issues of residential segregation simply going to be reproduced in the suburban landscape?