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?

How the discussion might go regarding 700+ empty acres in the middle of suburbia

A new large plot of land may soon be available in the middle of Lake County, Illinois. What should go there? Here is an early idea:

The family that owns the Chicago Blackhawks wants to turn more than 700 acres of farmland it owns near Mundelein into a housing, commercial and industrial development, village officials confirmed.

If the Wirtz family’s vision becomes reality, the land would be annexed into Mundelein and become the largest development by acreage in Lake County, Village Administrator Eric Guenther said.

“This is a big deal,” Guenther said. “(It) could prove to be a very extraordinary development for Mundelein, the Wirtz family and Lake County as a whole.”…

Guenther declined to detail the family’s specific plans for the land. They will be unveiled to the public at the village board’s Dec. 12 meeting.

Given what I have seen regarding suburban development, here are some of the steps to come and the common responses from involved actors:

  1. The landowners will bring a plan to the municipality that maximizes or at least includes a lot of profit through developing the land.
  2. The Village of Mundelein will receive the proposal and work on it through elected and appointed officials plus professional staff.
  3. There will be public hearings regarding the property and proposed plans.
  4. Community residents will chime in with a variety of concerns, including regarding traffic and noise. The local school district and other actors will wonder how new development will affect local services and amenities. The village will want to consider the tax base on how the tax revenues add up from such a property. Some actor(s) will propose keeping the property or part of it as green space.
  5. There will be some negotiations between the developers and the community. This could go relatively quick or slowly, depending on the changes asked for and the vision of the developers. They could happen behind the scenes or be more visible to the public.
  6. Roughly 1-2 years from now a plan will be in place and development can start.

Each of these steps could proceed differently with the potential for plans to move more quickly or more slowly. There is no guarantee that the proposed project will go forward.

However, given the size of this parcel, there will be a lot of interest from everyone about what happens with this land and how this might affect Mundelein – whether it is the community’s character, revenues, or land use – for decades to comes.

What would a lack of water and power from the Colorado River do to sprawl?

The suburban sprawl in the United States depends on the availability of water and power, among other resources. So what happens if the Colorado River, a source of water and power for numerous people, no longer can supply either?

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Such an outcome — known as a “minimum power pool” — was once unfathomable here. Now, the federal government projects that day could come as soon as July.

Worse, officials warn, is the remote possibility of an even more catastrophic event. That is if the water level falls all the way to the lowest holes, so only small amounts could pass through the dam. Such a scenario — called “dead pool” — would transform Glen Canyon Dam from something that regulates an artery of national importance into a hulking concrete plug corking the Colorado River…

As the water has receded, so has the ability to produce power at Glen Canyon, as less pressure from the lake pushes the turbines. The dam already generates about 40 percent less power than what has been committed to customers, which includes dozens of Native American tribes, nonprofit rural electric cooperatives, military bases, and small cities and towns across several southwestern states. These customers would be responsible for buying power on the open market in the event Glen Canyon could not generate, potentially driving up rates dramatically.

The standard rate paid for Glen Canyon’s low-cost power is $30 per megawatt hour. On the open market, these customers last summer faced prices as high as $1,000 per megawatt hour, said Leslie James, executive director of the Colorado River Energy Distributors Association.

The issue of water has already increased concerns about development in the Southwest. A landscape full of single-family homes, lawns, lots of roads, and other suburban features requires a lot of water. Can life in sprawl not require as much water or is there a point where no more sprawl is just not possible? Then add in the issue of power. This includes transmission lines, homes, and other structures. Can the existing sprawl even be maintained with less electricity and water?

It also worth paying attention to how these changes with the Colorado River have ripple effects elsewhere. If as much water is not available, where can water come from? I imagine those around the Great Lakes have thoughts. If not as much power is generated, is there electricity capacity elsewhere? How much can be done short-term to shore things up while also considering long-term consequences?

More broadly, what might stop American sprawl? Not having water or power would be a powerful incentive. Others have speculated about a certain price of gas. Perhaps cultural beliefs about the suburban good life change. Or there might be something unforeseen. The conditions with the Colorado River might just offer a glimpse into what happens when sprawl has to stop.

“Suburbs are now the most diverse areas in America”

Increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the suburbs can lead to tension:

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For a long time, the phrase suburban voter has been code for white voter. But suburbs are now among the most diverse spaces in American life, and tension is growing over who belongs in suburbia as NPR’s Sandhya Dirks reports.

The primary arena for conflict in this report involves politics:

DIRKS: Last year, white parents and some white folks who weren’t parents screamed at local school board meetings over teaching kids about racism or having diversity and inclusion programs. Most of the places where those fights flared were suburbs, and they were suburbs that are changing, suburbs that have grown more diverse. In some cases, like in Gwinnett County, they are also suburbs where Black people have started to get elected to local seats, like school boards.

KERNODLE: The difference between now and then is that we have power too.

DIRKS: Because as suburbs change, so does the power of the suburban vote.

This tension extends to numerous other areas including neighborhoods, housing, jobs, and schooling.

More broadly, this part of the process of “complex suburbia” where suburbs are changing. Some communities are changing faster than others, with these rates likely tied to social factors and patterns of resources and influence.

The factors behind the spread of suburban pickleball courts

Pickleball is increasingly popular in the United States and the game has also spread through the Chicago suburbs:

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Bill and Linda Graba of Hoffman Estates are widely considered to be the godparents of pickleball in the Northwest suburbs. They picked up the game after retiring to The Villages in central Florida, where they spend their winters…

Graba said he and his wife started promoting the game locally in about 2009. They helped get indoor courts at what was then known as the Prairie Stone Sports & Wellness Center in Hoffman Estates and outdoor courts at Fabbrini Park in Hoffman Estates. For the past 10 years, they’ve organized a six-county tournament that brings in about 200 participants.

Graba said public outdoor courts are popping up throughout the suburbs, including Palatine, Schaumburg, Streamwood, Hanover Park and St. Charles.

“It’s basically all over every suburb,” Graba said. “If they haven’t had them in the past, people are asking and they will have them soon.”

This seems ripe for some analysis at the community level:

  1. In what communities are pickleball courts showing up?
  2. What are some of the common processes by which pickleball courts come into existence? Who is asking for courts and who is building them? For example, are park districts primarily funding these?
  3. The space and resources for pickleball courts is coming from where? Is this about the transformation of tennis courts or are other spaces being used?

I suspect there are some patterns to who is playing, where they are playing, and how the game is spreading. As the game spreads, there could also be some change to the answers to these questions.

Why might suburban leaders head up legal challenge to IL law ending cash bail?

A lawsuit led by suburban officials challenges a new Illinois law in court:

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When more than half of Illinois’ state’s attorneys go to court in Kankakee County next month in a last-ditch effort to block the controversial SAFE-T Act, the proceedings will have a distinctly suburban flavor.

The offices of McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally and Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow have been chosen to serve as lead counsel in a lawsuit they and 61 of their peers have filed seeking to have the massive criminal justice reform bill ruled unconstitutional…

The state’s attorneys argue that violates several parts of the state constitution, including the Separation of Powers Clause by stripping judges of their full authority to detain defendants, set monetary bail and revoke bail. They also argue that a portion of the Act that gives police discretion to release defendants without bail on low-level offenses unlawfully takes that authority away from the courts…

The state’s attorneys argue that violates several parts of the state constitution, including the Separation of Powers Clause by stripping judges of their full authority to detain defendants, set monetary bail and revoke bail. They also argue that a portion of the Act that gives police discretion to release defendants without bail on low-level offenses unlawfully takes that authority away from the courts.

Suburban counties are not the only ones party to this lawsuit, but is it meaningful that they are leading the effort? A few general patterns scholars might point to:

  1. The image and ideology of suburbs suggests they are safe places relatively free of crime.
  2. Where does crime happen? It is viewed as a problem of cities and urban centers.
  3. The first two points are connected to long-term suburban patterns of exclusion by race/ethnicity and social class. Who commits crime? Not the typical suburbanite.
  4. Suburbs have a long history of fear of crime. And they act regularly in their suburban communities regarding crime, ranging from creating gated communities to supporting police efforts to choices about development and amenities.
  5. A suburban fear of crime is linked to particular political patterns and activity, including Nixon and the Republican Party’s “Southern strategy” to then-President Trump’s 2020 claim that the suburbs are under threat.

Put these factors together and suburban leadership on this issue may be no surprise.

The problems with suburbs: carelessness, lack of community

Jason Diamond’s book The Sprawl: Reconsidering the Weird American Suburbs argues the suburbs suffer from these problems:

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The overall problem with the American suburbs has always been carelessness. Profit over people; keeping people out to keep up the property value; building up and out without much reason besides making more money. The idea is that what you and your family have is enough. What else could you need? Everything, you’re supposed to think, is fine as it is.

Almost every suburb in America has one thing in common: somebody built the place and moved on. These little subdivisions and towns were built, but they weren’t completed. Developers built houses and stores, but they couldn’t create community. And that’s the piece I saw lacking in so many suburban places from coast to coast: community. You can call the place you live one, but a community is only as good as the people who work to make it stronger. Nothing is complete: we’ve built the suburbs out, and now it’s time to grow them from within. It’s time to look at the past to see what we’ve done wrong, apply it to the present, and learn for tomorrow. Because whether we like it or not, the future is still in suburbia. We just need to reclaim it. (217-218)

Arguably, if you and your family have all you need in your single-family home and middle-class or higher lifestyle, what need do people have for community? People can believe they are self-sufficient enough to avoid reliance on others and can limit conflict with others. Whether this is actually true does not matter. Even as the suburbs have all sort of social networks and social interactions and are built on a long history of policies, decisions, and ideology, the perception that people can be independent and live the good life matters. This all contributes to the idea of individualism.

Reclaiming community at the suburban level is an interesting task. There are multiple communities already present in suburbia, but they do not necessarily advance the interests of the community as a whole or the people who might want to live there and cannot. For example, people are involved with local schools, public and private. Suburbanites care about education and how good school systems support higher property values. These interests and existing connections may be helpful or not for thinking about the community as a whole. Suburbanites like exclusion and local government control, two factors that can work against creating community for everyone.

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.

More Americans now living in mixed neighborhoods, especially in suburbs

Data from the 2020 Census shows that more Americans live in neighborhoods where no one racial or ethnic group is more than 80% of the population:

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Back in 1990, 78 percent of White people lived in predominantly White neighborhoods, where at least 4 of every 5 people were also White. In the 2020 Census, that’s plunged to 44 percent.

Large pockets of segregation remain, but as America’s White population shrinks for the first time and Hispanic, Asian, Black and Native Americans fuel the nation’s growth, diverse neighborhoods have expanded from urban cores into suburbs that once were colored by a steady stream of White flight from inner cities…

More broadly, a new majority of all Americans, 56 percent, now live in mixed neighborhoods where neither White people nor non-Whites predominate – double the figure that lived in mixed neighborhoods in 1990, according to a Washington Post analysis of census data. By racial group, 56 percent of White Americans live in mixed neighborhoods, as do 55 percent of Hispanic Americans, 57 percent of Black people and 70 percent of Asian people…

Racially mixed neighborhoods continue to be less common in small towns and rural areas, and are increasing the most in the suburbs. Across large metro suburbs and medium metros, the share of people in racially mixed neighborhoods jumped by double digits over the past decade to 59 percent.

This is part of the emergence of complex suburbia where racial and ethnic populations have changed in recent decades. There still are predominantly-white neighborhoods but there are also more neighborhoods with different mixes of residents.

If people are now more likely to live near people of different racial and ethnic groups, what might this lead to? The analysis mentions backlash toward immigration. Could it also lead to positive change? How exactly is life playing out in different kinds of neighborhoods? How much does social class and the particular character and histories of a place shape outcomes in addition to these racial and ethnic changes?

The sentiments of suburbanites ahead of the 2022 midterm elections

As the 2022 midterm elections near, what are suburban voters thinking? Here is one report from the suburbs of Los Angeles:

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No matter where you venture along the northern fringe of metro Los Angeles, whether it’s the bustling suburbs of the Democratic-leaning San Fernando Valley or the more conservative towns that nestle in the russet-hued canyons to the north and east, you’ll find people who say they have good reason to sing the blues for their country.

They’re feeling weighed down by the onslaught of inflation, cultural conflicts and assaults on the electoral process. They fear that Americans — left, right and center — have given up trying to understand or sympathize with one another.

And they hold elected officials and political candidates responsible for sowing distrust among Americans and eroding faith in democratic institutions.

Who exactly will these suburbanites vote for at the national and local levels or will they choose not to vote? One poll suggests some change among white suburban women:

The GOP has seen a shift in its favor among several voter groups, including Latino voters and women, and particularly white suburban women. That group, which the pollsters said makes up 20% of the electorate, shifted 26 percentage points away from Democrats since the Journal’s August poll and now favors the GOP by 15 percentage points.

As in previous elections, suburbanites might sway the outcomes. Both parties have aimed their messages, at least in part, toward suburban voters who are both a sizable percentage of the electorate and where more voters might be open to shifting their votes.