Chicago’s annexations through the years

Watch Chicago expand through annexation here.

Maps at the Chicago History Museum show that in 1837, city borders were:

  • Lake Michigan to the east
  • North Avenue to the north
  • 22nd Street to the south
  • Wood Street to the west

In the Great Fire of 1871, much of the city was destroyed. The most significant annexation in Chicago history came almost two decades later, in 1889.

That’s when Hyde Park, Lake View and Jefferson and Lake townships became part of Chicago. The annexations were the result of an election and added 125 miles and 225,000 people to the city, making it the nation’s largest city by square mileage at the time…

“One of the reasons annexation stops […] in the early 1900s is because the city really doesn’t want to annex any more territory,” said Chicago historian Ann Keating, who wrote Chicago Neighborhoods and Suburbs: A Historical Guide and co-edited The Encyclopedia of Chicago. “Our vision is suburban communities wouldn’t want to join in to the city, but the fact of the matter is the city kind of hits a point where they can no longer extend services.”

This is a common trait of most American big cities: they started relatively small and then annexed quite a bit of territory. However, Chicago’s experience mirrors cities in the North which essentially couldn’t annex much past 1900. While suburbs prior to this point had been willing to join the city to gain from the big city’s services and the city’s prestige, by around 1900 these local services were cheaper to build themselves and cities had different reputations. But, annexation was still quite common for Sunbelt cities, most of whom were able to continue to annex through the 20th century. David Rusk tracks these annexations in his book Cities Without Suburbs. Here is one chart:

RuskCitiesWithoutSuburbsTable1.5Quite a big difference which Rusk argues allowed Sunbelt cities to capture more of the suburban growth and benefit from a wider tax base and more diverse population.

The American cities with the highest percentage of households without a car

As part of a look at the connection between education levels and car ownership, Derek Thompson includes this information about which American cities have lower rates of car ownership:

Here are the non-car household rates in 30 large U.S. cities (the national average is in RED):

Source: Michael Sivak, University of Michigan

What do NYC, DC, Boston, and Philadelphia have in common? For one, they’re old, crowded cities with good (okay, decent) public transit. “The five cities with the highest proportions of households without a vehicle were all among the top five cities in a recent ranking of the quality of public transportation,” Michael Sivak, director of Sustainable Worldwide Transportation at Michigan, told WSJ.

That might be the most important, variable, but it wasn’t the first thing this graph reminds me of. When I see New York, D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, the first thing I think is: These are all the classic, even cliche, magnets for elite college graduates. 

So I compared the cities’ non-car ownership rates to their share of bachelor’s-degree holders. And it turns out there is a statistically significant relationship between being college-dense and car-light.

Then follows a correlation chart – but no number or measure of the significance of the relationship! If one is going to claim a statistically significant relationship, more information needs to be provided like the correlation coefficient and the significance level.

That said, larger Sunbelt cities don’t come out well, nor do smaller Northern or Midwestern cities. All together, these cities are more likely to have sprawl and not have the kind of dense downtowns like Manhattan or the Loop that supports a lot of workers traveling to a single area each day. There was less historical incentive in these communities to build mass transit (outside of commuter rail) and such services, particularly subways or light rail, are quite expensive to build today in more sprawling conditions.

The continued rise of the Sunbelt: Florida’s population to pass New York’s

One of the largest demographic shifts in American history continues: Florida’s population will soon surpass that of New York.

When the 2013 census results are revealed on Monday, Florida is expected to edge out New York as the third most populous state. The population gap between New York and Florida has been closing quickly over the past few years, but the ranking swap could still signify changes ahead for both states.

According to The New York Times, the new census figures reflect the trend of migrants born outside the U.S. making their way toward sunnier states, like California, Texas — the top two most populous states — and Florida. The Times reports that roughly 50,000 New Yorkers move to Florida each year, compared with only 25,000 Floridians who come to New York. Though New York state’s population is still growing, it is far outpaced by Florida growth. And upstate New York is largely economically stagnant, while cities like Tampa and Jacksonville flourish…

A larger population can dictate a state’s future, in addition to simply reflecting its current circumstance. It means a larger chunk of the federal government’s money and more political representation. The New York Times explains:

The changing population pattern could have many practical and political implications, including diminished congressional delegations, a setback New York already suffered in 2010 — the year of the last decennial census count — when the state lost two districts, while Florida gained two seats. Census data also inform how billions of dollars in federal funding and grants are divvied up among the states, for things like highway planning and construction, public aid for housing and health care and education programs.

It is interesting to see the attention these estimates are getting. This population shift to the Sunbelt has been happening for decades now, spurred on by being closer to immigration sources (the 1965 Immigration Act helped increase immigration from Mexico and Latin America), warmer weather, more affordable housing, and economic growth. But, I suspect there are some other reasons in particular to point out the closeness in population of New York and Florida:

1. New York, particularly New York City, is seen as an American center of power (economic, political, cultural, social). Florida is seen as a place where people go on vacation or to retire. Yet, the population shift suggests Florida might be able to grow in power and influence while a relative population decline suggests New York has already peaked.

2. A conservative-liberal divide between the two states. For example, the New York Times article cited above mentions the stand your ground law in Florida as well as the implications for Congress. The horrors that might ensue if the people of Florida get to help dictate policy for the people of New York City…

3. It is more difficult to understand larger population trends without having these kinds of comparisons. In other words, we could say the Sunbelt population has grown 15% over 10 years while the population in the Northeast has grown 4% over the same period but these are big areas and vague numbers. Being able to pit two states against each other makes the data more understandable and produces a better news story.

Atlanta Braves bucking the baseball trend by moving to the suburbs

While the new baseball stadiums of recent decades tend to be located in urban neighborhoods, the Atlanta Braves made an announcement that they are moving 15 miles outside of the city:

On Monday, team president John Schuerholz and two other executives told reporters that the franchise will build a new stadium in Cobb County, roughly 15 miles away from Turner Field, and begin playing there in 2017, after their current lease expires, with construction to start in mid-2014.

That’s a shock, in that the Braves have only been playing in Turner Field — which was built for the 1996 Summer Olympics — since 1997. Such a move will make it the first of the 24 major league ballparks to open since 1989 to be replaced, and buck the trend of teams returning to urban centers. The proposed park is in the suburbs and closer to the geographic center of the team’s ticket-buying fan base, a much higher percentage of which happens to be white. US Census figures from 2010 put Fulton County at 44.5 percent white and 44.1 percent black, while Cobb County is 62.2 percent white and 25.0 percent black…

So instead of sinking $350 million into fixes to modernize Turner, the Braves are spending $200 million for a new park, with much of that cost likely to be covered by the development of the surrounding area and the sale of naming rights. Notably, Turner is one of just eight venues that doesn’t have such a deal in place. According to a New York Times piece from July, the Atlanta Hawks get $12 million a year for the naming rights to their venue, currently known as Philips Arena. The largest baseball deal is that of the Mets for Citi Field ($21 million per year), though the dropoff from that figure to the second-largest, Houston’s Minute Maid Park ($7.4 million), is steep.

The new venue is at the intersection of Interstates 75 and 285, said to be a major traffic snarl, “the place so congested we Cobb Countians know to avoid if at all possible,” as the Journal-Constitution‘s Mark Bradley described it. The county has resisted the expansion of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) into its domain since its inception in 1971, so it’s not served by light rail, and while the team claims “significantly increased access to the site” via Home of the Braves, it offers no specifics on the matter.

While this goes against ballpark trends, it also fits some other trends:

1. Suburban expansion in Sunbelt cities. Many of the new ballparks have been built in Northern cities, Rustbelt places where downtown development is needed. Think Camden Yards in Baltimore or Jacobs Field in Cleveland or PNC Park in Pittsburgh. In other words, Sunbelt cities have different settlement patterns including beltway highways around the city and not that dense of an urban core to begin. Turner Field wasn’t exactly in an urban neighborhood and other reports suggested it would have been quite difficult to expand parking and nearby amenities.

2. Matching ballparks with nearby development projects that can also bring in money. A baseball team can be profitable but developing nearby real estate can be even more profitable. For example, look at the deals suburbs tried to make with the Cubs earlier this year: you can have land and access to transportation and we would be more than happy to develop land around your ballpark. And the Cubs are trying to do this with Wrigley Field as well by developing nearby properties into a hotel to increase their revenue streams.

3. It sounds like Cobb County is giving the Braves a good deal by financing some of the project. This is a longer trend: companies, sports or otherwise, moving to where they can get a good tax deal. This has happened with urban ballparks – cities have financed parts of those stadiums because they can’t afford to let the team out of the city. In this particular case, it sounds like the Braves thought they got a better suburban deal whereas other cities have pushed harder to keep teams with incentives.

I suspect this is a more isolated case of ballpark construction in the suburbs.

Quick Review: The End of the Suburbs

I recently read The End of the Suburbs, written by Fortune journalist Leigh Gallagher. On one hand, the book does a nice job describing some recent trends involving, but, on the other hand, the book is mistitled and I think she misses some key points about suburbs.

1. If I could title the book, I would name it something like “The End of the Sprawling Suburbs” or perhaps “The End of Sprawl.” Neither title is as sexy but she is not arguing that the American suburbs will disappear, rather that demographics and other factors are shifting toward cities. There is a big difference between ending suburbs and seeing them “grow up,” as one cited expert puts it.

2. Some of the key trends she highlights: the costs of driving (the whole oil industry, maintenance/gas/insurance/stress for owners, paying for roads/infrastructure), a changing family structure with more single-person and no-children households, changes among millennials and baby boomers who may be looking to get out of the suburbs in large numbers, a push toward New Urbanism in new suburban developments to increase density and strengthen community, and builders and developers, like Toll Brothers, are looking to build denser and more urban developments with more mixed-uses and smaller houses.

3. But, here are some big areas that I think Gallagher misses:

a. While she highlights the benefits of New Urbanism, does this lead to more affordable housing? In fact, the need for more affordable housing is rarely mentioned. As certain areas become more popular, such as urban neighborhoods that attract the creative class, this raises prices and pushes certain people out.

b. The main focus in the book is on big cities in the Northeast and Midwest. While she mentions some Sunbelt cities, like Las Vegas and Los Angeles, there is a lot more to explore here. There are particular patterns in Northern cities compared to newer, more sprawling Sunbelt cities. And in a book talking about the end of sprawl, how could she not mention Portland’s fight against urban sprawl in the last few decades?

c. It is an intriguing idea that cities and suburbs are starting to blend together. But, some of the examples are strange. For example, she talk about how there is increased poverty in the suburbs, which then could make cities more attractive again. There are still some major differences between the two sets of places, particularly the cultural mindsets as well as the settlement patterns.

d. She highlights thriving urban cores – but what about the rest of big cities? While Manhattan and Chicago’s Loop might be doing all right, what about the poorer parts of those cities? The recent mayoral race in NYC involved this issue and many have complained in Chicago that most of the neighborhoods experience little government help. In other words, these thriving urban and suburban developments often benefit the wealthier in society who can take advantage of them.

e. It isn’t until the last chapter that she highlights some defenders of sprawl – people like Joel Kotkin or Robert Bruegmann – but doesn’t spend much time with their ideas. Indeed, the book reads as if these trends are all inevitably moving toward cities and defenders of suburbs would argue critics of suburbs have been making these arguments for decades.

4. Two questions inspired by the book:

a. Just how much should the American economy rely on the housing industry? Gallagher suggests housing is a sign of a good economy based in other areas rather than one of the leading industries. Sprawl can lead to boom times for the construction and housing industries but it can also face tough times. Perhaps our efforts would be better spent trying to build up other industries.

b. Is the century of sprawl in America (roughly 1910 to today – there were suburbs before this but their mass development based around cars and mass housing really began in the 1920s) an aberration in our history or is it a deeper mentality and period? Gallagher suggests we are at the end of an era but others could argue the suburbs are deeply culturally engrained in American life and have a longer past and future.

Overall, this is an interesting read summarizing some important trends but I also think Gallagher misses some major suburban trends.

Charlotte, North Carolina known for its McMansions?

A book review of a new novel about an old money family in Charlotte, North Carolina suggests the city is known for its McMansions:

The city of Charlotte, with its social-climbing bankers and developers, its flock of mega-churches and its McMansions – where, as the old saying goes, folks believe in the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man and the neighborhood of Myers Park – has always made an inviting target.

And now, with “Lookaway, Lookaway,” Wilton Barnhardt has scored a palpable hit. With his first novel since 1998’s “Emma Who Saved My Lie,” Barnhardt delivers a knowing, wry and delightfully catty satire, an acid-etched portrait of one of the Queen City’s downwardly mobile Old Families.

This review hints at one reason for the abundance of McMansions in Charlotte and I think this is related to another reason:

1. McMansion here might be shorthand for new-money families as contrasted with old-money families. This is more noteworthy in the South with its emphasis on tradition and honor. Established families live in more established homes in older neighborhoods while those with new money live in big subdivision houses.

2. Related to the new money in the city is its Sunbelt population growth after World War II. In 1940, the city had just over 100,000 residents and today the city has over 731,000 and the metropolitan area has around 2.3 million residents. In other words, one of the notable traits of Charlotte in recent decades is its growth which then includes new houses and new residents.

At the same time, I haven’t yet run into any news stories about teardown issues in Charlotte or too many concerns about sprawl.

Experts: cities like Chicago may lose population but they don’t shrink

A group of experts at a recent conference suggest Chicago may have lost population but it is not shrinking:

Chicago’s population may have dropped 20 percent since 1950, but experts who gathered at the DePaul Center yesterday said the rise of developments on the city’s south and west sides are promising signs that the city isn’t “shrinking,” according to Medill Reports.

“Physically, cities don’t shrink,” said Brian Bernardoni, director of government affairs for the Chicago Association of Realtors. “What does shrink is productivity, jobs and job opportunity, tax bases and population.” The Chicago Association of Realtors’ seminar that looked at the concept of “shrinking cities” (places with sustained population loss and spiking levels of blight and abandoned properties) found recent developments like Oakwood Shores and Park Boulevard, and potential future megaprojects such as plans to convert the old South Works steel mill site to a mixed-use city within a city or McPier’s McCormick-area arena and hotel proposal, may protect us from the unflattering moniker.

According to Medill’s recap, “of all North American cities with a million people, Chicago recorded the greatest population loss in the last census,” but the city officials, urban planners, and developers at the event – including Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th); Scott Freres of The Lakota Group; Joe Williams of Granite Companies, Myer Blank of True Partners Consulting; and DePaul professor Joe Schwieterman – seem to hold a hardy optimism.

This may be parsing words. In a popular sense, cities that lose population do not look good. For example, Rust Belt cities that have lost population, including Chicago, are seen as having major problems. On the flip side, cities that gain population, like Sunbelt cities in recent years, are seen as successful and making progress. In a more technical sense, these experts are probably right: it takes a long time for the physical footprint of a city to significantly decrease. This is an issue Detroit is facing right now. The population has dropped significantly but what is to be done with vacant houses and land? And what happens if development blooms at one spot in a city, like at the old South Works steel mill site, while other parts of the city really languish?

There are important long-term issues to consider. Chicago still faces an uphill battle in terms of fighting the trends of recent decades and it will take quite a bit of money and work to pull off these new projects. In cities growing at faster rates, growth does not necessarily lead to good outcomes even if it is often viewed as a good sign.

Different features of homes through the decades

The design of single-family homes has changed quite a bit through the decades. Here is an overview, featuring this description of what homes built 1980s have featured:

More than 80 percent of homes listed for sale today in Austin, Raleigh, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Houston, and Dallas were built since 1980. In fact, more than one third of the homes listed today in Austin, Raleigh, Houston, and Dallas were built after 2010: these markets had a relatively mild housing downturn during the crash and demand for new construction has remained strong. In contrast, few homes in Las Vegas or Phoenix  have been built since 2010, but more than a third of their listings were built in the boom-and-bust 2000s decade.

Which features are distinctly modern? Homes built in the 1980s offer cathedral ceiling skylights, sunken living rooms, and mirrored closets. The 1990s gave us palladium/palladian windows (a large arched window flanked by smaller rectangular windows), island cooktops, and pot shelves (no, silly, that’s a kitchen feature). Next came the decade of water and audio: infinity edge pools, snail showers, and pre-wired surround sound are often mentioned in listings from the 2000s. Finally, phrases emphasizing artisanship and nature popped in the 2010s, like hand-textured walls, handscraped hardwood floors, and natural light exposure.

Recently, too, homes have gotten bigger, especially since the 1990s: homes built in the current decade are 80 percent bigger than the typical 1940s home. On top of all that, “new” is hard to resist, especially compared with the wear-and-tear that older homes have. As a sales agent in a new Las Vegas development said to me during the boom, “Why buy a used house when you can buy a new house?”

All those extra square feet, island cooktops, and hand-textured walls come at a price. The median listing price of homes built in the 2010s is more than twice that of homes built in the 1900s, 1910s, and 1940s. That means buying a piece of history will set you back a lot less than a big, modern house will.

Sounds about right except for the missing stainless steel appliances and granite countertops. It would then be interesting to these features and design changes with how perceptions of homes have changed. Take the significant change in square footage from the 1950s to the roughly 2,500 square feet for average new homes today – do homeowners feel like this size larger size is right? Or, take the updated and fancier kitchens: more Americans are eating out and consuming processed foods yet the emphasis on having gleaming kitchens has increased.

This also is a reminder of the population shift to the Sunbelt in recent decades.

Seeing Houston as the quintessential American city of today

A sociologist who has spent decades studying Houston argues that it illustrates the big changes in American society:

The essential thing to know is that Houston is at the forefront of America’s demographic revolution. Through most of its history, Houston was a biracial Southern city dominated by white men, who were riding the oil boom to continued prosperity until 1982.

After that year’s economic collapse, Harris County’s Anglo population stopped growing and then declined. All the growth over the last 30 years has been due to the influx of Latinos, Asians and African-Americans.

Houston has now become America’s most ethnically diverse metropolitan region. It is even more diverse than New York, coming closer than any large metropolitan area to having an equal division among Anglos, blacks, Latinos and Asians…

The first lesson is all of the United States will look like Houston and Texas in about 25 years.

So this is where the American future will be worked out. How we navigate that transition will be important not only for the future of Houston and Texas but for the American future.

Even as the shift in American population has been to Sunbelt metropolitan regions in recent decades, cities like Houston don’t seem to get attention proportionate to their size. On one hand, they don’t have the history of global influence as New York, LA, and Chicago. They are not viewed as cultural or media centers. On the other hand, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Austin, Miami, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and others may better represent where America is headed. There are a lot of opportunities for sociologists to study such cities as they continue to grow, attract immigrants, and face new challenges.

Chicago’s explosive 19th century growth driven by excrement

Whet Moser argues Chicago’s remarkable growth from frontier town to big city was the result of excrement and new sewers:

The city was literally shaped by excrement. Its biggest single period of growth, the growth that turned Chicago into the Second City by population, came in the late 1800s, when the city’s sewer and sanitary systems were the envy of what were then suburbs. Lake View Township (the whole of the northeast side from North Avenue up to Rogers Park), Hyde Park Township (the south side between Pershing, State, and 138th), Lake Township (the southwest side bordered by Pershing, State, 87th, and Cicero) all latched on to the city when sophisticated sanitary systems were beyond the reach of booming townships, which were tightly restricted by the state’s limits on local debt.

Read on for more of the story of Chicago’s sewers.

This story in Chicago was not wholly unique. The late mid- to late-1800s were a period when numerous suburban communities outside big cities like Chicago, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia were annexed into the city. This annexation was approved by suburban communities for several reasons. First, as Moser notes, sewers and other infrastructure improvements like water and electricity were too expensive for small communities. Second, these communities wanted to be part of the big city and the status that came with that.

Yet, the story changes quite a bit from the 1880s onward when suburban communities started rejecting annexation efforts from big cities. The price of the infrastructure improvements dropped, putting them within reach of smaller suburbs. Cities were growing so fast that they couldn’t keep up with social problems as well as infrastructure improvements, limiting the status appeal of being part of the big city. Finally, an idealism was developing among the suburbs themselves as places people wanted to move to in order to escape the big city. By the 1920s, annexations had basically stopped.

This was a major turning point for most Northeast and Midwest big cities. Once annexations stopped and suburbs decided to go on their own, the boundaries of big cities became fixed. Later, as wealth and jobs fled the city for the suburbs, there were few opportunities for Rust Belt cities to expand their boundaries. In contrast, cities in the South and West (the Sunbelt) have had different annexation histories and many are much bigger in land area.