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Poll results: Which is your favorite Chicago satellite city?

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  • Aurora, IL

    7 46.67%
  • Elgin, IL

    2 13.33%
  • Joliet, IL

    1 6.67%
  • Waukegan, IL

    1 6.67%
  • Gary, IN

    4 26.67%
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Thread: Favorite Chicago Satellite Cities?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian drucee's avatar
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    Favorite Chicago Satellite Cities?

    With my visit to Waukegan on Thursday, I have now been able to see all five of Chicago's satellite cities. All five are connected by commuter rail to Chicago (about 35 miles away from the Loop), and were historically their own metropolitan areas before Chicagoland engulfed them in the latter half of the 20th century.

    Indeed, the Chicago satellite cities are very different--but very similar--places. All have a population hovering around 100,000 (with Aurora being by far the largest) and several historic neighborhoods of 19th-century vintage, as well as a significant industrial past.

    So, which of these five do you prefer, and why?

    I'm going to post my own preference: Aurora. The largest of the satellites has some extremely attractive old neighborhoods (especially on the west side), the best use of the river, and a Mexican presence in the downtown that gives it a certain vibrancy.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    I can't comment only been to Gary and Elgin. Both of these oddly have casinos.

    I've not seen enough of either to make a very good comparative analyisis of the cities.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Both Gary and Waukegan have Lake Michigan shoreline. This should be a tremendous asset, but it has not been. They are formerly heavy industry cities with low-income, blue collar residents. Somehow they have never been able to shake that past and transform themselves into being a part of the new economy. The changes are beginning to happen, but it has been a long time coming and is still slow.

    Heavy industry also dominated Elgin, Aurora, and Joliet. Joliet's transformation has been hampered by a location on the southwest corridor, perhaps the most uninspiring and monotonous direction of sprawl from the city center. Elgin and Aurora are clearly the most vibrant of the cities. Early on, I think they competed more evenly in terms of their promise. I tend to agree, though, that Aurora currently has the edge.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  4. #4
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    Both Gary and Waukegan have Lake Michigan shoreline. This should be a tremendous asset, but it has not been. They are formerly heavy industry cities with low-income, blue collar residents. Somehow they have never been able to shake that past and transform themselves into being a part of the new economy. The changes are beginning to happen, but it has been a long time coming and is still slow.

    Heavy industry also dominated Elgin, Aurora, and Joliet. Joliet's transformation has been hampered by a location on the southwest corridor, perhaps the most uninspiring and monotonous direction of sprawl from the city center. Elgin and Aurora are clearly the most vibrant of the cities. Early on, I think they competed more evenly in terms of their promise. I tend to agree, though, that Aurora currently has the edge.
    I stopped in and chatted at the planning office in Kendall County for a bit a couple of years ago and was astonished when they told me that the City of Joliet's comp plan shows development in the city extending westward to IL 47, halfway across the south half of that county. As of two years ago, the city crossed about 1.5 sections into Kendall County and westward from there was wide open pool-table flatland farm fields.

    Amazing.

    I don't have enough knowledge of Elgin, but between Aurora and Joliet, I would likely give the nod to Aurora. OTOH, I can easily envision Joliet becoming a city of well over a half-million (0.75 to 1M?) when it builds out, as there are no further incorporated munis to its west until La Salle County and there aren't many others to its south, either, whereas all four of the rest have very little expansion room left. Although it has seen a population BOOM in recent years (mainly due to Hispanic in-migration into its older parts), Waukegan is still trying to shake its 'industrial-gritty' heritage and Gary has not yet hit its bottom and is fast returning into primal forest. Once that bottom is reached, Gary will be in a good position to take advantage of its location and super-easy transportation access, but unfortunately that won't be for a while yet.

    Mike

  5. #5
    Cyburbian drucee's avatar
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    The north side of Waukegan has some of the most attractive historic districts in the Chicago area, but it's really too bad about the lakefront. Downtown Waukegan has some great buildings as well. They just need to get rid of the expressway to nowhere next to Sheridan Road (IL-173) and perhaps run a light rail from Zion to Abbott Labs (Other great corridors for LRT in Chicago: Rosemont to Schaumburg, 26th Street, Cicero Ave, Green Bay Road between Evanston and Highland Park).

    Joliet at 500K population at buildout? The map says yes, but some MAJOR downtown revitalization, better suburb-suburb transit links, and/or a Plainfield/Bolingbrook/Lemont tech corridor would have to happen before people would consider living in the areas too far from Chicago (65+ miles) to attract large amounts of commuters.

    In short, Joliet would need to become the San Jose of Chicago.

  6. #6
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    I prefer Elgin.

    It's not as sprawly as Joliet and Aurora and not as economically depressed as Gary and Waukegan (though Waukegan is imporving much faster than Gary).

    Plus, Elgin is a major real estate deal for people working in the I-90 corridor through Arlington Heights, Rolling Meadows, Schaumburg, and Hoffman Estates.
    Last edited by mendelman; 08 Jan 2007 at 9:43 AM.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

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  7. #7
    Cyburbian drucee's avatar
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    Elgin gets my vote for second place. Its historic districts aren't as attractive as Aurora's, but the city does have a great position on the Fox River. The views from Route 31 are some of the nicest non-skyline views in Chicagoland.

  8. #8
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    thoughts on waukegan

    of these cities i've only explored waukegan...it's historic district is fantastic. i'm a realtor and have viewed several beautiful, old homes listed for ridiculously low prices (at least relative to the areas just south of the great lakes naval base)...for example, recently saw an old federal style SFH, circa 1850, very nicely renovated with many original features, for around $250k. anyway, i hope this city will turn around, and i believe it will. the problem with the lakefront is that it was industrial and was heavily polluted with PCBs from factory runoff by the Outboard Marine Corp. the harbor was cleaned up in the early 90s but its still not the cleanest, and the beach is still difficult to reach. however, i understand that the city has a new plan in place for revitalizing the downtown area and lakefront, which may include moving/removing the amstutz highway that awkwardly divides the city from the lake.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Never been to any but I picked Aurora because of Wayne's World

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Joe Iliff's avatar
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    Where's Kenosha WI, Racine WI, Rockford IL and South Bend IN? Or does Chicago not claim those?
    JOE ILIFF
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  11. #11

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    I'd go with Aurora. Aurora and Elgin both have the most going for them economically right now, and both maintain much of their original character in the neighborhoods that surround their downtowns. Both cities have very attractive settings along the Fox River.

    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    Both Gary and Waukegan have Lake Michigan shoreline. This should be a tremendous asset, but it has not been. They are formerly heavy industry cities with low-income, blue collar residents. Somehow they have never been able to shake that past and transform themselves into being a part of the new economy. The changes are beginning to happen, but it has been a long time coming and is still slow.
    I agree with Cardinal on this one. Not only do Gary and Waukegan both have Lake Michigan shoreline, they're BOTH right next to some of Chicagoland's most popular summer recreational spots. Waukegan's next to Illinois Beach State Park and not far from the Fox River Chain O'Lakes, and Gary's just minutes from the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the miles and miles of beautiful beaches (don't laugh, non-Midwesterners, it's true) that stretch along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. I know the transition from a manufacturing-based economy to a tourism/service one can be tricky, and tourism certainly doesn't pay the same way that manufacturing does, but I think both cities would do well to exploit their recreational assets.

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally posted by Joe Iliff View post
    Where's Kenosha WI, Racine WI, Rockford IL and South Bend IN? Or does Chicago not claim those?
    I think Kenosha and Rockford are both positioning themselves to siphon off the economic spillover from the Chicago region, but I don't think they were ever satellite cities within Chicago's "universe" the way that the other five were. I always felt Racine had closer ties to Milwaukee, and South Bend's only stake as a Chicago satellite city was shuttling in Catholic collegians to attend Notre Dame.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Keno always had their own industries (Nash to Damlier Chrysler, if I am not mistaken isn't snap on tools and some underwear from there too?) and was tied in with Racine.

    With the loss of industry, Keno has gone after outlet shoppers and have tried to do interesting things with their downtown.

    I'd agree that it had its own economy (one watch builder does no Elgin make!), as would South Bend (touchdown Jesus) and Rockford (no idea farm market maybe?).
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  14. #14
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by pete-rock View post
    I think Kenosha and Rockford are both positioning themselves to siphon off the economic spillover from the Chicago region, but I don't think they were ever satellite cities within Chicago's "universe" the way that the other five were.
    I agree. Rockford and Kenosha really developed as it's own entity and not an industrial feeder to Chicago.

    If Rockford and others were included, you'd have to throw Kankakee in the mix too.. which is just an incredible stretch.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian DecaturHawk's avatar
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    Based on growth, as well as the fact that it was (like the other five) a city in its own right before suburbanization, I think you have to throw Naperville into that mix. It also has old neighborhoods, a private university as well as an established downtown (albeit not as large as the other five). Naperville now trails only Chicago, Rockford and Aurora as the fourth largest city in the state.
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  16. #16
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Oh yeah.....

    nice hat onGary is the place to buy land, as long as its not already contaminated Gary is the future of the Chicago region.....just think of all the potential......
    nice hat off

    GARY SUCKS
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  17. #17
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DecaturHawk View post
    Based on growth, as well as the fact that it was (like the other five) a city in its own right before suburbanization, I think you have to throw Naperville into that mix. It also has old neighborhoods, a private university as well as an established downtown (albeit not as large as the other five). Naperville now trails only Chicago, Rockford and Aurora as the fourth largest city in the state.
    I think the premise of this thread applies only to the satellite cities that were important prior to suburbanization.

    Yeah, Naperville is a heavy hitter now, but before 1950 it was not much more than a small farm trading center. As opposed to the ones in the poll, which were 5+ times larger in 1950.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

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  18. #18
    Cyburbian drucee's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    I think the premise of this thread applies only to the satellite cities that were important prior to suburbanization.

    Yeah, Naperville is a heavy hitter now, but before 1950 it was not much more than a small farm trading center. As opposed to the ones in the poll, which were 5+ times larger in 1950.
    Although they were pretty big industrial centers in their heyday, most of the raw population growth in Chicagoland's satellite cities has actually been due to annexation and suburbanization. Aurora had only 51,000 people in 1950, and now has approximately 160,000. Similarly, Elgin was about half its current population (and neither city has expanded its downtown area, which certainly shows how Americans' expectations for density have, sadly, waned over the last century). Even Waukegan, whose population is stagnant (it is hemmed in on three sides by incorporated Gurnee, Beach Park, and North Chicago) had not cracked 40,000 by 1950. The only satellite city that has been hemorrhaging population is Gary, which peaked at about twice its current population of 90,000 in 1960. There's really no getting around the fact that these old industrial centers were saved from the fate of, say, Rockford, by their commuting distance from Chicagoland. Even so, I wonder if Naperville's very-high-income population boom now draws much of its service class from Aurora, or whether proximity to Naperville more so than Chicago is driving Aurora's astonishing growth. Is it a case of suburbs of suburbs, like we see in California (where people from southern Orange County might work in northern Orange County, along with people from LA, but the southern OC residents would rarely visit LA?), or does central-city Chicago still weigh pretty heavily in the minds of Fox River boomburb migrants?

  19. #19
    I was born in Chicago, and grew up in Glenview but I never experienced much of the Chicago satellite cities. I've only been to Waukegan a bunch of times, and never for fun.

    Is it a case of suburbs of suburbs
    That's how I see it, also, in a way...suburbs of suburbs, of suburbs.

    I also sometimes think of subdivisions as a 'suburb within a suburb'.

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