Comparing Naperville and Joliet: the Underappreciated Importance of Legacy

Pete Saunders compares the disparate experiences of two Chicago suburbs, Naperville and Joliet, who took different approaches to legacy.

"There is a totally undervalued consideration when looking at the past, present and future of cities.  We can't discount the importance of legacy -- the quality of past decisions, what's been given to us, and what we do with it," writes Saunders. When comparing Naperville and Joliet, Saunders finds that "[one] city thought it lacked a legacy, until it found one that enabled it to take its growth to the next level; the other allowed much of its legacy to fritter away and its residents chose to flee from it."

Starting from 1950, when Joliet was a small industrial city of 52,000 people and Naperville was a small farming community of 7,000, "only Naperville was able to grow, using the suburban development growth model." Why? "Because Naperville was unburdened with legacy.  Naperville was surrounded by farmlands that were suitable for new single family home construction.  The extension of the interstate highway network allowed Naperville to make highway access an attractive amenity to potential residents, and allowed the development of office complexes on the city's northern fringes."

"Naperville hit the suburban trifecta -- greenfields for residential development, highways and commter [sic] rail access to move people, and office parks to employ workers."

The policies of the two cities shifted in the 1990s, producing a legacy of land use decisions that are still influencing the growth of each cities today.

Full Story: Tale of Two Suburbs: Legacy, And What We Do With It


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