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Stop Sprawl
1998 Sierra Club Sprawl Report: 30 Most Sprawl-Threatened Cities

Ten Most Sprawl-Threatened Large Cities
Number Ten: Chicago

While the Chicago area population rose 9 percent between 1990 and 1996, the land area expanded 40 percent.

Between 1990 and 1996, Chicago metropolitan land area growth outpaced population growth more than four-fold. While the area's population rose 9 percent, urban land area expanded a full 40 percent during that time. This recent expansion has helped Chicago become one of the nation's worst metropolitan regions for sprawling, low density development and poor land use.

As malls and parking lots take over the landscape, the Chicago area loses its fertile farmland. In the last ten years, 15 percent of the region's farm fields have disappeared, and that trend continues. According to the American Farmland Trust, the land between Chicago and Milwaukee is the third-most threatened farmland in the country because of encroaching development.

Chicago's tollway authority believes jobs will flow into the suburbs in the next two decades, and job growth will put 48,000 additional cars a year on the tollway (Chicago Tribune). This growth will gridlock a highway system unequipped to handle the number of car trips needed to move people from home to office.

Several projects are pending that could worsen Chicago's landscape. The proposed 12-mile extension to the North-South Tollway (I-355) into pastoral south suburban Will County as well as a the north extension of Illinois Highway 53 through central Lake County have been halted by a court for now, but could move forward in the future. Kane County is considering adding a series of new bridges over the Fox River to handle growing congestion on its 22 other bridges. These new spans would harm wetlands and damage the integrity of historic sites.

Some of the surrounding counties and outlying villages are attempting to grapple with their sprawl problems and remain livable, however. Lake County is trying to preserve its green space, wetlands and lakes as well its small-town feel, while the number of people who want to live in the area - precisely because of these characteristics - is expected to double in the next two decades. The well-known Prairie Crossing subdivision in north suburban Grayslake is built "in harmony" with the environment. Joliet's Bicentennial Park contains bike paths, and Downers Grove's Main Street runs train and bus lines to retail centers.

In November, 1997, DuPage County voters approved, by a 60-40 margin, a $70 million bond referendum which will protect 2,000 acres of open space. Will, Kane, Lake and possibly Cook counties may be holding such referenda next spring.

Read the Report | Clickable Sprawl Map | Sprawl-Threatened Cities


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