Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Should The Metropolitan Planning Council Just Fold Up Shop?

The Chicago Tribune recently published an article by Charles Leroux and Patrick Reardon entitled "Leaps of Faith Drive Ever-Expanding 'Burbs." The article explores why people are migrating to the so-called exurbs at the edge of the Chicago metropolitan region.

The answer is a familiar one. People get more house and lawn for their money. They get something new rather than a tired building decades old. They get to be part of a growing and dynamic community with lots of new faces and energy. The downsides, including long commutes on a highway system choking on they and their exurban compatriots, are not enough for most folks to opt for a smaller, more expensive house in a denser, transit-oriented urban area.

The article builds on the work of Loyola University-Chicago professor Kenneth Johnson. Professor Johnson in his paper entitled "Demographic Trends in Metropolitan Chicago at Mid-Decade" found that Chicago and suburban Cook County lost population (62,000 (-2.1%) and 27,000 (-1.1%) respectively) during the 2000-06 period, while the population on the suburban fringe (stretching from Northwest Indiana to southeast Wisconsin) increased by 500,000 (12.7%).

Johnson suggests that the population increases experienced by Chicago and suburban Cook County in the 1990s may have been a temporary pause in the decades-long migration of the region's population to the exurbs. Even in the 1990s, however, the growth rates of Chicago (4.0%) and suburban Cook County (6.9%) paled beside the growth rate in the suburban fringe (20.6%).

The current difficulties in securing an increase in operating subsidies for the Regional Transportation Authority, the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace may be in part attributed to a reluctance to increase the public investment in a transportation system whose market base appears to be weakening. This despite service board efforts to attract more riders by rolling out more service than they could afford, as the Auditor General found.

Another indication of public transit's relatively weak market position is found in the Illinois Policy Institute's recent analysis of the CTA, summarized in yesterday's post. This analysis found that the CTA is generating fewer riders per employee and per dollar of public subsidy than it has in the past. It is understandable why some public officials might be reluctant to increase public investment in a system that is not performing well.

As for the Metropolitan Planning Council, the Tribune article has the following:

"There's a joke in my profession that Rockford will be the next suburb," said John LaMotte, a land-use planner whose clients include developers and municipalities. "Now look at how close the edge is getting to Rockford. It's already out to Marengo."

Scott Goldstein, housing expert for the Chicago-based Metropolitan Planning Council, said he believes Rockford won't be the last stop. "I absolutely think it's going to expand for many, many more miles," he said. "It certainly goes to Indiana and Wisconsin. Are we going to approach the Iowa state line?"

If the Metropolitan Planning Council, that paragon of good planning, public transit and compact, transit-oriented development, has given up on taming sprawl then maybe it should just shut its doors and stop using its newsletters and seminars to prick the consciences of those who still believe that paving over paradise is not such a good thing.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

MPC has been furiously bailing with just a handful of buckets while the public agencies quietly breech the levies one project at a time.

It is an advocacy agency right? It is not CATS/NIPC/CMAP. Hey, how 'a propo' while we're at it, what is CATS/NIPC/CMAP anyway?

Tweedle-Dee. The triatomic dynamo should scale-back on the seances and exorcisms and articulate a vision...like right now.

Anonymous said...

One more thing for the apologists to ponder...

In the natural universe, you don't seek funding to prepare a vision, you articulate a vision and then solicit the funding...

Rick Powell said...

To come to this conclusion from one comment by a member of MPC seems to be a stretch. However, being an advocate and being able to control people's behavior are two different things.

Kendall County has become the second fastest % growing county in the US from 2000 to 2006, according to the US Census estimates. I doubt if much in the way of "public policy" decisions accelerated its growth...it seems to be the ability to buy the same house for half the price of a similar house in Naperville.

I once did a study once of the mileage of 4-lane highways in Kendall vs. counties of similar population in IL. Kendall was dead last, by a long shot. Of course, there are many planned projects on the drawing board, but it will take years and likely decades before they are all built.

Anonymous said...

The other question is how much can a planning council affect zoning and planning decisions by each locality?

Anonymous said...

Does Goldstein even work at MPC anymore? I think he left months ago after a long tenure.

Powell said it right that I'm sure Goldstein wasn't advocating for sprawl, but just being honest about it. Even though sprawl still may happen, don't we need the MPC's of the world to slow down the sprawl and emphasize that urban and suburban redevelopment is often more beneficial to the region as a whole than rural greenfield development?

Anonymous said...

Again another sign of an irrelevant and out of touch blogger. The guy left MPC a year ago!

Anonymous said...

Let's remember that our moderator was directly quoting the Tribune article. It was the article's authors who didn't check the facts about Goldstein.

Moderator said...

I am not privy to the staffing decisions at MPC, so I plead guilty to being out of touch and irrelevant.

I wonder how the Tribune got it wrong, since it presumably got the quote from Goldstein after he left the MPC.

I do agree with those who believe that the MPC and groups like the MPC perform a valuable function in the local planning/political ecosystem.

Anonymous said...

Scott Goldstein, though a perfectly nice and reasonable man, has never been a sensible growth advocate. He is primarily interested in managing growth in suburbs that he is happy to see continually expand. Why? Because he doesn't really like the city. He doesn't live in Chicago and apparently hated it when he did. Hence why MPC has not be a more effective and aggressive sensible growth advocate for many years (hopefully this will change now that Goldstein is gone).

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