Post-recession, which Chicagoland suburban areas are still growing?

    Joliet, which gained 41,000 residents between 2000 and 2010, gained only 600 between 2010 and 2018.

    In an era of growth for the US population at large, the Chicagoland area as a whole isn’t quite keeping up. On a local level, however, the numbers can tell vastly different stories. Which suburban Chicagoland communities are growing, and which are still stuck in the recession-era rut?

    The suburban building boom began after World War II and continued through the early 2000s. Many suburbs closer to the city saw their booms immediately post-war, such as Skokie’s ballooning from 15,000 to 59,000 residents between 1950 and 1960, or Arlington Heights increasing from 9,000 to 28,000 in the same period.

    Others sprung up later as waves of development sprawled further out. In the 2000s decade, Aurora gained a whopping 55,000 residents. Joliet gained 41,000, and Plainfield 26,000. Those three, Algonquin, Bolingbrook, Huntley, Matteson, Romeoville, and Round Lake, are just a handful of the suburbs that saw at least 25% growth between 2000 and 2010.

    It won’t surprise you to hear that decades of explosive double-digit suburban growth came to a halt during the recession. It might surprise you, however, to hear that in the years since, growth has barely resumed at all.

    According to a recent Census Bureau estimate, the Chicago metro area showed the slowest growth of any of the US’ 25 biggest metro areas between 2010 and 2018, an increase of just 0.4%.

    Of the seven Chicagoland counties in Illinois (Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, Will, and Kendall) and two in Northwest Indiana (Lake and Porter), only the smallest one, Kendall, saw growth above 4% between 2010 and 2017.

    However, some municipalities are fighting the stagnation with continuing growth, even if at much reduced rates. The fastest growers in the 2010s are predominantly south and southwest “exurbs”. Some of the biggest leaders between 2010 and 2018 include St. John, Indiana (22%), Yorkville (19%), Oswego (16%), Plainfield (12%), Shorewood (11%), and Cedar Lake and Crown Point, Indiana (10%). 

    Even these growth numbers pale in comparison to previous suburban growth, however. Huntley, the only sizable north or northwest suburb to see double-digit growth between 2010 and 2018 at 13%, had seen comparatively absurd growth of 324% between 2000 and 2010.

    Others that saw growth included larger suburbs farther removed from the city, such as Vernon Hills and Elmhurst (6%), Hinsdale and Naperville (5%), Downers Grove, Elgin, Lombard, and Orland Park (3%).Meanwhile, the biggest suburban declines came from three of the largest Indiana communities in Gary, Hammond, and East Chicago (-6%) that actually haven’t grown since the 1950s.  

    Back in Illinois though, while population declines have been the norm in the 2010s, no suburbs over 10,000 residents actually lost more than 3% between 2010 and 2018. This could suggest that despite a recovering economy, the 2010s have been the decade of market correction from the infamous overbuilding and subsequent mortgage crisis of the late 2000s.

    As all of the varying municipality numbers show, housing markets are naturally highly localized. This can be good or bad news depending on if you’re looking to buy or sell. The bottom line is, despite recent major headlines of the population declines of Illinois and Chicagoland, don’t let an overarching narrative preclude your hunt for opportunity.

    Slow population growth does not mean the suburbs have stopped evolving. A huge tell for future growth in the suburbs could be the high profile redevelopments underway right now. A few to keep an eye on include the redevelopment of the former McDonald’s HQ in Oak Brook, the former AT&T campus in Hoffman Estates, and the former Motorola campus in Schaumburg. Schaumburg and Niles particularly are just two of a growing number of suburbs taking active steps to draw in new development. With that comes new employers and new residents, which attracts more new development, creating a virtuous cycle. 

    The 2020s could be an exciting time for the suburbs, keeping them as important as they are today while embracing a diversifying set of possible lifestyles, demographics, and employers.