Housing and Transportation in Schaumburg: What about Density?

by Thomas Lewallen for SUST 210

Within recent years, Schaumburg has taken a multitude of steps to become a greener town. Starting in the 1970’s the Village created the Clean Environment Committee, now known as just the Environmental Committee, which advocated for recycling and more recently adopting a Resolution of Support for the Chicago Wilderness Biodiversity Recovery Plan. Also in the 70’s, the award-winning Bicycle Program and subsequent Bikeways Advisory Committee were created.

In 2008, the village of Schaumburg released the Comprehensive Green Action Plan or C-GAP that expands on thirty plus programs, policies, and ordinances that are already in place. It covers on everything from CO2e baseline to recycling and waste reduction. Although it does contain a land use section within the report, it is missing a very vital subject to building a sustainable city—increasing density.

You may ask, why is increasing density so important? There are many benefits to dense urban and suburban neighborhood, such as:

  • Increasing walkability and convenience to residents of the city brings things such as groceries, shops, and jobs closer to a person’s home.
  • The amount of energy required to heat and cool a multistory and multiuse building not only costs less than a stand-alone home that is exposed on all sides, but also subsequently reduces the amount of CO2 emitted as product of high energy use.
  • Public transit becomes a more viable form of transportation as does bicycling because of the shorter distances of travel.
  • According to a study done by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, by doubling density, the increase in productivity simultaneously grows by 2% to 4%. These patterns are pronounced in industries where the exchange of information and sharing ideas are important parts of process.
  • Less time and money is spent on creating new infrastructure such as roads, water, sewage, and electricity.
  • With less sprawl, there leaves more room for parks and recreational activities that can be accessed by many more people.

Now that a few of the most obvious benefits have been explained, you may wonder as to why suburban towns such as Schaumburg do not simply increase their density. Unfortunately, sprawl is no simple thing to combat.

Since the widespread adoption of automobiles and highways during the 1940’s and 50’s, living just outside the city has been a viable option. As people begun to move farther out, the need for their small towns to be dense became irrelevant. This, in turn, helped lead to the car culture that is dominant today and as a consequence, suburbs have been built to embrace sprawl.

A way to combat this is to start with tax incentives to build multi-use and multistory buildings. By doing this, we not only require less land to house more people but also bring the necessary products and services for people within closer reach. Another step would be to introduce legislation that would create planning and zoning to address which parts of the town should house what (pure residential, mixed use, industrial, etc.). A third step would be to provide housing of varying prices and sizes while having a healthy mixture between ownership and rental to better suit many different people’s taste and position in life.

There are two demographic groups of Americans who want to live in areas of increased density, Millennials and Baby Boomers. According to a study done by RCLCO, Millennials want to live in areas that are affordable, close to the spoils of city life, and do not necessarily require a vehicle. The Baby Boomers, on the other hand, desire increased density as they sell their now oversized homes and no longer want to drive everywhere, preferring to walk or use public transportation. As more people move into the town center, there will be a need for more public parks and shared spaces as well as transportation.

Schaumburg is doing relatively well on increasing its bike paths as well as the number of public parks that are available. These are also subjects that are discussed in great length in Schaumburg’s Comprehensive Green Action Plan. Another factor that would greatly benefit Schaumburg would be the long-proposed plan to extend the CTA’s Blue Line into the Village. This would not only create a viable route to the airport, but also connect Schaumburg exponentially better to the City of Chicago. Currently, Schaumburg lacks good public transit to Chicago, with the exception of a Metra station in its far SW corner and two Amtrak lines in the nearby cities of Bloomingdale and Des Plaines, to the South and North respectively. Extending the Blue Line into the city core also would support the call for increased density around the stations.

As the price of oil continues to rise, the life of the suburban sprawl may not seem as viable as an option. Can the Village of Schaumburg and other similar suburbs adequately plan ahead to reduce the amount of residents that will leave the far-suburbs closer to the dense metropolitan core? Or will they ignore the inevitable need for density and perhaps suffer the same fate in the future that rural areas are experiencing now—population drain? Time will tell.

Each week during the Fall 2014 semester, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 210 Sustainable Future and SUST 240 Waste classes at Roosevelt University will contribute blog posts on urban and suburban sustainability issues to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.

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About Suburban Sustainability

Founder and editor of the Schaumburg's Sustainability Future social media project (est. Earth Day, 2011)
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