The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Suburbanization in my home town

Northbrook, Ill., has always been a suburb. Until the end of the last century, no one had developed large hunks of the village, because two entities controlled several square kilometers of land around it. One entity, the U.S. Navy, operated an air station until 1994; the other, the Catholic Church, had a smallish farm, a convent, and a dairy barn well into the 1990s, and still owns Techny Towers, a religious retreat.

A conversation with a friend this week turned to a discussion of the Whole Foods Market at Willow and Waukegan Roads. So I dug out this photo from May 1985:

That's from the west edge of Waukegan Road, about 150m north of Willow, looking almost due west. Here's what it looks like today:

Notice that we can only see the backs of the stores from the road. All the storefronts point inward, to the parking lot. This is exactly the horror Andres Duany described in his 2000 book Suburban Nation.

When I was a kid, I looked at that huge field and imagined a college. It could have been combined with the land north of Techny Road into a neighborhood of medium-sized houses, with transit links along Waukegan and Willow. Hell, it could have been nearly anything.

Nope. Faced with 500 hectares of farmland in 2003, all the developers could see was an automobile-centric shopping plaza. The air station? Same thing. The Glen at least has a few dozen hectares of prairie preserve and a single transit stop that no one can really walk to. Otherwise, the whole redevelopment shows a staggering lack of imagination or forward thinking.

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