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How Healthy Is Your Town - Best and Worst

Diagnosing the well-being of 191 Chicago suburbs—and the city itself.

(page 6 of 6)



Best and Worst - Under 10,000 Population


Photo: Andreas Larsson

Glencoe residents Susan and Steven Varick, with their children Daniel, 11, left, and Benjamin, 14.




Glencoe kids who bike, blade, or skateboard know they are likely to be pulled over by a police officer-and that’s just fine by them. In this North Shore town, the healthiest of Chicago’s smallest suburbs, officers can issue a gift certificate for a free soda to any child on wheels who is spotted wearing all the requisite safety equipment.


“We have a close, two-way relationship with the people in town,” says Mikel Milks, Glencoe’s director of public safety, whose department oversees Glencoe’s police, fire, and EMT personnel. It also supports an e-mail alert network for residents. When one Glencoe neighborhood experienced a rash of burglaries recently, the town’s safety department sent out e-mails to notify the public. “It extended our reach because it gave us many more eyes in that neighborhood than the one patrol car that passes through every eight hours,” Milks says.

In March 2003, Glencoe topped Chicago’s ratings of the best places to live among the area’s most expensive suburbs, and now it tallies the score for the healthiest among the region’s smallest suburbs. But the town’s desirability is taking a toll on its old housing stock. Teardowns have been rampant for a decade, and the big new homes that fill out the once-spacious lots are uprooting the community’s sizable old trees. “I wish our regulations for saving trees were a lot stronger,” says Susan Varick, a 21-year resident of the town. “This town is not going to look the same or feel the same when you keep putting in these big houses with backyards the size of my rug.”




In the mornings, Robert Autrey notices the smell first. “There’s a real foul smell, a toxic smell like factories,” says the 18-year resident of Broadview, the town that rates as least healthy among our smallest suburbs. “You get a lot of headaches and sinus things on the days it smells worst. When I go out of town I don’t have any problem; then I come home and I’m coughing stuff up.”




The percentage of Chicago adults who exercise regularly

Source: Centers for Disease Control Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System

Broadview is an industrial town, with its major factories strung along 25th Street for more than a mile. For 25 years, Broadview’s village president, Henry Vicenik, and other officials have been struggling to reduce the impact of this heavy industry on the town. “We’re going from heavy industry to something much lighter,” Vicenik says, citing as a prime example the industrial plant right next door to the municipal building. Until the late 1980s, the structure housed a high-polluting aluminum door and window maker; now it is the headquarters of a food products company that makes barbecue and other sauces. Elsewhere in town, a onetime International Harvester plant is now a friendlier big-box retail center.


“Back in the 1950s, when Broadview was building up, the attitude was, ‘Oh, just dump those chemicals in the stream out back,’” says Vicenik, an engineer by training. “Now we know we were misusing Mother Earth, and it’s time to change that.” Vicenik has gathered up state grants and other public money to remediate brownfields-former homes of dry cleaners, gas stations, and other ground polluters-so that they can be used again. He says that at least $250,000 has been spent so far, and he has an application in with the U.S. EPA for another $500,000 grant.

Local industry keeps residential property taxes at about three-fifths what they would be otherwise-but the town is left balancing the need to enhance air and water quality with that of protecting vital jobs and a tax base. “It’s what you do,” Vicenik says. “You take an aggressive attitude.”

That sounds good to Autrey, though he wonders if change will happen in his lifetime. “I’m 59,” he says. “The generations coming up will benefit more.”

View the complete ratings for towns with 10,000 and under population








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