I have long been a proponent of Chicago annexing its surrounding suburbs. Chicago’s borders stopped expanding in the 1920s, but the metro area didn’t. Our failure to capture that population growth allowed Los Angeles to take our Second City title in 1980. Now, Houston is challenging us for Third City. Chicago barely added population in the 2010s, after declining in the decade previous. Beyond that, Illinois’s 1,298 municipalities are more than any other state’s. Do we really need to support that many mayors, police departments and fire departments? Some inner-ring suburbs, especially Out South, levy property tax rates close to 30 percent just to maintain basic services. That compares to 6.9 percent in Chicago. So many little towns surrounding one big city is wasteful, expensive, and redundant.
The question, then, is which suburbs do we want, and which should be allowed to maintain their independence? Here’s an assessment.
ARLINGTON HEIGHTS: Arlington Heights is not adjacent to Chicago. Our borders are 10 miles apart. However, if our NFL team builds a new stadium on the site of the Arlington Park racetrack, Arlington Heights will have to join the city so the Chicago Bears can continue using its name.
BURNHAM: Burnham’s zip code is 60633. That should result in automatic annexation.
CICERO: Uh-uh. Cicero is even more corrupt than Chicago. After now-imprisoned former alderman Edward Vrdolyak wore out his welcome in Chicago, he earned millions of dollars doing legal work for former Town President Betty Loren-Maltese, who went to prison for stealing $12 million in town insurance funds. Chicago has enough hinky aldermen. We don’t need another one.
EVANSTON: Heavens, no. Evanstonians are way too self righteous. The suburb didn’t even allow alcohol sales until 1971. To represent its newly created 51st Ward, Evanston would elect a good government alderman who would never stop badgering the mayor and the City Council about reform. Also, Daniel Biss found a job as mayor of Evanston after J.B. Pritzker outspent him in the 2018 Democratic primary for governor. It’s good to keep a guy like that employed, and in politics.
HARWOOD HEIGHTS: In 1947, the residents of an unincorporated patch of Norwood Park Township tried to join Chicago, so they could get police, paved streets, sidewalks, and sewers. The city turned them down, so they formed their own municipality: Harwood Heights, which now has a population of 8,612 and is entirely surrounded by Chicago. It’s time to let them in.
MERRIONETTE PARK: Merrionette Park has a population of 1,858, and falling. In a metropolitan area of 8 million, do we really need a separate municipality for 1,858 people, with its own professional fire department? If Merrionette Park joined Chicago, it would immediately be overwhelmed by firefighters from adjacent Mount Greenwood, who want to be as far from urban Chicago as possible. That would boost its population and improve its services.
NILES: Niles would have been nice to annex in the 1960s, when it was a growing bedroom suburb. Now, it has nothing to offer but dated housing stock and a dying mall Chicago would be responsible for revitalizing. No ‘L’ service, either. Ditto Skokie, Lincolnwood, and Evergreen Park.
NORRIDGE: In 2000, Chicago Tribune contributor Brian Treglown wrote an essay titled “Who Needs Norridge?” He proposed annexing the suburb on the grounds that it “hasn’t got a downtown or a university or even a personality,” is “devoid of character,” and “is surrounded by Chicago and…looks like Chicago.” Agreed.
NORWOOD PARK TOWNSHIP: Also surrounded by Chicago. Only claim to fame: home of serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Let’s clean up our map and eliminate that stigma.
OAK PARK: See Evanston.
RIVERDALE: If we annex Riverdale, we can shut down Chuck’s Gun Shop. According to a study by the University of Chicago Crime Lab, Chuck’s sold 1,500 guns used in Chicago crimes between 2009 and 2014, more than any other dealer, by a wide margin. Riverdale residents would probably appreciate joining Chicago, since they’re already adjacent to a city neighborhood with the same name, and their property tax rate would drop from 27.6 percent to 6.9 percent.
ROSEMONT: Rosemont only exists to provide sinecures for the family of founder Donald Stephens, who served as mayor from 1956 until his death in 2007. Stephens was succeeded by his son Bradley, who is also a member of the state House of Representatives. Rosemont thrives due its parasitic proximity to O’Hare Airport, so it should be part of the city. Besides eliminating an outpost of nepotism embarrassing even by local standards, Chicago would get Allstate Arena, the Chicago Dogs minor league baseball team, and a bunch of sweet hotels.
SCHILLER PARK: I can’t think of a single fact about Schiller Park. Can you? If Chicago annexes Schiller Park, no one will notice it’s missing.
We only have so much space, even here on the Internet. We haven’t even gotten to Park Ridge, Franklin Park, Elmwood Park, Stickney, Burbank, Oak Lawn, Blue Island or Dolton. If you live there, and want to join the city of Chicago, please contact the alderperson from the ward adjacent to your suburb. Chicago just might let you in!