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Stop Sprawl
Fall 2000 Sprawl Report

States at a Glance: Illinois

Market Street
(Willow Springs)
Greenery and Public Space Revitalize Suburb
New Lenox Sub-Area Development Plan
(New Lenox)
New Development on the Fringe of the Fringe

Market Street
(Willow Springs)
Greenery and Public Space Revitalize Suburb

Can smart growth help a community get in touch with its inner self? In the mid-1990s, Willow Springs, a suburb near Chicago, fell into a sprawl-induced identity crisis. Looking increasingly like its neighbors and choking in traffic, the town embarked on an innovative smart-growth development to build a downtown that makes transit more accessible, creates spaces for residents to gather, and provides a blend of shops, housing and jobs.

Begun as a purely residential community, Willow Springs lacked a central space. Developers and town planners engaged the community to seek out ideas, and then pledged to take the history of the area and the context of the site into account. The developer, Heritage Renaissance Partners, and the architects, Yas/Fischel Partnership, built in a historically appropriate style, and took advantage of the town's location on the Illinois-Lake Michigan Canal. They used traditional touches, like placing parking behind residences, to make the area walkable.

The other critical decision was moving the town's rail stop to the new downtown and integrating it with a new village hall. The developers were able to move the rail station and add key extras to the civic spaces in part because they had access to up-to-date public/private financing tools.

The new downtown is a functional place to shop, work and live. But it is also a beautiful place where greenery and public space lead residents and visitors to the center of town. What Willow Springs discovered is the essence of smart growth: A town with a center is a place with context, community and economic vibrancy.

New Lenox Sub-Area Development Plan
(New Lenox)
New Development on the Fringe of the Fringe

A decade ago, New Lenox was barely a speck on the map. Now this burgeoning bedroom community, 40 miles southwest of Chicago, is well on the road to sprawl. New Lenox has an aggressive plan to create 1,000 acres of residential development, 1,000 acres of industrial space and 360 acres of office space.

The problem is that this development will be built on the edge of a community that is itself on the sprawling fringe. Will County, where New Lenox is located, could be called a sprawl disaster area: It's chock-full of poorly planned development and has little public transportation.

The New Lenox plan will repeat the same cookie-cutter patterns of classic suburban sprawl: Throwing up strip malls, office parks and subdivisions that are not pedestrian- friendly while offering little or no public transportation. Not surprisingly, this project is expected to add tens of thousands of car trips per day to the area -- adding more traffic to stressed roads and more pollution to dirty skies.

Of the roughly 3,000 acres of mostly agricultural land that will be developed, only 400 acres will be kept as open space. The bulk of this undeveloped space, adjacent to a creek that serves as a water source for Joliet, will be used for sports facilities, doubtlessly adding to the project's harmful impacts on the local watershed.

States at a Glance | Introduction | Resources | Acknowledgments

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