Constructing the Region: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Regional Governance in Chicagoland, 1957-2018

Authors: Donald Planey*, Geography, University Of Illinois, Urbana Champaign - Urbana, IL
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, Economic Geography, United States
Keywords: regional planning, regional political economy, suburbs, urban politics, Chicago
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Maryland B, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Chicago region is often described as hopelessly fractured: Split between 1,800 municipalities and across three states, the geography and planning literature holds it up as a paradigmatic example of the structural constraints on regional governance in the United States. This narrative misses the endogenous sources of regional planning’s resilience in metropolitan Chicago from the postwar period through today.
This paper draws on extensive archival data from the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission (NIPC) and the City of Chicago to document the NIPC’s accomplishments in the 1960s and 1970s in the areas of water infrastructure, housing density, zoning, and perhaps most importantly, the spread of ‘planning culture’ across Chicagoland’s municipal and county governments. This would set the stage for a resurgence of Chicagoland regional coordination projects in the 2010, even after the NIPC’s federal support collapsed in 1978.
I argue that the ‘Chicagoland’ project indicates a need for the reassessment of the theoretical framing of U.S. regional planning in the geographic and planning literature. Firstly, while the U.S. context creates structural limits to regional planning, there are strategies for regional coordination that can work around, or even take advantage of, the U.S. federal structure. Secondly, some policy programs or regionalist projects in today’s Chicagoland regionalism, which are usually assumed to be downstream from Federal policy or uniquely modern globalization challenges, instead represent historically continuous projects of cultural import to the Chicago region’s political and economic elites.

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