atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#673: Just say "no" to economic development?

It's been a bugaboo of a lot of people out in this area for years.

You see, the metro Chicago area has two big airports in it. One of them, O'Hare, is (or used to be) the busiest airport in the world. The other, Midway, has no more room in which to expand, and is plenty busy itself. It's obvious to some of us that the Chicago metroplex really needs a third airport.

The logical place? The south suburbs, 'way out south, somewhere near Peotone, where land is cheap and where the city is expanding--in about 50 years or so there's going to be a lot of people out that way. I-57 runs right past Peotone, too, so there's a major highway nearby, and a Class 1 rail carrier (Illinois Central) has its main line go through there. There you have it all: road, rail, room.

...except that the people of Peotone, Monee, Momence, Beecher, and Crete don't want it. "The noise!" they say. "The crime! The pollution! Our way of life is threatened!"

The major highways in this area are packed with people who drive 30, 40, 50 miles each way every day in order to get to jobs on the opposite side of the metroplex from where they live, because the high-paying jobs just don't exist around here--not in very large number--and where they do exist, property vaules are ridiculous: a quarter-acre parcel of land fetches $200,000. (Not that you can actually buy a lot without a house on it, in most cases; people buy lots with perfectly fine houses on them for $250,000, demolish the houses, and build yuppie mansions on the lots, which then sell for $500,000. It keeps the riffraff from living there.)

A third airport would bring good jobs to the area. Not only because the airport would need to be staffed by people. There would be hotels built, and the hotels would need people to operate them. The airlines would need people to do all kinds of things, from maintaining aircraft to moving luggage to selling tickets. It would bring tax revenue. It would bring commerce.

But it would also mean change. Things would be different.

Well, unfortunately, you can't escape that. Things will change, regardless. Right now, the area is changing into "really expensive bedroom community", where a small single-family home on a postage-stamp lot fetches $250,000--and the people who buy those houses have to drive 30, 40, 50-plus miles to get to the jobs that allow them to afford it.

But they've been talking "third airport" for over 20 years and little has been done. Mayor Daley wants it--I think he wants to expand Cook County in the process, though, which none of us out here wants--and other politicians have adopted the idea. (Such as Jesse Jackson Jr. Yeah, that Jesse Jackson's son. JJJ is a congresscritter. Three guesses as to which party.)

I think some of the opposition comes from the fact that it's people associated heavily with Chicago and Cook County who are for the third airport. That much I understand.

But even smaller projects are being opposed. They want to put an intermodal facility in Beecher--a place to put containers onto trains, and to take them off trains and put them on trucks--and someone has organized opposition to it: "ZOMGnoisepollutioncrime!" and "500 trucks per day!"

Beecher: let them build it. Then apply municipal tax of $5 per truck. That's $2,500 per day. What could the village of Beecher do with an extra, oh, million dollars per year?

But no, "our way of life" is threatened by economic development. Forget the airport; we can't let anyone build anything which might keep people from having to drive to the northwest suburbs to make enough money to afford the pile of bricks they live in.

There is, however, a serious problem with this.

You see, oil is not going to get cheaper. That means gasoline, diesel, etc, is not going to get cheaper. And so--sooner or later--it's going to simply cost too much to make that 30, 40, 50-mile drive to and from work every day. And then what will the bedroom communities do? When people have to move because it's cheaper to live in a yuppie mansion than it is to commute? When some people end up defaulting on their loans and houses stand empty? When the tax base dwindles? When the money that had been pouring in goes away?

Forget the airport then; air travel will be expensive enough that we won't need it. But there won't be anything else around, either, nothing but the corn fields and rows upon rows of yuppie mansions, more of which will empty as the years go by. And the business which supported the people who lived in those homes--which sold them bread and gas and diapers, which cut their grass, and so on--will go away, too.

The airport isn't just about the airport itself. It's about building economic infrastructure which the south suburbs have needed for a good thirty years or more. There is no depth to what we've got here, and a relatively small change in conditions will dry up the flow of money. If that happens, "our way of life" is over.

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