Conference to Take a Look at Big-City Influence on Suburbs

Article excerpt

Byline: Robert McCoppin Daily Herald Staff Writer

This year, edge cities are going over the edge.

Municipalities coming to think of themselves as edge cities after leading the transformation from traditional suburbs into their own centers of jobs, shopping and social life, now are venturing into unknown territory.

"Edge city" is a concept developed by author and sociologist Joel Garreau to describe suburbs on the edge of the sphere of influence of big cities. These bedroom communities of the 1960s evolved into the office centers and shopping meccas of the 1990s.

Communities such as Schaumburg, Naperville, Oak Brook, Rosemont and Northbrook are finding out that with big-city amenities come big-city challenges, like immigration, high-priced housing and traffic gridlock.

This week, urban planners from around the country will converge on Schaumburg to figure out what to make of the new edge city and how to shape it for the future.

About 120 municipal officials, academics and students will meet at the Schaumburg Marriott Hotel Sunday through Tuesday for the National Edge City Conference.

The topics they will discuss could influence what happens in the suburbs for years to come, including sporting events, new roads, housing and retail development, and mass transit.

Now, in the 21st century, edge cities are trying to cope with their changing needs, said Bob Gleeson, the new director of the Center for Governmental Studies at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, who is attending the conference.

While edge cities were initially thought of as isolated enclaves for the wealthy only, Gleeson said, recent trends suggest they are becoming economically diverse and interdependent with their surroundings.

For instance, edge cities have become one of the few areas in the world where there is growth in both population and wealth.

Immigrants are flocking to the suburbs and edge cities in particular, primarily because that is where the jobs are - both entry-level jobs such as landscaping and fast food service, and highly skilled professions such as computer programming and medicine.

In the 1990s, 35 percent of immigrant households that arrived in the United States came straight to the suburbs.

"That says a lot about the social complexity of the edge city," Gleeson said. …