Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Demographic numbers often require a bit of nuance to parse.  I am reticent to mention the latest census numbers because they represent a small snapshot in time.  While it is true that Chicago lost population in the 2010 census, the previous ten years is in many ways a watershed decade for American society.  Just look at Las Vegas' numbers:  22% growth over the last 10 years compared with Chicago's 7% decline might suggest that Las Vegas is the city of the future and doing much better overall.  So to simply look at population every ten years and extract from that policy might be myopic.  In fact Las Vegas has been doing poorly for almost half a decade.

One new tool for parsing the numbers is from Forbes, and I've captured this bit of data.

As you can see, the trendlines for Chicago are converging.  The real questions are what is driving this convergence, how long will the trendlines extend, and what will that mean for Chicago over the next decade?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Developing the future

There is some evidence that oil is becoming an increasingly scarce resource.  The trendline for oil prices from 1947 to 1974 - almost 30 years - was steady and low.  Starting with the oil shocks in the mid 70s oil prices became volatile and the trendline over the last 10 years has been upward.

Some economists are predicting a huge boom in apartment construction.  I don't necessarily agree with the rosy projections for a huge boom, however there is a shortage of affordable housing in Chicagoland.

The number of renters who needed affordable housing in 2009 totaled almost 483,000, yet less than 303,000 rental units were considered affordable, meaning nearly two in five renters who needed those units didn't find it.

This indicates that Chicago has an apartment shortage, and the solution is to build more units.  This means the sort of units built will be paramount.  Questions like walkability, density, and transit connectivity come to mind.  In light of high oil prices, how much demand for development with low driving needs will arise?  There is an abundance of developable land in Chicago, so to me this means Chicago should play to its strengths and commit to dense development in areas already well served by transit.  There are large swaths of empty land near green line stops on the south and west sides of Chicago.  Developing these areas will be difficult because these are, not coincidentally, high crime areas of the city.  What is the best way to redevelop high crime areas?

Meanwhile the Sunbelt cities are looking precarious.  What will the response to higher oil prices and longer commuting times be around the country, and will Chicago's response be the best?