Chicago’s economic success as the nation’s third largest city is linked to its early development as a major industrial and manufacturing transportation hub. It was ideally placed to grant access as both a railway epicenter and a waterway access point between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River.
These factors led to an explosion of population during the second half of the nineteenth century during which time the city grew from a frontier outpost into a major urban metropolis of more than two million residents by 1910. Major industries were attracted to the region during this time such as millwork, national retail, and meat packing. The Union Stock Yard was opened in 1865, followed by the building of Pullman’s model town in the 1880s. Foreign immigrants flocked to the city to work in its various industries, and by the 1850s, more than half of Chicago’s residents were foreign born. This created a strong backbone of diversity that continues to be one of the region’s most notable features today.
Much of the structural face of Northeastern Illinois was influenced by the Great Fire of 1871, during which almost a third of the city was burned down, and the subsequent rebuilding of the city under the leadership of architect and city planner Daniel Burnham in the early twentieth century. It was during this time that rapid transit lines were constructed, many of which are still followed by the Chicago Transit Authority lines today. Improved transportation of elevated trains, local railways, and eventually highways enabled substantial population growth into the six counties surrounding Chicago, most of which was historically used as farmland, leading to the construction of today’s suburban landscape.
Today, the Northeastern Illinois region is home to nearly 9 million people. The area continues to be comprised of a broad range of ethnic diversity. Residential expansion continues at a fast pace throughout the region. There are currently just over 3 million households in the Metropolitan Chicago area, with over 30,000 new dwelling units built every year. Over 44% of the 4,071 square mile region is occupied by a developed land use, nearly two-thirds of which is residential. The region includes just under 200,000 acres of forest preserves and 710 miles of greenway trails. Our Regional Transportation Authority is the third largest transportation system in the country with 7,200 route miles, providing more than two million rides per day.
It is estimated that over the next fifteen years, the region’s population will grow to 11 million. As stated in CMAP’s Go To 2040 Plan, “The Metropolitan Chicago area is poised to prosper in an increasingly interconnected world. Our region is among the nation’s few global economic centers, and assets include our diverse mix of industries, our vast physical infrastructure and open space, our preeminent educational, cultural, and arts institutions, and our network of unique, identifiable communities.”