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Chicagoland Among Nation’s Densest Urban Areas

by Peter Thomas Ricci

In the age of new urbanism, where does our metro area rank in terms of density and sprawl?

“Density” and “sprawl” have become big buzzwords in housing the last couple of years, and for good reason. With gas prices, public transportation and, most importantly, climate change in the news, Americans have been re-thinking their living accommodations more carefully than at any time in recent memory.

Enter “Measuring Sprawl 2014,” a massive new study from Smart Growth America that analyzed the development patterns in 221 metropolitan areas and 994 counties in the United States as of 2010. Using four main measurements – development density; land use mix; activity centering (proportion of people/businesses near each other); and street accessibility – the study assigns an index score to the nation’s major metro areas, with a higher score meaning a more dense, compact area.

Urban Density in Chicagoland

And where did our beloved Chicagoland rank? With an index score of 125.9, Chicagoland was the 26th densest urban area in the U.S. If that seems low, consider this: Cook County had an index ranking of 169.04, but Kendall and McHenry Counties, which factored into the Chicagoland rating, had just 88.08 and 94.49.

Such numbers, though, are more than just statistical gymnastics. As Smarter Growth America puts it, “several quality of life factors improve as index scores rise.” From greater economic mobility, to lower combined costs on housing and transportation, to longer, safer, and healthier lives, there are numerous benefits, the study argues, in compact living.

See our graph below to find out how Chicagoland compares to other metro areas.

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