Naperville's path to exclusivity By Lucy Westlake

“The way that Naperville developed 30 years ago was very successful, everyone wanted to live here,” claims Bill Novack, Naperville’s Director of Transportation, Engineering, and Development.

Although everyone wanted to live in Naperville, the city did not want everyone.

“The short answer is that Naperville’s City Council and Planning Commission made deliberate choices that kept the thousands of units of housing built in the 1960s/70s/80s/90s in a narrow range of high value,” states Ann Keating, Dr. C. Frederick Toenniges Professor of History at North Central College.

Keating explains that Naperville did so by excluding multi-family housing from almost the whole city through zoning. It is due to this zoning that there are such few apartments and condos in Naperville, although there have been some changes in the 1990s with the allowance of townhouses. Zoning is the division of land into areas, called zones, each having a specific set of regulations dictated by Naperville’s City Council. Keating points out that another way the city fostered exclusivity was by requiring developers to pay significant fees for infrastructure, such as water, sewers, and electricity, causing developers to build high end housing to absorb these costs more easily. This again skewed Naperville homes towards wealthier buyers.

Despite high housing prices, why did people flock to Naperville to raise their families?

Easy access to Chicago via the BNSF Railway. Quick access to downtown was critical for a suburb’s success since the majority of high paying jobs were located in downtown Chicago. This was especially true in the 1960s when “White Flight” occurred: an exodus of the mostly white residents of downtown Chicago to the surrounding suburbs. To attract the wealthy families leaving Chicago to Naperville, the BNSF Railway created an express train that only made stops in a few suburbs to ensure that Naperville residents could reach downtown in 31 minutes.

Illinois Technology and Research Corridor along I-88. Novack accounts that beginning in the 1960s with “White Flight,” many companies left downtown Chicago in favor of suburban headquarters. Naperville and the surrounding suburbs were able to attract many of the high-tech companies, such as BP, Bell Labs (now Nokia), and Fermilab due to the completion of Interstate 88 running through the area. Interstate 88 became known as the Illinois Technology and Research Corridor which attracted many highly educated, wealthy scientists and engineers to the area. According to the Chicago Tribune, the development of the Illinois Technology and Research Corridor resulted in Naperville’s Asian population explosion beginning in 1987.

Naperville’s highly acclaimed schools. District 203 and 204 are some of the best school districts in the state of Illinois, if not the entire country. These schools have drawn many families to Naperville, especially highly educated families who value scholastics.

A safe community. Safety has always been a top priority for Naperville. The city prides itself on continually being nationally ranked and recognized as a “safe city.” According to the Chicago Tribune, in 2019, Naperville was ranked No. 9 in the country for safest cities to raise children and No. 22 for safest college towns.

“Physical development makes a difference in drawing people to a town, but really it’s those little intangibles, safety and education, that make a difference,” states Novack.