The brutal reality is that newer, more sprawling suburbs – and especially the cheap boom-years exurbs – aren’t just a bit unsustainable, they’re ruinously unsustainable in almost every way, and nothing we know of will likely stop their decline, much less fix them easily. -Alex Steffen
The suburbs get a bad rap. For many people – especially city folk – the mental image of the “suburb” invokes sprawling soulless subdivisions of single-family homes, manicured lawns, strip malls, chain fast food restaurants, massive parking lots, and big box stores, all totally devoid of culture. To be sure, there is plenty of that throughout the Chicago suburbs.
However, many of us who grew up in the suburbs also know that there are diamonds in the rough out here: small towns which maintained their local community feel even as they were surrounded by suburban sprawl in the latter half of the 20th Century. It is in these communities, which dot the commuter rail lines radiating out of Chicago’s core, that the next suburban renaissance will occur. Millennials and Baby Boomers alike have time and time again expressed the desire to live in neighborhoods where having a car should be seen as optional, not required. The challenge we currently face today is that of affordability: there simply isn’t enough suburban housing stock that is affordable and available in these walkable communities. In many of these smaller suburban communities, any increase in density beyond single-family homes is seen with apprehension and fear, relegating higher-density and more affordable housing options to similarly sprawling megacomplexes of townhomes far from stores, restaurants, transit, and other daily amenities needed to go without a car.
The Yard Social Club
Our mission statement at The Yard Social Club is simple and straightforward:
Supporting Sustainable Suburbia
We organize social events throughout the suburbs (and the city) in transit-friendly, walkable areas that allow us to get out and explore the wide variety of small, pedestrian-friendly (and some not-so-friendly) communities throughout the Chicago suburbs in a fun, unassuming manner. By visiting these neighborhoods and communities, we can showcase some non-traditional (which, ironically, in many cases are the actual early 20th Century “traditional”) increased density suburban environments that foster walkable neighborhoods and places, both for suburbanites who may negatively correlate “walkability” and “transit-oriented development” with distinctly urban patterns of development, and for city residents who see the suburbs as a sprawling homogenous network of cul-de-sacs and strip malls.
We also prioritize patronizing local small businesses so we can support many of the establishments that end up giving communities a distinct sense of place that sets them apart from the rest of the suburbs. Furthermore, by relying on public transit options, we can visit a wider variety of towns and establishments while minimizing our carbon footprint and encourage infrequent transit users to become more familiar and more comfortable with existing transit options available in the Chicago suburbs.
And, of course, we’re simply a group of people who enjoys going out and having fun while meeting new people and exploring new places.
In 2018, we launched a new concept: while The Yard Social Club encourages suburbanites to utilize transit more often, we realized there’s no dedicated voice in the suburbs to push transit agencies to provide better suburban transit offerings. Thus, the Supportive Transit for All Riders: Leisure, Infrequent, New and Experienced (STAR:LINE) Chicago group was formed. We use our small platform to discuss suburban transit issues in our Diverging Approach blog and to generally nerd out about suburban transit on social media.