Downtown Chicago is easily accessible thanks to two Metra lines and the interstate highway network, but many south suburban residents also work close to home. The region’s forest preserves and golf courses offer many opportunities for recreation or quiet contemplation. Shopping, education, and cultural institutions also thrive in the Southland.
History: Industry, Recreation, Agriculture
South Suburban communities vary a great deal in their age. Some, such as Harvey, and Calumet City, grew up as homes for steel and other industrial workers. Others, such as Hazel Crest, were once farming communities. Still others, such as Flossmoor, began as quiet retreats for wealthy city dwellers who wished to live closer to the land. Newer communities such as Crete are home to subdivision type developments. The many forest preserves and golf courses found in the south suburbs maintain the sense of rural living was sought generations ago.
The vast network of Cook County Forest Preserve District land is a defining feature of the south suburban region. These lands provide ample opportunities for fishing, hiking, biking, and paddling, as well as the chance to explore and learn about the ecological history of Illinois. Forest preserve areas range from wetlands to woods to prairie, to even rarer ecosystems that are not found anywhere but northeast Illinois. Even for residents who aren’t outdoorsy, the proximity to natural areas provides quiet, clean air, and open space.
While large single-family lots and access to the forest preserve system give the south suburbs a small-town, rural feel, access to the city via train and interstate highway is fast and easy. The south suburbs are served by the Metra Electric District line to the east, and the Rock Island line to the west. Pace buses provide transportation between communities—census data show that while many south suburban residents work closer to home. Metra has also proposed a South East Service line, which would utilize existing rail to expand service to such communities as Dolton, Thornton, Chicago Heights, and further south.
Industry continues to be a major economic driver in the South Suburbs. The Ford Stamping plant, operating in Chicago Heights since 1956, continues to employ 900 people, despite downturns in other sectors (such as steel manufacturing). Other major employers are found in the healthcare sector: St. James Hospital and Ingalls Memorial Hospital. Many South Suburban communities feature their own downtown shopping districts, with Lincoln Highway serving as a major commercial corridor, and major shopping centers also located in Orland and Tinley Park. Colleges and Universities such as South Suburban College, Prairie State College, and Governors State University are all located in the south suburbs, providing jobs and job training to residents.
In addition to the proposed South East Service Metra Line, other exciting plans are afoot for the south suburbs. Cook County has identified a huge area of the south suburbs as part of the Calumet Reserve project, a broad-ranging planning effort aimed at combining protection of natural resources with economic development and green industry. The South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, in partnership with the Chicago Southland Economic Development Corporation, has identified a set of principles to guide planning efforts in the south suburbs moving forward, known as the Green TIME Zone. The purpose of these guidelines are to capitalize on existing rail and industrial infrastructure to encourage smart residential and economic development. Together, these plans lay the foundation for a bright future in the Southland!