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Revitalizing the Chicago Southland

A Rust Belt region jump-starts its economic turnaround by building a middle-mile fiber network.

Stretching southward from Chicago for some 40 miles through Cook and Will counties is a collection of cities and villages known as the Chicago Southland. Traditionally blue-collar and industrial, the area suffered the dislocations typical of the entire Rust Belt as steel mills and other heavy industry disappeared. Some closer-in suburbs became popular with metro area residents priced out of Chicago’s northern suburbs and fared relatively well. The village of Tinley Park, for example, was designated the “best place in America to raise kids” by BloombergBusinessweek in 2009 because of its good schools, accessibility to Chicago and relatively affordable housing. This year, the village of Homewood ranked third in CNN Money’s list of best places to live where homes are affordable.

Other parts of the Southland were harder hit by job losses and widespread mortgage foreclosures. After the housing market collapse, southern Cook County had the highest foreclosure rate in Illinois; some communities could not even keep up with maintenance and code enforcement on abandoned homes. Many commercial properties are still vacant today.

Forty-two cities and villages in the Southland participate in a regional organization, the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association (SSMMA), through which they work cooperatively on the region’s pressing issues – economic development, transportation, land use, infrastructure, public safety, housing and more. By the mid-2000s, SSMMA realized that poor broadband infrastructure was a limiting factor in the Southland, discouraging institutions and businesses from locating or expanding there… Please click here to read Masha Zager’s full story in Broadband Communities Magazine.

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