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First published online December 21, 2012

Not All Suburbs Are the Same: The Role of Character in Shaping Growth and Development in Three Chicago Suburbs


Although American suburbs are commonly understood as the result of growth machine efforts or are grouped in categories like edge cities or inner-ring suburbs, these approaches obscure the unique characters of individual suburbs. This study examines four consequential “character moments” in three Chicago suburbs, Naperville, West Chicago, and Wheaton, where the suburb’s character was open to public debate. These moments show character over time is critical for understanding suburbs, character moments are rare but often consequential, not all moments involve particular development projects and some may be prompted by perceived threats, and suburban character is more dynamic than typically posited.

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Brian J. Miller is an assistant professor of sociology at Wheaton College (IL). His research interests include suburban growth and development, suburban culture, McMansions, and social network site-use among emerging adults.

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Article first published online: December 21, 2012
Issue published: September 2013


  1. suburbs
  2. development
  3. community
  4. character

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© The Author(s) 2012.
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Published online: December 21, 2012
Issue published: September 2013



Brian J. Miller
Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL, USA


Brian J. Miller, Department of Sociology, Wheaton College, 501 College Avenue, Wheaton, IL 60187, USA. Email: [email protected]

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