City, village, town—what’s the difference?

Why are some Chicago suburbs “villages” or “towns”?

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Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki

Why are a lot of Chicago suburbs called villages or towns and not just straight-up cities?


The town of Cicero, the village of Winnetka, the city of Evanston—though some of these designations seem quainter than others, they have nothing to do with population or size. “It really all depends on which statute under state law the municipality incorporated under,” says David Bennett, executive director of the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, an association of 272 area leaders who convene to collaborate and converse about the health of the metro area. Towns are municipalities that were created prior to the 1872 passing of the Cities and Villages Act, which set out standards and guidelines for incorporation. Established in 1867, Cicero happens to be the only town in the Chicago area. The distinctions between the terms city and village are more ambiguous. In states such as New York, “cities and villages can differ according to how the state defines them, in terms of the procedures for setting them up, the governance structures and the powers allotted to them automatically by the municipal code,” says Joshua Drucker, assistant professor of urban planning and policy at DePaul University, who researched the topic when he moved to Illinois four years ago. “But in Illinois, there’s very little difference. The largest remaining difference is that villages must have exactly six trustees, whereas cities may have six or more aldermen.”



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