Chicagoland has most local governments of all U.S. metro areas

Metropolitan Chicago governments.

A map show the six-county Chicago metropolitan area. (click image to download)

The Chicago metropolitan area is the nation’s most governmentally fragmented, with more local governments — 1,550 — relative to population and land area than any other, according to researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In a report published in the May edition of the Urban Affairs Review, the researchers introduced a “fragmentation index” comparing 51 U.S. metro regions of at least one million residents. The index is intended as a tool for further research, the report’s authors said.

Chicago was followed by Pittsburgh, St. Louis, New York and Philadelphia. Among the least fragmented were metropolitan Baltimore, Memphis, and Washington, D.C.

Fragmentation is widely believed to increase the cost of government, but that is not always the case, said Rebecca Hendrick, UIC professor of public administration.

“Fragmentation increases competition, which drives down the cost of services,” she said. “It also allows people to choose a local government based on their own values.”

Hendrick noted that costs are often driven up not by municipal governments, but by special governments like school districts, park districts and fire districts, many of which overlap municipalities and can become costly and confusing.

“Most local governments in metropolitan areas can’t function without affecting their neighbors. They either collaborate or compete,” Hendrick said. “Collaboration is being promoted for efficiency, but we need to consider what conditions affect collaboration versus competition. Competition and collaboration are related phenomena, not two ends of the same spectrum.”