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From Boom to Bubble

How Finance Built the New Chicago

An unprecedented historical, sociological, and geographic look at how property markets change and fail—and how that affects cities.

In From Boom to Bubble, Rachel Weber debunks the idea that booms occur only when cities are growing and innovating. Instead, she argues, even in cities experiencing employment and population decline, developers rush to erect new office towers and apartment buildings when they have financial incentives to do so. Focusing on the main causes of overbuilding during the early 2000s, Weber documents the case of Chicago’s “Millennial Boom,” showing that the Loop’s expansion was a response to global and local pressures to produce new assets. An influx of cheap cash, made available through the use of complex financial instruments, helped transform what started as a boom grounded in modest occupant demand into a speculative bubble, where pricing and supply had only tenuous connections to the market. From Boom to Bubble is an innovative look at how property markets change and fail—and how that affects cities.

296 pages | 21 halftones, 5 line drawings, 10 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2015

Chicago and Illinois

Economics and Business: Economics--Development, Growth, Planning

Geography: Economic Geography

History: Urban History

Sociology: Occupations, Professions, Work


“Weber gives us a compelling book that cements her reputation as one of the top urban planners in the field of urban political economy. Her sophisticated and nuanced understanding of complex systems like global finance and real estate markets is conveyed easily and accessibly to those both inside and outside of academia. From Boom to Bubble is a major contribution, one that will most certainly be widely read and discussed for years to come.”

Joel Rast, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

“Weber offers an innovative and valuable approach, contributing important new insights and understanding to a multidisciplinary audience. From Boom to Bubble will be widely read as it contributes to the long standing and enduring scholarly focus on Chicago as the paradigmatic city and as a timely explication of financialization, the defining moment of the twenty-first century. Weber has an extraordinary depth of knowledge and she writes in an engaging and readable style that explains complex material in an accessible and understandable manner. This book solidifies Weber’s position as one of the leading scholars of the urban built environment.”

Robert W. Lake, Rutgers University

“In her focus on the role of property developers and their interactions with other agents in the construction process, Weber brilliantly shows the determining and indeterminate factors that create real estate booms and busts. A must-read for planners, geographers, urban sociologists, and political scientists—and anyone concerned with the forces building and rebuilding cities.”

Susan S. Fainstein, Harvard Graduate School of Design and author of The City Builders

“The downtown Chicago skyline added many high-rise office structures during the first decade of the 2000s, even though existing buildings provided sufficient space for their tenants. Why this happened and whether it was justified is the concern of Weber. Her findings identify this ‘speculative bubble’ as a composite product of the abundant global supply of capital, the ambitions of a host of real estate professionals to inflate demand for new office space, and the pro-growth Chicago government’s fiscal incentives for such expansion. They promoted the ideology that the constant renewal of a city is socially and economically beneficial and necessary to progress. This is a well-documented analysis of a trend common to many other US cities. Weber’s challenge is that such overbuilding is wasteful and can be restrained. ‘Slow, smart cities’ that are environmentally more sensitive have distinct advantages over rapid downtown expansion. A concluding chapter catalogs methods by which city officials can practice life-cycle and reuse planning to take a broader view of building costs and their impact upon residents. This is a solid analysis and critique of this trend. Recommended.”


“Weber’s From Boom to Bubble will appeal to planners, geographers, sociologists, political scientists, and historians who appreciate a critical perspective on global real estate and capital flows and those who study global financial crises. This is outstanding scholarship, and offers deep insights into the dynamic real estate markets of this Millennial era.”

Journal of the American Planning Association

“Weber offers a conceptually, theoretically and methodologically innovative and empirically detailed account of the operation of the commercial real estate market in Chicago, drawing on a longitudinal ‘elite ethnography’ in a lucid and engaging way. . . . She has not just given us a valuable analysis of what happened in Chicago in the 2000s, but has sketched an extensive research agenda. This book deserves to be widely read.”

LSE Review of Books

“Weber’s subject matter in this very good book is a phenomenon that has fascinated and vexed urban scholars and economists of various hues for at least a century: city-building booms and subsequent busts. Although at various points, especially in the book’s final chapter, Weber observes and reflects upon the consequences of these boom-and-bust cycles––indeed in the same chapter she even boldly ponders potential ‘solutions’, in the form of possible methods of modulating these all-too-familiar development frenzies––consequences are not her main concern. Causes are what principally animate this book and its author. How, in short, can we explain the repeating tendency, particularly in the United States, for urban overbuilding? Weber explores and attempts to answer this question largely through a marvelously informed and detailed case study of Chicago.”

International Journal of Urban and Regional Research

From Boom to Bubble is a careful, convincing, and very readable account of how the real estate bubble that fueled the Great Recession happened, and Weber indicates, could well happen again. Weber builds a case for how all the stakeholders in the process – developers, mortgage brokers, real estate brokers, appraisers, building managers, real estate lawyers, permit expediters, mayors, and planners – face incentives to fuel a boom to such an extent that it becomes a bubble, with real estate investment continuing unabated even when demand no longer exists and vacancy rates are high.”

Planning Perspectives

“Weber’s recent book offers a landmark contribution to the scholarship of urban studies. Written in a sharp and vivid style, and drawing from an intimate knowledge of Chicago, From Boom to Bubble constitutes an impressive work. Combining empirically-rich material with theoretically-informed research, Weber achieves the feat of bringing a strikingly new perspective to the much-debated question of why urban development is prone to overbuilding.”

Planning Theory and Practice

“This superb, well-written book should be required reading for anyone studying or practicing in the field of real estate. It will also be of interest to planners and government officials; those with an interest in urban sociology, geography, economics, and planning; and general readers who want a clear explanation of the commercial real estate boom to sit beside the cornucopia of books about the residential real estate bubble or who are taxpayers in the City of Chicago. Weber asks the hard questions and gets readers to rethink the taken-for-granted ideas that underlie the heuristics we use for modeling and explaining the real estate process, narrowing the gap between the academic literature and the everyday work of real estate development.”

Journal of Real Estate Literature

Table of Contents

Introduction: Why We Overbuild
Part 1 Real Estate Speculations
1 The Rhythm of Urban Redevelopment
2 Fast Money Builds the Speculative City
3 Out with the Old: How Professional Practices Construct the Desire for New Construction
Part 2 Chicago in the 2000s
4 Downtown Chicago’s Millennial Boom
5 Who Overbuilt Chicago?
6 Making the Market for Chicago’s New Skyscrapers
Part 3 Building the Future
7 The Slow Build
Epilogue: Why We Will Continue to Overbuild


Urban Affairs Association: Urban Affairs Association Best Book Award

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