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Alternative Futures for ON TO 2050

Economic, social, environmental, physical, and technological forces can profoundly, and sometimes rapidly, affect regional goals such as improved livability, mobility, and economic growth. Since the GO TO 2040 comprehensive regional plan was adopted in 2010, the Chicago region has experienced a mix of positive outcomes, such as reaching a historical high labor force size and growth in advanced manufacturing employment, along with some near-term negative trends, including slowed recovery from the recession and worsening climate change impacts. To shape GO TO 2040's successor, ON TO 2050, CMAP is developing "alternative futures" to assess and describe broader changes based on factors that are beyond the direct control of CMAP or its partners. The approach will also identify strategies to mitigate or prepare for negative impacts and capitalize on opportunities relating to these macro-level changes. Ultimately, the strategies will be embedded into policies of the ON TO 2050 comprehensive regional plan, which is scheduled for adoption in October 2018.

This is an innovative approach for engaging with residents about issues that face the region. As described below, CMAP staff has identified five futures on which to focus research, analysis, and public engagement. All of them address two cross-cutting changes that will have broad impacts on each future: the region's aging and diversifying demographics and the proliferation of advanced data and technology. 

About the ON TO 2050 Alternative Futures

CMAP has imagined five alternative futures for metropolitan Chicago. What would happen to our region in the year 2050…

… if climate change impacts have intensified?

Effects of climate change include flooding, drought, and extreme temperatures, all of which strain the region's infrastructure and natural systems while disproportionately affecting our most vulnerable residents. The region attracts residents and industries leaving areas of the country more severely affected by climate change. Shifting habitats and agricultural zones combine with water supply issues to create economic and environmental challenges and opportunities. 

… if more people choose walkable, mixed-use communities?

Marked consumer preference for walkable, mixed-use communities leads to increased investment in those areas, significantly densifying suburban downtowns and commercial cores. Jobs concentrate in downtown Chicago and denser suburban cores; consequently, disinvestment occurs in auto-oriented suburban office parks and strip malls. Residents increasingly bike, walk, and use transit, leading to decreased demand for driving and parking. As demand for urban living increases, affordable housing becomes more scarce, particularly near amenities and transit.

… if technological innovations enhance transportation?

Technological innovations in the transportation sector improve mobility of people and goods. Travelers, transportation agencies, and businesses have access to more accurate, real-time information to make smarter decisions. Households increasingly use on-demand products and services (car sharing, ride sourcing, and driverless cars). New technologies may not be accessible or affordable to everyone, and the extent of their impacts are uncertain. For example, driverless vehicles may assist with last mile connections to transit; alternatively, they may encourage lower density development as car travel becomes more convenient. High-tech freight shipping that incorporates multiple modes of transportation (e.g., rail, shipping, and/or trucking) grows in prominence.

… if the economy has been transformed? 

The region continues to transition from a production-based economy and toward services instead, while retaining global prominence in logistics and freight due partly to innovations in on-demand technology. Employers' demand for computer science, engineering, finance, and other specialized skills increases as unemployment rates increase among the lower skilled workers. Historically marginalized communities continue to suffer, and climbing the economic ladder becomes increasingly difficult for lower income residents. College educated residents earning higher incomes make up a larger portion of the urban core, leading to increased prices in urban areas and continued suburbanization of poverty. 

… if public resources are further constrained?

Ongoing fiscal problems in Illinois and nationwide limit the services, infrastructure, and maintenance programs of municipal and county governments.  Federal and state funding reductions require new local revenues such as tolls, taxes, and fees. Residents demand increased efficiency, transparency, and intergovernmental cooperation so investments yield the desired measurable outcomes. The region increasingly leverages public-private partnerships and creative financing structures. Communities become more stratified economically, with limited revenue and growth options for disinvested areas.

Alternative Futures Forum series

From April through August 2017, CMAP and our partners will host the monthly ON TO 2050 Alternative Futures Forums, to invite people to imagine challenges and opportunities our region will face by 2050. Learn more about and register to join us for these conversations. 
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