Visioning Workshop Summary
by Randy Blankenhorn, Executive Director
Thank you to all who participated in our successful event on Wednesday, September 12 at IIT. The capacity turnout of nearly 200 Board members, committee members, and CMAP partners has to bode well for our visioning process, which will continue through next spring. Many participants commented on the level of enthusiasm and engagement, which was certainly helped by our two excellent guest speakers, historian Geoffrey Baer of WTTW-TV and internationally acclaimed designer Bruce Mau. They were invited to inspire us, and their talks literally gave us the best of both worlds -- the past and the future.
In our introductory remarks, CMAP Board chairman Gerald Bennett and I briefly described what is at stake with the regional comprehensive plan that will be published in 2010. This isn't going to be CMAP's Plan, it's going to be the Region's Plan. If everyone buys in to the vision, then everyone will have a stake in the plan's success. And that way the Region's Plan will get implemented.
Geoffrey Baer took us on a whirlwind tour of the Chicago region's history, from open prairie to global center of commerce. He described how the grass that greeted settlers was so tall, they could only see over it when sitting on a horse. The early towns formed on key waterways and, later, around rail lines and highways that connected our region to the rest of the nation. Viewed from a plane today, he said, the metropolitan area looks like "a big sheet of glowing graph paper" -- with many of the roads built on what began as Indian trails. Geoffrey described the phenomenal economic growth of the 20th Century, which went into overdrive after World War II with the population's expansion into the South, Southwest, West, Northwest, and North suburbs. He said that we all have a common desire for "a sense of place," with livable communities that give us the option of walking or biking to shops and restaurants, but also with transportation options to get quickly from one part of the region to any other. This desire is a universal need that CMAP and its partners should tap into by creating a regional comprehensive plan that speaks to residents across the region. Finally, he talked about how significantly our region was shaped by the vision of Daniel Burnham, and how we need an equally visionary plan for the new century.
Geoffrey Baer was followed by designer Bruce Mau, who is one of the more prominent heirs to Burnham's legacy. If Geoffrey's talk was a comfortable journey through the region we know and love, Bruce's talk was intended to jar people into thinking differently about the future. He said it's not enough to have new ideas; we need to find new ways to say them, or they will be perceived as old ideas. He gave a preview of "The New Chicago Project," which is a proposal built on nine universal themes -- not very different from CMAP's draft themes, he said -- each of which provides a platform for change and economic development. The goal is to develop an urban prototype for each theme, creating in Chicago a model for what the ideal global city can be.
Bruce talked about driving in his family car past a shivering woman standing at a bus stop in Toronto. Virtually no one, he said, would prefer to be in the cold rather than in a warm automobile. That is emblematic of the uphill struggle to make public transportation appealing, which he described as a challenge for planners and designers alike. To some in the room, talk of a futuristic transit system that offers greater comfort than riding in a luxury car may have seemed incongruous due to our state's current inability to provide for the basic needs of public transportation. But that is what we need to do as long-range planners -- to entertain radical possibilities that could bring ideal solutions for residents of the future. As Bruce put it, we can't address 21st Century problems with 20th Century solutions. Just in terms of energy consumption, he pointed out, we would need four Planet Earths if everyone in the world lived America's lifestyle. And as we all know, that is exactly what most of the world is trying to do.
The second half of the visioning event was a highly interactive exercise in which participants at themed tables refined the draft vision statements that were based on earlier input from our Working Committees. Following our invited speakers' presentations, attendees at 20 round tables considered the draft vision themes that were included in the event program (http://www.chicagoareaplanning.org/news/pdf/visioning_program_9-12-07.pdf). Each table was assigned a particular theme, and divided into small teams to review and suggest modifications to each bullet point within this theme. Each small team then presented their modified bullet point to the entire table, and through a facilitated discussion, general consensus was reached at each table on the content of the overall theme. CMAP staff facilitators captured these inputs, which were quickly typed in and shown on a projection screen so that the entire room could view the results of each table's work.
Keypad polling devices were then used to let each attendee rate each theme statement. This technology, which we have used at past events as well, lets participants in large meetings vote anonymously and quickly on questions that are asked, with the results of the voting available instantaneously. The use of keypad polling gave participants and staff immediate feedback on how well the vision statements that were crafted met participants' expectations. Some theme statements that were developed at the event – most notably, on the topics of Environmental Health, Education and Workforce Development, Economic Competitiveness, and Quality of Life – received strong support from the audience as a whole. Other themes were more challenging, and require more work by us and our partners. (Please note, however, that this means only that attendees approved of how those themes were expressed and were not stating a preference for one theme over another.) We also gathered input about current aspects of the region that attendees consider most valuable, as well as collecting ideas about combining or grouping theme categories.
Our staff is now revising the vision themes based on the event's complex qualitative input (i.e., text written by participants and facilitators) and quantitative input (i.e., polling results) to develop new versions that will be reviewed by CMAP working committees in October. Also in October, we will post a web survey and create a comparable paper survey that will let any resident of the region rate and comment on the current vision themes. At the same time, CMAP staff will be meeting with stakeholders across the region to describe the draft vision and our process that will culminate next spring, when we will ask the CMAP Board and the MPO to endorse the regional vision. This document will guide the remainder of our work on the Regional Comprehensive Plan, leading to its publication in 2010.