Strengthening where we live

Creating and sustaining vibrant communities can help the region compete and thrive, offering residents and business many choices for where to live and work.

Crowd of people at a festival in Chicago

ON TO 2050 will make the region and its communities stronger by targeting resources, improving planning, encouraging collaboration on fiscal and economic issues, preserving high quality open space and agricultural assets, and promoting housing choice.

ON TO 2050 continues our region's emphasis on reinvesting in communities and infrastructure, while also offering new guidance to enhance quality of life. Supportive initiatives by many actors will collectively enable progress toward these goals. Some communities have a wealth of expertise and resources for these initiatives, while others struggle to raise revenues for basic services. Reinvestment can be complex and costly. Progress will require targeted, coordinated action by transportation, funding, land use, housing, environmental, and economic development programs that are sometimes disconnected. ON TO 2050 envisions comprehensive action by municipalities, CMAP, counties, Councils of Governments, the State of Illinois, transportation providers, the federal government, and civic organizations to support local decision making and continue to foster high quality places through 2050.

ON TO 2050 also emphasizes preserving high quality lands and implementing sustainable development patterns with fiscally responsible expansion. Many communities make expansion a high priority. Such growth can be implemented in ways that preserve natural assets and reduce long-term costs. Continued land preservation conserves our natural assets today and for future generations. Implementing new development in ways that make efficient use of existing and new infrastructure will limit long-term costs and support resilience.

Creating and sustaining vibrant communities can help the region compete and thrive, offering residents and business many choices for where to live and work. Increasingly here and nationwide, all people want diverse, walkable, and accessible communities with popular amenities, in both urban and suburban locations. Meeting this demand will also support public transit and ease commutes, but must be accomplished while also creating affordable housing options. Most importantly, the region cannot succeed without concerted investment in low income communities of color to rebuild jobs, amenities, and resources. Investment for continued economic growth and success for the entire region should include investments in communities with limited resources for rebuilding infrastructure and amenities needed for jobs, housing choices, and healthy living.

This chapter outlines recommendations to promote:

  1. Inclusive growth by rebuilding communities to create opportunity close to where people live, increasing local revenues, and enhancing local government capacity and expertise.
  2. Resilience by preserving high quality natural areas, incorporating sustainable practices into all development, and leveraging data and expertise to plan for market realities, infrastructure needs, and fiscal stability.
  3. Prioritized investment in and careful expansion of our built environment to ensure fiscal, economic, and environmental sustainability.

Strategic and sustainable development

From 2000-15, the region expanded its developed footprint by nearly 12 percent, an area equal in size to the City of Chicago. Over the same period, employment remained flat, population increased by 4.6 percent, and many opportunities for infill development remained untapped. While local and state governments as well as nonprofits preserved 61,500 acres of open space, significantly more land was developed. To reduce costs, conserve land, and promote quality of life while meeting the economic, transportation, and housing needs of a growing population, the region must change the way it invests in infrastructure and development.

Strategic investment in new development is imperative in a climate of constrained resources. That investment must happen not only in places that are already centers of activity, but also in those that are rich with potential yet suffer from long-term disinvestment. These communities still have many assets, including their residents. These communities also deserve investment in parks and natural resources. The region will add 2.3 million residents and 900,000 jobs by 2050. Investing in careful growth is imperative to help the entire region prosper.


Reinvestment for vibrant communities

The region's population overall is growing older and more diverse, businesses' location preferences are changing, and more residents want to live in walkable communities. Strong, livable places offer a range of housing, transportation, employment, and amenity options to meet these changing needs. While their character varies according to local goals, vibrant destinations and communities attract activity and investment. Strategies to shape these communities build on each other and also contribute to regional resilience. For example, compact development patterns support cost-effective public transit service and also facilitate walking and biking; transit and non-motorized options, in turn, improve mobility and public health and also reduce GHG emissions; these prioritized investments reduce infrastructure costs and promote fiscal sustainability. Fostering strong places throughout the region provides many opportunities for improving quality of life and economic results for the region’s residents and businesses.

Development that supports local and regional economic strength

Through their role in planning for and regulating development, municipalities, and counties support small but significant pieces of regional markets for commercial and industrial developments, many of which house companies that make up the region’s economic base. Cumulatively, these choices affect transportation costs, congestion, and commutes. Local governments attach higher priority to certain types of economic development for many reasons, from meeting local employment goals, to quality of life concerns, to the potential for fiscal benefit. The interaction of local and regional markets and tax policy can limit the revenue potential of some communities. As a result, some local governments struggle to maintain infrastructure in a state of good repair, provide desired services, or ensure that staff and elected officials have the training and resources to be effective and innovative.

ON TO 2050 encourages providing support for industries that connect the region to the global economy, increasing local cooperation on economic development, and changing tax policies at the state and local level to support more development types and provide local governments with more paths to success. These strategies can also reduce competition and overbuilding of some development types, lowering costs and improving fiscal outcomes for the region.