A thoughtful, holistic approach to development can help all parts of the region thrive. To make this approach possible, partners across sectors and at multiple levels must carefully invest both funds and expertise. Such targeting can make investment less challenging, encourage better alignment between infrastructure improvements and planned development, and accommodate strategic new development that minimizes impacts on agricultural and natural areas.
ON TO 2050 sets a target for 75 percent of residential development and 85 percent of non-residential development to occur within highly and partially infill supportive areas, which have existing development, residents, businesses, and infrastructure. Reinvesting in areas with existing services and infrastructure has broad regional benefits. Local governments and transportation providers incur fewer infrastructure and service costs. Businesses often have access to a larger pool of potential customers and workers. Residents can reach a broader set of options for work, recreation, and services via transit, car, or bike. Reaching this target will require a wholesale shift in how the region’s governments and private entities approach planning and development, from reinvigorating commercial corridors and residential neighborhoods, to building up mixed-use centers, to focusing resources near transit and existing transportation nodes.
The region has had mixed results in encouraging new investment in already-developed areas, particularly areas with access to transit and other resources. While development under construction today is clearly changing -- and beginning to align with ON TO 2050 goals -- catching up on infill is imperative to achieve transit ridership and congestion goals. Focusing assistance and investment resources in areas that communities have identified as a priority can make the best use of constrained funding. Whether via private development, public infrastructure, or other means, reinvestment is most effective when it is consistent with regional goals as well as local plans and regulations, coordinated with other funding sources, and linked with supportive public programs. By strategically targeting investments toward community main streets and economic centers where infrastructure already exists, we can maximize the impact both of those new expenditures and of the earlier ones when such areas were originally developed. Communities that have a clear, realistic vision for future investment are ideally situated to maximize the potential impact of such an approach.
While aligning plans and regulations is important, it does not always attract reinvestment by itself. Infill sites, even vacant ones, can pose problems for developers. The complex early stages of project development can deter investors: assembling multiple small parcels with fragmented ownership, developing land under multiple regulatory jurisdictions, and remediating environmental contamination are all costly and complicated barriers. Along with the need to coordinate with neighbors who will be affected by the redevelopment, these challenges can make it difficult for communities to attract private investment.
When multiple agencies coordinate diverse technical knowledge and funding sources, development becomes more feasible and beneficial. For example, making multi-agency investments related to industrial development -- such as reconstruction of an intermodal truck corridor while targeting nearby brownfields for environmental remediation and addressing localized flooding problems through construction of green infrastructure -- would be more likely to spur successful industrial or logistics development than if these investments were made in isolation.
A broad, sustained approach to increase reinvestment must also reflect the Chicago region's strong tradition of local land use control and multitude of public, nonprofit, and private interests. The region has many places worthy of new investment. Existing community main streets, mixed-use centers, and bus or rail transit nodes need added businesses, residents, and supportive development to thrive and support well-functioning transit. Disinvested areas, which have experienced a long-term loss of people and jobs, can benefit from coordinated, intentional, and systemic investment by public and private actors. The region’s office and industrial centers house the industries that connect our economy to the world, and they need continued reinvestment to continue to grow as the economy changes.
[GRAPHIC TO COME: Illustrations of prototypical potential TRA types before and after reinvestment: a main street, an office center, a disinvested area.]
At the same time, the region will continue to expand. Development on agricultural, natural, and other open lands at the region's perimeter can help achieve community goals, but can incur substantive costs. Communities should consider the long-term benefits and costs of new development, whether that be associated with building and maintaining new infrastructure, market viability for the remaining agricultural uses, or consumption and degradation of natural assets. Areas with potential for new development -- termed Coordinated Growth Areas -- can carefully expand in ways that require less infrastructure, improve short- and long-term fiscal impacts, and promote quality of life. Strategically planning for conservation of natural areas and key agricultural lands, combined with sensitive development practices, enhances both natural and built environments.
[GRAPHIC TO COME: Coordinated Growth Local Strategy Map interactive feature highlighting natural and agricultural areas where there is development pressure and illustrating best practices in preservation and development.]
The following describes strategies and associated actions to implement this recommendation.