Comments? Click here.

Improve natural resources through the redevelopment process

Improve natural resources through the redevelopment process

Infill and redevelopment can provide a variety of benefits, such as leveraging and making efficient use of existing infrastructure and services, promoting walkability, spurring investment in disinvested or stagnant growth areas, and helping to preserve key agricultural and natural lands by accommodating growth in already developed locations. The redevelopment process also presents unique opportunities to conserve, restore, and enhance natural resources at infill locations and to increase climate resilience.


Given that most development happened before the advent of today’s best practices, redevelopment can help tackle some of the region’s most persistent environmental challenges. For example, remediating brownfield sites when conditions are favorable provides environmental and social benefits; however, current funds for these initiatives are limited. In addition, building renovations and construction of new buildings can result in improved environmental performance through the use of energy- and water-efficient systems and appliances, renewable energy, water reuse, recycled and sustainable materials, and other sustainable approaches.

In addition, strategy development for ON TO 2050 has highlighted other environmental issues related to climate change and flooding, water quality, community greening and placemaking, and impacts to vulnerable populations that are particularly important to address during the redevelopment process. Climate change -- and the associated exacerbation of urban heat island effects and flooding -- underscores the importance of expanding green infrastructure, tree canopy, and other community greening strategies. With regard to underserved populations, review of the GO TO 2040 access to parks indicator (See the Draft ON TO 2050 Indicators Appendix) revealed that the region’s EDAs have far lower access to parks than economically connected areas: in 2013, 28.6 percent of the population in EDAs had access to four or more acres of parkland per 1,000 residents, compared to 53.8 percent in other areas. As EDAs redevelop, making a concerted effort to provide park space will help to reduce this disparity over time.

This recommendation appears in the Environment and Community chapters.

The following subsection describes strategies and actions to implement this recommendation.

Apply sustainable development practices to the redevelopment process

Each redevelopment site represents an opportunity to enhance the environmental performance of a property and contribute to local and regional natural resource enhancement. Many aspects of development proposals, such as building design, landscape choices, and site planning, can improve climate resilience, water conservation, stormwater management, and water quality. Expansion of site-scale greening -- particularly with native and drought- and flood-tolerant landscape materials and trees -- can help to mitigate the urban heat island effect, retain stormwater, and promote carbon sequestration. Avoiding redevelopment in flood-prone areas interrupts the cycle of escalating and recurring damages. Local governments can be proactive about addressing flooding challenges by going beyond county requirements to require stormwater best management practices on smaller parcels. Encouraging green infrastructure practices as the first design option and enabling rainwater harvesting and reuse can help address concerns from neighbors that redevelopment could exacerbate existing stormwater problems.

Despite these real benefits, integration of sustainable practices in redevelopment is often perceived as more difficult or expensive. The most common example is with stormwater, where small sites may be severely constrained from meeting detention requirements. Yet the application of green infrastructure designs like permeable paving or bioswales can be incorporated in a variety of settings. For property owners with space or other site constraints, credits and trading programs can provide flexibility and increase implementation. In the stormwater example, trading programs allow eligible properties to meet a portion of their stormwater requirements by buying “credits” from other property owners. These programs could lead to dramatic improvements, especially if off-site installations are located within the same water- or sewer-shed and the infill site does not create downstream impacts. Municipalities can also take advantage of larger-scale redevelopment efforts to either make adjacent infrastructure improvements that relate to climate resilience, such as burying overhead utility lines, installing street trees, or building sewer capacity or shared stormwater solutions, or require developers to do so.


Local governments should revise zoning, building, energy, and stormwater regulations to ensure sustainable development practices are implemented through redevelopment, retrofits, and adaptive reuse of buildings and property.

County stormwater agencies should follow Cook and DuPage efforts and establish fee‐in‐lieu programs for detention and volume control for constrained infill sites to address existing flooding and water quality issues.

Address environmental challenges that disproportionately affect specific populations and disinvested areas

As documented by the environmental justice movement, environmental issues tend to have disproportionate impacts on specific populations, including people who are low income, of color, or have limited English proficiency. For instance, these residents are frequently affected by the environmental hazards arising from the disproportionate location of brownfields, landfills, and freight and industrial facilities within their communities. Similarly, research suggests that those who might be at increased exposure to heat waves include people of color, residents with limited English proficiency, those with family income below the poverty line, the elderly, children, and those with existing health conditions.[1]


Other challenges, ranging from repetitive flooding to lead exposure in drinking water lines, could also be due to a lack of investment and maintenance that are particularly acute in disinvested areas. As infrastructure managers work to balance budgets or address the backlog of deferred maintenance, higher service fees can be particularly difficult for low income residents to absorb. In general, more research is needed to determine the impacts of environmental issues on different population groups and meaningful strategies to address them. Any such effort must deeply engage the affected communities to ensure that solutions reflect local needs.


CMAP and partners should explore the impacts of high-priority issues -- such as climate change, water loss and pricing, repetitive flooding, brownfields, and air pollution -- on vulnerable populations and disinvested areas, while engaging affected populations to collaboratively develop and implement solutions.

CMAP and partners should align green and gray infrastructure investments to address the unique needs of disinvested areas.

Increase community greening efforts and expand neighborhood parks 

Community greening involves increasing the amount of green coverage, including recreational or passive park space, community gardens, landscaping and tree canopy,[2] and green infrastructure. This can be particularly valuable in walkable downtowns, along major commercial corridors, and in other areas with an extensive impervious surface. Community greening efforts can achieve numerous benefits, including greater climate resilience, stormwater management, habitat, reduced heat island effect, and improved physical and mental health. GO TO 2040 recommended retrofitting developed areas with green infrastructure, which contributes to overall community greening, and these practices were explored in greater detail in the ON TO 2050 Integrating Green Infrastructure strategy paper.[3]

Local governments, park districts, and other partners should expand and improve access to neighborhood parks and community gardens, particularly in EDAs.

Local governments, park districts, and other partners should incorporate green infrastructure and other green strategies into neighborhood parks, school yards and properties, corporate and office campuses, and other open lands to achieve multiple co-benefits.

Local governments, park districts, and transportation agencies should expand urban forestry efforts to protect existing trees and to increase and diversify the tree canopy.

Local governments, transportation agencies, and landowners should incorporate site-scale green infrastructure, trees, landscaping, etc. into non-park spaces, including street right of ways, parking lots, and private property.


[1] The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ( provides research related to climate vulnerability.

[2] The Chicago Regional Trees Initiative,

[3] Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning ON TO 2050 strategy paper, 2016, “Integrating Green Infrastructure,”

To Top


Return to Draft Plan Home