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The Region today

The Region today

Metropolitan Chicago’s residents, businesses, and institutions continue to create ideas, art, and commercial products that reach around the world. Over the last decade, our region has experienced significant economic, demographic, technological, environmental, and fiscal changes, and the future promises even more substantive shifts. We must also rebuild and modernize aging infrastructure at a time when travel patterns are changing, with potentially profound effects. Uncertainties about the State’s fiscal condition and federal priorities mean that we must fund our own needs. To thrive, we must face today’s opportunities and challenges, build on the region’s many resources, and prepare to take advantage of future change.

Economic challenges and assets

Today, our population growth has stagnated and economic growth lags behind peer regions. Despite recent population losses, CMAP forecasts that the region will add 2.3 million new residents and 920,000 new jobs by 2050. ON TO 2050 lays out a vision help the region get back on track and thrive again.


Nevertheless, the region is endowed with tremendous assets. Businesses here from industries as diverse as finance, health, and manufacturing have access to a diverse, well-educated, and globally connected workforce. The region’s unemployment rate continues to improve, and our businesses produce more goods and services year after year.

Widespread racial and economic disparities

Economic outcomes in our region frequently reflect racial lines of demarcation. Residents of color, particularly black residents, often experience lower incomes and higher unemployment. Some communities become caught in a cycle of disinvestment, unable to promote economic development, invest in infrastructure, and otherwise serve their residents. A growing body of research supports the idea that racial and economic inclusion bolster regional economic strength. International research suggests that reducing inequality by even 10 percent can increase the extent and durability of periods of growth by 50 percent. Making investments in inclusive growth will help the whole region succeed.

Decreasing federal, state, and local revenues

Insufficient funding presents a central challenge to achieving an enviable quality of life and economic vitality for all. Due to shrinking federal and state revenues, local governments struggle to implement their priorities. While many have made do with less by pooling resources with other governments, cutting staff, or leveraging technology to be more efficient, many governments have also begun to cut core services. Without new revenues for infrastructure and increased collaboration among governments, progress on regional priorities will be impeded.


Aging and obsolete infrastructure

In the absence of adequate, timely investments in our infrastructure, transportation and water systems are decaying. The standard lifespan of expressways is 50 years, but many of our facilities were built in the 1950s and 1960s. Significant capital funding shortages in the transit system limit our region’s ability to provide accessible, high quality service. The region’s water infrastructure was also developed decades ago, with replacement needed to reduce water loss or replace lead pipes. Stormwater infrastructure is not always sufficient for today’s rain levels and will particularly struggle in the face of storms with increased intensity. Asset management and other performance-based investment approaches can help, but cannot succeed unless paired with new revenues. At current funding levels, the condition of these systems is declining -- and the costs to repair them increasing -- every day.

Changing climate

The climate is changing at a global scale, with significant implications for the built environment, economy, ecosystems, and people of this region. We have a substantive resource in the water access provided by Lake Michigan, and high quality natural areas to help reduce the progress of climate change. These assets may help the region thrive as other parts of the nation struggle. To ensure continued success will necessitate re-envisioning how road, water, and energy infrastructure is built and maintained, preserving and protecting natural and agricultural areas, implementing stormwater best management practices, and creating social networks and resources to give residents tools to withstand climate impacts.

Opportunities and pitfalls of swiftly changing technology

New information technology and data processing capacity are having far-reaching effects. Road and transit agencies can better track current conditions, reroute drivers or transit service, and manage their networks. Businesses can enhance processes and supply chains to gain a competitive edge. Residents have growing options to get around without owning a car, to work from anywhere, and purchase goods. These technologies will also change the nature of work, demanding new skills and different training for today and tomorrow’s workers.

An aging and diversifying population

People are living longer lives in general. To provide a strong quality of life for our growing senior population, the region will need to continue adapting transit services, capitalize on emerging transportation and communication technology, and create more places with amenities and services in easy reach.

Our population is also diversifying. If current trends continue, the region’s population will be comprised of a majority of persons of color within the next decade. Diversity is an economic strength that the region can capitalize on, while taking steps to ensure access to economic opportunity for all residents.

Demand for different places to live and work

The region will always be successful by providing many types of places to live, from dense urban nodes, to suburban residential neighborhoods, to rural towns. But the region must also accommodate increased demand for places where a car is optional and residents can walk to shopping, entertainment, and services. While development since 2000 has not concentrated in areas with strong transit availability, buildings under construction today throughout the region are increasingly located in areas with access to transit, or with substantial existing development and infrastructure.


Limited progress on sustainable development

Communities are beginning to recognize the need to ensure that new development is fiscally and economically sustainable, as recent patterns of land development have worsened public funding constraints. While the region’s population grew 4.6 percent from 2000-15 and total jobs remained essentially flat, our developed area expanded by nearly 12 percent, an area equal to the City of Chicago. The region also preserved 61,500 acres of open space from 2001-15. However, progress on effectively addressing the combination of economic development, conservation, and fiscal sustainably has been mixed.

ON TO 2050 principles

The region also has proven its ability to collaborate on addressing complex problems. To succeed in a changing future, we will need to coalesce around initiatives that promote strong communities, a good quality of life, and economic opportunity and success. The principles guide the recommendations of the plan and offer solutions to the region’s key challenges.

Inclusive growth: We must provide economic opportunity for all residents and communities.

Resilience: We must prepare for future changes, both known and unknown.

Prioritized investment: We must carefully target resources to maximize benefit.

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