When Mayor John Ostenburg told his staff that he wanted Park Forest to be one of the most sustainable communities in the Chicago metropolitan area, Hildy Kingma knew they would need a little help getting there.
Kingma was the only planner on staff in the small, southern Cook county community and, although she was the village’s Director of Economic Development and Planning, she did not have a lot of experience with sustainability work.
She started to look for resources that would help her create a framework to reach the mayor’s goal and found CMAP’s newly created Local Technical Assistance (LTA) program. The city applied, was accepted, and together they created “Growing Green: Park Forest Sustainability Plan,” which was adopted in 2012. Through 14 chapters, the plan detailed how Park Forest could improve its environment and economy.
“CMAP doesn’t just say ‘Here’s a plan, good luck,’” Kingma said. “The next thing (CMAP) did was help us identify sources of funding to hire a sustainability coordinator and help us wrap our heads around what we needed to do on a day-to-day basis to make the plan a reality.”
Park Forest has continued to work with CMAP, completing a bicycle and pedestrian plan and re-writing its zoning and subdivision standards to create a new unified development ordinance.
Kingma said she’s learned that planning for the future of your community often means stepping outside your own municipal lines.
“In some cases there’s a belief that one can do it on their own,” she said. “But you have to get involved and go outside the core boundaries of your community. Get to know your neighbors and all the resources that are out there.”
She suggested communities struggling with capacity look to CMAP, their local Council of Government (COG), or other planning and grant making organizations in the region.
“Some communities are really strapped and have a hard time just taking care of the day-to-day,” Kingma said. “But for those communities it is even more important to reach out. You’ve got to look beyond your four walls.”
Kingma said it is ultimately about answering to the needs of residents.
“If your community tells you that they need more street lights, then you have to find the resources to do that. And you better be knocking on every door and looking under every rock to figure out where the resources are. It takes time and it takes a willingness to do it,” she said.