Walkable Communities

Mar 30, 2017

Walkable Communities

Read a summary of the Alternative Futures engagement phase (April-August 2017), during which CMAP connected with more than 2,500 residents in 127 workshops and five topical forums, with another 61,000 providing input via interactive kiosks. Capping off these activities was a speech to the City Club of Chicago by CMAP executive director Joe Szabo.

What if more people choose walkable, mixed-use communities by 2050?

In a future where consumer preference for walkable, mixed-use communities has markedly increased, people and businesses move to and invest in these areas. By 2050, reinvestment in many existing suburban downtowns and commercial cores has increased; some suburban areas have created new downtowns and mixed-use centers, as well as pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. Certain jobs continue to concentrate in downtown Chicago and mixed-use centers, particularly in transit-accessible areas; consequently, disinvestment occurs in auto-oriented suburban areas. Residents increasingly bike, walk, use transit, on-demand ride services, and potentially even share driverless cars, leading to decreased demand for driving and parking. As demand for walkable communities has increased, affordable housing in these areas has become scarcer, particularly in communities with amenities and transit access.

Check out an interactive graphic that shows the projected growth of the senior population in the region by 2050. ON TO 2050 will help plan for this aging population and their stated preference to live in walkable communities.

What is the primary driver behind this future?

In 2050, a greater proportion of the population prefers and chooses to live in walkable, car-optional, mixed-use communities, due in part to demographic shifts and technological advances. Young adults would be attracted to walkable, mixed-use communities because they would be able to fulfill many of their daily needs within their neighborhood without depending on a car, and because of the attractiveness of nearby amenities. Due to the convenience and vibrancy of walkable, mixed-use communities, many young adults may want to remain in areas with these amenities as they start families, raise children, and care for aging parents, even as their needs for housing and other amenities change. Senior citizens would also prefer these neighborhood types because they allow for continued independence and access to medical services, social networks, and everyday needs without needing to drive.

Advances in technology, such as bike sharing, car sharing, and on-demand ride services would facilitate car-optional lifestyles. On-demand services run by private companies or public transit agencies could offer a variety of vehicle types, and many of them could use advanced routing to pick up and drop off multiple passengers on a single trip. Some of these vehicles could even be automated and capable of functioning without a driver.

What would life be like in 2050 with increased preference for walkable communities?

The sustained demand for walkable, mixed-use communities would lead to an increase in this type of development. Historically vibrant, amenity-rich, mixed-use areas would continue to thrive. Some disinvested urban areas and suburban downtowns, especially those with transit access and diversity of land uses, could experience reinvestment, including decreased commercial vacancy and increased population and employment; others could struggle to tap into the market demand and continue to experience disinvestment, despite their existing assets.

Suburban, residential neighborhoods that are largely auto-oriented but have downtowns or commercial nodes, would also see population growth as well as revitalization of their downtown areas. Many communities that did not have walkable downtowns or commercial areas in 2017 could strive to attract residents and jobs by creating downtowns and mixed-use nodes through rezoning and investments in pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.

Other outcomes include:

  • Jobs in knowledge, service, and retail locate near transit and population centers, while intermodal and warehousing jobs continue to locate in less dense, auto-oriented parts of the region.
  • More people use shared modes, active transportation, and transit. Car ownership rates decline.
  • High-cost walkable, mixed-use communities become increasingly segregated, while more affordable auto-oriented areas diversify.
  • The region reduces per capita greenhouse gas emissions, and development pressure on agricultural and natural resources eases.
  • Walkable mixed-use communities provide residents a higher quality of life.
  • The cost of living in walkable, mixed-use communities would increase, particularly in those that are transit-served. Ultimately, living in these highly sought after areas – either as a renter or owner – would be out of reach for some segments of the population.
  • While many communities in the region stand to benefit from increased investment in their commercial cores and downtown areas, some would lack the institutional and civic capacity to capitalize on their existing assets or sufficiently adapt to the market, demographic, and fiscal changes.

More on this future

CMAP has collected more details about this future and strategies that can be taken now to prepare for this future in the Walkable Communities memo

Media coverage

"How better walkability could improve life across Chicago," Chicago Tribune

"If the future will be walkable, how do we make sure everyone benefits," Streetsblog Chicago

Read our recap of the forum, "Where We'll Live in 2050," held at the Chicago Architecture Foundation on May 4, 2017. 


CMAP wants to hear from you about this future. Make your voice heard by:
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