Chicago’s Equitable TOD plans call for vibrant community centers in underinvested areas

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Chicago’s Transit Focused Development (TOD) Ordinance, originally passed in 2013 and refined and expanded since then, was intended to incentivize development and intensification. The ordinance, which worked primarily by reducing or eliminating parking requirements for multi-family and commercial development near the city’s train (and later bus) lines, succeeded in spurring development along the lines. heavy-traffic transit such as the Blue and Red lines on the north side of Chicago. But as development accelerated, valuations and rents increased more and more, contributing to the gentrification of travel, while other areas of the city did not see the same level of economic opportunity. .

A bike share station near 1611 W. Division in Chicago. The city’s TOD plan has encouraged the development of low-profile cars, but critics want to see more fairness in future densification. (Logan Nagel)

Now, with the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic hopefully in the rearview mirror, a group of Chicago planners, policymakers, and community actors have come up with a transit-focused development plan for the people. 2020s. The city’s new equitable transit-focused development plan, released in June of this year and driven largely by the mayor’s office and the Elevated Chicago community collective, could be a little closer to this. what the original TOD plan should have looked like. The aim of the plan is to explore ways to stimulate development, particularly in the southern and western sides of the city.

Learn more about eTOD at the ULI 2021 Fall Meeting in Chicago.

The plan’s many suggestions, such as increasing bicycle parking, extending the TOD radius from a quarter-mile to a half-mile around transit stops, and a number of incentives and regulations to promote the development of affordable housing, are still far from becoming a policy. But the direction the city is taking with development, both conceptually and geographically, is now clear to see.

According to Drew Williams-Clark, CEO of Urban Resilience at the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago, a sustainability nonprofit and member of Elevated Chicago, “the vast majority of Chicago TOD development has taken place on the north and northwest sides, Blue Line and Red Line. What concerns us is how to harness the high end to ensure that the investment goes to who needs it? What we’re not good at is making sure people who depend on transit, primarily people of color and low income, get what they need. “

As eTOD seeks to densify other parts of the city, one of the things the plan aims to avoid is to spread the luxury-centric TOD development on the North Side of Chicago throughout the city. To this end, the neighborhoods that the eTOD plan hopes to stimulate development should, ideally, look more mixed than pure luxury or just affordable. Economically mixed areas remain accessible to low-income residents while remaining attractive to those with more flexibility. In turn, these areas remain more attractive to developers, retailers and employers.

Mixed areas are also more resistant than homogeneous areas. Take Chicago’s transit ridership, for example. According to research from the Illinois Regional Transportation Authority, transit ridership has taken a nosedive due to the coronavirus outbreak in 2020, as workers, especially on the north side, shifted to distant schedules . Of those who continued to take the buses and trains, the majority were generally low-income workers and essential workers located largely on the south side.

More resilient neighborhoods see residents moving around in different ways. According to Hugh Bartling, associate professor and director of the sustainable urban development program at DePaul University, “the more variety you have on public transportation, you will face unexpected challenges. Watch hurricanes flood the New York subway. There will always be things that you cannot anticipate. The more different modes of travel you can rely on, the better.

Chicago’s eTOD plan could be a solution to many of these challenges. But neighborhoods more mixed economically than Wicker Park and Logan Square will need some kind of geographic glue, a more accessible foothold than high-end retail. And while green spaces are an option, associated with lower crime and many other positive outcomes, they tend to take up a lot of space and can displace residents themselves.

Milwaukee Ave. Chicago’s vibrant TOD neighborhoods need a solid foothold to grab attention and attract investment. (Logan Nagel)

The option that might be best suited to meet the needs of Chicago’s future eTOD is the community center. These can be large or small and have a range of names to suit the needs of the neighborhood. They can offer a wide range of programs and serve as remote workplaces, classes, parties and beyond. And perhaps more importantly, they are attractive to people from all socio-economic backgrounds. To encourage this type of development, the eTOD plan suggests that zoning restrictions be relaxed for vacant land near public transit stops.

In fact, the previous administration headed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel was particularly interested in promoting the expansion of library branches, which has led to a number of affordable housing / library projects co-located in the city. Evergreen Real Estate Group has developed two such projects, combining affordable senior housing with library branches in Irving Park and West Ridge. The projects benefited from a tax credit but did not benefit from the TOD incentives.

Evergreen’s Director of Development David Block told me the property they developed was the neighborhood’s first permanent library, after the previous small storefront at the local branch was destroyed in a fire years before. . He explained that living with a public library, as opposed to building a private library like some luxury buildings do, benefits the community while providing a resource for residents. “A library developed and funded by the private sector may or may not be used,” he said. “It totally depends on who lives there and if anyone wants to go there and enjoy it. The public library, on the other hand, is a real neighborhood resource.

ETOD anchors do not need to be libraries. Williams-Clark cited the Bronzeville example of the former Anthony Overton Elementary School site as an example of a well-made neighborhood anchor community center. “The Emerald South Economic Development Collaborative has established a center around Overton Elementary School,” he said. “They’ve reclaimed this building with a giant mural of the community assets map, and they’re offering community programs, economic mobility classes, and other services from that space.”

Block added, “The developers might consider adding park district facilities. If you think of a luxury apartment building with a pool and other amenities, it has many of the same facilities as the typical country house in the park district. You get luxury amenities for your building, but it’s free and open to the public, and that’s where the fairness comes from. Again, this type of project adds a benefit to residents and is a hub of activity for the entire community.

Chicago’s eTOD plan is a step towards better, more vibrant neighborhoods. And it includes an explicit mention of supporting local community organizations and small businesses, only the types of stakeholders who can help run the community centers that Chicago needs. Now it’s up to the Chicago development community to decide how they fit into a new generation of Chicago eTOD that’s more than luxury apartments and trendy restaurants.

Learn more about eTOD at the ULI 2021 Fall Meeting in Chicago.


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