Did You Know?

While the Chicago region’s population grew by 18 percent since 1980, the traffic increased by 66 percent in the same period.

Let's plan for a walkable future

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This is a guest blog provided by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. 

How will metropolitan Chicago look if more people want to live in walkable, mixed-use areas by 2050?

At the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), we are asking residents across northeast Illinois this very question (and several more) to inform the development of ON TO 2050, the next comprehensive plan for the region.

From now until August, CMAP’s Alternative Futures public engagement campaign seeks feedback on five major trends that could shape our region for decades to come.

In May we are focused on Walkable Communities, which anticipates a future in which more people prefer to live and work in areas that are convenient to transit and amenities. Watch this video for a three-minute summary of this future.

We already see a growing demand for walkable communities among today’s seniors and millennials, who increasingly want to live where they don’t need a car, at 42 percent and 63 percent respectively.

CMAP’s draft 2050 socioeconomic forecast estimates that residents age 65 and older will nearly double between now and 2050, to two million residents. And technology, including telecommuting and on-demand transportation, is helping to make car ownership less than imperative for many residents. 

According to new CMAP analysis, walkable communities present a series of opportunities and challenges for municipalities and residents. More foot traffic promotes a healthier lifestyle, strengthens social ties between residents and places more “eyes on the street,” which can help reduce crime.

Less reliance on single-occupancy vehicles can curb greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality and reduce the need for parking. Increased population density could reduce the per capita costs of services provided by local governments, such as garbage collection, public safety, electricity, water treatment and public education. 

On the other hand, existing walkable communities in the suburbs and Chicago are already in short supply, which makes them unaffordable to many.

If demand continues to outpace supply, cost of housing will increase, and residents with lower and moderate incomes might have to move farther away from transit, jobs and amenities.

Communities that are unable to create walkable, mixed-use areas could experience disinvestment as demand for auto-oriented living decreases. 

To ameliorate these effects, different communities will require different approaches. Walkable communities should plan for a range of housing options at various price points. To become more competitive, communities can encourage mixed-use development so companies and businesses can cluster near walkable commercial areas that are most accessible for their employees and clientele.

As a region, we need to advocate for an improved multi-modal transit system to enable more communities to become less car-oriented. At the local level, we can start immediately by expanding and improving our sidewalk and bike lane connectivity.

To collect public input on the Alternative Futures, CMAP staff are fanning across the region with workshops and kiosks. The next forum in our five-part series is Where We’ll Live in 2050, on May 4, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., hosted by the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

Individuals can also weigh in via web surveys, Twitter @ONTO2050 with the hashtag #2050bigideas, and Facebook. Tell us: Is it in the region’s best interest to encourage walkable communities? If so, where, and how, should we start?

This is a guest blog submitted by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.