Chicago has long been hailed for bold, visionary planning, but it has been some time since the city embarked on a comprehensive plan—101 years, in fact. The Windy City is now rekindling that spirit of ambitious urban thinking with GO TO 2040, calling for a complete reevaluation of growth in the seven-county Chicago region.
While the hallmark of the Burnham plan was “make no small plans,” Chicago’s new endeavor is no less optimistic, if slightly more financially pragmatic. GO TO 2040 calls for a concerted effort to rethink land development, transportation, energy, education, and quality of life, focusing on four related areas: livable communities, human capital, efficient governance, and regional mobility.
GO TO 2040 is the result of three years of research and public input from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), an entity formed in 2005 and charged with coordinating regional growth.
“The strength of our communities and economy are determined by issues that are highly interrelated,” Randy Blankenhorn, CMAP executive director, said in a statement. “Promoting a good balance of jobs and housing will give residents the option to live nearer to where they work, which lets them spend less time commuting.”
The plan was unanimously adopted by community leaders on October 13, and will guide the city well into the 21st century. At the heart of the over 400-page document is how to handle growth in a region expecting 2.4 million additional residents. Part of that solution is found in extensive infill development on over 100,000 vacant acres within the metropolitan boundary to increase density and create walkable centers.
Rather than continue an unsustainable auto-dominant development pattern already deeply rooted in the region, GO TO 2040 suggests compact communities where owning a car is not a prerequisite.
A variety of systematic policy changes are proposed that overhaul how transportation projects are funded. Among the most ambitious proposals is the redistribution of transportation dollars within Illinois. Currently, Chicago receives only 45 percent of state transportation funding, despite having 66 percent of the state’s population.
Tax codes are also slated for an overhaul. Policies that promote “big box” sprawl will be reevaluated for an approach favoring greater regional economic benefits. In a move expected to generate some controversy, the plan also proposes an eight-cent increase in gas taxes and new user fees to fund projects, including expanding transit.
Chicago’s vision has already received an initial boost from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Senator Dick Durbin announced a $4.25 million Sustainable Communities Regional Planning grant program to help integrate housing, land use, and infrastructure investment.
“GO TO 2040 is a forward-thinking plan that will help Chicagoland maintain its position as one of the nation’s foremost economic and cultural centers,” Durbin said in a release. “Today’s funding will give GO TO 2040 more resources to achieve their goal of helping the nearly 300 communities around Chicago create and implement a comprehensive plan for a sustainable future.”