Report Identifies Priority Communities for Transportation and Economic Development Investments that Will Invigorate Regional Economy

Prospering in Place Brings CMAP’s GO TO 2040 Plan Down to Earth

CHICAGO (Feb. 16, 2012)—With gas prices already setting records, Congress threatening to cut mass transit funding, and the Chicago region arguably losing its competitive edge, the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) has released a new vision for building economic prosperity in the Chicago region with an analysis that identifies place-based transportation and community development investments that would reinvigorate economic growth. Prospering in Place builds on the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s visionary GO TO 2040 plan, translating that blueprint into a detailed framework that prioritizes specific places and projects that connect people to jobs.

“To help build our region’s economy we must target investments in the areas where they will have the most impact,” said Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Board President. “The Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Prospering in Place provides a much needed blueprint for how we can invest locally, while thinking regionally.”

“Places matter. But we’ve disregarded the region’s historic, compact, transit-served neighborhoods in favor of urban sprawl, cars, and cheap gas,” said Kathryn Tholin, CEO of CNT. “The cost of this shift was less apparent in good times, but stagnant incomes, high unemployment, and historic fuel prices have exposed its failings. Moving forward, we need to live closer to where we work, take transit more often than not, and strengthen walkable neighborhoods that meet needs locally. This report shows where and how to begin.”

The report documents how past development patterns have harmed the regional economy:

  • Of Chicago’s 25 top industries, the region is outperforming the nation in only five. Hallmarks of the regional economy—manufacturing, freight, logistics, finance/insurance/real estate, hospitals, and pharmaceuticals—lag behind national performance.
  • Despite being the third largest urban area in the country and having the second most extensive public transportation system, the Urban Land Institute’s influential 2012 Emerging Trends in Real Estate report bypasses Chicago as a top prospect development.
  • Between 2002 and 2008, the seven-county region of northeastern Illinois added a net 110,314 jobs but those within walking distance of transit fell by 5,555. Low- and moderate-income workers, already burdened by driving costs, saw jobs located near transit fall by 16 percent.

The report shows how to turn that situation around by exploiting the region’s unique assets and advantages: a robust freight rail network, the second largest passenger rail system in the country, vacant land near rail for development, and demographic demand for a vibrant urban lifestyle. The analysis prioritizes economic development opportunities based on three strategies: transit-oriented development (TOD), cargo-oriented development (COD), and job centers that need better transit.

TOD. The report prioritizes TOD opportunities from among the 343 stations located outside Chicago’s central business district. Priority locations for TOD include Berwyn (Red Line), Blue Island, Elgin, Elmwood Park, and much of the Green Line L in Chicago. To set the region back on the path to sustainability, the report calls for at least 50 percent of regional development to be captured in transit zones.

COD. The freight sector’s counterpart to TOD, cargo-oriented development (COD) brings industrial and logistics firms to communities with the freight assets to support them and the workforce to fill newly created jobs. The strategy is critical, given that all six Class I freight railroads converge here and terminate at and/or intersect with 21 rail-to-truck intermodal facilities. The report identifies three opportunities to develop CODs: Harvey’s Canadian National intermodal terminal, a proposed expansion of Englewood’s Norfolk Southern terminal, and Cicero’s BNSF terminal.

“Our region still has the rail assets to speed our economic recovery, but it has failed to direct land development to take full advantage of them,” said Ed Paesel, executive director of the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, whose region is home to many COD development opportunities. “Exploiting these assets brings jobs closer to workers who need them while lowering transportation costs, boosting property taxes, and reducing infrastructure costs.”

Connecting Jobs and People. Four of the five largest employment centers outside of downtown Chicago—employing nearly 272,000 people, are ill-served by public transportation. Employment centers such as these require investment in a depreciating asset—an automobile—and expose workers to fluctuating gas prices. Priority locations for improved connections between jobs and people include developing connecting service between stations that bracket employment centers along the Jane Addams Tollway and in Lombard, Naperville and Oak Brook.

The report recommends how to implement its priority strategies:

  1. Designate as Priority Development Areas (PDAs)the places in the region that are ready for investment and have the ability to energize the region around GO TO 2040 goals.
  2. Align investments by state, regional, and local agencies with a special focus on PDAs.
  3. Establish a new $1 billion dollar competitive CMAP Sustainable Communities Initiative that awards capital grants to implement projects in Priority Development Areas over the next 30 years.
  4. Create a permanent new revenue source that can fund enhancements and expansion of the transit system.
  5. Make dedicated funding available to underwrite predevelopment costs, such as land assembly and environmental remediation, which are difficult to finance.

“CMAP applauds the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s efforts to shed light on the importance of effective planning that considers transit and freight as important aspects of a comprehensive, regional approach,” said Randy Blankenhorn, Executive Director of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. “CNT’s efforts can support implementation of GO TO 2040, including its emphasis on redevelopment that strengthens our region’s existing communities.”

Prospering in Place was made possible by the support of the Searle Funds of the Chicago Community Trust, Field Foundation of Illinois, the Grand Victoria Foundation, and the Harris Family Foundation.

“The Trust supported the development of the GO TO 2040 plan for the Chicago region,” said Ngoan Le, Vice President of Programs at The Chicago Community Trust. “Recommendations provided in Prospering in Place give us a good framework to think about an approach that could implement the GO TO 2040 plan concretely toward building a successful region.”

Emily Robinson, Center for Neighborhood Technology,, 773-269-4043


Founded in 1978, CNT is a Chicago-based think-and-do tank that works nationally to advance urban sustainability by researching, inventing and testing strategies that use resources more efficiently and equitably. Its programs focus on transportation, energy, water, community development, and climate. Visit for more information.