Economic Development News
Tuesday, September 11th, 2012
In July, I was a panelist for “Transportation: The Missing Link for your Clients” at the West Suburban Jobs Council in DuPage County. I, along with representatives from three other organizations, presented ideas to address the problem of transportation, the most difficult barrier to overcome for low-income job seekers in the area. Solutions to this transportation deficiency can be found in the plans outlined in CNT’s report, Prospering in Place.
Prospering in Place links jobs, development, and transit to spur Chicago’s economy, and can be broken into three categories: transit oriented development (TOD), cargo oriented development (COD), and employment oriented transit. TOD uses mixed use development to help make areas more affordable to all income levels. COD, on the other hand, brings jobs to low-income areas by infilling unused or underused land areas. Employment oriented transit connects businesses to transit locations so that individuals without vehicles are not excluded from the job pool. In order to achieve the goals laid out in Prospering in Place, CNT has five recommendations that can be achieved with community support: prioritize development areas, create a regional sustainable communities initiative, align resources, find new resources, and create new funding mechanisms.
Establishing priority development areas for TOD, COD, and employment oriented transit can help reduce sprawl, keep people better connected to their jobs and homes, and create thriving local economies. Mirroring the federal partnership for sustainable communities is critical for economic growth, so CNT calls for directing $1 billion toward transportation to encourage development in these areas. With budgets tight at the local, state, and federal level it is important to ensure that investments support these development plans rather than derail them by building districts that only work for single-occupancy vehicles.
In order to help reach the funding requirements for these projects, Chicago and its surrounding areas should utilize new revenue streams. In Los Angeles, Denver, the Twin Cities, and most recently in three regions of Georgia, citizens elected to tax themselves in order to reach their transportation goals in a timely and efficient manner. These types of innovative revenue streams could be implemented here in Chicago to help make Prospering in Place a reality. Finally, enacting the Brownfield Redevelopment and Intermodal Promotion Act by the General Assembly and the Land Bank Legislation in Cook County, both necessary legislative components, is essential to making this type of development affordable.
With your help, we transform these recommendations from report to reality. Talk with your local government and your legislators and let them know that you support development that encourages transit use and redevelopment of vacant properties. Discuss with your co-workers the benefits of connecting the workplace to a transit stop. And support initiatives that will provide a revenue source for transit to allow Chicago’s transportation system to meet the needs of current and future generations.
Monday, August 6th, 2012
On June 29, the United States House of Representatives passed the Transportation-HUD Appropriations bill for FY2013. Differing from both the President’s budget and the tentative Senate budget, the House plan does not include any funding for the Sustainable Communities Initiative (SCI), which was established in 2010 as part of a federal pledge to coordinate transportation, economic, and environmental improvement projects to create a more sustainable nation. Through direct community and regional grants, this comprehensive program has already helped numerous municipalities nationwide to thrive, including several in the Chicago region.
The Initiative provides grant support through Community Challenge Grants and Regional Planning Grants, both of which help urban, suburban, and rural areas plan for sustainable development and encourage building code and land use reform. These efforts, in turn, provide communities with the opportunity to build transportation infrastructure that shortens the link between jobs and affordable housing.
The holistic focus of the grants enables the creation of mixed-income and mixed-use neighborhoods, bolsters economic development through job creation and increased connectivity, and improves both public and environmental health by decreasing traffic congestion and using infill to revitalize neighborhoods. These grants are integral to sustained national growth.
Funding for the Initiative is provided through a set aside by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Development Fund (CDBG) program; administration of the grants is supported by a partnership between HUD, the Department of Transportation (DOT), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Thankfully, the President’s budget for FY2013 aims to restore the FY2011 level of funding ($100 million), and the Senate Appropriations Committee recommended $50 million for the Initiative, but the full Senate has not voted on the bill.
Unfortunately, the House budget once again leaves this important program without any funding, providing our nation with no way to make sustainable investments in our cities and towns. The myriad benefits that SCI grants help to realize—in the areas of economic growth and sustainable development—are too important to be left unfunded. Without money from SCI, metropolitan areas around the country are deprived of the opportunity to strategically integrate jobs, housing, and transit into their communities.
In the Chicago region, the benefits of SCI are palpable. During the first two years of funding, three separate area coalitions received grants to invest in economic development, housing, and transportation. The South Suburban Mayor and Management Association (SSMMA) and the West Cook County Housing Collaborative were awarded Community Challenge Grants of $2.3 million and $3 million, respectively, while the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) was granted a Regional Planning Grant of $4.25 million to fund local technical assistance (LTA) programs.
The improvement projects funded by the SCI grants have provided multiple new growth opportunities to underserved neighborhoods. Both the SSMMA and the Housing Collaborative are using their grants to establish transit-oriented development (TOD) in their communities, and the SSMMA has created a pre-development fund to facilitate the building process. CMAP has created a thriving LTA program that provides short-term targeted technical assistance to guide development decisions for communities throughout the region. These programs are all crucial to the continued success of CMAP’s regional vision plan GO TO 2040.
Chicago has proven its commitment to positive change–as evidenced by the dozens of successful improvement projects throughout the area–but commitment is not enough. Chicago needs the funds provided by SCI grants to continue progressing toward its goals. We cannot afford to let Congress eliminate these funds. Please contact your congressional representative today, and make your voice heard. SCI grants are improving the Chicago region by creating municipalities that are both affordable and economically competitive. SCI grants are integral to our future, do not let them disappear.
Friday, July 20th, 2012
On June 22, the US Department of Transportation (US DOT) approved a $10.4 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program grant to the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) project. The grant will complete a $370 million rail improvement funding package that was established through CREATE’s groundbreaking public-private partnership between the US DOT, State of Illinois, the City of Chicago, Metra, Amtrak, and the Association of American Railroads (AAR).
These TIGER funds will contribute to the completion of fifteen planned infrastructure improvement projects, eight of which are concentrated along CREATE’s Western Avenue corridor. Five railroads–Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Canadian National, CSX, Indiana Harbor Belt, and Union Pacific–as well as a Metra line to Joliet and an Amtrak line to St. Louis are concentrated along the busy corridor. TIGER-funded system updates will benefit all of these rail lines by replacing hand-thrown switches with automatic ones, installing a computerized Traffic Control System, and constructing connection tracks between the different lines. These improvement projects will reduce congestion for both passenger and freight lines, resulting in increased rail capacity–good for businesses–and more efficient transit trips–good for commuters. Chicago has been a national leader in rail transit for more than 150 years. Reduced delays and increased rail efficiency in this critical transit corridor will help ensure Chicago rail’s continued vitality.
Map of CREATE projects
CREATE projects have already made significant progress in congestion mitigation: freight delay has decreased by 28 percent and passenger delay by 33 percent as a result of past improvements. The upcoming projects will be equally effective (when compared to a system with no additional improvements), with delay reductions projected at 50 percent for freight and over 60 percent for passenger rail.
CREATE's role in national rail
I believe that this example of strategic investment through the federal TIGER grant—enabling improvements in movement through the city, creating connections between housing and job opportunities, and providing for economic prosperity within the Chicago region. If Chicago takes this opportunity to make more strategic investments in transportation infrastructure it will become a national model for urban transit success.
Governor Quinn underscored the importance of CREATE to the economy of the region with his recent announcement of the next phase of Illinois Jobs Now! capital funds, which will encourage employment and economic growth by improving the state’s transportation and basic infrastructure systems. CREATE will receive $211 million of the $1.6 billion package, to augment the TIGER funding and complete the key 15 projects for increasing the transit efficiency and safety that are currently planned. Highway improvements will receive $817.3 million, and mass transit and general rail upgrades will receive $799.5 million.
One of 78 CREATE projects in progress
Quinn’s commitment to improving transit mobility is heartening. I hope that more decision makers and stakeholders take notice, and continue to implement transit-friendly legislation. Chicago has the opportunity to lead the nation in transportation sustainability –let’s make it happen!
Friday, June 1st, 2012
For sixty years the 1.5-mile stretch on Lake St. between Ashland and Clinton has been a public transit dead zone. Buses ran only on surrounding streets and the original station at Morgan was demolished in 1948. This transit isolation was frustrating to local residents who could not efficiently access this portion of the West Loop, and development suffered as a result. Affordable real estate eventually attracted new businesses, restaurants, and residential developers, but lack of easy transit access still prevented this district from reaching its full economic potential.
In 2002, the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) investigated the feasibility of constructing a new infill station to boost train ridership and encourage economic growth along the Lake and South Side branches of the Green Line. Morgan Station, with its recent influx of residential and commercial development, was chosen as the optimal station location. The 2006 construction of the Pink Line, which will also be serviced by the new station, was also a consideration in the final decision.
Morgan Station. Photo by Nicole Gotthelf
The opening of Morgan Station is evidence of Chicago’s ongoing commitment to using transit-oriented development (TOD) to boost the local economy. Just last month, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) cut the ribbon at the much-needed Yellow Line Oakton Street Station in Skokie. In CNT’s report, Prospering in Place (PIP), Skokie is identified as one the 15 largest employment centers in metropolitan Chicago; prior the opening of the Oakton stop, however, many of Skokie’s 11,423 workers could not access their jobs via public transportation. Employees at the Illinois Science and Technology Park, which opened as a science and research facility in 2005, had to take a shuttle from the Dempster Street CTA station to the Park as part of their daily public transit commute. Now, these same employees exit at the Oakton Station, conveniently located almost across the street from the Park. Reducing travel time to this major employment center will attract more employees to this northern suburb, encourage development, and increase land values, all of which will contribute to the region’s prosperity.
The Oakton-Skokie Station; photo by Flickr user Zol87
The Cermak Road Green Line Station, planned to open in July 2014, promises to be equally beneficial. The new station will close a two-mile gap between Roosevelt Road and 35th/Bronzeville Stations on the Green Line, and will bring Chicagoans directly to the underutilized neighborhoods of the Near South and Motor Row and within easy walking distance of McCormick Place. Motor Row was designated as an entertainment district in 2011, and a commercial center that will include theaters, restaurants and hotels is already in the drafting stages. By coordinating development with transit infrastructure, the city will provide the area with a solid foundation for increased growth.
From "Transit Friendly Development Guide: Guide to Four Station Areas" a publication based on a study by City of Chicago Department of Zoning and Land Use Planning and Department of Transportation, CTA, RTA.
These stations – Morgan, Oakton, and Cermak – are important steps in the creation of a regional TOD network, with increased employment, public transit, and community connection. I hope to see more such projects implemented in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs, as officials prepare for the region’s sustainable future.
Thursday, May 17th, 2012
When Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) held its inaugural convention 20 years ago, the traditional idea of walkable downtowns that are easily accessed by surrounding neighborhoods and serviced by public transit had been obliterated by commuter suburbs, inexpensive automobiles, and increasingly dispersed communities. Determined to ameliorate the affects of sprawl, which the CNU founders viewed as harmful to the nation as a whole, they banded together, began holding annual conferences, and, two decades later, have successfully transformed their then-radical idea of using mixed-use development to create sustainable communities into an internationally respected design practice that more and more people seek out when looking for a place to live.
New Urbanism’s continued success is marked by the remarkably wide turnout of young professionals at CNU 20. New Urbanism has made its way out of the obscure corners of urban planning and into academia, where the newest generation of design experts is learning the value of incorporating sustainable development practices into their own careers.
Although New Urbanism has the support of many planners and design professionals, actual change in the built environment is impeded by a misconception that big-box developments, which concentrate goods and services under one roof and have ample parking for cars, are more financially viable than mixed-use developments that adapt themselves to an existing neighborhood fabric.
Of all the sessions I attended at CNU 20, I was most compelled by the research discussed during the Friday morning breakout session, “The Economic Benefit of Good Urbanism.” The panelists used data from extensive financial and policy analysis to demonstrate that the economic benefits to municipalities from big-box stores are significantly less than those provided by mixed-use developments.
Panelists at the CNU conference used data from extensive financial and policy analysis to demonstrate that the economic benefits to municipalities from big-box stores are significantly less than those provided by mixed-use developments. Photo by Tim Boyle, Getty Images
Panelist Joseph Minicozzi of Urban3, LLC gave examples from his research in Asheville, North Carolina, where his firm compared the property tax generated by a Super Walmart on the edge of the city with a typical acre of mixed-use development in Asheville’s downtown district. The Walmart consumed 34.0 acres and generated property taxes of $47,500 per acre, while the mixed-use development consumed only 0.2 acres and generated $634,000 in property taxes per acre. A sample set of 15 cities from Montana to Florida provided similar results, underlining the economic potential of creating mixed-use developments on Main Streets, vibrant neighborhood hubs, or central business districts in communities across the nation. I was happy to see real numbers (and large ones at that!) to make the case for sustainable, mixed-use planning.
Joseph Minicozzi of Urban3, LLC gave examples from his research in Asheville, North Carolina, where his firm compared the property tax generated by a Super Walmart on the edge of the city with a typical acre of mixed-use development in Asheville’s downtown district. Credit - Urban3
You can read more about the analysis in the author’s own words in this Planetizen essay.
My own breakout session on Friday afternoon, “Preserving Affordability: Gentrification without Displacement,” was equally satisfying. More than 100 people gathered to hear Alexander Gorlin, Rosanne Haggarty, Jaimie Ross, Alexander von Hoffman, and myself consider strategies for spurring economic development while maintaining affordability. Employment-oriented transit, an idea explored in CNT’s publication Prospering in Place, is an important way to increase employment options for households at all income levels while decreasing transportation costs and maintaining neighborhood affordability.
The 48,100 square foot former Morris B. Sachs Building in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood has been converted into retail space, a community arts center and 28 loft-style market rate and affordable lofts. Photo from - YoChicago
More and more planners and design professionals have recognized the benefits of implementing sustainable New Urbanism principals. That’s wonderful progress. I’d like to see us New Urbanists doing even more to explain the benefits of these principals to our friends, neighbors, and family members to ensure we see more of these principals shaping the DNA of our communities.
Friday, May 11th, 2012
CNT partners and funders joined together at the breath-taking Loop offices of Sidley-Austin last week to engage in a lively discussion around Prospering in Place, CNT’s argument for metropolitan Chicago to reinvest in its passenger and freight transportation assets to unlock sustainable growth in the region.
María Choca Urban, transportation and community development director at CNT, set the stage with an overview of the Prospering in Place report. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Oak Park Village President David Pope followed her with their stories of policies and planning initiatives that bring CNT’s report to life. The three talks resulted in a layered perspective of the economic benefits that are possible when numerous municipalities come together to pull off significant investments in transportation infrastructure.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, along with Oak Park Village President John Pope, brought stories of policies and planning initiatives that bring CNT’s report to life
In her remarks, Pres. Preckwinckle voiced support for the report recommendation that urges decision makers to prioritize transportation and real estate investments in places that are primed for growth. The president endorsed the creation of transit- and cargo-oriented developments (TODs and CODs, respectively), especially in southern suburbs like Harvey and western suburbs like Cicero, which have existing transit and freight infrastructure and a high potential for immediate COD success that would benefit the entire region.
Pres. Preckwinkle also said her staff has been investigating the feasibility of developing a land bank in Cook County, such as the Cook County Land Bank Proposal circulated by Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, which would give the county authority to consolidate small plots of land into bigger parcels, eliminating costly assembly legwork for potential industrial developers. By maintaining a regional perspective on new transit and freight developments, Preckwinkle argued, Chicago has the opportunity to create an integrated system of sustainable transportation that can be used as a model worldwide.
Oak Park Village President David Pope echoed Preckwinkle’s call for regional integration of transportation development. The proliferation of sprawl and the reduction of public transportation options is a regional problem and its solutions, therefore, must be addressed regionally, he stated. He said trying to make Oak Park succeed without considering the health of nearby communities like Forest Park or Berwyn ignores the interconnected nature of neighborhood economies, to everyone’s detriment. Reliable public transportation increases employment opportunities for residents, and helps create vibrant places where people want to spend their time and money. Collaboration between municipalities to create a robust, people-oriented transportation network can only yield positive economic results.
With the support of Pres. Preckwinkle, Village President Pope, and others in the room, I left the event hopeful that the region’s decision-makers are thinking about ways to work together in implementing the ideas outlined in Prospering in Place to the benefit of the regional community. Stay tuned to Going Places for updates on more exciting transportation developments as they occur.
Wednesday, April 11th, 2012
Did you catch Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on NPR’s Marketplace last week? Jeremy Hobson had questions about the mayor’s proposed Infrastructure Trust, how it would work and what kind of projects it would fund. It’s a quick read or listen here. (The audio begins at the 10:15 mark.) You can also catch tonight’s segment on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight, where some aldermen will weigh in on the mayor’s infrastructure trust.
About halfway through the interview, Hobson asked kind of an offbeat question about where Mayor Emanuel gets his inspiration. The mayor cited Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles but didn’t say exactly why.
Chicago or L.A.? Photo credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times
I think what Mayor Emanuel was referring to was Villaraigosa’s very innovative plan to build out his city’s public transportation system much faster than what’s typical for infrastructure projects of that scale. The plan is certainly inspiring and something we here in Chicago should be discussing as a model for funding our own transit needs. Here’s the back story:
It all started with Move LA, a project of community partners that set a goal and vision for expanding transit options for Angelenos. After a year of building support, Move LA got a measure on the ballot in 2008 to create a dedicated funding stream for new transit projects. With 68 percent of the vote, Angelenos approved Measure R, a half cent sales tax increase that went into effect in 2009 to raise $40 billion over 30 years to revamp the transit system and double the amount of existing rail in the city.
Mayor Villaraigosa took the plan to another level. Instead of accepting the anticipated 30 years it would take to fix LA’s transit system, he pushed to shorten construction time to 10 years by using the future Measure R sales tax revenue as collateral to get more money through a low-interest federal loan and long-term bonds.
Currently the Crenshaw Line, which would connect the Metro Green Line and Expo Line, has been authorized by the Federal Transportation Administration to proceed with project implementation. When all is said and done, Los Angeles will have a Westside subway extension, a regional connector to link downtown rail lines, a light rail extension to LAX airport, and bus-only lanes along some corridors. These projects will add 78 miles to the current transit system. On top of that, it is estimated that 160,000 jobs will be created, annual vehicle miles traveled will drop by at least 191 million miles, annual gasoline usage will decrease for 10.3 million people, and annual mobile source pollution emissions will decrease by 521,000 pounds.
Guess how much it’ll cost each LA resident? $25 a year. Would Chicagoans be willing to invest $25 per year for similar benefits? It’s something to think about as you wait for the next bus to show up or fill up your car with gas.