July 24, 2015

Chicago Report Shows How Growth Near Transit Benefits All

Grow Chicago Header

As living near transit becomes increasingly popular, a new report and online calculator from the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) and ITDP offers recommendations and support for the City of Chicago to expand zoning and target financial incentives to attract more residential and commercial development near transit in neighborhoods across the city.

“It is no coincidence that as Chicago has grown increasingly away from its transit system, our overall population has declined,” said Peter Skosey, executive vice president, Metropolitan Planning Council. “Yet between 2000 and 2010, Chicago’s downtown population doubled, fueled in no small part by the growing demand to live near transit. By building new opportunities for people of all incomes to live, work and shop near transit in neighborhoods across the city, we can grow Chicago and give more Chicagoans excellent access to high-quality jobs, retail, schools and parks.”

The “Grow Chicago” web site includes specific recommendations and support from MPC and ITDP for the City of Chicago to strengthen zoning and financial incentives to increase transit-oriented development, or TOD, in different types of markets. Grow Chicago also provides a first-of-its-kind calculator, developed by MPC, that allows people to input the location, type and size of a specific development proposal, and calculate the benefits to a local community in terms of additional retail stores, tax revenues, nearby jobs, residents, annual transit rides and affordable housing units.

Dennis Rodkin
Recent developments in Chicago are already using TOD strategies to create housing, jobs, and new retail space. Photo: Dennis Rodkin, Chicago Magazine

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Council have supported investment near transit through both the 2013 Transit-Oriented Development Ordinance and the 2015 update to the Affordable Requirements Ordinance. Even with these recent policy changes, current regulations and financing tools limit the full potential for new construction near transit. For example, within a five-minute walk of rail stations, only about 20 percent of Chicago’s land is zoned to allow buildings with more than one use (such as retail plus residential).

“Grow Chicago’s tools and recommendations are not only great for the city of Chicago, but can and should be applied globally,” said Aimee Gauthier, chief program officer, ITDP. “As cities around the world continue to grow, increasing development near transit is an effective growth strategy—and one that provides more choices for residents of all incomes.”

To attract more residential and commercial investment near transit in neighborhoods across the city, Grow Chicago recommends the following:

TOD map Chicago
Click for an interactive version of the map above, demonstrating how these recommendations will expand development potential. Orange areas are parcels qualifying for density boosts.
  • Reform regulations
    • Expand Chicago’s TOD ordinance to provide density bonuses to all Business, Commercial and Downtown zones within at least 1,200 feet (approximately one-quarter mile) of rail and bus rapid transit stations, and allow as-of-right (streamlined) implementation by developers. Allow an additional density bonus for projects with 10 percent affordable housing on site.
    • Eliminate minimum parking requirements for all uses within 1,200 feet of stations, allowing investors to incorporate needed parking spaces without creating an over-supply.
  • Identify financial incentives
    • In the short term, prioritize existing public funding streams toward areas near transit and encourage financial institutions to work together to focus their loans on areas close to transit.
    • In the long term, create new loan and grant financing products designed specifically to support affordable housing in strong markets near transit and retail and other amenities in weaker markets near transit.
  • Build capacity and political will
    • Form a prominent civic collaborative with representation from community, financial, development, nonprofit and governmental organizations that are dedicated to advancing TOD in Chicago.
    • Dedicate a City TOD manager to target capital infrastructure spending to be focused near transit across all Chicago agencies and departments and to serve as a point of contact for developers, organizations and others.

View the report’s complete findings and recommendations and try out the calculator at metroplanning.org/growchicago. The web site also profiles developments near transit in Chicago.

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