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Officially Going to 2040

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

Yesterday, leaders of the 7 counties that broadly make up Chicagoland voted on the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning's (CMAP) final version of their Go To 2040 regional plan. Not surprisingly, it passed unanimously. Now what? Well, it's now up to the cities and counties in the region to get on with implementing the strategies CMAP has outlined, and funding and building some of the projects Go To 2040 calls for. First though, let's remind ourselves exactly what we're left with.

Because CMAP is regional, Go To 2040 tries to build toward a scenario where all of Chicagoland prospers equally in the next three decades. The plan talks about local municipalities partnering together to create livable communities, where water is preserved, human capital is attracted and retained, and people can get to and from their jobs in a timely fashion. When CMAP discusses competition, it is against other metropolitan regions--both nationally and internationally.

CMAP 2040 Capital projects

Image courtesy CMAP

If CMAP's models prove correct, Chicagoland will add 2.4 million residents by 2040. Many of them will be of working age. However, the plan makes no preference or prediction for where those jobs will be. This leaves us to mull over the likely outcomes: in one scenario, the region experiences a massive decentralization--the jobs move out of the current urban core and, in harmony with the livable communities CMAP advocates, people will live near where they work. In another scenario, jobs continue to accumulate as they have for the previous three decades--mainly near the loop, with suburban office parks (like those near O'Hare) dotting the periphery.

Note that neither of these scenarios is inherently better than the other. They both have their positives and negatives, and recognizing that the relationship between the city and its suburbs is symbiotic--not parasitic--is crucial to any kind of regional success in the next three decades. But in both cases, there will be winners and losers. Yes, a prosperous region is not a zero-sum game, but the past is instructive. The entire post-World War II era has been prosperous for America as a whole and the Chicago region in particular. But it would be foolish to argue that Chicago itself felt that prosperity as thoroughly as its suburbs have.

So how will this growth and prosperity shake out in the next generation? Without either a massive infrastructure change (which CMAP readily admits we don't have the money for) or a sudden, similarly massive change in how people do business (say, a continually growing emphasis on the service industry and a daily telecommuting approaching 50% of the workforce) I don't see any evidence for a fundamental deviation from the status quo. The vast majority of new jobs in the region will be where they are today: inside Chicago's city limits, and mostly in and around the loop. And in order to keep those business functioning (and ideally to attract new ones) people have to reach their jobs efficiently. Perhaps, with a good urban infill program, people will move closer to the dense core (a kind of melding of the two scenarios I outlined above), but for several reasons* that likely won't be enough.

What then, will be enough? Better transportation, simple (and as complicated) as that. Go To 2040 has listed just about every conceivable project Chicago could hope to undertake in the next 30 years here. I'll get into it in the future, but to put it simply: the questions over how our limited funds will be distributed for these projects will determine the shape and prosperity of the region. Will the West Loop Transportation Center add core capacity to the L (as opposed to simply being a high-speed rail hub)? Will the city spur development around the proposed red line expansion, or waste these new stations as park-and-rides? (Or, perhaps go another route all together--Gray Line, anyone?) Will the expansion of IL-53 grow as a real urban boulevard, or just a slightly prettier version of US-41? Will the Mid-City Transitway ever be real? These are the battles that will make a difference.

*the liquidity (or lack thereof) of housing and the state of public schooling in Chicago, just to name two.

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1 Comment

CTA Gray Line Project said:

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At the CMAP meeting I was able to speak briefly to Sen. Dick Durbin, and I have arranged an appointment with him to discuss the cost and extent of coverage advantages of the Gray Line Project.

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