Giving Voice to Communities' Visions: Corridor Development Initiative
A big condominium building is proposed for a Chicago neighborhood, and local residents raise questions about how it will be funded, whether its size and design is appropriate for the neighborhood and what effect it will have on local schools, parking and traffic congestion.
This kind of scenario is common in Chicago and many other communities. But what if people had a say in the type of development they want to see in their communities before a building is even proposed? Now, MPC’s Corridor Development Initiative (CDI) brings a collaborative, realistic, hands-on, community-based approach to neighborhood development through a series of three public meetings where residents create their own vision for redeveloping a vacant parcel of land near transit.
Through the Corridor Development Initiative, Logan Square residents created a vision for redeveloping land near the Logan Square Blue Line stop. Volunteer architects created this and other renderings to bring the neighborhood's ideas to life.
In the last year, people in Chicago’s Logan Square and Uptown communities addressed longstanding housing and retail concerns through the CDI process. The specter of sparsely attended—and barely publicized—community events did not apply here: More than 1,100 people participated in facilitated discussions about existing conditions and community priorities in these neighborhoods, used building blocks to literally build out a vision for sites, and heard insights from real estate professionals on the feasibility of various proposals.
“The Corridor Development Initiative encourages democratic engagement by local communities in a discussion of how they want to see key current issues play out,” says Yonah Freemark, MPC manager. “The goal is for people to create a proactive vision for specific sites—and try to find a consensus that a neighborhood will accept.”
Outreach for the initiative involved canvassing these neighborhoods, encouraging people to respond to questions via text message and working closely with local elected officials to get the word out.
Jennifer Ritter is executive director of ONE Northside, a community-based organization in Chicago that works on affordable housing and economic justice issues (ONE stands for Organizing Neighborhoods for Equality.) The group was involved in the Uptown CDI, which focused on two parcels of land parallel to the Wilson Avenue Red Line station as well as the nearby site of the former Graeme Stewart School, which was among the 50 public schools closed in Chicago in the last two years. A proposal based on the CDI details how the school could be renovated to include space for retail, nonprofit uses and apartments.
“Uptown has a history of contentiousness around affordable housing issues, but this was a respectful process. And the report that resulted from it is a great tool—it reflects community priorities and is very helpful.”
—Jennifer Ritter, Executive Director, ONE Northside
“We had a really good discussion through this process,” Ritter says. “Uptown has a history of contentiousness around affordable housing issues, but this was a respectful process. And the report that resulted from it is a great tool—it reflects community priorities and is very helpful.”
Ald. James Cappleman (46th Ward), who partnered with MPC on the CDI project, praised how MPC was able to foster a constructive dialogue in Uptown. “What is distinctive is MPC’s ability to bring the community together—and this is an extremely diverse ward with extremely diverse opinions. MPC believes that you need to focus on uniting people toward a common goal.”
“I think this process could and should be replicated,” adds former Ald. Rey Colón, who worked with MPC to bring CDI to Logan Square. The community discussed how to redevelop a site at the Emmet Street parking lot adjacent to the Logan Square Blue Line Plaza.
“This project gives people a sense of community, and you get a sense of where people are at,” Colón says. “The manner in which MPC does it—by asking people their opinion and letting them see results on the spot through keypad polling at these meetings—reduces arguments about who’s in the majority. They made it an even playing field—and everyone was a stakeholder.”
Ultimately, the outcome of CDI is for the government entity that owns the land to issue a Request for Proposal to developers that reflects recommendations defined during the community-based process.