MPC staff, volunteers explore how region’s shifting demographics will affect growth and development - Metropolitan Planning Council

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MPC staff, volunteers explore how region’s shifting demographics will affect growth and development

On January 26th, I was lucky to participate in a forum to learn from six sharp minds and then discuss the implications with my colleagues. Here’s what I learned about the metropolitan Chicago based on 2010 Census data:

  • A greater percentage of Chicago-area residents are 65 or older.
  • A larger percentage of the population is not white.
  • Many more people live below the poverty line.
  • The gap between the highest and lowest earners is increasing.

What I don’t yet fully grasp – and what MPC took a deeper look at this educational forum for staff, board and committee members – are the factors driving these demographic shifts and the implications for our region and MPC’s work. 

The Big Picture

To frame the two-and-a-half-hour forum, MPC asked two leading experts on these trends – Dr. Geoffrey J.D. Hewings, director of the Regional Economics Application Laboratory and professor at University of Illinois; and Amy Rynell, director of Heartland Alliance’s Social IMPACT Research Center – to provide an in-depth analysis of where the Chicago area is heading. Here are key takeaways: 

Typically deemed an urban problem, poverty is increasing dramatically in the suburbs. Between 2007 and 2010, DuPage, Kane, and Will counties experienced some of the largest increases of people living in poverty in the region, at 47 percent, 46 percent, and 48 percent growth, respectively.

The number of Latinos in both Illinois and Chicago outpaced total population growth: In Illinois, the overall population grew by 411,339 from 2000 to 2010, while the Latino population grew by 497,316. Meanwhile Chicago lost 200,000 in overall population, but the city’s Latino population grew by more than 25,000. Also noteworthy: More than 57 percent of all Illinois Latinos live in 10 municipalities, including Chicago, Aurora, Joliet, Cicero and Waukegan. Of the 10, only Rockford falls outside of the Chicago region.

University of Illinois forecasts that the over-65 population will grow by 912,000 by the year 2030.

Dr. Hewing’s presentation demonstrated how these demographic shifts will impact the labor force, retirement, and consumer expenditures. For example, by 2040, it is predicted that one out of four residents will be elderly, and these residents are likely to spend less on food and clothing and more on transportation, housing, and health care. Hewing said fewer elderly residents will move away to sunny locations, slowing the “snow bird” phenomenon primarily as a result of local housing depreciation. Hewing also noted that forecasts indicate the Chicago region will grow, but modestly compared to many other U.S. metropolitan areas. This “isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” he said. “Look at Las Vegas, which is now suffering from its fast growth.” Growing modestly gives our region the opportunity to plan wisely and respond effectively. Due to inequality, there will be an extreme bifurcation in consumption, meaning the demand for goods and services will trend towards both luxury items and very low-cost items, and less in the middle of the cost spectrum.

Amy Rynell’s presentation took a hard look at Illinois’ growing poverty. While the state’s GDP has begun to recover, Illinois’ households are not following suit: The unemployment rate has stayed about the same, the poverty and uninsured rates have increased, and median household incomes have declined. In the Chicago region, 2.53 million people are now poor or low income, one in four households are now considered severely overburdened by rent costs, and every county in the region posted declines in median household income.  In 1980, 24 percent of Cook County’s poor residents lived in the suburbs. That number rose to 46 percent in 2010.

Region’s response

To help us apply these findings to our work, MPC asked four partner agencies to share how these trends are affecting their strategies in the region.

Bob Dean, deputy executive director for local planning at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), discussed how CMAP is providing technical assistance to help local communities serve changing populations’ needs. The solutions developed will serve as models for other communities in the region. One example he gave was CMAP’s work on a comprehensive plan in the Village of Norridge, whose population includes 25 percent of residents over the age of 65. CMAP is recommending Norridge develop more multi-family housing for seniors that cannot afford to stay in their homes, design housing accessibility/retrofit programs for those who can, and create land use designations and transportation options that provide more convenient access to shopping and services. Bob Dean’s presentation

Jimm Dispensa, director of demographics and planning for Chicago Public Schools, explained why many Chicago families are opting out of neighborhood schools, a choice that often requires students and their families to commute long distances to higher-quality public schools. He also highlighted how some high schools, like Whitney Young, benefit greatly by being both centrally located and well served by transit. That such quality options are oversubscribed partially explains why some families are moving to the suburbs in search of less complicated education choices. Jimm Dispensa’s presentation

James Wilson, coordinating planner for the Chicago Dept. of Housing & Economic Development, talked about how the department has reorganized: rather than focusing on ward- or neighborhood-specific territories, city planners are managing broader projects. For instance, Wilson is working with CMAP on the Green and Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative, to address the extreme amount of vacant and underutilized land that has resulted from depopulation in the Englewood, West Englewood, Woodlawn, Washington Park, New City and Grand Boulevard neighborhoods on Chicago’s south side. This area will require a focused development strategy and creative approaches to reusing vacant land. Wilson also noted that the city is unsustainably over-zoned for commercial development, an issue the department is starting to address. James Wilson’s presentation

Finally, Sylvia Puente, executive director of the Latino Policy Forum and an MPC Resource Board member, provided more detail on racial, ethnic and cultural trends, highlighting the fact that the majority of the region’s population under 30 is people of color. She also emphasized that while the issue of immigration is often focused on Latino immigration, in Illinois 79 percent of the increase in the Latino population is U.S.-born Latinos. What’s more, only half of all new Illinois immigrants were from Mexico and Central and South America. Sylvia Puente’s presentation

What is MPC’s Role?

Attendees took time at the end of the forum to discuss these regional trends and their connections to MPC’s work plan. Here were some key takeaways:

Invest in transit:  To add to the list of reasons MPC supports enhanced transit investments: In the suburbs we see increasingly transit-dependent populations (both elderly and low-income people), and in Chicago families are traversing the entire length of the city to get their kids to good schools. We must continue to advance transit projects that serve transit-dependent and choice riders, support a strong workforce, and reduce regional congestion.

Cluster development: To provide people with greater access to jobs, our region is beginning to explore the benefits of clustering development. For instance, the City of Chicago is transforming its City Colleges system so that each college will specialize in a core industry such as Daley College on the Southwest side focusing on transportation and freight logistics – and is starting to explore opportunities to attract complementary commercial and industrial development nearby to create a direct pipeline for students into the workforce. MPC’s work, along with CMAP and the Mayors Caucus, to support several suburban interjurisdictional collaborations is showing the benefits of concentrating development around commuter and cargo rail assets. MPC can continue to play a central role in making the most of these high-impact, focused investments by leveraging development around them. For instance, as CPS continues to invest in improving neighborhood schools, MPC can play a complementary role by leveraging those investments to stabilize local economies, spur new development, and attract new residents.

Provide housing options: The rise in poverty will continue if people cannot find stable, quality homes they can afford in communities with good jobs and access to transit and services. MPC must continue to create efficiencies across communities, housing authorities, and other public sector partners to ensure that these vulnerable populations have the ability to move to areas of opportunity.

Finally, MPC often serves as a “connector,” both on issues (for example, the value of developing near transit, or the need to maintain our infrastructure investments in order to attract new businesses) and among different parties who hadn’t previously aligned their efforts. At the forum, MPC’s volunteers and staff agreed we must continue to highlight potential investments, development patterns, and planning approaches that will serve our changing population, while supporting a stable economy. 


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