The success of Chicago on the world stage depends not only on the success of the city proper, but really on the success of the region as a whole. And this Chicago region is a big one, spanning seven counties, 284 municipalities and encompassing over 8.6 million people. How does a region with so many moving parts achieve success? Big vision and regional thinking—two things embodied by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) and their GO TO 2040 comprehensive regional plan. These ideals rang loud and clear in the lively discussion the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) hosted yesterday to talk about the recent update to GO TO 2040.
Adopted in 2010, GO TO 2040 is metropolitan Chicago’s first comprehensive regional plan in over 100 years. This year, as part of a federal requirement, CMAP has initiated an update of the plan. As they begin their public comment period, Randy Blankenhorn, executive director of CMAP, sat down with us and three regional leaders—Mayor Tom Weisner of the City of Aurora and board member for the Illinois Tollway; Leanne Redden, acting executive director of the Regional Transportation Authority; and Herman Brewer, bureau chief of the Cook County Bureau of Economic Development—to discuss the plan update, the role of CMAP and regional planning and what everyone else in the region can be doing for our mutual success. If you missed our event, you can watch the recording of the live stream or read the archive of live tweets, made possible through event sponsorship by ComEd.
Several key themes kept coming up as Blankenhorn and our three panelists discussed the four main sections of the regional plan: Regional Mobility, Livable Communities, Human Capital and Efficient Governance. The first of these was that implementation is an essential part of planning, as much as (if not more so than) the planning itself. Planners always joke about our plans and reports gathering dust on shelves, but it’s a real problem. Ensuring that planning leads to action is always difficult. Mayor Weisner posited that plans shouldn’t be created unless there’s the will and funding to implement them. CMAP’s local technical assistance program is a good resource to help communities plan, but also to execute.
Collaboration between governments was another key theme. That word gets thrown around so often it starts to lose its meaning, but real collaboration does produce real results. When we talk about government efficiency, it sometimes means consolidation or elimination, but more often than not, it means collaboration and sharing. Brewer made an exciting announcement from the White House the day prior in which President Obama has named the Chicago metro region as one of the first 12 communities as part of the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership. This collaboration of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties and led by the Cook County Bureau of Economic Development will now be eligible for targeted grant assistance from 11 federal agencies. Mayor Weisner discussed the successful work of the Northwest Water Planning Alliance, a collaboration of five counties and 80 communities that MPC has worked closely with to address groundwater resource challenges in the northwest suburbs and ensure a sustainable water supply for current and future populations.
Collaboration is important not only in government, but also with the private sector. Another key theme was the importance of involving the private sector in supporting the region. Redden described how the Regional Transportation Authority is addressing the region’s geographical jobs-housing mismatch by facilitating last-mile connections from Metra stations and bus-on-shoulder programs, but she wonders what the private sector can be doing to help. Brewer highlighted the role of businesses through the recently merged Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership. The partnership, as well as similar initiatives in the City of Aurora that Mayor Weisner described, is working with businesses to find out what skills are necessary for jobs that need to be filled and coordinating with community colleges to make sure the right training is provided.
Finally, and most importantly as CMAP continues to move ahead with GO TO 2040, speakers praised CMAP’s focus on the “long view” for the region, and encouraged more of that long-term thinking to better support the region as a whole and local communities. Redden and Brewer discussed how essential CMAP is as a multi-issue, regional organization for keeping single-issue and location-specific groups from being distracted. To ensure that CMAP remains a strong leader and partner in the region, however, they must be able to better leverage relationships with other regional groups and ensure that existing funding sources distributed by others, such as State Revolving Fund and Community Development Block Grant dollars, are done so in a coordinated way that lines up with the regional vision. Additionally, CMAP must ensure its own success by identifying new sources of revenue that it can use to both run itself in a sustained and comprehensive way, and push to local communities and partners for implementation.
Yesterday’s event was only the beginning in CMAP’s public discussion about the plan update and GO TO 2040 as a whole. MPC has outlined our support of CMAP’s plan update, but also our ideas for making CMAP and its role in the region even stronger. We encourage you to submit your comments, too. CMAP has done a lot to foster a strong region, but we are all part of the region and are all a part of deriving the solutions.