Check out what Chicago will look like in 15 years - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Check out what Chicago will look like in 15 years

Urban Institute

In fifteen short years, given average births, deaths and immigration, the region’s population will grow at a slower rate than most other metro areas in the U.S.

Mapping America’s Future, a new interactive tool developed by the Urban Institute, uses historical census data to forecast how different scenarios—low, average and high changes in births, deaths and regional migration—will impact population and demographics over the next fifteen years.

If Chicago remains on the same course and experiences the average number of births, deaths and immigration as we have historically, over the next 15 years the population will grow by 641,000 people, or 7.52 percent. That’s a much lower rate than most other regions in the country.


As the chart above shows, most western and southern regions, such as Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Seattle and Portland, will experience much higher increases in population. But even Midwestern Kansas City and Indianapolis will have significantly more population growth than Chicago, at 15 percent and 38 percent respectively. Nationally, the U.S. population will grow 16 percent—about 50 million more people than in 2010.

When drilling down to race and age, Mapping America’s Future predicts similar trends to other population and demographic forecasts of the region: a surge in the Latino population coupled with a decline in white and African American residents. The 65+ population will grow exponentially as the Baby Boomer generation ages.

Two thoughts on this data:

  1. We must think differently about how we plan for an aging population.
  2. The past is not our destiny.

Aging in Place

That black line in the age graph above, left, is the growth in population aged 65 and up—Baby Boomers—and it’s the only line in the age forecast that consistently increases over the next fifteen years. As the Baby Boomers age they’re placing new demands on how we build and invest in cities.

A 2012 American Planning Association poll on how Millennials and Baby Boomers view future communities found “a sharp decline across demographic groups of interest in traditional, auto-dependent suburban living—77 percent of Boomers said affordable and convenient transportation alternatives to the car are at least somewhat important when deciding where to live and work.”

But as Rolf Pendall, director of the Urban Institute’s Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center and project director of Mapping America’s Future, points out, “The current pattern of land use and transportation in American metropolitan areas is a product of at least 75 years of land development based on automobiles.” That’s important because data and public opinion tells us now people don’t want to be chained to their cars. The poll also found that "fewer than 10 percent of Millennials, Gen Xers or Baby Boomers want to live in a suburban neighborhood where people have to drive most of the time. 

"Fewer than 10 percent of Millennials, Gen Xers or Baby Boomers want to live in a suburban neighborhood where people have to drive most of the time." - American Planning Association Poll

"That represents an important shift considering that 40 percent live in such neighborhood today." Respondents wanted “…greater mobility options, particularly walkability, and easy access to key amenities…and better non-car transportation options.”

It’s no different in the Chicago region. “One thing the Metropolitan Planning Council’s (MPC) Homes for a Changing Region [study] showed us was that a large portion of our population, as they aged, had no place to go,” noted Krysti Kovarik, mayor of north suburban Gurnee. They had no place to go because so much of the Chicago region isn’t accessible to transit—only 22 percent of the regional population, or 1.98 million people, live within a half-mile of stations on a Chicago Transit Authority El line, Metra rail line or the future Ashland Avenue Bus Rapid Transit corridor.

MPC has covered Aging in Place before. In general, the term means that as people grow older, they can still have a high quality of life despite their changing abilities. With a forecasted spike in residents aged 65+, how do we support them to Age in Place while also attracting new people?

Oak Forest’s Community Development Director Adam Dotson rightly notes, “The only way to get [the younger generation] to move here is that we have to have some type of new rental housing stock near the train station to attract them.” He's talking about transit-oriented development, and this philosophy also pertains to the Baby Boomer generation. We must promote transit-oriented neighborhoods paired with affordable housing in existing communities to allow residents to be comfortably housed throughout all stages of life, to lower households costs and give people access to a greater amount of transit-accessible and walkable amenities—and less time stuck in their cars.

The region’s housing and transportation policies need to anticipate these future demographic shifts and demands. Chicagoland's comprehensive plan, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s GO TO 2040, recommends development patterns that support reinvesting in existing communities. The plan targets the more than 100,000 acres of vacant or under-used land within existing municipal boundaries to be redeveloped with a mix of residential and non-residential uses, accommodating half of the region’s growth—about 1.2 million people. These policies will ensure the vitality of established neighborhoods.

Charting a new course?

Chicago isn’t constricted by historical trends; we can chart a new course. It’s vitally important because population growth is one of the most important factors to growing Illinois' and the Chicago region’s economies. As I pointed out last week, recent U.S. Census data shows that almost 95,000 people bid adieu to Illinois last year, mostly for Texas and Florida and Illinois was only one of six states to loose population. We must work to instead keep those residents and attract new ones. Mapping America’s Future shows that even with continuation of births and deaths along historical trends, if instead we keep more people in the region and experience low out-migration, that would mean almost a 15 percent jump in population over the next 15 years: 1.25 million more people, or over 600,000 more than if we keep on pace with historical migration trends. To keep those people in the region we need to offer them affordable housing near reliable transit, vibrant walkable neighborhoods with lots of amenities and a region that takes advantage of our valuable natural assets, most notably Lake Michigan.

If we keep more people in the region and experience low out-migration that would result in 600,000 more people in the next 15 years than if we keep pace with historical trends.

More people means more tax revenues, transit riders, home sales, construction jobs, purchases at local businesses—a better economy and a stronger region.

In our next research brief, we’ll explore the implications of population loss and what it costs Illinois and the Chicago region because we’re not growing. What if, like Florida, Illinois added 803 new residents a day? We’ll also look at what other states and regions are doing to attract people and business.

The APA 2012 survey was conducted online by Harris Interactive in March 2012 among 1,308 U.S. residents aged 18 or older. Full details are available at


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