Chicago's City Council just took an important step toward equity - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Chicago's City Council just took an important step toward equity

Flickr artistmac

Shuttered commercial buildings at 62nd and Western could benefit from new transit-oriented development incentives

For more coverage from Steven Vance on bus TOD, click here

Steven Vance

TOD bus Corridors approved by City Council.

Late last month Chicago’s City Council passed an amendment to expand development incentives to a new mode of transport: high-ridership bus routes.

Expanding on the existing Transit Oriented Development ordinance, which encourages new development near transit, this change will bring tangible benefits of transit located near retail, schools and affordable homes to areas on the south and west sides that have been overlooked and underinvested for decades.

What’s more, the new policy, for the first time, will be equitable. The policy calls for an assessment of past TOD activity and recommendations to improve equitable outcomes including strategies to mitigate residential and business displacement, incentives to support investment in low-income and communities of color, and involving community stakeholders in the planning process. Simply put: the city must look at the last five years of development under TOD rules and answer some fundamental questions. What communities have benefited? What communities have been at a disadvantage? How do we create a more level playing field so TOD tools can be successful in any Chicago neighborhood?

Development patterns near transit since 2013

Naomi Rapp and Sawyer Middeleer

Represents TOD eligible permits that meet or exceed $900,000, adjusted for inflation

According to the City of Chicago, over 8,000 housing units have been created by TOD representing over $2 billion in private investment since 2012. MPC mapped TOD-eligible building developments valued at more than $900K when the ordinance passed in 2013, and found the geographic distribution both stark and unsurprising: Three-quarters of transit-oriented development activity has been clustered in the already-privileged North and Near West sides, not on the South and Southwest sides where investment along underdeveloped transit corridors could truly be catalytic.  In other words, neighborhoods that were already experiencing development near transit stations throughout the decade before the 2013 ordinance was passed continued to see growth and benefited from TOD incentives.

Naomi Rapp and Sawyer Middeleer

Represents TOD eligible permits that meet or exceed $900,000, adjusted for inflation

In Chicago, place matters. Residential segregation has a lasting impact on local housing and commercial markets and evidence shows that transit-centric development, while the smartest way to grow, can exacerbate the economic divides across our deeply segregated city.  A recent Brookings study found that homes in majority black communities can be valued as much as 23% less than property in comparable areas with no black residents, having profound impacts on market studies and the ability to secure financing to support new development. Until we address the structural inequities that hold these conditions in place, we cannot expect to see system-wide change.

Transit-oriented development is a tool that needs different support across different markets. Chicago’s new policy has the potential to spearhead an integrated approach to development – one that accounts for local market conditions and leverages resources to stabilize neighborhoods in need of economic investment. Encouraging development near bus routes and formalizing an equity-grounded implementation plan are two steps in the right direction.

Maps and research by Naomi Rapp, a former King W. Harris Intern at MPC, and Sawyer Middeleer, a former MPC research assistant.

For more coverage of bus-focused transit-oriented development, check out :

"Chicago's South and West Sides have most to gain from bus-focused development push" by Kendra Freeman in The Chicago Reporter

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