A citywide plan for Chicago? Here’s what we learned from other cities - Metropolitan Planning Council

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A citywide plan for Chicago? Here’s what we learned from other cities

At MPC-hosted workshops Chicago stakeholders heard from leaders from other major U.S. cities, and learned from their challenges and successes to create recommendations to inform We Will Chicago

Image courtesy All Together Studio


At its best, citywide planning allows residents, City government, and stakeholders to collectively chart a course for the future. If done well, a citywide plan is an inclusive vision for what the city should be, while aligning resources to achieve ambitious goals to make the city a better place for all of its residents.

Chicago has not created a citywide plan since 1966. Many neighborhood plans have been developed for specific geographic regions or topical area plans, but a comprehensive look of the city has not occurred. Other major cities have a much longer track record of using citywide plans to connect priorities around land use, transportation, housing, natural assets, and economic development to investment and budget decisions. Given that Chicago has not had a citywide plan in more than 50 years, how should we begin? MPC saw this as an opportunity to learn from other cities that have developed a culture of creating comprehensive citywide plans as a starting point.

Chicago has not created a citywide plan since 1966.

This fall, with support from the Chicago Community Trust and partnership from the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development, MPC convened a series of virtual stakeholder workshops to learn from the challenges and successes experienced by other cities conducting citywide planning. These workshops were designed to engage a cross-sector group of stakeholders and served as a venue for participants to hear from other cities. The workshops facilitated discussions amongst peers, allowing the opportunity to suggest principles and recommendations for Chicago to begin the planning process that is representative of its character and people. While each city is unique, Chicago will see the value in learning from other cities that share similar challenges.

What did we learn from other cities and how can this shape We Will Chicago?

The workshops included presentations from Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Nashville, and Seattle. While each city’s process was different, there was a common focus on interagency collaboration, community and public engagement, and accountability for implementation. Following each city presentation, participants gathered in groups and shared their thoughts on the successes and challenges the cities faced when creating and implementing their plans. 

From these discussions, an overall list of key principles was created, and five major themes emerged as an organizing structure. Here is what workshop participants would like to see out of the process and implementation of We Will Chicago:

Historical Reckoning and Trust Building: Establish a process that acknowledges and reckons with the impacts of Chicago’s past inequitable planning and implementation processes by serving as a form of mediation and builds from this awareness to center on fostering and maintaining trust.

Centering and Embedding Equity: Ensure equity is front and center throughout the planning process by leading with vision and values, building cultural awareness among City staff, and co-creating a transparent set of indicators to measure progress and outcomes.

Community Engagement: Create an accessible, robust, and meaningful engagement process to ensure diverse, deep, broad participation, and to provide community organizations and residents with the tools and resources required for them to help lead and participate in the process.        

Accountability: Structure a transparent, equitable process that results in a plan with clearly-defined metrics, recommendations paired with identified budgets and resources, review cycles, and the ability to implement in tandem with neighborhood-specific plans.

Interagency and Cross Collaboration: Create a sustained structure for City departmental and agency collaboration throughout the planning and implementation process and ensure that stakeholders across sectors, geographies, and topical areas are engaged from the beginning to establish collaboration, data sharing, and sustained involvement in the creation and implementation of the plan.

Five major themes emerged from the planning workshops: Historical Reckoning and Trust Building, Centering and Embedding Equity, Community Engagement, Accountability, and Interagency and Cross Collaboration.

The City of Chicago is still in its preplanning phase for We Will Chicago through the end of 2020. These workshops are the first step in beginning to engage stakeholders in a conversation around what they would like to see out of this planning process. This fall, the City also conducted a series of focus groups around topics such as Housing and Neighborhood Development, and Environment and Energy, which will also inform the next stage of the planning process. Combined, we hope that these two initial engagements help lay the groundwork for constructing a planning process that builds off these five themes to create an inclusive, equitable planning, and implementation process that prioritizes transparency, accountability, and reckons with the harms that have been caused by planning in the past. 


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