In undertaking to create the successor to Daniel Burnham’s 1909 plan for Chicago, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) is making no little plans. This summer the agency – which serves as the overarching planning council for Chicago, suburban Cook County and the collar county area – is holding a series of “Invent the Future” workshops, asking residents of the 283 municipalities in this planning area how they would accommodate the 2.8 million population increase projected here by the year 2040.

CMAP’s policies, and eventually its recommended capital projects, will evolve from residents’ answers to these questions, among others: “Where will [the 2.8 million new people] live? How will they get to their jobs? How do we manage our water supply? How can we change, protect and improve our environment? How can we keep our communities vibrant?”

“This is the heir to the Burnham plan,” said facilitator Drew Clark, at a workshop held at the Civic Center on Aug. 20.

The interactive workshops focus on six key planning questions about housing and transportation, with questions on the housing and the environment folded in. Participants were able to “vote” for one of several policy options regarding transportation, resource management, housing development and density and see almost immediately the impact of their choices on a baseline of ten “key indicators.” These key indicators are aspects of the present environment, such as transportation choices, reductions in energy and greenhouse gas emissions, water-use restriction, household affordability (i.e., cost of living here), regional economy and housing density.

The roughly 50 Evanstonians (and one admittedly from Skokie) who took up CMAP’s invitation to invent the future on Aug. 20 said they preferred development that was moderately dense and transportation that de-emphasized automobile use.

It was suggested that the attendance was low because two ward meetings that evening competed for Evanstoians’ attention. Nonetheless, several members of the City’s Plan Commission, as well as City planners from Evanston and elsewhere, representatives of Evanston Community Foundation, Center for Neighborhood Technology, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, City Manager Walter Bobkiewicz, several members of the City’s Planning Department and interested residents gathered in the Parasol Room of the Civic Center for an exercise in interactive planning.

Mr. Clark of CMAP asked for audience input in two different ways. First, the attendees – already self-sorted by table seating – wrote their policy priorities for 2040, then culled them to three per table. “Themes for these choices,” he said, should be “equity, transportation and the environment.”

Among the participants’ preferred characteristics for Chicagoland in 2040 were higher-density building, integrated land use, greater mass transportation not related to automobiles, maximum open land space, alternative modes of transportation, higher density, walkability, and a Chicagoland that is “greener, denser, sustainable and pleasing.”

These attributes, said Mr. Clark, are “projectable” or “predictable,” that is, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning would be able to judge the impact of those choices. Other preferences, such as higher-quality education, while valuable, he said, would not be included directly in the plan. Although they relate to quality of life in 2040, their impact is not quantifiable for this planning purpose, he said.

 For the second part of the workshop, each participant, using a “clicker” connected to a computer, could select an answer to each of six questions chosen by CMAP as key to planning for 2040. Afterward, they could see the calculated impact of their choices on the current scenario vis-à-vis each of these aspects.

The immediate projections showed that the collective choices of this group would have a positive impact on the current scenario. Mr. Clark says he hopes that CMAP will have compiled all the data and chosen a “preferred future scenario by early fall.” After that, he said, capital projects will be selected. “Policy before projects,” he said.

CMAP invites others to participate in this interactive planning, either by attending one of its “GOTO2040” workshops or by visiting its website, and weighing in on these questions individually.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...