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Why Chicago Needs More Transit-Oriented Developments

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Corresponding to data released earlier this month highlighting the need for transit-oriented development (TOD) in Lakeview—and the negative effect current zoning restrictions have on the neighborhood—new analysis from Yonah Freemark at the Metropolitan Planning Council shows that, in order for Chicago to keep growing and stay healthy, it needs to focus on growth near transit hubs. Despite Chicago's professional diversity, culture, and global business connections, its growth is slow compared to other cities.

Though aging, Chicago's public transit system is one of its greatest assets, and as the upcoming professional class becomes decreasingly car-reliant and car-centric, the importance of reliable and accessible public transit will continue to grow. For example, Freemark shows that in many of Chicago's north side neighborhoods, which are public transit accessible, there is an increased demand for housing, which subsequently drives up rents and localized incomes. Because many current zoning rules in place limit the construction of new housing, would-be city dwellers are priced out to the suburbs—or to different cities altogether. As one of example of this, Freemark demonstrates that the amount of people living within a half-mile of a CTA or Metra station over the past 60 years has declined from over 52% to a mere 22% today.

Though Chicago does have the good fortune of being one of the few US cities where around half of its workforce commutes by car (compared to 68% in Atlanta or 70% in Detroit), most jobs (58%) in the Chicago-Metro area are farther than a half-mile from a transit station. This trend escalates commuting and living costs and reduces accessibility to much of the region's population. In comparison, roughly 80% of jobs in the City of Chicago proper are transit-accessible, though without corresponding changes in zoning laws to encourage TOD, Chicago itself will continue to face escalated costs and reduced accessibility.

Chicago passed a transit-oriented development ordinance in 2013, which provides an up-to-100% decrease in parking requirements for approved non-residential properties, and an up-to-50% decrease in minimum parking requirements for approved residential projects. Additionally, the ordinance allows increased building heights, floor area ratios, and other zoning benefits for approved parcels, outlined in this dynamic map. Many projects on Chicago's north and northwest sides have already capitalized on the ordinance, but so many limits on building height still in place for parcels outside the Loop and surrounding neighborhoods, it will continue to be difficult for developers to keep up with demand.

Beyond paying increased attention to updating Chicago's aging public transit infrastructure, the real key to the solution, Freemark argues, lies in housing. He points to this report from the National Bureau of Economic Research which demonstrates that, nationwide, increases in residential construction lower housing costs. He also mentions housing changes in Washington D.C., a historically housing-starved city. Increased apartment supplies drive down rents across all classes. Something that Chicago will need if it wishes to thrive as the Reign of the Car comes to an end.

·Talking Transit: Why should Chicago focus growth near transit? [Metropolitan Planning Council]
·Interactive TOD map [Metropolitan Planning Council]
·Chicago's TOD Ordinance [Metropolitan Planning Council]
·New Data Highlights Need for Transit-Oriented Development in Lakeview [Curbed Chicago]
·Previous Transit-Oriented Development coverage [Curbed Chicago]