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5 projects that will change Chicago in the next decade

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2019 was a watershed year

An elevated commuter rail station under V-shaped awnings connected to a bike and pedestrian trail. A row of tall buildings is visible in the distance.
A rendering of Lincoln Yards.
Sterling Bay/SOM

As we look at the past decade and take stock of what’s changed, it becomes clear that 2019 was a turning point for Chicago.

An era of megadevelopment and downtown investment under the Emanuel administration ended with a bang. And, Mayor Lightfoot’s historic election ushered in new leadership focused on affordable housing, equitable transportation, and neighborhood revitalization.

We tested out scooters, legalized recreational marijuana, and prepared for a casino. The Obama Center inched forward, the CTA launched major improvement projects, and the last section of the Riverwalk was completed. It’s been a busy year with the initiation of many long-term projects and new policies. Here’s what we expect will have substantial influence over Chicago’s next decade.


The Obama Center

This year, a judge dismissed a federal lawsuit that would have halted the project from moving forward in Jackson Park. Residents are excited for the project to break ground in 2020, but equally concerned about the type of changes it will bring to Woodlawn.

With the last 10 years in mind, community activists and residents recognize a need for a benefits agreement. It could provide protection against skyrocketing rents and higher property taxes, which could cause displacement. Currently, the Housing Department’s Commissioner Marisa Novara is considering an ordinance that would safeguard against these issues.

New development, even without the prestige of Obama, has incredible power. The center will include a 235-foot museum tower, a Chicago library branch, community spaces and programming, and a public plaza. The landmark development will certainly be incredibly important for the South Side in the next decade.

O’Hare Airport expansion

After a global design competition, Studio Gang’s Jeanne Gang, leading the design team Studio ORD, won the bid to build O’Hare’s Global Terminal. It will be nearly twice the size of the terminal its replacing, which means the nation’s busiest airport will become even more of an economic driver for the Chicago.

Gang’s design features a Y-shaped terminal, a shape often associated with Chicago due to the Chicago River and its branches. It incorporates natural wood, bright skylights, and even a grove of trees. If all goes according to plan, construction is expected to begin in 2023 and wrap up in 2028.

Transportation improvements

One of the largest CTA improvement projects kicked off this year: The Red-Purple modernization. The work on these transit lines, funded through $1.1 billion in federal money, will eventually bring more trains and smoother service, which means one of the busiest transit lines will operate much more efficiently.

Just before construction began in October, then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel said, “After 100 years of taking a band aid approach, today marks the beginning of an unprecedented, comprehensive investment to modernize the system to handle more trains with greater speed and reliability.”

Also on tap for the Red Line, is a possible 5.3-mile extension south to 130th Street. Work on that project could begin in 2022 if funding is secured. There’s also track and station upgrades happening along the ever-crowded Blue Line. The $492 million “Your New Blue” project will bring faster service to 80,000 daily riders.

Aside from train lines, Divvy is also expanding with a $50 million dollar investment and more Chicago buses will get dedicated lanes after a $20 million boost. The city also tested out dockless e-scooters, and with so much popularity, we wonder if those could make a comeback in the next decade.

How will these transsit portation projects shape the next decade of public transit? The city hopes it will combat downtown congestion and discourage the rapid rise of ride-hailing services.

Megadevelopments

At the end of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s term, he greenlit billions in funding for two massive megadevelopments, Lincoln Yards and The 78. After opening up the zoning for the city’s industrial districts, developers swooped in with massive projects equivalent to mini cities.

Most of these projects will be completed over multiple phases throughout the next decade—and will change the fabric of the city. One of the most controversial projects, Sterling Bay’s 55-acre Lincoln Yards, plans to build high-rises totaling 14.5 million square feet, 6,000 residential units, 21 acres of parkland, three new bridges, an extension of The 606 Trail, surrounding infrastructure improvements, and a redesigned Clybourn Metra station.

Related Midwest’s The 78 sits on an even bigger 62-acre site. In total, there are 13 megadevelopments in the works across the city.

Equitable city planning

Mayor Lightfoot campaigned on making Chicago a more accessible, affordable, and transparent city. She’s recruited top talent for key city planning positions to move forward more equitable policies on affordable housing and transportation.

The city’s new planning commissioner, Maurice Cox, comes from Detroit. There he was known for leading the city’s initiative for “20-minute neighborhoods” which means residents have everyday necessities all within a reasonable distance. His focus has largely been on creating neighborhoods in which residents want to stay long term, which would be transformative for Chicago.

Since his nomination, Cox has launched an initiative to give 10 Chicago neighborhoods a $250 million boost. At the time of the announcement, Cox said, “This is finally going to aggregate, overlap, and amplify public and private investments that will allow us to go far greater in community-based coordination... I think that level of coordination will have a catalytic impact.”

The Invest South/West program is just the beginning. Although Lightfoot is new, the changes she’s made at the start have slowed down the Chicago Machine and laid the groundwork for a different type of leadership.