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updated: 10/13/2010 12:04 AM

How to make suburbs better in 30 years

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  • CMAP's Go To 2040 plan calls for adding more open space to the region.

      CMAP's Go To 2040 plan calls for adding more open space to the region.
    Bev Horne | Daily Herald file

  • Improved public transit is part of a new regional plan proposed by CMAP.

      Improved public transit is part of a new regional plan proposed by CMAP.
    Daily Herald file photo

  • Building a mix of housing within established communities is one recommendation in the Go To 2040 plan.

      Building a mix of housing within established communities is one recommendation in the Go To 2040 plan.
    Daniel White | Daily Herald file photo

  • The Go To 2040 plan suggests ways to conserve water supplies in the next 30 years.

      The Go To 2040 plan suggests ways to conserve water supplies in the next 30 years.
    George LeClaire | Daily Herald file

 
 

We're congested, sprawling and maxing out on our natural resources. And by 2040, 2.4 million more residents will live in the region.

It's time to reverse the negative trends and plan for smart growth in the next 30 years, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning recommends in its Go To 2040 report.

Released today, the comprehensive regional plan calls for water conservation, consolidation of local governments, tax reforms including increasing the state rate on gas, more parks, and homes closer to transit.

Economic prosperity and building strong communities are the focus of the proposal, agency Executive Director Randy Blankenhorn said. "We wanted to think big, be bold and to think about tomorrow and beyond.

What's wrong with Chicago and the suburbs in the seven-county region?

Uncoordinated expansion. Homes built miles from job centers and public transit. Long commutes that waste fuel and precious time. New subdivisions built without thought for land conservation and precious water supplies. Communities that compete for revenues.

The planning agency's board of directors is expected to approve the policy today after spending months consulting with communities about its contents. Next comes the process of working with lawmakers and local leaders to make the recommendations a reality.

"This plan has to be about implementation, Blankenhorn said. "It can't be just CMAP's plan. It's got to be owned by the region, by residents, business leaders and elected officials.

CMAP board member and Buffalo Grove Mayor Elliott Hartstein added, "We didn't want to create a plan that sits on a coffee table or on someone's shelf.

Here's how the agency proposes to put the region on the right path to accommodate a population surge from 8.6 million people today to 11 million in 2040.

1. Improve "livability. Offer a greater range of housing prices. Instead of building homes on virgin land, create housing in existing communities, which equals less money for infrastructure and therefore less taxes. Ensure homes are built near public transit.

2. Fund transportation. Given the economic climate, focus on maintaining existing infrastructure and a few essential projects. CMAP lists priorities as the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway and western bypass around O'Hare International Airport; the Tri-State Tollway and I-57 interchange; a new transportation center in the West Loop serving Metra, the CTA and proposed high-speed rail; extending Route 53 into Lake County; and expanding the CTA Red Line past 95th Street in Chicago.

The cost of congestion in the metropolitan area is $7.3 billion, the Metropolitan Planning Council estimates. To move people faster, CMAP advocates raising the 19-cent-per-gallon gas tax by 8 cents and continuing to adjust it for inflation. Part of the new money would be dedicated to transit.

3. Reform state and local tax policies. Adjust the distribution of sales tax dollars to a model that's fairer than the current system, which rewards towns that focus on retail, such as car dealerships, as opposed to offices or industry, which generate more higher-paying jobs and more economic activity.

Simplify local property taxes across the region by eliminating discrepancies in caps, myriad assessment levels and exemptions.

Allow sales taxes to be levied on certain services.

4. Conserve water and energy. Charge users the actual price of supplying water, which will reduce consumption and prevent shortages. Handle stormwater more efficiently to prevent flooding with ideas like permeable paving. Communities pumping water from acquirers should consider using the Fox or Kankakee rivers. Local governments should adopt energy-saving projects using solar or wind power.

5. Expand open space. Preserve an additional 150,000 acres of open space, bringing the region to 400,000 acres in 2040. Increase the number of people with access to parks from 49 percent of the population today to 70 percent in 2040.

The planning group also seeks to create more parks in developed areas.

6. Simplify government. The Metropolitan Chicago area has 1,226 local government units including townships, fire districts and library districts. CMAP recommends coordinating local services. State and federal governments should work together to streamline funding and grant programs.

7. Promote sustainable local food. Create more community gardens and preserve farmland in the region. Eliminate "food deserts in poor, urban areas without adequate grocery stores.

For more information on the report, visit the website cmap.illinois.gov. The agency is authorized by the state to integrate land use and transportation planning in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties.

2040: Agency's directors expected to approve policy today

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