RTA Brings Together Planning Voices From Around The Region for Connected Communities

By Brian Hacker, AICP

On Wednesday of last week, the RTA and DePaul’s Chaddick Institute brought together members of the planning community from around the region for our fourth annual Planning Workshop: Connected Communities. This free, half-day event offers us the opportunity to gather with other planning professionals to take a step back from our day-to-day tasks and reflect on broader topics, share our knowledge collectively, and consider new ideas in the field of transit-oriented development (TOD).

This year we chose TOD housing for our theme, as our region is seeing a notable increase in multi-family housing development near transit stations, both in the city and suburbs. With so much new development occurring around our transit assets, there is clearly a growing demand for housing in areas that provide convenient access to jobs, retail, services, restaurants and entertainment – in other words, communities that are connected to many resources and amenities by public transit.

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Structured around presentations, a panel discussion and audience Q&A, the workshop included speakers from the public and non-profit sectors, representing a diverse group of communities across the region. They addressed a broad range of topics related to TOD housing, such as development incentives, community engagement, zoning, parking and affordability. For more details, presentations are available in the links below.

  • Eileen Franz from the City of Elmhurst offered the long-range perspective on the City’s efforts to redevelop its downtown into a walkable, transit-served district where people can live, shop, dine and recreate while having easy access to downtown Chicago’s employment market via Metra. As a result of Elmhurst’s ongoing TOD efforts, the City’s downtown population has nearly tripled in the past thirty years, with more residential development underway.
  • Bill Eager from Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH), talked about the organization’s extensive efforts, in partnership with the City of Chicago, to redevelop an obsolete affordable housing complex near the CTA’s Cottage Grove Green Line station into a mixed-use corridor called Woodlawn Park. Since beginning their work in 2008, POAH has built over 200 units of mixed-income housing and been instrumental in attracting a new grocery store to the area.
  • Emily Egan of the Village of Brookfield and Meagan Jones of the City of Evanston each gave presentations on their respective efforts to revise their development and parking regulations in innovative ways to ensure that new development in their communities are supportive of transit.
  • The workshop closed with a panel discussion that featured an insightful conversation on a number of topics related to TOD housing, such as public perception, gentrification, affordable housing, equitable growth and mobility. The panel was made up of Ghian Foreman from the Greater Southwest Development Corporation, freelance writer Daniel Kay Hertz, Lynnette McRae of the Metropolitan Planning Council and Ben Vyverberg of the Village of Palatine.

As a regional agency serving six counties, the RTA has a unique opportunity to support transit-oriented planning efforts from the densest, most heavily populated areas of the region, such as Chicago’s Loop, to largely rural areas at the edges of our service area. While our region may differ from community to community, they are largely connected by the RTA system and the Planning Workshop provides a brief but valuable opportunity to look beyond local boundaries and consider the common threads in planning and transportation that affect us all.

Thank you to everyone who participated and attended the workshop, the conversations and ideas it inspired will inform our future community planning efforts.

Brian joined the Regional Transportation Authority as Senior Planner in 2016. He is actively involved in transit-oriented development planning and implementation efforts throughout the RTA’s six-county service area, overseeing the Access to Transit program and managing projects for the Community Planning program. In his work, Brian is inspired by the equitable nature of public transit and believes that better access to transit is vital to improving personal mobility and quality-of-life for residents of our region. Prior to joining the RTA, he served as a planner in Metra’s Long Range Planning Department for over three years. Brian received a master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a bachelor’s degree in Humanities from the University of Michigan.