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Reconnecting Neighborhoods Blog

Visit Metropolitan Planning Council web site for the latest news

This web site primarily existed to serve as the online hub during Reconnecting Neighborhoods' community outreach phase in 2008. For the most up-to-date information about this initiative, please visit the Metropolitan Planning Council's web site to read the final Reconnecting Neighborhoods report and latest progress.

Reconnecting Neighborhoods get an enthusiastic thumbs-up from the Chicago Plan Commission

On July 15, the Chicago Plan Commission unanimously approved the Reconnecting Neighborhoods Plan, with an overwhelmingly positive response from the commissioners. While MPC already knew this plan had widespread community support, thanks to the integrity of the process and strong leadership from residents, private sector stakeholders, elected officials, and public sector partners, the commissioners eagerness to explore ways for the city to support implementation came as a pleasant surprise.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd Ward) and MPC Community Building Manager Joanna Trotter testified in support of the plan, after Benet Haller, director of urban design and planning for the Chicago Dept. of Community Development, (DCD) provided an in-depth presentation of Reconnecting Neighborhood’s innovative community planning process and resulting recommendations. These public testimonials were complemented by supportive letters from a cross-section of leaders, including Reconnecting Co-Chair and ShoreBank Vice Chairman Todd Brown; Lewis Jordan, CEO, Chicago Housing Authority; Steve DeBretto, Executive Director, Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago; Joseph Williams, Co-Chairman, Granite Companies; and, Linda Brace, Vice President of Development, Holsten Development.

In the six months since the public relesase of the plan, in December 2008, MPC has been hard at work promoting the recommendations among many local and national partners. Reconnecting Neighborhoods was featured in a National Housing Conference mobile workshop tour in June, led by MPC, Quad Communities Development Corporation, Chicago Housing Authority, and the Chicago DCD. Reconnecting Neighborhoods has also been featured during the discussions with national thought leaders, such as Don Chen of the Ford Foundation and Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution. The plan will be featured in the Upper Midwest American Planning Association Conference this fall, and has been nominated for an American Planning Association Illinois Chapter Strategic Plan Award.

Spending billions of federal dollars to transfom public housing without appropriate transit investments to ensure residents have quality transportation, job and retail options nearby is just one example of why federal investment reform is needed. As such, MPC featured this project as a case study the white paper to rethink the way federal funding is allocated. Central to this reform is improved interagency coordination based on goal-oriented outcomes, to coordinate dollars in a way that strengthens the viability of local communities.

MPC hopes to position Illinois to be competitive for some of the new government and philanthropic resources encouraging housing-transportation-jobs coordination, particularly in the form of Illinois HB 4590, Transportation Investment Accountability Act, introduced by Ill. Rep. Kathy Ryg (D-Vernon Hills) and the Sustainable Communities Initiative outlined in the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development budget, which will support communities as they work to coordinate housing, transportation, and energy efficiency. Please ask your state legislators to support the HB 4590 to reform the way Illinois funds capital investment projects in order to better compete with the new goal-driven federal objectives, such as those outlined in the HUD Sustainable Communities Initiative. These notable opportunities will be discussed in depth at MPC’s Annual Luncheon on September 17, featuring Shaun Donovan, secretary, U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development; Ray LaHood, secretary, U.S. Dept. of Transportation; and, Lisa Jackson, administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Read the Reconnecting Neighborhoods Final Recommendations Report

Final Public Meetings in November

Reconnecting Neighborhoods will hold its final community meetings in November. At these meetings, Reconnecting Neighborhoods will discuss final recommendations for neighborhood retail and transportation improvements with the community.

The meetings for the Mid-South and Near North study areas have been scheduled. The meeting on the Near West Side is to be scheduled. Details follow. Please help spread the word by inviting friends and neighbors to join you at the meeting in your neighborhood, where you'll learn how you can help make top recommendations a reality.

Mid-South Meeting
In 2008, the Reconnecting Neighborhoods community planning project talked to many Mid-South Side residents who said improvements like express service along Cottage Grove to the Loop, safer pedestrian crossings on Martin Luther King Drive, and weekend service on the #39 bus route would make the Mid-South neighborhood a better place. Come to the final meeting to learn how you can help turn top recommendations into reality.

Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.
King Center, 4314 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

Near North Meeting
In 2008, the Reconnecting Neighborhoods community planning project talked to many Near North Side residents who said improvements like a new CTA Brown Line station at Division and Orleans, the return of the Clybourn bus, and better pedestrian and bicycle routes on Halsted, Chicago, and Division would make the Near North neighborhood a better place. Come to the final meeting to learn how you can help turn top recommendations into reality.

Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Near North Public Library, 310 W. Division Street
Parking is limited; walking and public transit is encouraged

To learn more about the meetings, please contact or call 312-922-5616.

What's Your Neighborhood's Walk Score?

The Walk Score Web site allows users to rate the “walkability” of a specific place, on a scale from 1 to 100, by simply entering in a local address. According to its creators, the Walk Score Web site is being used by everyone from real estate agents to would-be business owners to determine just how walkable a particular community is.

Take a moment to plug in your home address and find out how your neighborhood fares.

Surprised by its score? Across Chicago, Walk Scores for different neighborhoods range from fabulous to dismal.

With gas prices climbing and people spending more time than ever stuck in traffic – as evidenced by a recent report from the Metropolitan Planning Council – the timing is right for communities to plan for easier access for pedestrians and transit users. Reconnecting Neighborhoods is working in three communities to help improve retail, transit, and, yes, walkability -- which ultimately will also improve local Walk Scores.

West Haven Looks to Increase Retail

After residential comeback, West Haven looks to increase its retail
By Lisa R. Jenkins

The West Haven community has been experiencing a residential property boom in recent years, and locals now are hoping for a commercial renaissance as well.

While new single-family dwellings have sprung up in the old Henry Horner Homes area and other parts of West Haven, the area still is missing that balance between residential and commercial that is the hallmark of a healthy neighborhood. Although the area has seen a 61% increase in the price of houses and new buyers who on average make 41% more than their counterparts in the area’s pre-boom days, West Haven still lacks basics such as enough grocery stores, dry cleaners, and hardware stores.

The Madison Retail Revitalization Initiative (MRRI) is pushing to make West Haven the viable neighborhood it has the potential of becoming. The Near West Side Community Development Corporation (NWSCDC), the driving force for change in the area for the past 20 years, recently joined with the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and local investors to develop MRRI.

The MRRI program’s primary goals are to manage and organize business district revitalization initiatives within the West Haven community. Its initial implementation objectives are to oversee a real estate market study; implement key street beautification elements, streetscape cleaning, and enhancements; and launch marketing, promotions, and incentives.
“Using an analysis of retail spending prepared by MetroEdge, the NWSCDC plans to aggressively market the neighborhood to local and national commercial developers and retail corporations using the information from the MetroEdge study,” according to an LISC statement. The MetroEdge study focused on alternate market analyses for inner city neighborhoods and highlighted the experience of successful ventures such as the United Center, the new Walgreens located at the corner of Madison Street and Western Avenue, and other commercial entities in the area.

Joel Bookman, director of the New Communities Program at LISC/Chicago said, “We see MetroEdge as an invaluable tool in our efforts to bolster business development in communities that are intent on becoming stronger.” The report calculates money spent by residents and the estimated retail sales in that same area. The NWSCDC and LISC then use this information to determine how much money residents spend outside the neighborhood in specific venues such as drug stores, restaurants, grocery stores, and department stores. “Communities use the market research from MetroEdge to demonstrate to investors that there is, in fact, money to be made in urban areas,” Bookman commented.

The MetroEdge analysis looked at 2005 figures and revealed that West Haven residents spent $70 million for goods and services outside the West Haven community and that the area represents $91 million in concentrated buying power. Those figures indicate West Haven residents must leave their neighborhood for basic necessities such as to purchase groceries, have their cars serviced, and eat at full-service restaurants.
West Haven also has experienced a dramatic increase of 275% in its median income, and the area has acquired $425 million in residential developments since 2000. NWSCDC personnel feel that, with residential growth at an all-time high, now is the time to focus their attention on retail and commercial development.

“Attracting more and better retail services is a key strategy for increasing the quality of life in West Haven,” said Michael Quinlan, MRRI program manager. “It is the community’s vision to bring retail services to West Haven, mapping out key corridors and nodes along transit and attracting a healthy mix of shops, restaurants, and other businesses that will provide products, services—and jobs.

“Segments of our retail sector are hurting and have been for decades,” Quinlan continued. “The once-teeming Madison Street corridor presently supports few businesses, and other nearby commercial areas continue to be vacant.”

MRRI appears to be taking shape, as the Gazette has learned that City construction permits have been submitted for Sweet Dreams Café, to be built on the corner of Western Avenue and Madison Street. A retail store, Misaki Denim, is scheduled to open on the same block. Also, West Haven businesses have displayed self-portraits and other artwork by Crane High School students in their windows, sprucing up the commercial spaces in the area.

For more information about MMRI or the NWSCDC, visit or call (312) 738-2280.