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Comprehensive Planning at the Department of Planning and Development


Chicago needs inclusive, comprehensive planning efforts across the city. The following recommendations are designed to improve the structure and capacity of DPD so that there is a focus on comprehensive planning, community engagement, and project implementation in neighborhoods across the city. This will require centralizing some of the current functions that Aldermen are actively engaged in, like zoning, as well as reorganizing the department and providing additional staff resources.

Note: Many of these ideas are aligned with and adapted from the Shriver Center’s report “A City Fragmented.”

Comprehensive Plan for Chicago

The City does not have a comprehensive plan or clearly articulated citywide goals centered on the crucial issues of population loss, health, housing affordability and development grounded in racial equity. Land use planning is currently done on a reactive basis when potential projects arise. This leads to fragmented efforts that do not align critical areas like housing, transportation and open space and are not fulfilling a larger strategic framework or vision for the city as a whole. This is also partially exacerbated by 50 aldermen making their own zoning decisions, which can prevent the City from executing on larger citywide goals such as the equitable distribution of affordable housing.

Recommendation: The City should create a comprehensive plan for Chicago. Together with community and stakeholder input, the City should develop a clear vision for the type of place they want Chicago to be, in the form of a comprehensive plan—which the City has not had since the 1960s. This vision should be created through the use of a racial equity framework (see “Start Racial Equity Framework for Chicago” in this document, p. 35), supported by goals and metrics that allow the City to track achievements, progress, and alignment of subsequent plans. This vision should build upon existing neighborhood plans and shape the adoption of future neighborhood plans that align with the larger citywide comprehensive plan. This plan would guide community development and land-use decisions related to residential, commercial, transportation, parks and open space. These planning efforts would consider phasing of projects as well as financing needs and opportunities.

Recommendation: Decisions for zoning should be guided by a limited set of criteria that is consistent with the City’s overall comprehensive plan and neighborhood plans. In order to make progress on citywide goals and advance a comprehensive plan, zoning changes must be decided based on adherence to the goals and plan rather than the loudest voices or the biggest campaign contribution.  Other City Commissions including the Plan Commission and Community Development Commission should evaluate projects using the same set of criteria and standards. Also consider centralizing mundane zoning decisions to be more in line with the way that comparable cities currently operate, such as New York and Los Angeles.

Recommendation: Development tools should comply with a racial equity framework, be used to achieve comprehensive plan goals, and should be deployed to fit the project type (e.g. TIF should be used to improve truly blighted areas). Development tools include: Tax Increment Financing (TIF), Neighborhood Opportunity Fund (NOF), Industrial Corridor Funds, Open Space Impact Fees, incentives for Transit Oriented Development, etc. A thorough review of how these tools are currently being used should be conducted simultaneously with research into new financial instruments to spur investments in struggling neighborhoods.

Community Engagement

Community engagement around planning frameworks is not an integral part of the current way that City agencies function. It is inconsistent across and within departments. Each project has a different timeline and process. Some may consist of multiple community meetings, some may have none. Some may have a number of community partners involved, some may have one or none. Most agencies/departments do not have many staff dedicated to this role, which severely limits the amount of outreach that can occur for each project.

Recommendation: Develop a comprehensive strategy for public engagement to build trust between the city government and our residents. The city needs an inclusive vision for public engagement that should is embraced institutionally and executed by each agency.  Community engagement processes should have more consistency across agencies and projects, and operate within the core values of effective public engagement practice including two-way communication, collective learning and trust-building.

This commitment should be publicized on the City’s website, identifying key pillars of the process to make it easy for the public to understand the opportunities for input, the timeline for decision-making and the how agencies involved will communicate with constituents throughout the life of a project. It is reasonable that certain projects may require more or different meetings or outreach than others given their scale. This can still be accomplished within a consistent system that defines the process based in part on project size and other criteria. The City should develop metrics and baseline accountability for what counts as successful community engagement. These could be both qualitative and quantitative measures that consider the range of community group perspectives represented, the number of participants at meetings, the number of public comments received, etc. These should be created for each type of standard engagement process defined, so that it clear when a process has not been as inclusive or as well attended as other engagements.

Recommendation: Invest in public engagement resources and tools. In order to have better community engagement the City must invest in public engagement resources. This includes increasing the number of staff charged with community engagement across all agencies of the City, and coordination of those staff and their efforts should be housed within a new Mayor’s Office of Community Engagement. Staff within this Office would support and coordinate the efforts across different agencies, including DPD, CDOT and Housing, to conduct inclusive community engagement activities across the city.  Further investment in development of new and existing staff through industry recognized training, cultural competency and equity and inclusion training will help professionalize the practice of public engagement and bring the city up to date with best practices across the country.


100 Day Actions
First Year Actions and Goals
First Term Goals

Additional Considerations

Why the time is right

A new mayoral administration presents the opportunity to evaluate how planning is valued within the city. Planning and making coordinated investments and improvements have been the backbone of successful city revitalizations. Without a comprehensive plan or planning philosophy, we will continue to make reactive, one-off development decisions rather than ensuring and seeking new investments that advance the citywide plan. As long as we defer to 50 elected officials to set 50 different policy goals—or none at all—we will continue to experience profound black population loss and deepening inequities across communities. Chicago deserves a vision that values the input of its community members, as well as considers the individual assets of neighborhoods.

What it will take
Other considerations