A recent plan by Chicago officials to develop areas near transit lines has residents anxious to see whether development means displacement.
The Connected Communities Ordinance, a plan by the city to “stimulate equitable development near public transit,” seeks to create safe spaces near transit lines to bring more development in the form of businesses, affordable housing and beautification projects. The plan is meant to boost employment and public safety.
“It sounds like a nice plan if it happens,” said Juanita Haynes, a lifelong Austin resident who lives near the Laramie CTA stop. “I just hope it doesn’t make the rent go up around here.”
Other residents who were interviewed shared opinions similar to Haynes. They’re excited about the possibility of businesses coming to their neighborhood, but anxious about what that means for prices and affordability. The plan promises to protect against the loss of affordable and multi-family housing near the lines.
In a press release about the passing of the ordinance, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the plan’s goal is to create more vibrant, safer neighborhoods.
“In order to realize my administration’s vision for an equitable city, we must redress and improve the ways we invest in our neighborhoods,” said Mayor Lightfoot. “By introducing the Connected Communities Ordinance, we will facilitate developments that are accessible to all residents and catalytic for their communities. I look forward to working with the City Council to pass this measure and bolster our equitable economy.”
Transparency and inclusion in decision-making has long been a concern for Austin residents who often feel left out of the development process in their community. The city said that over 80 community stakeholders were included in the drafting of the ordinance to ensure community voices were heard.
“I think they should give local business owners an opportunity to open up near the [transit] lines. That could really help give them business,” said community resident Bernard Kline who lives near the Austin transit line.
While the plan is for lines across Chicago, the city promises to put more investment into lines on the South and West sides, aligning with Mayor Lightfoot’s Invest South/West initiative.
City officials said infusing the areas near transit lines with businesses will lead to safer streets, which in turn will lead to more walkable neighborhoods that will also lead to more healthy communities overall.
“Equitable Transit Oriented Development is good for the health of people and neighborhoods,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, the Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner, in a press release.
“With this Ordinance, the city will take an important step to address Chicago’s persistent life expectancy gap by intentionally designing policy to promote community health and racial equity,” she said.
Austin residents hope that the plan makes good on officials’ promises of development without longtime resident displacement, and some residents said that this can be achieved by continuing to give community stakeholders a place at the table to speak on behalf of residents.
“It’s good they had stakeholders as a part of the plan draft, but they need to keep those seats open,” said Patrice Higgans who lives near the Central stop. “When it comes time to decide what is actually getting developed, residents need to have a say. I don’t want businesses just popping up and we know nothing about who or what is happening.”
For more information on the Connected Communities Ordinance and the City’s equitable transit-oriented development (ETOD) policy plan, you can visit the city’s website.