In response to the recent Crain’s Chicago Business article, How political upheaval is rewriting the rules developers have played by for decades, Eve Pytel, Programs Director at Delta Institute, wrote the following letter to the editor. Delta commends Crain’s for raising awareness of the critical changes in the Chicago real estate development community.
By Eve Pytel
Too often the private sector reaps tremendous profits at the expense of existing residents and businesses. Now is the time to address the power imbalance between communities and real estate developers.
Between 2014 and 2016, Delta Institute, Chicago-based environmental nonprofit, worked on a two-year study led by North Branch Works and funded by the United States Environmental Protection Agency that made community-based recommendations for the 32-acre manufacturing district now called “Lincoln Yards.” This study anticipated concerns about transportation and scale, the same concerns currently stymying the Lincoln Yards development.
The recommendations outlined in the report (view the full report here) were strongly supported by the community groups because they were authentically engaged in the planning process. These community groups include Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce, Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce, Sheffield Neighborhood Association, Wrightwood Neighbors Association, and innovation accelerator, UI Labs.
This is one of numerous examples elevating the need for a more inclusive planning and development process. Beyond Lincoln Yards, the city needs new rules for real estate development. We offer some actionable “New Rules” for Chicago’s real estate sector, next Mayor, and City Council to consider for future successful development.
New rules for real estate development in Chicago:
- Chicago Department of Planning and Development should support developing neighborhood level planning and development efforts with concrete resources for community stakeholders to build their own assets and equity.
- Developers should use neighborhood level plans and strategies to inform their development, and start working with community stakeholders early – rather than attempting to circumvent them later.
- Mayoral candidates and a restructured City Council should commit to inclusive neighborhood development that provides affordable housing and advances economic opportunity through community development. This can be achieved through ordinances and transparent processes that require existing community input to be meaningfully factored into redevelopment decision making.
We hope our next Mayor and the new faces of City Council insist that real estate developers engage with community groups proactively to set a new course, one where distrust and conflict are not the norm we experience today. We applaud the aldermen slowing down the development process to ensure that no real estate development create untenable losses to residents and existing businesses, and that the public’s tax dollars do not subsidize future failures.
While real estate developers may make campaign contributions to aldermen as a cost of doing business, an alderman’s constituency is, first and foremost, the voters. When a community has concerns about a real estate development concept, it is appropriate for the alderman to say no on behalf of their constituency.
Now is the time for traditional real estate developers and the City of Chicago to authentically engage community residents and work inclusively so that all parties prosper.