‘We Will Chicago’ plan adopted to guide city’s next decade

The document, incorporating input from community meetings, focuses on making up for past wrongs and becomes the city’s first comprehensive plan since 1966.

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The Chicago skyline is seen on Dec. 10, 2020 from West 18th Street in Chinatown.

The Chicago skyline as seen on Dec. 10, 2020, from West 18th Street in Chinatown.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Chicago’s first comprehensive planning document since the 1960s became official policy Thursday amid cautions that it lays out a framework for civic improvements but leaves policy recommendations to future administrations.

The Chicago Plan Commission unanimously approved the document, called “We Will Chicago,” that was drafted by community leaders, city officials and volunteers after input from residents across the city. It is intended to guide policy decisions over the next 10 years and asks city agencies to report annually on progress.

The 152-page planning document, available at WeWillChicago.com, follows overarching themes of equity and resilience and seeks to address discriminatory practices of the past that harmed largely minority neighborhoods and pushed some middle-class residents out of Chicago.

The plan highlights data showing the impact of redlining in mortgage loans, the differences in wealth and health across neighborhoods, and the preponderance of pollution in poor areas, among other measurements that distinguish the haves from the have-nots.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot championed the effort to produce the city’s first overall plan in more than five decades, but supporters said its precepts are intended to outlast any single administration. Its adoption comes with Lightfoot in a difficult battle for re-election.

“This was one of Mayor Lightfoot’s very first priorities when she took office,” said Maurice Cox, the city’s commissioner of planning and development. “And I remember very distinctly being very nervous about what the mayor would say about a multi-year timeline for a planning effort. And to her credit, the mayor said, ‘Let’s do it. I think this is going to be transformational for Chicago.’”

“We Will Chicago” recommendations are organized around eighteight categories that it calls pillars: arts and culture; civic and community engagement; economic development; environment, climate and energy; housing and neighborhoods; lifelong learning; public health and safety; and transportation and infrastructure.

The pillars lead to more than 40 recommendations. Among them are providing more public input for the city budgeting process, broadening access to arts programs and preventing the displacement of longtime residents when neighborhoods change.

Some participants expressed frustration that about 600 policy ideas that came up in community meetings were not part of the main report but were listed in an addendum. Some said the document lacks any teeth or enforcement.

Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara, responding to that criticism, called the document a “framework,” not an action plan, that can be adapted over time. “This is a living document,” said Andre Brumfield, vice chair of the plan commission and a principal at the architectural firm Gensler.

During public testimony, Jonathan Snyder, executive director of the group North Branch Works, said the plan gives insufficient attention to how industrial work can be promoted as a source of well-paying jobs.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), a member of the plan commission, agreed with that point, saying input from Chicago’s employers was a “missing link” in the document.

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