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New citywide plan is the goal of ‘We Will Chicago’

With outside help, City Hall begins seeking input on the first comprehensive planning guide since 1966.

The Chicago skyline as seen from the 18th Street Bridge over the Chicago River,
The Lightfoot administration wants to draft a new comprehensive plan for development and public works.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

The city’s planning agency said Thursday it will launch a more than two-year “citywide conversation” leading to a new guide for development and public works projects, the first such comprehensive effort since 1966.

Outlining the “We Will Chicago” initiative during a meeting of the Chicago Plan Commission, city officials said they will work with outside groups to solicit recommendations from everyday Chicagoans about how the city should evolve. They said it will advance Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s goals that include enhancing housing affordability and increasing job opportunities in neglected areas.

The timetable the Department of Planning and Development laid out called for a draft report to be delivered early in 2023, just before the next mayoral election. First Deputy Planning Commissioner Eleanor Gorski said the timing was intentional because Lightfoot is eager to show people progress on overall principles of equity, diversity and resiliency.

“We don’t want this crossing into a new administration, if that’s the case. There could be new demands,” Gorski told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Planning Commissioner Maurice Cox told the commission, “It is time to have a citywide conversation about the city that we want to create.”

Keeping the focus on a longer term effort when immediate worries include a pandemic, a partially shuttered economy and a devastated city budget will be a challenge. Gorski said officials discussed internally whether now is the time to start work on a new city plan. “We decided that it’s more a case of, ‘How can we not afford to do it?’” she said.

Gorski said the plan will address crime and unite Chicagoans around solutions. “I may be naïve on this point, but I’m hoping we can use this to become a stronger city,” she said.

The planning process will officially start in September and remote workshops are expected later this year, Gorski said. The effort has a web page at https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/dcd/provdrs/we_will_chicago.html.

Plan commission members praised the overall goals. Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) said he hopes the process will give some protesters a better understanding of the downtown area’s economic importance to the neighborhoods. “To be honest, most communities are pretty much the same with their concerns,” Burnett said. “It’s just that some have more money than others.”

Gorski said the effort may cost the city up to $1 million a year, mostly for consultants to help with writing and editing, but organizations will contribute much labor for free. These include the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the Metropolitan Planning Council and Bloomberg Associates, a philanthropic consulting firm founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The public relations firm Edelman also is donating help.

The city will seek to place on the November ballot an advisory referendum asking voters’ opinion about the plan’s overarching goals of equity, diversity and resiliency, Gorski said.

When finished, the document would be submitted to the plan commission and the City Council for approval. Gorski said the last such citywide plan in 1966 had official status but never got formal approval.