Chicago, IL
United States

Enhanced walkability initiatives to make communities more walkable based on lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial justice movement; promoted mobility, cohesion, access to jobs and services, and transit ridership in Chicago's comprehensive plan and equitable transit-oriented development policy.

Six community-based partner organizations in Chicago led two-year walkability initiatives in 2019 and 2020 to make communities more walkable by improving community infrastructure and promoting streets with safe pathways, green spaces, and places to walk and bike in the half-mile radius around seven public transit stations. Supported by the City of Chicago Department of Public Health, this work was coordinated by the Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago (PHIMC) in partnership with Elevated Chicago, a collaborative that leverages the built environment near transit hubs to promote opportunity, equitable development, and community connection.

Black and Latinx residents in these historically disinvested-in and rapidly gentrifying communities face new challenges to walkability, mobility and health equity resulting from COVID-19 pandemic, economic instability, over-policing, and physical damage from post-protest looting. In response, Elevated Chicago, the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University (IHS), PHIMC, and Rudd Resources convened the community-based organizations and stakeholders working on these walkability initiatives to learn more about the place-based and neighborhood impacts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial justice protests that spanned 2020. The project aimed to better understand emerging challenges and changing priorities, identify opportunities to amplify community voices in future walkability projects and planning processes, and inform strategies to promote long-term community walkability goals.

Elevated Chicago and project partners tapped into the expertise and knowledge of the community organizations, stakeholders, and residents collaborating on these walkability projects. The project’s community engagement activities included recorded walking tours of two communities (Logan Square video & Washington Park video) surrounding Elevated Chicago transit hubs, virtual convenings to discuss how the pandemic is impacting community needs and neighborhood conditions, and a survey in English and Spanish to understand resident perspectives on community walkability. In addition, IHS developed a framework that can be used to inform the creation of data indicators that respond to the community needs and priorities identified through this engagement work.

Based on this work, Elevated Chicago and its partner organizations partnered with the Elevated Chicago Leadership Council, which includes the Mayor’s Office, Chicago Transit Authority, and the Depts. of Planning & Development, Transportation, Housing, and Public Health, as well as the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and Cook County Land Bank Authority, to inform their neighborhood design work. Elevated Chicago and partner organizations integrated data and lived experiences from residents to create planning and policy recommendations, including a framework for measuring and tracking neighborhood walkability. The recommendations from the grant work can inform decisions about community infrastructure and public transit investments, and guide a new City of Chicago comprehensive development plan. By incorporating community perspectives and ideas, these agencies are better positioned to respond to the community walkability priorities.