eTOD symposium, “A Catalytic Moment:
The Transformational Power of Transit-Oriented Development”

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A Catalytic Moment: The Transformational Power of Transit-Oriented Development

This symposium on racial equity, resiliency, health, arts and culture in Chicago’s neighborhoods was held on December 12, 2017, at The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Conference Center.

Presented by:
Elevated Chicago

Enterprise Community

The Federal Reserve
Bank of Chicago

In collaboration with:
Center for Neighborhood Technology
Chicago Department of Public Health
Esperanza Health Centers
Garfield Park Community Council
Foundation for Homan Square
Latinos Progresando
Logan Square Neighborhood
Latin United Community Housing
Association (LUCHA)
Metropolitan Planning Council
Sunshine Enterprises
The Chicago Community Trust
UChicago Arts + Public Life
Washington Park Development Group

Click the graphic above to see our Steering Committee members.

Purpose of the Day

On Tuesday, December 12, 2017, Elevated Chicago hosted its public launch to share who we are, what we want to do, and what we have accomplished in the six months since our founding. Over 200 people convened at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago for a day of presentations, which were given by members of the Elevated Chicago Steering Committee and its community tables, and panel discussions coordinated by key institutional partners including influencers from organizations across Chicago and the United States.  The result was a truly collaborative effort that included Elevated Chicago’s partners along with a broad network of organizations and experts.

About Elevated Chicago

Elevated Chicago is an initiative formed to promote racial equity, prosperity and resiliency in Chicago communities by using equitable transit-oriented development – or eTOD – as the catalyst for change.

Led by a collaborative of nonprofit, public and private organizations, Elevated Chicago aims to turn the half-mile radii around transit stations into racially equitable centers for climate resiliency, health and culture. Our work is guided by the core principles of adaptability, impact, inclusion, innovation and transparency. By enabling community-driven development, Elevated Chicago will position station areas as civic assets where programming and the built environment converge to create nodes of opportunity and connection across the region’s vast transit system.

Our work has started within the half-mile radii around seven Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) or eTOD hubs, located in the following areas:

  • Green Line at 51st Street
  • Green Line at Garfield Blvd.
  • Green Line at Cottage Grove & 63rd St.
  • Green Line at Kedzie
  • Pink Line at California
  • Blue Line at Kedzie-Homan
  • Blue Line at Logan Square

Our community-based partners

Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT), the Chicago Department of Public Health, Enterprise Community Partners Chicago, Esperanza Health Centers, Foundation for Homan Square, Garfield Park Community Council, Latinos Progresando, Latin United Community Housing Association (LUCHA), Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Metropolitan Planning Council, Sunshine Enterprises, The Chicago Community Trust, ThoughtWorks, UChicago Arts + Public Life and Washington Park Development Group.

Opening the Day

Susan Longworth of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago welcomed attendees.  She provided insight into the Strong, Prosperous, and Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC) and the role of the Federal Reserve as a SPARCC partner. SPARCC is a three-year, national initiative of Enterprise Community Partners, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the Low Income Investment Fund, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, with additional funding provided by the Ford Foundation, The JPB Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the California Endowment, that is investing in and amplifying community-based efforts to ensure that investments made in infrastructure, transit, housing, health and climate resiliency are equitable and contribute to a thriving community.  Elevated Chicago is part of this initiative along with five other cities across the country: Atlanta, Denver, Los Angeles, Memphis, and the San Francisco Bay Area. 

The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco is one of SPARCC’s national partners, and while not engaged in funding decisions or fiscal management, it is engaged as a decision-making advisor to SPARCC. Their interest in SPARCC lies in the opportunity to create sustainable, quality employment through access and opportunity, and to encourage financial institutions to become place-based partners that invest in the communities in which they draw deposits. Though each city presents unique challenges and local Federal Reserve Banks can engage in ways that make sense given the local context, collectively the Federal Reserve Banks are uniquely positioned to support emerging national models that improve equal access to economic opportunity, including providing a neutral space for meetings like the forum offered to Elevated Chicago for its launch.

Rosa Y. Ortiz of Enterprise Community Partners, co-chair of Elevated Chicago’s Steering Committee (pictured left) provided an overview of Elevated Chicago.  Rosa discussed Elevated Chicago’s foundation and history.  Beginning almost two years ago with a conversation between a few funders and eTOD advocates, Elevated Chicago has evolved into a collaborative, inclusive and diverse initiative with 16 partners, many of which are community-based organizations (see page 2 for the list).

Rosa introduced Elevated Chicago’s leadership and highlighted the distinctive horizontal organizational structure of the initiative, which offers equal input and power to each of the partners. She discussed Elevated Chicago’s grant making, which has focused on supporting community-based organizations’ participation, capacity-building, and activating the station areas. The goal of Elevated Chicago is to shift paradigms – in how we invest in communities, in how we collaborate with communities, in how we engage communities – to create a more equitable system that supports community power. 

Roberto Requejo, program director of Elevated Chicago (pictured left), focused his speech on the reason for creating Elevated Chicago at this precise moment (the “why now”). He discussed three main motivations. First, there is a growing national movement in the community development field and beyond, focused on advancing racial equity. A growing number of cities, community-based organizations, funders, and policy advocates are acknowledging that policies that intentionally exploited people and communities of color and disconnected them from opportunity have led to stark disparities in health, resiliency and prosperity indicators. Some color-blind policies had similar effects.  In Chicago, for example, according to Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) data, some majority-Black neighborhoods show up to 17 years of difference in average life expectancy when compared with majority-White areas. Whether due to continued disinvestment or to rapid gentrification, communities of color have also been disproportionately affected by displacement. More than 100,000 Black residents moved out of Chicago in the past decade, and tens of thousands of Latino residents moved out of their communities.

Second, there is a growing interest in and support for transit-oriented development (TOD) as a healthier, greener and more efficient alternative to automobile-oriented development. Chicago’s TOD ordinance, and the recommendations of CDPH’s Healthy Chicago 2.0 Plan, encourage this type of development, and many developers are using this approach to plan and build communities. Finally, Elevated Chicago’s seven transit areas (defined as the half-mile radius surrounding each stop) include community leaders who are ready to address racial inequities via capital investments, programming and systems change. Many of those leaders are part of Elevated Chicago’s Steering Committee. They have brought to the table catalytic projects near transit hubs that are ready to be supported, from food business incubators to affordable housing developments to community centers. If we are intentional in applying a racial equity lens to TOD, we can transform and redefine the way the built environment is planned, developed and owned by engaging community residents. The moment for equitable TOD in Chicago is now.

Elevated Chicago supports cultural resilience across our seven sites, and uses the arts as a means of communicating with, and connecting and empowering people. Poet Ty-yuh-nuh (pictured left), shared a piece, titled Free Range, written to address the issues of racial equity, transit access and community connectivity. Her work provided a powerful introduction for our subsequent conversations.

Community Table Presentations

Community leaders working in the Elevated Chicago station areas located on the Blue, Pink and Green lines of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) rail system presented the work that they have achieved over the past six months in collaboration with community leaders and residents. It will provide the foundation of their work moving forward. The presentations emphasized not only the challenges these communities face, but also the assets that are awaiting equitable investment. They also highlighted a number of current projects and innovative approaches to address these pressing challenges.

Ghian Foreman of the Washington Park Development Group and the Greater Southwest Development Corporation (pictured left) presented on behalf of the Green Line South stations, focusing on the innovative incubation work and vacant land opportunities that exist across the sites in proximity to transit. (See the video presentation here and the PowerPoint presentation here)

Adrian Soto of Esperanza Health Centers (pictured right) and Anna Mayer of Taller de Jose presented on behalf of the California Pink Line station, and discussed the gentrification that is beginning to displace the largely Mexican-American and immigrant population and the work of the community-based organizations including those of the Marshall Square Resource Network. (See the video presentation here and the PowerPoint presentation here)

Kevin Sutton of Foundation for Homan Square (pictured left) and Melvin Cox of Bridge Consulting presented on behalf of the Kedzie Corridor stations.  They discussed their vision for transforming and connecting the East Garfield Park and North Lawndale communities and promoting unique area assets and partners. (See the video presentation here and the PowerPoint presentation here)

Lucy Gomez-Feliciano from the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (pictured right) presented on behalf of the Logan Square Blue Line site.  She focused on gentrification in the community and the impact of recent TOD and described grassroots and youth-led efforts to preserve housing affordability in the community. (See the video presentation here and the PowerPoint presentation here)

Plenary Panel and Q & A session

The plenary panel included Juan Carlos Linares (LUCHA), Jacky Grimshaw (Center for Neighborhood Technology), Michael Davidson (The Chicago Community Trust) and Shelley Poticha (Natural Resources Defense Council and SPARCC) and was moderated by Rosa Y. Ortiz (Enterprise Community Partners) and Roberto Requejo (Elevated Chicago).

The Elevated Chicago Plenary Panel framed equitable transit-oriented development (eTOD) as a comprehensive link between the environment, public health, and racial and social equity.

On the topic of eTOD, Michael Davidson from The Trust said, “The built environment is a really powerful tool. It can be used to separate…and it can be used to connect.” Juan Carlos Linares from LUCHA discussed the challenges of bridging the conversations among community, developers, and the public and private sectors, particularly around race and equity.

Jacky Grimshaw from the Center for Neighborhood Technology and Shelley Poticha from Natural Resources Defense Council both discussed the impact that racial and economic inequality have had at all levels – from the community level to the regional and national levels. Jacky lamented that once-thriving communities have seen businesses and schools close, dwindling opportunity has led to exodus, and “black metropolises” no longer exist. She asserted that if we really intend to move the needle on these issues, systemic changes and collaborative action are essential.

Shelley then stressed that many investments that have been made in community revitalization, schools and the like have not led to progress; however, they have highlighted the inequities in the systems.  SPARCC provides an opportunity for six cities across the country to address displacement and the subsequent impact on equity, health, and cultural and climate resiliency.  The cities, work collaboratively through the SPARCC framework to raise these issues to the national level. 

During the Q & A session, Juan Carlos Linares from LUCHA and Ghian Foreman from Washington Park Development Group explained that Chicago neighborhoods have been over-planned and over-studied, while actionable plans have fallen short and a public distrust of new projects swells. There is a dire need for wealth and knowledge to intersect with innovation and conflict. Some of the issues mentioned include a need to aggressively tackle displacement in neighborhoods, whether caused by gentrification or by disinvestment.

Keynote Conversation

Joanna Trotter (Program Officer, The Chicago Community Trust) moderated a conversation with Dr. Julie Morita (Commissioner, Chicago Department of Public Health) and Dr. Helene Gayle (CEO, The Chicago Community Trust).

Dr. Julie Morita and Dr. Helene Gayle sat down with Joanna Trotter for a conversation about equity through the lens of public health and ways to integrate transportation, the built environment, and public safety in order to strengthen communities.  Public health aims to prevent rather than cure, and it looks at the root causes of health issues. Building on this statement, Dr. Morita and Dr. Gayle discussed the role communities are playing across the country in addressing health equity and the social determinants of health as featured in the publication Communities in Action: Pathways to Health Equity; both women contributed to the publication.  Dr. Morita discussed Healthy Chicago 2.0, a plan developed by the Chicago Department of Public Health in partnership with hundreds of organizations to help ensure that all city residents enjoy equitable access to resources, opportunities and environments that maximize community health and well-being.  Transportation is a critical element of public health – statistics show that increased use of public transit is associated with improved air quality and other climate factors, and that people who use public transportation are more active and exhibit improved mental health. While transit is an essential asset that provides access to resources and opportunities for residents, the fact is there are real and perceived barriers for vulnerable populations, including safety, costs and access issues.

During the conversation, Joanna shared an image from Stop Telling Women to Smile, an art series by artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, which was installed at Elevated Chicago’s Garfield Green Line station.  It brought to the forefront the objectification of women, and the daily challenges that women face even when doing something as simple as waiting for a train. Dr. Morita and Dr. Gayle both shared their perspectives as women of color.  In reality, public transit is often seen as dangerous, particularly for women, teens, the elderly and people with disabilities who often experience transit differently. This is particularly true in disinvested communities, which are disproportionately African- American and Latino. Community engagement around transit, and ensuring that our public transportation is safe and accessible, are critical to creating a sense of local pride and ownership in our vast transit system.  We also must acknowledge that structural factors and power dynamics heavily influence health equity, and we must have authentic discussions and implement lessons learned.  Collaboration is key to addressing those larger systemic barriers, but it must be done right and be properly resourced. According to Drs. Morita and Gayle, the success of collaboration relies on deliberate and careful planning.  A collaboration must offer incentives for different sectors based on the individual and collective goals of participants in order to maintain engagement, and it should set realistic outcomes that can be evaluated and monitored. 

Pictured: (l-r) Trotter, Morita and Gayle

Afternoon Panels

The afternoon was comprised of two sets of three concurrent panels, offering diverse topics that aligned with the work of Elevated Chicago and its partner organizations. 

Health and the Arts: Perspectives on Building Healthy Communities

Carmen Vergara (Esperanza Health Centers) moderated a panel which included Theo Edmunds (IdeasxLab), Hannah L. Anderson (Chicago Department of Public Health), and Omar Magana (Open Center for the Arts).

The Health and the Arts panel focused on the influence of art on a community and its health.  According to the panelists, community is culture; it is everything that exists around us.  Health is the well-being of mind, body and spirit.  Arts is an opportunity for communities to express their true selves, uplift their culture and connect with each other and their environment.  Panelists emphasized the myriad ways in which existing structures affect individual and community health.  Unless we understand health within the context of the community and its culture, we will never affect positive change.   Theo Edmunds of Ideasxlab shared lessons learned through Project HEAL and summed up the challenge, stating “change can never be about one thing.  It has to be about everything.” The intersection of art and health is most effective when it meets community needs, explores cultural traditions in new ways, and is part of an integrated, people-centered strategy. 

Pictured: Anderson (l) and Edmonds (r)

Who Stays, Who Goes?  Addressing Displacement in Communities of Color

Marisa Novara (Metropolitan Planning Council) moderated a panel which included Juan Carlos Linares (LUCHA), Geoff Smith (DePaul University’s Institute for Housing Studies), Tyronne Stoudemire (Hyatt Corporation), and Krysta Pate (Detroit Home Mortgage Program).

This panel invited housing and industry experts to discuss the growing issue of displacement, whether through gentrification or disinvestment, which disproportionately affects communities of color. While transportation-related investments, including transit-oriented developments and trails such as The 606, are amenities, they often increase property values, property taxes and rents, and decrease affordability for low- and modest-income residents and businesses.  Communities including Logan Square and Pilsen are experiencing shifts in resident demographics – Logan Square has seen an increase of 44% in its White population and a decrease of 35% in its LatinX population between 2000 and 2013. These population changes are a growing economic concern as well, because employers find that higher housing prices pose an issue for low- and middle-income employees.  Disinvestment also leads to displacement, demonstrated by the population decline in African-American communities that have historically experienced underinvestment or disinvestment.  A lack of amenities and opportunities has driven those residents out of the city. Panelists highlighted several strategies for addressing displacement – increasing control of land to maintain affordability and improving the health of the community; advocating for affordable housing policies; and leveraging innovative and collaborative initiatives such as Elevated Chicago (to address racial equity) or the Detroit Home Mortgage program (to provide opportunity for local ownership). Geoff Smith’s presentation and data on displacement in the Elevated Communities can be found here.

Pictured: (l-r) Novara, Smith, Linares, Pate and Stoudemire

Investing in Communities for Impact

Andy Geer (Enterprise Community Partners) moderated this panel which included Charlie Corrigan (JPMorgan Chase Foundation), Deborah Kasemeyer (Northern Trust Bank), Vickie Lakes-Battle (IFF) and Aarti Kotak (Office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel).

This panel invited four investors to share their experience in providing financial support to disinvested Chicago neighborhoods. One of the issues tackled was access to capital – 70% of jobs are created by small entrepreneurs, but most capital is concentrated in only a few neighborhoods in Chicago. By pushing more of this capital out to disinvested neighborhoods, small local entrepreneurs can create sustainable community wealth by their own hands. Another issue was partnerships with local organizations. Community-based organizations have deep knowledge about neighborhoods and have built trust with local residents through time, acting as local sources of intelligence to locate the key areas and critical issues to be targeted. Investment is not only about capital: by partnering effectively with communities of color and connecting them to available resources, funders can encourage inclusive growth, provide capacity-building where needed, and support communities in building long-term, sustainable financial resilience.

Pictured: Panelists with moderator Andy Geer (standing)

What is eTOD? Understanding the Spectrum of Equitable Transit-oriented Development

Kendra Freeman (Metropolitan Planning Council) and Kyle Smith (Endavant Consultants) moderated a panel which included Michael Burton (Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation), Ghian Foreman (Washington Park Development Group), and Bill Eager (Preservation of Affordable Housing).

This panel invited three developers to discuss eTOD, what it is, what it can be, and why it is important.  Generally, the perception of transit-oriented development is of high-cost, luxury high-rises that can often drive up housing costs  and displace many residents.  These panelists aim to shift that narrative, reimagining TOD into eTOD – equitable transit-oriented development that creates local jobs and affordable housing, protects small businesses, and preserves the history and culture of the community.  eTOD can be tailored to the specific assets and challenges of each community and has the potential to be a powerful tool for revitalization, increasing walkability, increasing access to transit, creating new opportunities around commercial corridors, developing safe, affordable housing, and strengthening the relationship between our transit system and the built environment of the communities.  Panelists highlighted projects they have been leading in Logan Square, Woodlawn and Washington Park, and they reflected on the opportunities and challenges of executing successful eTOD in both strong and weak markets. More information about these and other eTOD initiatives can be found here.

Incubation, Innovation,…Disruption?

Elise Zelechowski (ThoughtWorks) moderated a panel which included Bernard Loyd (Urban Juncture), Shandra Richardson (Sunshine Enterprises), Harry Alston (Safer Foundation), and Sarah Cardona (Metropolitan Planning Council).

In this panel, four innovators shared stories about how their work enables communities to thrive.  They discussed the importance of incorporating principles of environmental, economic and cultural sustainability into their community development strategies and how both human and economic capital are critical to the success of a community. They stressed the importance of supporting small entrepreneurs and promoting community ownership, which in turn creates job opportunities and more community wealth.  Incubation programs encourage innovation and entrepreneurship while providing much-needed space and training.  Innovative programs tap into underutilized, unrecognized human capital.  New and innovative social venture models can lead to increased community wealth, job opportunities and, in some cases, advancements in sustainability and climate resiliency where there would no such investment otherwise.

A few of the projects highlighted included Urban Juncture’s Boxville and Bronzeville Cookin’, Sunshine Enterprises’ the Community Business Academy and Business Accelerator Services program, and Safer Foundation’s Demand Skill Collaborative and Robotics Training Program.

What is Resiliency? A Conversation on Social Networks, Economic Opportunities, and Climate

Shelley Poticha (Natural Resources Defense Council and SPARCC National Partner) moderated this panel, which included Christian Diaz (Logan Square Neighborhood Association), Kevin Sutton (Foundation for Homan Square), Dr. Danielle Kizaire (Bronzeville Urban Development), and Vito Greco (Elevate Energy).

Shelley invited panelists to discuss the challenge of climate resiliency in communities of color and the ways in which the nonprofit sector can help communities respond to climate change. To effectively address climate vulnerability in these communities, we have to also address our history of racial disparity and disinvestment, which have created the economic issues that have become a priority.  It is difficult to talk about climate change and investing in sustainable development when a neighborhood doesn’t have the basics such as food, jobs and safety.  Solutions cannot just mitigate the issues that are already present, they must allow the community to adapt to increasing vulnerabilities and prepare for the realities of climate change.  Creating community ownership – from gardens to local ownership of community-based utilities – not only encourages engagement but creates community wealth.  Investing in job training for urban sustainability and clean energy jobs not only creates opportunity now but also prepares the next generation, thereby increasing wealth within the community.  There isn’t one solution that will fit every community; the historical context, existing culture, community needs and racial inclusion must be considered in every aspect. 

Pictured: (l-r) Diaz, Greco and Poticha


Jeremiah Boyle (Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago) and Megan Cunningham (Chicago Department of Public Health) wrapped up the symposium.  Jeremiah shared highlights from the afternoon panels that provided snapshots of the conversations.  Megan shared next steps and encouraged the audience to: connect with Elevated Chicago through social media; think about ways the diverse organizations and sectors in the room can partner with Elevated Chicago; and embed equitable practices, processes and policies in their work, particularly around neighborhood development.

Additional Information

Pictured: (left to right) Yvonne Shields, Kevin Sutton and Sheila McNary. Sutton is a member of the Elevated Chicago Steering Committee; Shields and McNary are members of the Homan Square Community Advisory Council. All three sit on the Kedzie Corridor Community Table.

Continue the Conversation: Social Media Links

This report was written by Marly Schott, Program Associate at Elevated Chicago, with support from the Elevated Chicago launch team and Rudd Resources.