Site Visit: Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) is the official regional planning organization for Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kenall, Lake, McHenry, and Will Counties. CMAP developed, implements, and is currently updating the regional comprehensive plan; GO TO 2040. As the federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), CMAP is responsible for the region’s official transportation plan, which is only one part of the regional comprehensive plan. The GO TO 2040 plan, adopted in 2010, identifies 4 themes (livable communities, human capital, and efficient governance) and 12 corresponding recommended areas for action for the 4 identified themes.

This site visit will look into what planning for a major metropolitan area means and will be of interest to those in the land use and environmental planning concentrations.

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Site Visit: Growing Home

“Growing Home develops innovative agricultural initiatives with economic development potential, working in communities where we can make a positive difference.” 

Growing Home is a non-profit organization which specializes in empowering community members through employment and outreach in their high-production urban organic farms. Growing Home hires local community members and trains them in both the production and distribution side of urban farming. Therefore, Growing Home not only provides Chicagoans with local organically grown produce promoting health and food access in the community, but also provides employees with job skills that will lead them into more stable employment in the future. 

Growing Home unofficially began in 1993, when Les Brown, an important member of the Chicago community decided to acquire vacant land to provide employment for Chicago’s homeless community and became known as “Seeds of Change.” In 1996 “Seeds of Change” became “Growing Home”. Since its creation, the organization has trained 300 employees and has had a significant and positive impact in the community.

Growing Home currently operates four farms: one in Marseilles, IL, one in the south side of Chicago, and two in Englewood. We will be visiting the Wood Street Farm in Englewood where we will tour their facilities and learn further about the intersection of food systems and workforce development in Chicago. 

This site visit would be of particular interest to those considering the Land Use and Environmental Planning concentration, or the Housing, Community, and Economic Development concentration.

Site Visit: The Plant

Site Visit: The Plant and Discussion with Joe Miller, Chicago Artist Extraordinaire!

The Plant is a multi-use sustainable food production and economic development facility located in an old meatpacking warehouse in the Back of the Yards neighborhood in Chicago. The warehouse is currently being developed into a net-zero energy food business incubator, which relies on looping energy and waste through interrelated food production processes. In addition, The Plant is dedicated to supporting local economic development; it offers food production spaces to local tenants at a low cost and it will create 125 jobs entirely independent of fossil fuels in a neighborhood that has economically struggled in recent years.

The site visit will begin with a discussion with Joe Miller, a Chicago muralist who recently designed a 3,000 square foot mural on the westward facing wall of The Plant that illustrates the past, present, and future goals of this space. We will talk about the ways public art can support community and economic development, and in turn, planners can support local artists. We will then take a tour of the facility to learn about how the closed waste, resource, and energy loops work and to view all of the facilities, including an aquaponics system, a bakery, food production spaces, and more. If you are interested in sustainable development, food access, economic and community development, and public art, this will be a great site visit for you!



Photos by Joe Miller, mentioned above

Site Visit: Alta Planning and Design

Founded in 1996, Alta Planning + Design is a national leader in sustainable design, bicycle infrastructure and complete streets with its headquarters located in Chicago (Here’s their website With area focuses in planning, design + engineering, greenways,education and encouragement, bike sharing and complete streets, Alta is involved in many different large, and some smaller, scale projects. With a main focus on active transportation and recreation projects, Alta aspires to create sustainable and connective communities that in turn become more healthy and active. 
Most recently, Alta has been involved in a large project for a master urban design plan in Coachella Valley (pictured below). 

Some other projects they have been involved in a safe play access plan for Chicago, a connector corridor plan in Memphis, and additions to a regional bike trail in northwest Georgia. All of these exciting projects, and more!, can be found at Additionally, Alta is really great about keeping the community and other interested parties up to date with their awesome projects through their blog ( 
The site visit in the fall will likely include the low down on several of these national projects as well as a possible site visit to some of the successful work they’ve done in Chicago! This visit should appeal to most everyone for various reasons, but the site visit at Alta might be most appealing to the transportation concentration, the land use + environmental planning concentration and the physical planning + design concentration. 

Site Visit: Chicago Transit Authority (CTA)

Founded in 1947, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has grown to become the nation’s second largest public transportation system, providing around 1.7 million rides on the average weekday. While the CTA is perhaps most famous for operating “The L” rail system, the organization also runs a comprehensive bus system, which services 12,000 bus stops around the Chicago area. Our Expanded Horizons site visit will meet at CTA control center, where we will tour the operations side of organization, seeing how the massive system works. This meeting will include an overview of the CTA’s bus and rail operations in the Chicagoland area. In addition, students on this site visit will have the option to attend a separate presentation with the CTA’s planning staff. This should provide an excellent opportunity to connect and network with some of Chicago’s most influential transportation planners, as well as give participants a chance to answer any of their burning questions.  

This site visit is related especially strongly to the interests of those considering the Transportation Planning concentration.




Site Visit: The Chicago Park District

Since its formation more than seventy years ago, the Chicago Park District has continued its tradition of innovative programs and ideas, and beautifully designed landscapes and facilities. It aims to enhance the quality of life in Chicago by becoming the leading provider of recreation and leisure opportunities. The Chicago Park District is the steward of more than 8,100 acres of open space, totaling 580 parks, 26 miles of lakefront, 10 museums, two world-class conservatories, 16 historic lagoons, 10 bird and wildlife gardens, thousands of special events, sports and entertaining programs.The Chicago Park District was recently announced as a finalist for the 2014 National Gold Medal Awards for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management.

The Expanded Horizons site visit will meet at the District’s Offices downtown. There will be a short presentation and an opportunity to meet some of the Park District planners and project coordinators. If time permits, this site visit will include a visit to either Garfield Conservatory with a short tour by the Director of the Conservatory, or with a quick informal visit of Grant Park. This site visit strongly relates to the Land Use and Environmental Planning concentration.

Garfield Park Conservatory

Grant Park

Site Visit: Metropolitan Planning Council

The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that has been dedicated to shaping a more sustainable and prosperous greater Chicago region since 1934.  MPC serves communities and residents by developing, promoting, and implementing solutions for sound regional growth, understanding that all of Chicago’s regional assets need to work together effectively in order to unlock the metropolitan area’s potential.

MPC works with various planning agencies in Chicago, northeastern Illinois, northwestern Indiana, and southeastern Wisconsin.  While MPC focuses on economic development, vibrant neighborhoods, quality housing and transportation choices, and well-managed natural assets, the firm stresses long-term thinking in order to prepare the region(s) for the needs of tomorrow and is somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades firm; projects often undertaken: Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) plans, placemaking grants, water supply management, and transit-oriented development (TOD).

This site visit will include a tour of the office, which is located in the heart of the Loop, and a discussion on how MPC bridges gaps between government, communities, and business leaders in order to create strong partnerships needed for problem-solving.  MPC puts on ‘MPC Roundtables’ and ‘Urban Think and Drink’ events to provide forums for discussion on the most difficult of planning issues.  While a nonprofit, the Metropolitan Planning Council is held in high-regard around the City of Chicago and their sleek office will provide a unique look into a different type of nonprofit work.

Bus Rapid Transit: Chicago’s new route to opportunity
Chicago’s rapid transit network was built with the assumption that most travelers needed to go downtown, leading to our hub-and-spoke system of rail lines that converge on the Loop. Cross-town trips—those that do not need to pass through downtown—require slow bus trips.”

Creating usable public spaces…

TOD projects that increase connectivity within the Chicago metropolitan region…
Just 21 percent of the region’s jobs and 8 percent of its population are located within a quarter-mile of rapid transit.”

Site Visit: Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill (SOM)

One of the largest and most influential architecture, interior design, engineering, and urban planning firms in the world, SOM has completed more than 10,000 projects spanning 50-plus countries. A commitment to excellence, innovation, and sustainability makes them internationally renowned, and an icon in the realm of urban design. The firm offers services in tall buildings, environmental graphics, structural engineering, and sustainable design, as well as urban planning, and has been responsible for many past and current projects in the city of Chicago. Among their accomplishments in Chicago are the Lakeside Master Plan, Inland Steel Building, John Hancock Center, Central Area Master Plan, Willis Tower, Trump Tower, Brunswick Building, and Civic Center.

On the visit to SOM, we will be given a tour of the building, as well as a presentation on current featured projects, giving us a glimpse into the interdisciplinary process that is urban design and planning. This site visit would be of particular interest to students interested in physical planning and design.


Trump International Hotel and Tower


Chicago Lakeside Master Plan


Chicago Central Area Plan

Site Visit: Active Transportation Alliance

The Active Transportation Alliance is a non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to promoting and improving bicycling, walking, and public transit safe in the Chicago region. It focuses on increasing safety, building support, and improving infrastructure for alternative transportation options. ATA conducts events and campaigns, such as the Bike Commuter Challenge and Bike to Brew, throughout the Chicago region in order to better transportation options for those living in the city and suburbs.

Participants of the Expanded Horizons site visit will meet with the meet with the Planning and Policy Director and a Campaign Director to learn about the organization’s work from both the planning and advocacy perspective. The presentation will take a look at recent policy work and events conducted by the organization, as well as how to put together a successful alternative transportation campaign. Following the presentations, participants will join the site leader on a short walking tour of downtown bicycle infrastructure. The visit will provide a great opportunity to learn about work in a non-profit advocacy organization and the latest alternative transportation projects in Chicago. This site visit is especially applicable to those considering the transportation planning concentration. 

Site Visit: Friends of the Parks

Formed in 1975, FOTP is a non-profit designated park advocacy organization, dedicated to preserving, protecting, and improving Chicago’s parks and forest preserves for all citizens. By establishing park advisory councils, developing new parks, renovating playlots, and presenting public workshops, the organization has increased both private and public commitment to the city’s parks, as well as created an informed and passionate citizenry.

To create change, FOTP completes policy studies on public trust issues including legal analyses, as well as reports on park management and stewardship. It works with community groups to build a strong park constituency, and educates the public on environmental and park issues.

The Expanded Horizons site visit will consist of a tour of the office and a presentation on the organization’s current project, The Last 4 Miles. Currently, Chicago’s public lakeshore park system is 26 miles long. However, two lakefront stretches (totaling approximately 4 miles) are not part of the continuous lakefront system. FOTP has begun a new initiative to work with citizens, park advisory councils, community groups and public officials to envision a plan to complete the stretch of parkland, forming an uninterrupted chain of shoreline parks that all city residents can enjoy. This site visit would be especially pertinent to people considering the Land Use and Environmental Planning concentration.