My Take on EH: Jacqueline Austin

Get a view of planning! Expanded Horizons visited Chicago, IL September 10-14, 2014. This trip brought first year MUP students to the Windy City to learn about urban planning in the professional world through tours and site visits.

The walking tour on Thursday morning was a ton a of fun. Our group was lead by second year MUP students down State St. from Congress Parkway to the Chicago River, then over to Millennium Park. It was a great chance to see some of the amazing architecture, historical buildings, new developments, and placemaking projects (see photos) in the financial district of Chicago. We discussed the decline that happened in the area in the that started 1990s and saw how businesses have returned to the area, making it a booming retail and business area. We finished up by visiting Millennium Park, a great example of public and private sector partnerships to create a unique public space. Pictures included in this post are from the current art installation in the park. This installation by artist Juame Plensa. The large face sculptures are designed to compliment the Crown Fountain which is celebrating it’s 10th anniversary. 

The site visits gave everyone the opportunity to visit non-profits and public and private organization to get information on the use of planning in real-life situations. I visited Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT), Friends of the Parks, and the Active Transportation Alliance (ATA). The visit that I felt was the most beneficial was the ATA. The ATA is an organization that focuses on lobbying for policies changes that will make Chicago a community that is non-motor transportation friendly. They discussed the process they use to develop a policy, generate support for the policy and ways to move it through the City of Chicago to get it passed. We then had the opportunity to visit a bike lane that has been successfully implemented on Dearborn St. in Chicago. This bike is unique and progressive because it has painted lines, barriers between the bike lane and automobile traffic, and dedicated traffic signals. In addition to policy lobbying, the ATA does education for using non-motorized transportation, drivers sharing the roads with bikers, and how to create complete-street programs. 

To finish off the weekend, the entire group had the opportunity to give back to the community by volunteering at the Dunning-Read Conservation Area. This 23 acre area was established in 2005 by the State of Illinois and the Friends of the Park organization to protect woodlands and wetlands habitats. We had the opportunity to help clean-up the area, freshen the walking paths with additional mulch, relocate some “alien” species, and organize their supply shed. It was a great opportunity to work together as a large group and make a difference in the community. There were several people from the Friends of the Parks organization that expressed their gratitude for everything that was done and how much energy our group brought to the day.

I would recommend this trip to anyone that is interested in learning about different ways Planners work in communities and getting to talk to people who are passionate about the work they are doing to improve their city. Additionally, it is an amazing opportunity to meet new people and all of the other MUP students with whom you will be spending the next 2 years of your life.





My Take on EH: Drew Phillips

I wasn’t sure what to expect on this year’s Expanded Horizons trip to Chicago. The last “school trip” I’d been on was a end-of-semester trip to Boston as a high school senior. This time, I knew almost none of my classmates and very little about the area of study that I’d joined. Since my undergraduate major was in an unrelated field, I wasn’t sure how much I’d get out of the site visits - meetings with both public and private planning organizations. I had the idea that most technical terms, financial and otherwise, would fly over my head. Further, I missed my deadline to select these visits. At least, I thought, I’ll get to explore downtown Chicago and spend too much money on restaurants.

I’m glad to say that the trip exceeded every one of my expectations. The fact that I was assigned site visits was actually a great opportunity: I learned about organizations that I wasn’t previously interested in. My favorite example of this was a meeting with the Civic Consulting Alliance (CCA), my first site visit. The CCA links donors with goal-based organizations and facilitates communication and long-term planning. Interestingly, it’s an organization that prefers anonymity. More than one employee told me that they’re successful when few people know that the CCA was involved with a project.

What struck me most was the excitement and professionalism of the planners, architects, lawyers, and others at the CCA. They shared a sense of enthusiasm and optimism about the success of complex planning projects. They have every reason to do so, given their high selectivity and equally high success rate. I had never given any serious thought to working in a not-for-profit organization; I naively assumed that they were always less influential than for-profit businesses (I’m using the “non-related undergrad major” excuse again here). It was clear that The CCA was passionate about its mission and deservedly proud of its successes, especially with modernizing the Chicago Public Library System.  I left wanting to get involved.

This was, I feel, the most important part of Expanded Horizons - the chance to learn about areas in planning that I had never considered. I would offer advice to future MUPs who go on this trip: choose at least one site visit that doesn’t immediately strike you as interesting. At worst, you’ll expand your horizons (sounds familiar…) and at best you’ll discover a fascinating area of urban planning and make connections within that field.

Finally, to use simple terms, the trip was super fun. The first-year MUPs had much more autonomy than I expected, and nearly everyone used their free time to explore the city, especially its restaurants (you NEED to go to The Little Goat west of The Loop), museums, parks, and neighborhoods. It was clear that the trip organizers really cared about making this trip as engaging as possible. Also, students from the Chicago area stepped in to talk about their perspectives and experiences, especially about the disadvantaged areas. So even if you tried to escape learning, you’ll learn a lot from your classmates. If you’re on the fence about joining in next year, just go. It was a great opportunity to learn without being lectured at, meet your classmates, start getting into the urban planning mindset, meet contacts in the industry, and find interesting bars in a city that you’ll forever see from a new perspective.

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