Reconnecting America People * Places * Possibility

Resource Center

Next Stop: New Jobs

From the opening of the report: 

New Jobs, Better Connections

Chicago is northeastern Illinois’ historic center of commerce and employment, yet over the last half century, economic activity has continuously dispersed to outlying suburbs. Among large metropolitan areas, Chicago is among the most decentralized, with two out of three jobs in the region located more than 10 miles from downtown. Many of these outlying employment centers are inaccessible by mass transit, thereby creating strains on road infrastructure, environmental systems and personal finances due to the costliness of car ownership and its attendant expenses.

Nevertheless, with one out of three jobs located within 10 miles of downtown, Chicago continues to be an economic force in the region. Chicago’s well-established mass transit system, which includes nearly 400 fixed-rail stations and over 180 bus routes, affords workers the chance to lower the cost of commuting by minimizing or eliminating the need for a car. Convenient and well-utilized public transit reduces congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. It also enables job development, as evidenced by the high number of existing jobs concentrated within transit zones.

Nationally, attention to neighborhood development around transit has focused on mixed-use development with residences, street-level retail and, occasionally, office space. This paradigm ignores the fact that much vacant land within station areas is strictly zoned for manufacturing or commercial purposes that could attract businesses offering living wages. Furthermore, job creation near transit can lead to more destinations along a corridor, creating demand for transit outside of the central business district (CBD) and, conceivably, in a reverse-commute direction during peak and off-peak travel times. This would spread ridership out along the system and make more optimal use of its carrying capacity over the course of the day.

Identifying Opportunities for Development

This analysis identifies which neighborhood transit zones in Chicago (namely those located outside of the CBD) have the greatest potential to create new manufacturing and commercial employment opportunities. To calculate prospective job creation in each area, CNT utilized its Employment Opportunity Optimizer Analysis tool (referred to as the Optimizer throughout this report). CNT developed this geographic information systems (GIS) application in 2003, and it has undergone continuous refinement through projects in metropolitan Chicago and other urban areas.

 The Optimizer quantifies a number of characteristics—transit service, zoning, land use, population density and market potential—generally associated with successful developments and then determines which station areas are best suited for manufacturing or commercial uses. Since different ingredients are required in an area to sustain different types of businesses, the Optimizer utilizes variables specific to each of the employment sectors under analysis. These variables are briefly explained in the body of this report and are more thoroughly defined in the appendix.

The report highlights over 50 station areas with economic development potential in the manufacturing and commercial sectors. Most opportunities are individual transit zones, but a few are clusters comprised of overlapping transit zones. The top prospective sites are listed and mapped within the body of the report. A full listing of high-potential station areas is included in the appendix.

CNT chose sites based on the development potential of available land, but further market analyses are needed to ensure the most productive use of these properties. This report concludes with suggestions for further research and policy decisions to more effectively link employment centers to workers via transit.