In real life, dreams are complicated
Just blocks from downtown you have 13 acres of city-controlled property adjacent to the second busiest commuter rail station in metro Chicago. Terrific demographics, and the entity controlling the property is ready to roll.
When I was in graduate school, studying urban planning, it’s the kind of thing we’d discuss in class: given certain parameters, how should property be developed? What’s the highest and best use? How can land be developed in a way that is good for the investor and the public?
But this is not an academic exercise. It’s the real world, with real people whose lives will be affected. There are strong competing interests: residents want their neighborhood protected from excessive traffic, noise and lighting. Commuters, weary of spending years on waiting lists, want more parking. And the 13 acres in question includes a well-regarded children’s museum.
As is usual with redevelopment, there have been strong emotions on both sides: some people want to see maximum profit, while others want to protect their property values. But let’s try to focus on the bright side: It’s a wonderful opportunity—a rare, almost blank slate—to create a great place.
That’s not to say it will be easy. There are many moving parts. Perhaps overlooked so far is that the Metra commuter trains are already overcrowded, with no good solution in sight. The thinking behind redeveloping Fifth Avenue is that it will be a “transit-oriented development,” which is planner talk for putting housing near public transit, therefore reducing the number of cars on the road.
But several similar developments are already underway along the rail line between downtown Aurora to Union Station in downtown Chicago. If using the train becomes too much of a hassle, the market for adjacent housing could tank.
Place making is an art and a science. It’s what I’ve spent most of my career working on, first covering city planning issues as a newspaper reporter and editor, later working as a city planner in East Lansing, Aurora and many other cities. If elected to the Naperville City Council, I will bring a lifetime of experience to this important discussion.