Yonah Freemark

Planning Experience

Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), Chicago, Illinois

Project Manager, January 2014-July 2016 (Previously employed as Associate, April 2013-December 2013). At MPC, an 80-year-old regional planning nonprofit, my primary work programs were in transportation policy and finance, transit-oriented development (TOD), and affordable housing. Several of the initiatives that I led while at MPC included the organization’s research on the proposed Illiana Expressway; an evaluation of current conditions for Northeastern Illinois Public Transportation (detailed below); and the Accelerate Illinois initiative to expand funding for transportation in the state. As part of MPC’s TOD work, I led an intense research effort to understand how TOD works in the Chicago region today, the production of an interactive website called Grow Chicago (detailed below), and co-led MPC’s community engagement and planning work in Chicago’s Uptown and Logan Square neighborhoods (described in detailed below). This work aided in advancing legislative changes to promote TOD in the city. While I was employed at MPC, I was selected as a member of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s Transportation Committee, which reviews and guides the region’s long-term transportation plan.

During my time at MPC, I was interviewed by NPR’s national Here and Now show on transportation policy; WYCC’s In the Loop on congestion in the Chicago region; Streetsblog on transit-oriented development policy in Chicago; and Chicago Policy Radio on my TOD work. Check out videos of me presenting on my work at MPC and at the University of Illinois-Chicago. As a staff member, I also wrote more than 200 articles describing my work and best practices from around the world. Some key pieces include:


Project associated with MPC: Grow Chicago

Grow Chicago is an interactive website that demonstrates the value of transit-oriented development (TOD) for the future growth of the City of Chicago. I was the project manager for the website, as well as the study and recommendations that are associated with it, which I co-wrote with Stephanie Lotshaw, who at the time was with the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

The website features a “TOD Calculator” which allows users to “design” a development proposal for any parcel in the city of Chicago. The Calculator indicates what zoning regulations allow to be constructed on the parcel, including uses, square footage, housing units, and parking requirements and demand. It demonstrates what the positive community benefits from the development could be, such as increased tax revenues, more local retail sales, and transit rides.

The development of the website and report was aided by Steven Vance, as well as MPC staff, including Breann Gala, Ryan Griffin-Stegink, Marisa Novara, Mandy Burrell-Booth, Chrissy Mancini, and Peter Skosey. The website was designed by Chicago-based Webitects.

The website can be viewed here: http://www.metroplanning.org/growchicago. The full report can be viewed here: http://growchicago.metroplanning.org/documents/grow-chicago.pdf. Sean Thornton profiled the TOD Calculator for the Harvard Ash Center’s Data-Smart City Solutions blog.


Project associated with MPC: The Public Transportation Network in Northeastern Illinois: An Analysis of Existing Conditions

To complement the State of Illinois’ Public Transit Task Force in fall 2013, the Metropolitan Planning Council conducted an in-depth analysis of the conditions of the public transportation system in the Chicago region. I led the research analysis for the paper.

The research, which was cited in the media as well as the Task Force’s final report, found that the Chicago region was investing considerably less in its transit system than peer cities, and that this lack of investment was producing declining ridership. The research was also quoted extensively in the 2014 OECD paper on transport in Chicago (“Metropolitan Governance of Transport and Land Use in Chicago,” by Olaf Merk). The full study can be found here: http://www.metroplanning.org/multimedia/publication/778.


Project associated with MPC: Illiana Expressway: An analysis of costs and benefits

At the Metropolitan Planning Council, I led our team’s 2013 research and analysis of the State of Illinois’ proposed Illiana Expressway, which would run through the south side of the Chicago region in both Illinois and Indiana.

The research, which involved analysis of government documents, comparisons with projects in other states, investigation of top infrastructure needs in the region, and an original study of travel times for drivers and truckers, found evidence that the project was not beneficial for the region as a whole, particularly at its multi-billion-dollar cost. The analysis was cited by a number of media articles and supported a growing regional opposition to the project, which included the decision of the City of Chicago, Cook County, and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning Board to vote against the project. The State of Illinois announced in 2015 that the project was being cancelled.

The website dedicated to the project is here: http://www.metroplanning.org/illiana/. The full research document is here: http://www.metroplanning.org/uploads/cms/documents/illiana_faq.pdf


Project associated with MPC: Uptown and Logan Square Corridor Development Initiatives

In association with several community groups and Alderman James Cappleman of the 46th Ward, the Metropolitan Planning Council led a neighborhood consultation process on several publicly owned sites in Chicago’s Uptown community. I co-led this project with Breann Gala. The process, which asked participants to develop project ideas for a former school building and areas around a Chicago Transit Authority rail station, engaged hundreds of people and resulted in strong public interest. The process included three major public meetings, which involved polling, a charette, and financial analysis of project ideas. The full report can be found here: http://www.metroplanning.org/multimedia/publication/759. The report resulted in the sale of the school to a developer, which is currently reconstructing the school for residential use. Long-term plans for the project include the construction of a tower on the adjacent parking lot, as well. MPC’s work provided the spark and generated community support for the reuse of this well-located building.

Similarly, also with Breann Gala and in association with several community groups and Alderman Ray Colon of the 35th Ward, the Metropolitan Planning Council led a neighborhood consultation process on several publicly owned sites in Chicago’s Logan Square community in October 2014. This process was conducted in the same manner the Uptown consultation. It engaged more than 900 people through the three meetings, online polling, and text message polling. The full report can be found here: http://www.metroplanning.org/multimedia/publication/785. Since the meetings were conducted, the community’s aldermen, community groups and others have worked to push forward development on the parking lot adjacent to the station. MPC’s initiative was effective in raising the importance of the site for building more housing in the community.


Internships
  • Transport for London, 2011-2013, London UK and Cambridge MA
    LU Strategy & Service Development Group; Piccadilly Line Analytics with MIT
  • MTA New York City Transit, Summer 2011, New York City NY
    Strategic Initiatives Group
  • Dean Sakamoto Architects, 2008, New Haven CT
  • Regional Plan Association, Summers of 2006 and 2007, New York City NY
  • Urban Design Center, Summer 2005, Raleigh NC

Fellowships

International Transport Forum Media Travel Programme

  • Invited and sponsored to cover conference in Leipzig, Germany, May 2015.

Invited Presentations
  • Transport Chicago, June 2016, Chicago IL
    “Using open data to make the case for transit-oriented development”
  • Rail~volution, September 2014, Minneapolis MN
    “Legacy systems and TOD” session
    “Community Engagement + Corridor Development Initiative = Results” session
    Strong Towns “Talking Transit” event (listen to podcast)
  • Transport Chicago, June 2014, Chicago IL
    “Chicagoland TOD”
  • University of Illinois-Chicago, December 2013, Chicago IL
    “Reversing Decline” at Urban Innovation Symposium
  • The Millennial Trains Project, August 2013, Chicago IL
    “MPC and Chicago’s Future”
  • Congress for the New Urbanism, May 2011, Madison WI
    “The Place of Transit: Reorienting the Transit Development Discussion.”
    Short interviews for Reconnecting America: How to build a successful blog; We shouldn’t be selling off valuable assets; Europe’s transit constituency
  • Durham Historic Preservation Society, 2006, Durham NC
    “The Good and Bad of Durham’s Renewal”
  • Durham Exchange Club, 2004, Durham NC
    “Race, Class, and Politics in Durham’s Attempts for Downtown Reconstruction”