2023 Regional Excellence Award winners

Strong leadership, bold ideas, and a shared responsibility to improve quality of life for the nearly 8.6 million people who call our region home are a few of the reasons why the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) presents the Regional Excellence Awards

The 2023 awards program celebrates seven projects and leaders who exemplify the ingenuity and dedication that makes northeastern Illinois a better place to live, enjoy, work, and do business. Whether they’ve strengthened access to resources, redeveloped long vacant properties, or built on careers devoted to public service, the 2023 winners have shaped our region in outstanding ways. 

Meet the winners of the 2023 CMAP Regional Excellence Awards. Watch the videos to learn more. 

Equity with Impact 

Auburn Gresham Healthy Lifestyle Hub 

Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation and Milhouse Engineering and Construction 

The Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation opened the Auburn Gresham Healthy Lifestyle Hub to address community gaps in health care, healthy food options, banking, and education on Chicago’s South Side. It is a four-story facility renovated from a nearly 100-year-old building that once served as a furniture store and warehouse. It sat vacant on 79th Street for years. 

Working with Milhouse Engineering and Construction and other partners, the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation revitalized the building, preserved and restored its terra cotta facade, and transformed it into a one-stop destination for medical, social, and community development services. The investment in the Hub also is spurring investment elsewhere along the 79th Street corridor, generating more than $170 million in new and proposed business development. 

Bloomhaven development 

City of Aurora and Fox Valley Developers 

The Bloomhaven development in Aurora turned a blighted health facility, originally built in 1888, into a mixed-use development delivering essential services and amenities to residents of different ages and abilities. 

Bloomhaven features Weston Bridges, a first-of-its kind independent living community for people with intellectual, cognitive, and developmental disabilities, and the Bardwell Senior Living Residences, an independent living community for seniors. East Aurora School District 131 operates its headquarters on site, and a five-acre park and playground area connects to the surrounding neighborhood with trails and walking paths. 

The project, created by Fox Valley developers and championed by city officials, represents a $129 million investment in Aurora’s Broadwell neighborhood.  

Partners for Progress 

Transit is the Answer 

The Regional Transportation Authority 

Big, bold solutions are needed to secure the financial viability of our region’s transit system, and the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) took a major step to answer that call. Transit is the Answer, RTA’s regional transit strategic plan, addresses a multi-million-dollar annual operating budget gap in 2026. 

The plan is the result of more than a year of development, along with input from and engagement with thousands of people, including residents across the region, transit riders past and present, and hundreds of other stakeholders. Community input and public engagement helped define the vision, outcomes, and principles of the plan. 

Regional Resilience 

Project Zero: Pace’s zero emissions commitment 

Pace Suburban Bus 

Pace Suburban Bus made a significant commitment to ensuring its fleet of public buses, serving northeastern Illinois’ many suburbs, can better support the environment by launching Project Zero. Pace took major strides to reducing the transit agency’s carbon footprint and improving the quality of our region’s environment when it committed to converting the entire Pace fleet to zero-emission vehicles by 2040. 

Carrying out its plan to combat climate change, Pace received its first electric bus in November 2022 and ordered 20 additional buses that are scheduled to arrive in 2023. The electric buses will be deployed based on the results of a fleet transition plan and a forthcoming facilities study. 

Climate Ready Oak Park 

Village of Oak Park 

The Village of Oak Park provided the region with a blueprint to address a changing climate when it approved Climate Ready Oak Park, a comprehensive sustainability and resilience plan for its own community. 

Climate Ready Oak Park lays out ambitious goals with concrete commitments and actions to improve air quality locally and reduce greenhouse gas emissions 60 percent relative to 2019 levels by 2030. In addition, the plan strives to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. 

The village’s Office of Sustainability led the development of the local plan, which was informed by input from the public. The village also prioritized equitable engagement — setting up avenues for two-way conversations with underrepresented groups and community members most impacted by a changing climate. 

Visionary Leaders 

George Van Dusen, mayor of Skokie 

In the 40 years that George Van Dusen has been serving residents, the Village of Skokie has become a racially diverse and inclusive community with a strong local economy. A longtime resident of the northern Cook County suburb, Mayor Van Dusen first started serving Skokie residents as trustee in 1984, a job he kept until 1999, when he was elected mayor. Mayor Van Dusen has held Skokie’s top elected position ever since. 

Known for being a tireless worker who emphasizes quality of life, Mayor Van Dusen has helped lead efforts to improve access to transit, diversify Skokie’s economy, and institute sustainable policies. Mayor Van Dusen’s career in public service exemplifies CMAP’s core values to lead with excellence and serve with passion. 

Peter Wallers, chairman of Engineering Enterprises, Inc. 

Throughout more than 45 years in engineering, Peter Wallers has remained passionate about one asset critical to a strong quality of life — water conservation. Wallers has enjoyed a long and successful career at Engineering Enterprises, Inc., a firm based in Sugar Grove that has worked with numerous communities in northeastern Illinois. He started at Engineering Enterprises in 1977, was named president and CEO in 2006, and became chairman in 2020. 

Wallers has helped collaborate and coordinate solutions alongside communities in Kane and Kendall counties. He also helped form the Northwest Water Planning Alliance, which includes more than 80 communities and 1.4 million residents in the region. 

Throughout those milestones and more, Wallers often has worked behind the scenes, consulting and providing communities with expert insights on infrastructure improvements, community development, and water resource planning.