How residents feel about northeastern Illinois

In October 2021, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) released results of a new public opinion survey of northeastern Illinois. The findings reveal residents’ attitudes toward key quality-of-life issues — including transportation, open space, and housing — and identify successes and challenges across the region. The survey also uncovers how COVID-19 has affected residents’ transportation use and finances.

CMAP conducted this survey to better understand more than 2,000 residents’ attitudes about the region and see how ON TO 2050 — the region’s long-range plan — can address these issues.

A person seated at a pottery wheel shapes clay with their hands in a studio setting.

What do residents like about metropolitan Chicago?

Residents value the region’s open space and other amenities, including easy access to shops and restaurants. A long and diverse list of benefits draws people to the region, from the quiet and privacy of rural areas to lively urban centers. Regional planning can play an important role in ensuring residents and businesses have choices for where to live and work across northeastern Illinois.

What are residents’ top concerns about the region?

Cost of living and mobility were common concerns, including high taxes, housing costs, and traffic congestion. Residents also tended to be less satisfied with the value of services provided by their local governments.

How do transportation access and amenities change throughout the region?

Residents relied on a variety of transportation modes before COVID-19. Most people say it’s easy for them to travel to places like grocery stores, parks, restaurants, work, and entertainment — but there are still disparities.

People living in historically disinvested and disconnected communities are less satisfied with their access to good jobs, open space, and clean air and water. And people of color are twice as likely as white residents to say it’s hard for them to get to their place of work.

Residents feel that urban and rural areas are disconnected. Nearly half of respondents outside Cook County said it’s hard for them to travel to Chicago, while 31 percent of those inside Chicago say it’s hard for them to travel to the suburbs.

What would residents like to see changed?

Residents support equitable investments for roads, bridges, and transit, with 90 percent of respondents saying that it is important for these investments to go toward communities with the greatest needs. They also support continuing street changes that support walking and biking and include dedicated areas for curbside pickup.

However, they think local governments aren’t doing enough to address pollution and climate resilience.

How did the pandemic affect residents?

The pandemic had a large impact on households and finances. Nearly three in 10 respondents said they lost income or hours since March 2020, and one in five residents have had difficulty paying for food, groceries, and other essential items.

More remote and hybrid work could affect housing demand and congestion across the region. Sixty-three percent of employed respondents would move if they didn’t have to commute. Twenty-seven percent say they expect to drive or ride in a car more frequently than before COVID-19, and over a quarter of residents said they would use public transportation less than before.

Many of the issues highlighted in this survey — from housing costs to climate resilience — are identified in ON TO 2050, the region’s long-range plan. ON TO 2050 creates a roadmap for how our region can address these tough challenges to build a more prosperous region.