New MacArthur grant funds CMAP’s capacity-building work

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) was recently awarded a $300,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation to continue work building local government capacity. First piloted in 2018, the Capacity Building Program offers training, technical assistance, and support to local governments in northeastern Illinois.

To date, participating communities applied for and received more than $4 million in grants, started or advanced dozens of projects, launched four new public outdoor initiatives, created a new county coordinator position, and launched a new online portal for intergovernmental cooperation.

What is the Capacity Building Program?

CMAP’s Capacity Building Program offers training, technical assistance, and support to local governments in northeastern Illinois.

The program’s goal is for communities to make visible changes — clean up properties, begin construction, enhance public spaces — while advancing their long-term vision. CMAP also assists local staff in creating and strengthening internal systems and operations to sustain the vision over time.

The Capacity Building Program is part of CMAP’s local technical assistance (LTA) work, which supports communities through planning and implementation assistance. By focusing on building local government capacity, this new program fulfills a recommendation in ON TO 2050, the region’s comprehensives plan.

Challenges to local planning

Communities want to do short- and long-term planning to enhance their residents’ quality of life. But they face many challenges, including:

  • Lack of staff
  • Outdated plans
  • Insufficient resources to implement plans

CMAP understands these obstacles. The agency partnered with the Metropolitan Planning Council to study municipal capacity and create strategies for building local government capacity. ON TO 2050 highlights the importance of building local government capacity, specifically noting the agency’s LTA program as a place for action.

Solutions for local governments

Knowing the many challenges local governments face, CMAP sought funding from the MacArthur Foundation, Illinois Department of Transportation, and Chicago Community Trust to build communities’ capacity to achieve their visions.

Capacity building map

Testing ground for innovation

In 2018, CMAP created the pilot Capacity Building Program to assist local governments in implementing plans. The pilot began with four initiatives:

  • Embedded Staff Planner program
  • McHenry County coordinated investment study
  • Leadership Academy
  • Enhanced Local Technical Assistance
Embedded Staff Planner program

CMAP staff planners worked directly with two communities — Calumet Park and Sauk Village — providing on-location support. These efforts led to the villages receiving more than $3.75 million in grants, including a $1.5 million Rebuild Illinois grant for Calumet Park. They also worked on a range of projects, including revitalizing a major business corridor in Calumet Park and planning for a new 53-home “smart neighborhood” subdivision in Sauk Village.

McHenry County coordinated investment study

Staff facilitated the McHenry County coordinated investment study with the participation of more than 100 local governments. The result was the creation of a new county coordinator position and a shared online portal for intergovernmental coordination.

Leadership Academy

CMAP began developing a new program to provide trainings and professional development for local government officials and staff to implement ON TO 2050. Guidance and support will be offered to brief decision-makers on regional priorities, build critical skills, and help ensure all the region’s leaders can access the information and expertise to achieve local and regional goals.

Enhanced Local Technical Assistance

Staff developed an internal resource guide for the LTA program to provide targeted capacity building recommendations and activities catered to local needs for each plan. The plans can provide the groundwork for other capacity building services, and serve as a transition for communities that participate in the Embedded Staff Planner program.

Evolving to meet needs

In response to the pandemic, CMAP created three new programs to support and adapt to municipalities’ changing priorities. The intent was to achieve the same results of the earlier programs: increased municipal capacity, peer-to-peer network building, and increased regional coordinated investment through more informed, efficient, and innovative program delivery. 

The three new programs were:

  • NEXT program
  • Resource, Opportunity, and Impact program
  • Community collaborative
NEXT program

The NEXT program helps communities implement existing plans. CMAP’s work in Matteson began with helping the village implement its streetscape improvement plan, and grew to include revising the outdoor dining ordinance and other outdoor amenity improvements. The Lake County Land Bank received assistance to establish sustainable funding methods. They also created a pilot program in Round Lake to identify and track blighted, vacant, and abandoned properties.

Resource, Opportunity, and Impact program

The Resource, Opportunity, and Impact program aims to move forward transportation projects. CMAP helped Harvey identify seven priority transportation projects among 31 planned projects, three of which received funding. University Park got help in identifying the two village streets most in need of work and securing funding for a major traffic light project.

Community collaborative

The collaborative was designed for a group of municipalities to address shared challenges. The first round, the Collaborative for Public Space Innovation, focused on creative uses of public space in response to the pandemic. Four communities — Berkeley, Harvey, Lemont and Morton Grove — engaged in idea sharing that resulted in four projects that are reasonably budgeted, replicable, and sustainable.

Construction workers utilizing machinery to pour cement onto the road while using shovels to even out the material.

Building on success

CMAP commits to assisting local governments and addressing regional challenges while also working in inclusive ways with communities that have limited resources. In 2021, CMAP received a second grant from the MacArthur Foundation to continue the Capacity Building Program.

This next stage will include the following initiatives:

  • Leadership Academy
  • NEXT program
  • Resource, Opportunity, and Investment program
  • Community collaboratives

CMAP has already launched another round of the NEXT and Resource, Opportunity, Impact programs. It also created a new collaborative to explore how local communities can work together to address decisions about development incentives. As CMAP launches additional rounds of capacity building services, we invite local governments to apply to participate.

This work was made possible by the MacArthur Foundation, Illinois Department of Transportation, and Chicago Community Trust.

Learn more

Read the grant report and executive summary.