North Avenue revitalization kicks off with housing boom

A building with cars parked in front

Apartments, townhouses, and other multifamily housing developments are cropping up along North Avenue in western Cook County. The activity shows renewed interest in a once vibrant commercial stretch and marks an early success story for a major revitalization effort that the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) helped guide.

The North Avenue District, a community nonprofit, applied for a Technical Assistance grant from CMAP in 2017. The nonprofit’s goal was to modernize and reinvigorate the busy thoroughfare that straddles Chicago’s far west side and suburban Oak Park. The corridor has declined in recent years, with too many vacant properties.

The planning project recommended strategies to improve the corridor’s economic vitality and the quality of life of residents living near there. The project also incorporated feedback from the public and community groups, and addressed improvements on both sides of North Avenue.

From the onset, North Avenue District pursued technical assistance from CMAP with support from the Village of Oak Park and Chicago’s 29th Ward, which serves the Austin neighborhood. CMAP also engaged the Urban Land Institute Chicago (ULI Chicago), for its economic development expertise to help identify redevelopment opportunities along North Avenue.

Throughout the planning process, CMAP fully engaged the public, hosting visioning workshops and open houses. CMAP also surveyed residents and businesses, receiving more than 2,100 responses to a survey on the types of changes they would like to see.

The multilayered, collaborative approach — a primary goal of the region’s long-range ON TO 2050 plan — helped build a plan that involves two communities with differing levels of need, resources, and capacity.

“CMAP encourages and promotes multijurisdictional collaboration, which helps neighboring communities plan proactively for their future collectively rather than in isolation,” said Cindy Cambray, an associate planner for CMAP who managed the project.

A key recommendation from the project was attracting multifamily housing to the area. This strategy has two purposes: redevelop vacant commercial sites with apartments given strong demand and provide businesses with more foot traffic from customers who live nearby.

At least six new multifamily housing developments now are underway on both the Chicago and Oak Park sides of the corridor, with developers reporting strong interest from renters. The comprehensive list of strategies from the project also identified streetscape improvements and commercial developments.

CMAP will continue to keep in touch with local partners carrying out the different recommendations, offering assistance and ensuring progress toward improving the corridor.

Judith Alexander, chairwoman of the North Avenue District, said the revitalization plan makes it easier for the nonprofit to find funding opportunities. CMAP’s continued involvement is important too. “It’s great to know that CMAP will continue to work with us in the implementation process rather than just handing us a document and wishing us good luck,” Alexander said.