Chicago Cityscape's '1909' newsletter

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Chicago adopts a new building code

On Wednesday, April 10, 2019, Chicago adopted the first comprehensive update of its building code in over 70 years. The update modernizes the Chicago Building Code and incorporates parts of the International Building Code (IBC), which architects from around the country and around the world are more familiar with.

The code allows for more flexible building systems, giving architects and contractors more options on how to construct buildings. Aligning it with model codes also makes it easier to update the Chicago Building Code when those model codes are updated.

For small residential buildings — which I have a great interest in because of the prevalence of deconversions and limited new two and three-flat construction that have contributed to lowered neighborhood density— changes include being able to build small multi-family and mixed-use buildings using wood frame construction. Another example is that the minimum ceiling height in a basement dwelling unit is reduced which could increase the number of basements that are eligible to be converted to apartments (a kind of ADU).

The new Chicago building code will be voluntary in December and mandatory in August 2020. Read about more of new code’s benefits.

Questions about office and large apartment buildings should be directed to my colleagues at MAP Strategies, who are going to give seminars soon.

Other code changes

There are some other code updates that architects, developers, and contractors should know about:

  • Proposed: A zoning text amendment that would waive the “conversion fee” when rezoning (from PMD/M to B or C) in Industrial Corridors when the project includes rehabbing a “character building”. The conversion fee is a function of the property area and average land acquisition and construction costs, so it is much more expensive than a typical zoning change. If you have a property in the North Branch Industrial Corridor or the Kinzie Industrial Corridor, get in touch and I’ll explain it to you, if not write a future blog post.
  • The Illinois Accessibility Code was updated last fall, and accessibility architect Denise Arnold talked to me about the five changes that impact residential design and construction.
  • “Bird Law” might become a design standard soon, which would require that transparent façades use shading or fritting, or some other product, to eliminate the reflectivity of glass that contributes to birds crashing.
  • “Mural code” (not really a code) was updated to give building owners with blank walls, and funders, some more flexibility to hire muralists to paint and acknowledge the sponsor without it being considered a sign.

Chicago adopts a new building code was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

I-NOMA is looking for the next client for its Design Build 2019 project. Non-profit organizations that have a social mission and want some help redesigning and renovating some of their space should apply for a pro bono design consultation and renovation work.

High school students with an interest in architecture redesigned an underused space at the Chicago Child Care Society Office, under the guidance of architecture professionals I-NOMA members. Photo: Michael “Mabbo” Mabborang.

I-NOMA is the Illinois chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects, and Design Build is a project that involves architecture-curious high school students in an intense learning, designing, and working program. During Design Build, students will learn how to project manage, design a new room in 3D software, and source materials and eventually assist in the build out.

INOMA needs non-profit organizations with a social mission to apply. Applicants should already own their space or have permission to modify it. The scope of work they want help with mustn’t require a permit — the program isn’t long enough to wait around for that.

The kind of spaces that are great for Design Build include rooms, offices, waiting areas, and classrooms that could benefit from more than a touch of paint. Last year, about 15 students from multiple high schools redesigned an underused space at the Chicago Child Care Society office in Hyde Park. Watch the video below to watch the transformation of that office space at the minds and hands of young people.

Ready to apply? Read the RFP, due April 26.

Workshop for architecture-curious students seeks next client for an office makeover was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

20 new features in the last year

Cityscape added over 20 new features in the last year

As Chicago Cityscape turns five years old this month, I wanted to quickly gather the amount of progress made in just one year. I collated all of the new features and datasets that’ve been added to Chicago Cityscape since last April and came up with this pretty long list.

Four of the more than 20 new features added to Chicago Cityscape in the last year.

This is the newest feature: Check if a Chicago property is in a home rental prohibition area — look up an address and then look at the Zoning Dashboard to see if that house is in a precinct that bans short term/vacation home rental, like Airbnb and VRBO.

  • Property transactions (full consideration, property description, buyer and seller names) in Cook County
  • Opportunity Zones
  • 2017 property tax data and 2018 property assessment data
  • City of Chicago-owned land map
  • Cook County Land Bank Authority-owned land
  • Zoning maps for suburban areas: Naperville, Aurora, Evanston, Oak Park, and more
  • Basement flooding reports in Chicago: People can report to 311 that water is flooding into their basement, which can indicate problems with the sewer or alley. (Look up an address and scroll down.)
  • Submarket narratives: These briefly describe the housing market in a place you may not be familiar with
  • “Interesting developments” map: See what below-the-radar projects are being proposed or built, every time you load the homepage
  • Green View Index: Compare tree canopy coverage block to block. (Look up an address and scroll down.)
  • Energy benchmarking data: Compare how much gas and electricity the building you work in is using compared to the building across the street
  • 80 Acres maps: These historical maps can help you see what went on inside certain buildings, that may not exist anymore. (Look up an address and scroll down.)
  • Mobility Score: This is one of many ways that someone can gauge transportation access at an address and compare it to others — great for new homebuyers. (Look up an address and scroll down.)
  • Financial Incentives: Check for up to 19 of them on any property in Chicago, Cook County, and Illinois
  • Renderings Gallery to see what’s being proposed or built in Chicago
  • Amenities & Social Infrastructure: Another feature that’s great for homebuyers to see what amenities are near an address.
  • Transit Oriented Development status: This currently works for Chicago and Evanston, and will include Oak Park soon. (Look up an address and scroll down.)
  • Property Finder: These themed maps are designed for small developers and brokers to locate property that’s ideal for value-add additions, among other focus areas.
  • Site Locator: A special zoning map to find locations in Chicago that already zoned for a particular business

Talk about adding incredible value to your membership!

Send your feature ideas in a reply

20 new features in the last year was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

A professor at an out of state university asked this question: The land area for the Central Business District map on Chicago Cityscape is reported as 4.47 square miles, but the Wikipedia page for Loop says 1.58 square miles.

Here’s the answer:

The “Central Business District” map on Chicago Cityscape is drawn based on the boundaries defined in the Municipal Code of Chicago, which makes it an official boundary. It’s defined in the city’s “vehicle code”, 9-4-010 Definitions:

“Central Business District” means the district consisting of those streets or parts of streets within the area bounded by a line as follows: beginning at the easternmost point of Division Street extended to Lake Michigan; then west on Division Street to LaSalle Street; then south on LaSalle Street to Chicago Avenue; then west on Chicago Avenue to Halsted Street; then south on Halsted Street to Roosevelt Road; then east on Roosevelt Road to its easternmost point extended to Lake Michigan; including parking spaces on both sides of the above-mentioned streets.
A map of Chicago’s Central Business District, as defined in the Municipal Code of Chicago, compared to the Loop community area on the same scale.

The CBD is referenced in several other parts of the Municipal Code. The Municipal Code doesn’t define the “Loop” directly, but does define it as a neighborhood boundary in “Exhibit B”, referenced in 1-14-010.

The area is automatically calculated by GIS based on the map you see on the Central Business District page; it will be a bit inflated because the boundary includes a lot of water, although the official boundary stops at the edge between land and water. I drew it loosely because drawing along the edge between land and water is tedious.

“The Loop” is one of the 77 official community areas but it can also refer to the elevated ‘L’ trains that make a loop in downtown. Here’s a map of the Loop, the area of which is calculated 1.66 square miles.

Ask Cityscape: What’s the difference between the Loop and the Central Business District? was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

A couple of weeks after someone signs up for Cityscape Pro, they automatically get a “two minute” survey which asks them how they use the tools and features. Knowing the professions people are in and how they’re using Chicago Cityscape to help them in their work or to learn about new datasets is important to know because it’s used to guide development of new tools, features, and to prioritize which data to acquire.

Allen Bosbyshell is an Americorps/VISTA staffer at the Garfield Park Community Council and answered the survey this month. He works with GPCC’s Housing Specialist La Shone Kelly to increase affordable housing and prevent foreclosures and demolitions.

“We administer the City of Chicago’s ‘MMRP’ program. Part of my job is to find properties listed on MLS that qualify for the MMRP’s $15,000 downpayment assistance, and then find a buyer who will qualify.”

Do you uniquely use Chicago Cityscape? Send a short message about how you use Chicago Cityscape in your business or organization and we may feature you in a member spotlight.

What’s MMRP?

A map of the ten MMRP areas in Chicago.

The Micro Market Recovery Program is in designated parts of Chicago that was adopted during the recession to mitigate foreclosures and the impacts of foreclosures on tenants and homeowners in targeted neighborhoods.

All ten of them are mapped in Cityscape’s Maps Explorer.

“The Garfield Park Community Council tracks vacant housing in the neighborhood, by doing site visits as well as meeting down owners in housing court. We come up with a strategy for each troubled property through housing counseling or referring them to further city resources.”

Allen said he doesn’t need Cityscape to see if a property is in the West Garfield Park MMRP because its boundaries are so simple that he memorized them.

Left: Allen at GPCC locating vacant and troubled residential properties in West Garfield Park. Center: An example of a vacant property in the neighborhood. Right: A stable house in the neighborhood. All provided by Allen Bosbyshell/GPCC.

What Allen uses Cityscape for is to look up property ownership and contact information — a feature for Cityscape Pro members like the GPCC.

Cityscape Pro members can easily see detailed property information, including ownership information (blurred in this example).

Chicago Cityscape is able to provide that information to Allen in a simple map and spreadsheet, even narrowing down the properties to only show vacant lots in the West Garfield Park community area.

Additionally, the West Garfield Park Place page shows residents’ reports of vacant and abandoned buildings. Those calls to 311 and reports made via the Chicago 311 app appear on our maps daily. Not only that, but we’ve recently added people’s reports to 311 about flooding in their basements because of a member’s request.

Upcoming event

The Garfield Park Community Council and The Hatchery are hosting an indoor neighborhood market on Saturday, April 13. I went to the neighborhood market in February. Eighty percent of the vendors were small business owners from the West Side. This is a great opportunity to buy delicious pastries (and other foods) and see the inside of The Hatchery.

Member spotlight: Garfield Park Community Council was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Update 3/22/19 20:06: A Village planner graciously emailed me to point out some misinterpretations and a mistake in the map. Those have been corrected.

Last week the Village of Oak Park’s board of trustees adopted a Transit-Oriented Development and inclusionary housing/zoning ordinance to require affordable housing in new apartment buildings in its newly established TOD areas. If you know the Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO) in Chicago, the rules in Oak Park will look familiar.

If a proposed development has 25 or more apartments and needs a zoning change from the village, then the development has to comply. Ten percent of the units in that development must be affordable to a household that earns 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), which is the same rule as in Chicago. The original proposal set the bar at 80 percent, but it was reduced during the board meeting on March 11, 2019.

An amended version of the ordinance was passed and that hasn’t been published on the Village’s legislation website yet, so information here is based on a combination of the proposed ordinance and the board’s meeting minutes.

Developments that are proposing condos would not have to comply, although the ordinance does cover for-sale units should the condo exemption change.

Unlike Chicago’s ARO, people who apply for the affordable units in these future developments would get preference if they currently live in Oak Park, “have lived in Oak Park with a member of a household currently living in Oak Park”, or work in the village or are in a domestic partnership with someone who works in the village.

Instead of building the required affordable units, a developer can pay a $100,000 in lieu fee for each unbuilt unit. Any developer who pays an in lieu fee will not be eligible for building permit fee reductions or the density bonus.

This map of Oak Park (in a light shaded brown) shows the TOD areas (light blue) as described in the ordinance adopted on March 11, 2019. Two CTA stations, Austin on the Blue Line, and Austin on the Green Line, are not eligible TOD areas.

Oak Park’s TOD areas include the area within 1/4 mile (1,320 feet, same as Chicago) around the sole Metra station, and all of the CTA stations except the two on Austin Boulevard (one Green Line, one Blue Line). Additionally, the TOD area all of the “MS”-zoned properties on Madison Street west of Lombard Avenue.

Left: The Emerson, designed by FitzGerald Associates, is on the left side while Eleven33 is under construction in the background in October 2018, on the other side of the Green Line and Metra tracks (it opened earlier this month); center: the Harlem Green Line station shares space with the Oak Park station on the Metra UP-West line and has sheltered bike parking, all a stone’s throw from Eleven33; right: The Emerson is seen from Eleven33 in March 2019. Both buildings predate Oak Park’s TOD rules.

The density bonus allows an additional market rate unit for each on-site affordable unit. Chicago offers a similar option, but calculates bonus units differently: If the developer provides 50 percent of the required affordable units on site, instead of the 25 percent on-site requirement, then the FAR increases by 0.25. If the developer provides 100 of the required affordable units on site, then the FAR increases by 0.50. With the increased FAR, the developer can construct slightly more market rate units, or larger units.

These TOD areas will soon be integrated so that when an Address Snapshot report for an Oak Park location is obtained from Chicago Cityscape, its eligibility for the TOD rules is shown.

I’m looking for feedback from Oak Park residents and developers active there for where there is developable land in the TOD areas. I may highlight these on the blog or on the website.

Oak Park adopts a TOD and inclusionary housing rule was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

A client recently engaged Chicago Cityscape’s zoning partner MAP Strategies to create custom-designed maps of the medical marijuana districts in Illinois. I had never heard of such a thing, so before we took on the job I had to do a little research.

Illinois has 43 medical cannabis districts, which limit the number of medical cannabis dispensaries and cultivation centers in each district. There are 55 licensed dispensaries and 22 licensed cultivation centers and the state is not authorizing additional ones. The pilot program ends July 1, 2020.

It would have been easy to make the maps if such boundaries already existed. The districts are defined and regulated by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR), which only described their boundaries.

Since no map existed, I had to create them. Thankfully the districts are pretty simple: Each district outside Cook County consists of a group of counties, and each district in Cook County is a group of townships. Chicago no longer uses townships for any administrative or political function, but their boundaries are still used by the Cook County Assessor.

This client got their custom-designed maps last week, and a copy of the GIS data. Now, Chicago Cityscape members can see the boundaries, too. (Cityscape Pro members can also download a copy.)

Like with all of our maps, when you look up an address, the resulting Address Snapshot lists all of the containing boundaries, including legislative districts, police districts, certain incentives areas, and ZIP codes. Now the Address Snapshot report lists which Illinois medical cannabis district it’s in.

And, if you’re looking at one of the Chicago medical cannabis districts, you can also overlay the Chicago zoning map to find the zones which allow medical cannabis dispensaries.

What new maps would you like to see?

Pro tip: If you have a map you’ve already drawn in another program (Google Earth, for example) we can load that into our system as a Personal Place that’s private to you or public for anyone with the link. Email us,

Find Illinois medical cannabis districts was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The 80 Acre maps show historical parcel divisions and house numbers, 80 acres at a time, as well as historical topography and water features.

La Villita park's angled southern boundary might be shaped that way because the West Fork of the South Branch of the Chicago River used to flow there.

 — @stevevance

Every time you look up an address on Chicago Cityscape you can quickly look at the 80 acre map that contains the address and the surrounding maps. Easily download the maps from the City of Chicago’s website as a TIF or PDF.

Discover a little Chicago history with 80 Acre maps was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Chicago Cityscape has the only Chicago-focused map of Opportunity Zones, and we’ve expanded that focus to Cook County and the rest of Illinois. Now you can mix and match our existing 37,000 Place maps with the 327 Opportunity Zones in Illinois.

Mashup #1

Look at one of our 37,000+ Place maps and show a map of overlapping Opportunity Zones by clicking the “Load Opportunity Zones” button.

For example, look at our Place map of Cairo, Illinois, the state’s southernmost municipality and where 2,281 people live. An Opportunity Zone, which has the same boundaries as a Census tract, overlaps half of the city (but not the historic homes district).

Left to right: Map of the Opportunity Zone, in blue, which overlaps half of Cairo, Illinois (Chicago Cityscape); an old home in Cairo (Eric Allix Rogers); a railroad embankment that doubles as a flood gate (Eric Allix Rogers).

Mashup #2

Generate a list and map of all of the municipalities or ZIP codes in an Illinois Opportunity Zone. Here’s how:

  1. Load our Maps Explorer page
  2. Choose “ZIP Code” or “Municipality” in the “Find maps from this category…” dropdown menu
  3. Click on the “Maps in Opportunity Zones” checkbox
  4. Click the “Find maps” button

Direct links:

Find Opportunity Zones in a given town or ZIP code in Illinois was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

We’re blasting out new features this week, starting with a new way to look at who’s applying for zoning changes in Chicago.

This feature has been around for over a year, but focused on geographic distinctions. For example, see how long it takes, on average, for a zoning change application in a particular ward to be approved after introduction to City Council compared to other wards and the citywide average.

Due to a member’s request, we’re now showing the same data in a new citywide view of “prolific zoning changers”, as we’re calling it.

Screenshots from the redesigned Zoning Change Statistics page showing some of the property owners, applicants, and lawyers applying for the most zoning changes in Chicago.

Cityscape has information on property owners whose property is involved in a zoning change application, the name of the applicant (which is sometimes the same as the property owner), and the name of their lawyer.

We have manually recorded the names of over 900 property owners, over 900 applicants, and nearly 150 lawyers.

Currently the data is only shown for the last three years as we are still manually recording the applicant names in 2015 and prior.

See who applies for the most zoning changes in Chicago was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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'1909' brings you Chicago neighborhood development news and events every week.

1909 was the year that Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett published the Plan of Chicago that forever changed the cityscape. The cityscape changes everyday and we track how and where on Chicago Cityscape.

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