Chicago Cityscape's '1909' newsletter

Thursday, November 15, 2018

What sets Cityscape apart from other sites

Founded on urban planning policies & ideals

I get this question occasionally from brokers who use Realist or connectMLS. Chicago Cityscape provides some of the same data about Chicago and Cook County properties as those two websites. But there’s a lot that sets Chicago Cityscape apart from those websites.

Chicago Cityscape isn’t just a “database of databases”. It’s a platform for learning about properties and neighborhoods, presented to take into account links to government policies, local housing plans, homeownership access programs, financial incentives, historical information, and the boundaries of new proposals being deliberated at public meetings.

There’s certainly some overlap: Users can see property ownership and taxes and basic property details on Chicago Cityscape and the MRED services.

Here’s a short list of what makes Chicago Cityscape a more efficient and comprehensive system on which to learn about any given lot, address, or building in Chicago and Cook County:

And of course there’s Incentives Checker, which lists up to 19 financial & development incentives for all property lookups in Chicago and Cook County.

A given property’s value is based on the collective value of its surroundings. Chicago Cityscape helps you understand that value by sharing information about the past, present, and future — on-site or nearby.

Anyone can quickly gain insight on current and proposed developments near a prospective property with Address Snapshot.

Chicago Cityscape offers a lot of information (and the above list doesn’t explain everything), and it might be difficult to learn about all of our offerings and take advantage of it all. That’s why there’s no risk to try out Cityscape Pro for 30 days and email, phone, and in-person support.

What sets Cityscape apart from other sites was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The City of Chicago has sold or will sell two former Chicago Public School buildings that were closed in 2013 to the Single Room Housing Assistance Corporation (SRHAC).

Former Delano/Melody school (left); former Henson school (right)

The former Delano/Melody Elementary School in West Garfield Park, a block from the Pulaski Blue Line station at 412 S Keeler Ave, was sold last month for $80,000. And the former Henson Elementary School at 1306 S Avers Ave in North Lawndale will sell for $55,000 next month.

From the sale legislation, “SRHAC’s proposed plan is to redevelop the former school [properties] with 80 units [each] of affordable housing for low and very low wage earners, service veterans, single mothers and individuals suffering from physical disabilities and chronic illness and to allow community access to space within the building for community programs”.

Like the other school building sales, a covenant forbidding their use as K-12 charter schools will be attached.

City selling former CPS schools for new affordable housing was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Over the past four years, Chicago Cityscape has been collecting maps that intersect Chicago in some way. The collection has expanded to Cook County and eventually integrated maps of places all over Illinois.

There are now tens of thousands of maps in our Maps Explorer and in that process the site has gathered quite the group of maps that show where property owners can get financial incentives.

Chicago Cityscape also has multiple Property Finder maps to locate developable and off-market land.

These incentives areas are displayed in a new easy-to-read table called Incentives Checker. Every time one of our members looks up an Address Snapshot report, the site looks for any of 19 local, county, state, and federal financial and development incentives available at that address.

Incentives Checker compares your lookup location against the well-known Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts and state Enterprise Zones, but they also include the Chicago Housing Authority’s “mobility areas” (of interest to landlords), New Markets Tax Credits, and Opportunity Investment Fund areas, among others.

Cityscape is ready to expand beyond showing only financial incentives and other mapped areas in our home state.

We’re starting to add geospatial information for Indiana and looking for feedback on the kind of locally and regionally-specific data and maps you’d like to see.

This week our Opportunity Zones map grew to include the thousands of eligible Census Tracts nationwide.

While Chicago Cityscape checks off the boxes for which incentives apply to any given address, the website also helps with site selection.

Incentives Optimizer is a new tool that guides developers and small businesses looking to relocate to find an optimally incentivized location. The darker the red on the map, the more incentives that are available there.

Incentives Optimizer is only available for Cityscape Enterprise members, as well as clients who obtain the new urban planning and pre-development services that we’re supporting over at MAP Strategies, a real estate design + compliance consulting company.

Contact us if you would like to upgrade your Cityscape Permits or Cityscape Pro membership to Enterprise. The Enterprise tier also includes access to our API, multiple user accounts, and can include on-site support.

Optimize your site selection with Cityscape’s incentives tools was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Last week I toured the first PHIUS-certified multi-family building in Chicago, developed by LUCHA. You can see the house at 1651 N Drake Ave. in the Humboldt Park neighborhood. It’s possibly the first multi-family building in Illinois certified by PHIUS.

The six-flat at 1651 N Drake Ave, developed by LUCHA, is certified by PHIUS.

If you’ll remember, I took you on a virtual tour of a graystone renovation in Hyde Park in January — it was certified by the Passivhaus Institute organization. Passive building design means changing how the building’s “envelope” is designed, constructed, and insulated. The goal is to make the building’s walls and windows nearly airtight so that warmed air stays inside in the winter, and cooled air stays inside in the summer.

There are also advanced air cooling and heating systems that exchange the heat from outgoing exhaust air from the bathroom and kitchens with fresh air from outside to warm the incoming air so it takes less energy to mechanically heat it.

(PHIUS, or Passive House Institute, is a USA-based organization and Passivhaus Institut is based in Germany; a difference between their certification standards is that PHIUS has regionally-specific metrics to achieve.)

What’s neat about LUCHA’s passive six-flat, designed by Landon Bone Baker, is that it has a twin that’s laid out identically but was built to the federal Energy Star standard. That sets up an appropriate condition for LUCHA to test the differences in energy usage; the most variable factor would be the behaviors of the families who live in the units and how they use energy.

The apartment building is part of LUCHA’s Tierra Linda project, which has built 45 new apartments in several buildings scattered around Humboldt Park — and all are within walking distance of a 606 access point.

The apartment I toured has a pretty typical kitchen, with an open floor plan between it and the airy and light-filled front room. A sign explains some of the energy saving design features. The back entrance has a novel bike parking set up using a Dero product. There’s a small yard adjoined by six parking spaces, including one accessible space (Chicago code requires one parking space per dwelling unit in most circumstances and 0.7 spaces per unit in government subsidized multi-family buildings). Photos by Steven Vance.

Charlene Andreas, LUCHA’s Director of Building Development, said that the rents will be the same but tenants of the Passive House building will receive some additional education about the energy-saving components of their apartment. Like Mike Conners, the developer of the Hyde Park house, had told me, Andreas said many of the components had to be sourced from European manufacturers. Andreas commented that the price of construction could come down if there were more American makers certified by PHIUS.

The contractor, Linn Mathes, turned over the apartments to LUCHA last week so say hi to your new neighbors in Humboldt Park and ask how much they pay for electricity and gas!

Personal note

Some of you may have seen through other channels like my LinkedIn or Twitter profiles that I now work full time for MAP Strategies, where I’ve worked as an independent consultant for nearly four years.

Alongside Tim Barton, an attorney who specializes in land use entitlements, we will be expanding the company’s services to include urban planning, zoning, and land pre-acquisition analysis and recommendations.

Nothing will change with Chicago Cityscape. In fact, some of the work we do at MAP Strategies is accelerated (more efficient) because of the website. I encourage you to sign up for Cityscape Pro or Cityscape Enterprise if you want access to our exclusive Incentives Checker.

Local affordable housing developer is first to build a multi-family Passive House was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

According to past photos on Google Street View of a vacant property on Halsted Street at 28th Street, a condo project called “Stone Point” was proposed around 2007. Then, in an October 2012 imagery update, a project called “Parkview Terrace” was shown being marketed in Chinese and English.

The site at 2805 S Halsted St. Top: July 2018. Bottom, left to right: 2007, 2012, 2015

Neither project materialized, but Parkview Terrace did post an updated sign by July 2015, showing a new rendering of the building.

There’s now a new project proposed for the lot, which is across from the Henry C. Palmisano park, known by some as Stearns Quarry. The building at 2805 S Halsted St would have 30 dwelling units, a small commercial space, and 33 percent fewer car parking spaces than normally required because of its proximity to the CTA’s Halsted Orange Line station.

Renderings on Hirsch MPG’s website show what it may look like, and the architecture firm’s project description matches the zoning change application. The zoning change is set to be heard during tomorrow’s Chicago zoning committee meeting.

Long-vacant land in Bridgeport has a new proposal was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Three reused firehouses in the City of Chicago — all formerly owned by the Chicago Fire Department — were open to the public for Open House Chicago this weekend in Edgewater. OHC is a program produced by the Chicago Architecture Center, and its thousands of volunteers, since 2011.

All three were built in different years, but share at least one major trait: They could only hold one fire engine indoors.

Photos of Firehouse Chicago, including the downstairs event room and the side yard and patio. (1545 W Rosemont Ave)
  • Firehouse Chicago (the oldest of the three, built in 1906) has been converted to an events venue on the main floor and in the beautiful patio and side yard, a film production company has an editing suite on the upper floor, and a photography studio set (at least that’s what it looked like).
  • Chicago Filmmakers is an educational organization that teaches filmmaking and screens movies. This property is unique in that has a parking lot to the side of the building (built in 1928) on Ridge Avenue, and a triangular lawn between Ridge and Hollywood Avenue.
Chicago Filmmakers building (5720 N Ridge Ave)
  • Edgewater Historical Society has a museum and office in their fire station (built in 1926, on the site of a previous fire station). The exhibits include photos and artifacts from the demolished Edgewater Beach Hotel & Resort, the Conspiracy Seven, and the first family to settle in Edgewater.
Edgewater Historical Society & Museum (5358 N Ashland Ave)

A little over a year ago, the City sold another former North Side fire station to a local couple. There is at least one unsold former fire station I know of, yet no plan to dispose of it. Leave a comment if you know of other fire stations that are waiting to be purchased and reused.

Three of Chicago’s reused fire stations are in Edgewater was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Proposed: Kinzie PMD would change to allow more office space east of Ashland, but still no residential

The Chicago Department of Planning & Development (DPD) proposed some organizational changes to the Kinzie Planned Manufacturing District (PMD #4) on Tuesday night. The PMD borders the Fulton Market and West Loop areas, which have seen an explosion in new construction office, residential, and food and beverage development in the last eight years.

The meeting is part of the department’s Kinzie Framework Plan process, which is part of Mayor Emanuel’s efforts to modernize the city’s industrial corridors. The PMD used to cover the Fulton Market area (north of Lake Street) but was truncated last year to Ogden Avenue to allow for more uses and denser uses in the Fulton Market/West Loop areas.

Map of the current Kinzie PMD #4 and its two Subareas (A, B). Map: Chicago Department of Planning & Development

What’s in the proposal

DPD has proposed that the PMD’s boundaries and allowed uses stay the same, with some minor reorganizing.

To keep this short and sweet, I will summarize the changes as they affect the developers and investors who are interested in redeveloping land west of the Fulton Market and West Loop areas in a way that takes advantage of their proximity to the action.

In DPD’s proposal, Subareas A and B have switched positions and changed internal boundaries. Subarea B is now between Ashland Avenue on the west and Ogden Avenue on the east; this is the area closest to the action.

Map of the proposed internal border changes in Kinzie PMD #4 and swapped locations of Subareas A and B. The future Green Line station is marked as a green circle. Map: Chicago Department of Planning & Development

In Subarea B, DPD has proposed the following changes:

  • The maximum area for offices would be eliminated, except for the current FAR limitation of 3.0. (There’s a current exception in that there is no maximum area when reusing a building, except for FAR 3.0.)
  • The maximum area for retail food & beverage sales would increase from today’s 3,000 s.f. to 8,000 s.f.
  • The maximum area for eating & drinking establishments would increase from 4,000 s.f. to 8,000 s.f. Owners would be able to apply for a variation from the Zoning Board of Appeals to build up to 12,000 s.f.
  • There could be freestanding retail locations up to 3,000 s.f. per store; currently, a store can only be built as an attachment to the factory that makes the goods sold in the store (ZBA would be able to increase this)

Around the CTA’s incoming Green Line station at Damen Avenue (green circle in the above map), which is at the PMD’s southern border along Lake Street, DPD has proposed no changes. Remember, north of Lake Street is the PMD and south of Lake Street is not in the PMD.

Little adjacent development

In the proposal, the area north of the future CTA station would continue to not allow residential, and the area south of the future CTA station would be subject to the standards of the existing zoning map. It should be noted that the properties around the future station south of Lake Street are residential, and another huge swath is “locked up” in a Planned Development for the United Center’s official parking lots.

I argued in a Streetsblog Chicago article two months ago that the area around the future station should be rezoned to allow for transit-supporting land uses. The City of Chicago is spending over $50 million in public funds on a new CTA station that will have 21 hours of transit service per day, but no one is allowed to build new housing in the area north of it (until Grand Avenue, where the PMD ends).

There’s very little development activity in PMD #4: In the last 12 months there have been two new construction building permits. The most recent was for a two-story light industrial and manufacturing facility developed by Peppercorn Capital for a vacant parcel one block west of the future station, and the second, issued a year ago, was for a four-story office building.

Fifteen months ago, a new construction permit was issued to the Wolcott School to build a new gym — hardly an industrial or manufacturing use. Before that, the next new construction permit in the PMD was issued three years ago for Great Central Brewing’s brewery at Wood Street and Walnut Street.

It will be difficult to maximize the public investment embodied in the future station if it serves a low-density residential area south of it and low-density commercial areas north of it. There would be higher ridership at the station if residential mixed-use was allowed around it in the PMD area.

More info

View the slideshow presented at the meeting, and view other materials in the Kinzie Framework Plan process. If you would like to comment on DPD’s proposal, send them to

Thank you to Kyle Terry for reviewing this post.

Proposed: Kinzie PMD would change to allow more office space east of Ashland, but still no housing was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Transportation issues are land use issues

Along with fellow urban planners Lynda Lopez and Yonah Freemark, I co-created a new transportation platform for Chicago’s next mayor. The platform was devised based on our experience reporting on, analyzing, developing policy, and experiencing personally and socially, the transportation shortcomings in Chicago.

The Chicago Sustainable Transport Platform first aims to increase bus speeds so that people can get to work and school faster. Bus ridership has been falling in Chicago, in part because of how slow riding the bus is but also because of reduced service periods.

Read about it on Streetsblog Chicago for the full overview — the post below summarizes only the land use portions of the platform.

Transit generates incredible value for real estate. Investments in transit must serve those with the fewest resources to provide low cost and efficient transportation as well as support living affordably near high capacity and high frequency transit. The Move Chicago platform aims to do that.

The platform prefaces the six topics by acknowledging that Chicago hasn’t had much success engaging its residents to develop plans that equitably serve seniors, students, low income families, people without cars, and bicycling and walking. The mayoral candidates who adopt our recommendations will also need to propose how they intend to engage impacted communities and continuously involve Chicagoans in plan making. For example, deciding where bus route improvements go should be a decision that the Chicago Transit Authority makes alongside its riders.

Most of the topics address transportation issues, but since transportation is also a land use issue, one topic addresses zoning, TOD, and land use policies.

The city’s TOD policy (called “Transit Served Location”) gives property owners a free density bonus if the property is in a Bx-3, Cx-3, Dx-3 zoning district. The platform recommends that the benefits apply in all B, C, and D zoning districts. Look up a Chicago address to see if it qualifies.

Most of the units built in TOD buildings since the policy was enacted in 2013 are rented or sold at market rate, and “the market” is good at creating new housing for middle and upper-middle class households, but doesn’t create housing for those households earning less than 60 and less than 30 percent of the area median income. However, when there are more units built because of the density bonus, the builder is required to create even more affordable units.

Another recommendation is that the Chicago Housing Authority spends down its cash reserves by building and purchasing apartments near ‘L’ and Metra stations to be preserved as affordable housing.

Additionally, other housing builders and buyers should be contributing to the city’s affordable housing fund — currently only those constructing 10+ unit residential buildings must create or pay for affordable units, while those who build single-family housing near ‘L’ and Metra stations that sell for 2-3 times as much as units in the multi-family buildings contribute $0.

One other recommendation is that, in TOD areas, which are blocks within 1/4 mile of train stations and 1/2 mile on blocks designated as a Pedestrian Street, the process to be allowed to not build any car parking spaces would be eliminated and a parking maximum would be implemented. Parking minimums increase the cost of construction and thus rental rates, and many parking spaces go unused. (Read more about parking provision policies.)

Read the full Move Chicago platform

Everyone running for mayor needs to adopt this transportation platform was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Comparing houses & apartments is one use for new “Amenities”

It’s no mystery that Chicago Cityscape is an effective property research tool because of how it integrates data from dozens of sources. Today, I’m announcing that a brand new dataset has been added that helps homebuyers, apartment shoppers, small business owners, and property developers gain a better understanding of what they or their tenants will have access to.

It’s called “Amenities” and it summarizes and maps where there are grocery stores, doctor offices, restaurants, cafés, bars, and parks within a one mile walk of any address that you look up in Chicago. It’s similar to WalkScore, which measures and compares the ability for one to meet their daily and lifestyle needs by walking, but Amenities’s primary function is to quickly show whether the category of place you need (grocery store) is close by.

This screenshot shows how the Amenities tool summarizes how many businesses, of varying selected categories, are within walking distance of the Spoke apartments, at 727 N Milwaukee Avenue.

Based on feedback from our members, we would consider increasing the walking distance limit, and broadening the types of businesses our system looks for. Should we symbolize the map markers by category, or leave all the businesses looking the same? Leave a response on Medium, on Twitter, or by replying to this email.

Look up an address now or use our example, the Spoke apartments at 727 N Milwaukee Ave.

Data sources

With any service like this, that looks for nearby local businesses, it’s only going to be as good as where the information comes from. Most websites use Google’s Places database, because it has gobs of information about all kinds of businesses and places around the world. It also costs gobs of money to access.

In much of Chicago, we’re using data from OpenStreetMap, the world’s only free database and map of places, maintained by local volunteers.

In other parts of the city, we’re using data that we purchased from MAPSCorps, a non-profit organization based in Hyde Park which employs teenagers each summer to develop and update a census of businesses.

The following two maps clearly indicate why OpenStreetMap was insufficient for the new Amenities service to rely on; having a partial dataset of businesses in Chicago is also part of why it took so long to develop this functionality.

OpenStreetMap places are shown in light red/pink on both maps, and the MAPSCorps database of places is shown in green on the right map. The MAPSCorps data fits snugly into the OpenStreetMap gap.

The city’s business licenses database, which Chicago Cityscape maps separately, doesn’t have the kind of categories the Amenities service needs; for example, it’s not possible to distinguish a grocery store like Aldi, Jewel, Cermak Produce, or Pete’s Fresh Market which sell a full range of items, from a corner store or bodega which also sells groceries.

Contact us if you notice a missing or miscategorized business.

Note that for the time being, in community areas near the Loop, there may be some double counting of places because they may be stored in each of the two datasets.

Looking at properties? See how many supermarkets & other amenities are near was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Find a place where zoning allows your idea

If you’re looking to open a new business, or build a new building, the first problem is knowing what zoning districts allow your idea. The first step is matching your idea (a specific business or building) to a “use”. The zoning code will then list which zoning districts allow that use.

The second problem, after determining one or more zoning districts that allow that use, is finding where those zoning districts exist in Chicago.

We created Site Locator to help you locate a place in Chicago where your proposal is allowed.

Essentially, the Chicago zoning map indicates areas where a group of rules applies, but it doesn’t say what those rules are. For example, the map will show where “B3-2” and “RT-3.5” zoning districts are located, but doesn’t explain what’s allowed in either of those districts.

Site Locator is a zoning map and rules explainer in one. Give Site Locator a keyword that represents your proposed business or building and it will match it with an officially-defined use in the zoning code and show where in Chicago that business or building can be located.

Teal areas show where a townhouse development is allowed “as of right” and orange areas show where it’s allowed if the owner can obtain a special use permit.

Site Locator has hundreds of keywords that are mapped to uses defined in the Chicago zoning code, which are then connected to specific zoning districts. Then, Site Locator maps those specific zoning districts to highlight exactly where the proposed use is allowed “as of right”, or with a special use permit.

“As of right” means you don’t need additional permissions from an alder, neighbors, or the Zoning Board of Appeals to open a business or construct a certain building type on that land. (Other permissions, including a license and building permits, may be needed.)

This animated GIF shows how to search for a keyword (“coffee”) and select one of the matching “use” results to show where in Chicago a coffee shop, café, or restaurant can be opened.

In the other situation, a special use permit requires review by the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). Opening a hair salon, barber shop, beauty shop, or nail salon in a “B” zoning district within 1,000 feet of an existing hair salon, barber shop, beauty shop, or nail salon would require a special use permit. Site Locator will tell you where complex rules like that apply.

As always, you can order a zoning report for any location or get help with the site selection process from our partner MAP Strategies.

Other new features on Chicago Cityscape include:

Site Locator solves two zoning problems for business and property owners 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 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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