Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Walkable urbanism in the South Suburbs: not for a lack of trying

Previously I pointed out that there is a high degree of variance in the real estate markets of Chicagoland, and that the rising tide hasn't lifted everyone equally.  The south suburbs in particular have not faired well compared to suburbs equally north.  If you'll allow me to quote myself:

And while Chicago did very well last year, with home prices showing their biggest advance in 25 years, the south suburbs have done very poorly. Prices in many south suburbs have declined to 1990s levels.

This, I think, deserves some parsing as you will see the picture is murky.  Take, for example, Tinley Park.  I adduce that Tinley Park, like many of its neighbors, has tried to create walkable urbanism and failed not for a lack of effort.  Tinley Park is geographically on the edge of Cook County.  In fact a small portion of Tinley Park is in neighboring Will County.  It is well connect to the big city.  The I-80 interstate rolls through Tinley Park and will take you downtown with no tolls.  Of course rush hour traffic on the Dan Ryan can be a grind but Tinley Park is also connected via the Metra.  The Rock Island Line has two stops in Tinley Park.  Both stations are fairly new, with the 80th street station being less than two years old, and declared to be the Taj Mahal of commuter train stations.

The "hut" that stood at the station since the 1970s is long gone, replaced by what Metra Chairman Brad O'Halloran on Monday called "the Taj Mahal" of the Metra system.

The station is the busiest on Metra's Rock Island Line, which stretches from Joliet to LaSalle Street in Chicago. The station borrows from and improves on the smaller station the village refurbished on Oak Park Avenue in 2003 that has won awards from architectural and transit groups and has become the central feature of Tinley Park's downtown district, said Village Trustee David Seamon. 

The Oak Park Avenue station, in the heart of Tinley Park's historic, pedestrian friendly downtown, is a classic example of civic investment in transit-focused development, Mahmassani said.

Let's look closer at the Oak Park Avenue station.

The station is flanked by lot parking on all sides.

Across the street is a fairly walkable stretch of Oak Park Avenue.  There is no parking in front except on street and everything is right up to the sidewalk.  There are bars, restaurants, and even mixed use condominiums (the white balconies on the far right).

Looking left there is, next to the parking lot, an empty lot.  This parcel was to be a mixed use construction.  Condos I think.  If you enlarge the picture you can see the proposed renderings.  Everything right up to the sidewalk.

Here we are, right up to the sidewalk.  I'm not sure what used to be here.  But this site has been in this state for years.

Despite these efforts, attempts at building more dense, urban areas in Tinley Park have failed, though not for lack of effort.  This empty parcel of land is directly behind the Oak Park Avenue station.  It was slated for redevelopment into mixed use condominiums.  These pictures were taken in 2011 but currently the lot still stands empty.  For years this project has sat waiting for funding; the locals long ago approved the density.  Tinley Park tried to bring walkable urbanism to the south suburbs.  Unfortunately for them the market did not follow.

This area, by the way, has a walk score of 61.  Not terrible by suburban standards.