Place

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West Chicago’s Character

When people talk about life in West Chicago, they always mention that the city feels like a small town. What are the secret ingredients that make that true? The place and its people, of course!

Urban fabric refers to the built things in the environment that make a place what it is—like building density, style of housing, sidewalk locations, and the look and feel of business districts. This fabric combines with West Chicago’s diverse people—in individuals, families, businesses, and more—to create the community identity of a welcoming small town in the midst of the suburbs.

West Chicago is also a bit of an island: it is surrounded by forest preserves, the airport, industrial parks, and other land uses that set it off from neighboring suburbs, which adds to its small town character.

West Chicago’s Place-Based Assets

  • West Chicago is about 35 miles from downtown Chicago (where many residents work) and is well connected by highways to other job centers across the region.
  • West Chicago has major highway and shopping center corridors, historical neighborhoods, and many community facilities and parks—it has a rich history and culture, with many amenities that can be highlighted for residents and visitors alike.
  • There’s plenty of space to develop, including available parcels near railroad sites, and availability at office, industrial, and employment parks—especially in the Central Manufacturing District and near DuPage Airport. Plus, West Chicago has many very large industrial properties (over 100,000 square feet!), which are attractive for big tenants.
  • Location, location, location! With the Metra station as an anchor, residents want to see a bustling, walkable Downtown. Together with the opportunity for equitable transit-oriented development (housing and businesses so people can move around easily) close to the Metra station, West Chicago’s proximity to forest preserves and trails can attract visitors into the city, too.

Land Use and Density

What about the land in West Chicago—how is it used? About 39% of West Chicago land is zoned for residential use. Zoning sets the rules about what kinds of businesses and housing can go in certain places, and analyzing zoning can tell us whether we need to make some adjustments to our current rules to help the city keep thriving.

We’ve heard a lot about increasing density in West Chicago.
Being able to increase density has many benefits—creating hustle and bustle and defining a place’s identity are chief among them. Thinking about zoning and density together means we’re thinking a lot about the land West Chicagoans live on top of—how dense is it, or how many people live on each acre of land?

Today West Chicago’s density is less than 1 dwelling unit per acre, half that of DuPage County overall. This means that West Chicago has an opportunity to respond to housing demand and to benefit from increased density in some areas, through both equitable transit-oriented development and multifamily housing.

West Chicago Zoning

Transportation Advantages

West Chicago’s transportation advantages are surely obvious to so many residents, with easy access to highways and commercial shopping corridors, freight lines, the Metra, and DuPage Airport. But even with all that connectivity, West Chicago can still be hard to get around, whether because of truck congestion, traffic backups, lack of sidewalks, or pedestrian and bike safety issues.

We’re thinking a lot about ways to improve walkability and connectivity for West Chicagoans. This might look any number of ways, but new gathering spaces that welcome walkers and bikers, capital improvements, and development are often ways to achieve this.

Walking Downtown

37/100 – Walk Score;    49/100 – Bike Score

Development Opportunities and Challenges

When it comes to development, because of existing land uses like the freight trains, forest preserves, and airport, West Chicago can focus on developing its existing spaces and assets. The city has previously identified certain areas of focus, or priority development areas, and looking at the challenges and opportunities in each one can help us imagine a brighter future. These are

  • Downtown
  • Roosevelt Road
  • Central Manufacturing District
  • Neltnor Boulevard

Here are just a few challenges and opportunities that West Chicago should consider in those places.

Opportunities

  • Equitable transit-oriented development
  • Pocket parks, gathering spaces, and other amenities, including streetscape improvements and biking and pedestrian infrastructure
  • Many important civic anchors, like City Hall, the West Chicago Public Library, the Prairie Path, the West Chicago City Museum, and the Metra station

Challenges

  • Lack of public transportation, which can connect people to jobs and errands, as well as decreasing ridership as a result of COVID-19
  • Passing through! West Chicago has three major highway corridors, but drivers tend to go from their point A to point B without stopping Downtown
  • Downtown walkability can be very hard for pedestrians, and in some areas safety is an issue
  • Access to open and green spaces within walking distance

Opportunities

  • Several locations offer key opportunities for development and increased density, including at Mosaic Crossing Shopping Center, North Avenue, and Route 59
  • Tower Station and Aldi are a very important neighborhood retail center close to residential areas

Challenges

  • High traffic and current use as a retail and fast-food corridor create challenges for walkability and optimized use of open space
  • The area’s lack of defined identity makes it easier for drivers to pass right through without stopping

Opportunities

  • Roosevelt Road is a major, high-traffic highway (almost 32,000 cars a day) that supports development people can drive to and offers major anchors, like Jewel-Osco, La Chiquita grocery store, Haggerty Ford, and the Prairie Center Office Campus
  • The Illinois Department of Transportation has allocated more than $4 million to resurfacing and accessibility improvements on Roosevelt for 2022–2026

Challenges

  • The Roosevelt area has experienced some disinvestment in recent years and sometimes is showing its age. Many of its buildings also have large, underused parking lots
  • Roosevelt Road itself cuts off some residential subdivisions, like Whispering Oaks and Aspen Ridge Apartments, from easy access to the rest of the city

Opportunities

  • Access to the airport (its 7,571-foot runway is the second longest in the area, after O’Hare!), railways, and the 640-acre DuPage Business Center are important assets that will allow for future development and business growth

Challenges

  • The closing of General Mills in 2017 left a large vacant site in this area
  • Because of the wetlands, forest preserves, and railways that surround this area, there is limited room to grow and expand, especially in terms of warehouse space

Walking Downtown

Greening West Chicago

The same land uses that limit West Chicago’s development in some ways are huge advantages in others. The surrounding forest preserves, city parks, wetlands, and trail assets make West Chicago a potential conservation leader, as it has already demonstrated in projects like the international Mayor’s Monarch Pledge. However, we have found that access to open space and parks is not equal across the city, and the Illinois Prairie Path is an untapped asset for economic development and connectivity.

West Chicago’s environment and open space make it a potential conservation leader, as it has already demonstrated in projects like the international Mayor’s Monarch Pledge, but the central industrial part of West Chicago remains environmentally vulnerable.
Access to open space and parks is not equal across the city, and the Illinois Prairie Path is an untapped asset for economic development and connectivity
Improvements to roads and sidewalks, and transit improvements and options, can improve mobility and safety while supporting vitality and the city’s identity.

Pedestrian Destinations and Safety Data