By Holly Marihugh, April 3, 2020
In 1921, Winnetka pushed forward a progressive engine of change in comprehensive village planning. Edward H. Bennett of Chicago led a team to chart a direction for the village on issues from railroads to lakefront development, traffic patterns to utilities, playgrounds to public buildings, and much more.
Bennett had gained fame as a respected co-author of the 1909 Burnham Plan of Chicago along with Daniel Burnham. He brought that vision and expertise to Winnetka, when the idea of town planning was novel.
No longer considered newfangled, a village plan for Winnetka is now a periodic and timely occurrence. Indeed, it’s thought to be part of best practices in village management across the country. Since the last comprehensive plan, “Winnetka 2020,” was created in 1999, the village recently contracted The Lakota Group, a land-use planning firm, to create a fresh comprehensive plan looking 20 years ahead. “Winnetka Futures 2040” is now in the works.
As a member of The Lakota Group team, Becky Hurley is all ears, listening to how Winnetkans want their village to transform with the times. Hurley is a 24-year-village resident and an attorney who specializes in land-use issues.
“Winnetka is an amazing village with great history and traditions,” Hurley says. “It’s got terrific transportation with three Metra Stations. It’s a highly pedestrian-friendly community. It’s got beautiful housing and extraordinary schools. There’s a score that rates walkability and something similar that grades access to parks and park facilities. Winnetka is rated highly on both. We have wonderful assets.” (In February, Winnetka was listed 2nd in a ranking of “America’s 50 Best Cities to Live” by 24/7 WallSt.com.)
That being said, the way we live now, as opposed to 20 years ago, is reminiscent of the path from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles. The explosion of online shopping has affected retail stores on Elm Street and beyond. As Hurley mentioned, there are walkability scores for villages and cities now, along with environmental sustainability concerns. Winnetkans’ housing desires and needs have changed (new construction is popular and renovation is less so). People now can telecommute and avoid hopping on a train or in a car.
“There’s been tremendous changes in the village and the country with the rise of technology,” Hurley says. “Amazon and other online services have completely changed retail. People get around differently now because of Uber and the coming of autonomous vehicles.”
Hurley says that the village wants to ensure that a variety of voices and perspectives are expressed when creating “Winnetka Futures 2040.” According to the Village website, “The planning team has met with five commissions and boards, facilitated 18 focus groups, hosted two community dinners, and interviewed 11 key stakeholders.” Overall, more than 300 people were asked for their viewpoints.
“We are reaching into the community and getting everybody’s voice together to define what the future should be,” Hurley says.
A March open house had been scheduled where Winnetkans could give their opinions on key topics. However, it was postponed due to the “Shelter-in-Place” order from Governor J.B. Pritzker.
There will still be opportunities for Winnetkans of all stripes to speak up. Right now, The Lakota Group website has a comment section where residents can voice their opinions, concerns, and yes, even dreams about Winnetka. (visit: www.winnetkafutures.org)
One consistent theme keeps bubbling up among Winnetkans. They’re saying that in an ever-changing world, they still want a strong sense of community.
“Everybody brings up community,” Hurley says. “I think that’s a constant through our entire village history, and it’s a constant human need. It’s what Winnetka has offered so well.”