Steans Center > For Students > Graduate Fellowships > Steans Graduate Fellowship > Steans Graduate Fellows > Favorable Land Use Analysis in Cook County: Johanna Tuthill

Favorable Land Use Analysis in Cook County

Community Collaborator: Chicago Food Policy Action Council

Johanna Tuthill
Johanna Tuthill, Summer 2021 Fellow, ​

MA in Sustainable Urban Development Program, College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences ​

The original goal of my project was to supplement work being done at the Chicago Food Policy Action Council (CFPAC) through GIS analysis of historical land use data in Cook County. GIS, or geographic information systems, allows for analysis of spatial data and production of maps that reflect this data. My work was in partnership with the Productive Landscapes team from the CFPAC. The team works to identify underutilized and vacant public land that may be suitable for food production. This CFPAC group works with community partners to secure a path to land access, and provides information on land suitability that helps inform these partners’ decisions and actions. One important aspect of this project is the Productive Landscapes Map, which maps out usable land parcels with other pertinent data for decision-making. The goal of this map is to allow community members to sort through and filter the land parcels under consideration, in order to select the most productive land for their needs. The goal of my research was to produce supplemental map tools that can be utilized by community partners and CFPAC to better understand land suitability in select communities.

Through analyzing historical land use data gathered from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), I was able to achieve my goal of generating resources and information that is useful for community decision making. I generated a series of maps demonstrating historical land use data, and Favorable Land Use settings based on a scoring system created specifically for this project. In order to create a Favorable Land Use scoring system, I utilized six datasets of historical land use categorizations from 1990 to 2015. Cook County land use data is categorized into eight major categories: open space, residential, institutional, commercial, vacant/under construction, industrial, agricultural, and transportation/communication/utilities. I ranked these categories from one to six according to their soil pollution potential, with the more favorable land uses receiving higher scores. So, a land parcel that has only been used as open space will have the highest score, while a parcel that has been used for transportation or industry received a lower score. Once each parcel has been scored for all six years of data available, the scores were weighted based on the year, then added together. Land use classification that occurred in 1990 will have a lesser effect on a parcel’s final score than the 2015 land use classification. This has been done to try and mimic the breakdown of contaminants that can lead to some soil remediation without human intervention.

Finally, I used a GIS technique called inverse distance weighting (IDW) to create a more organic map, without the rigid boundaries of land parcels. Soil pollution does not occur strictly inside property lines, so utilizing IDW ensured that the Favorable Land Use scores of parcels would interact and blend in a similar way to the way soil contaminants disperse. I completed this process for four communities in Cook County: the Village of Maywood, the Village of Robbins, and the neighborhoods of Englewood and Little Village. These four locations were chosen due to the relationships already in place between the CFPAC and community groups in those regions. These groups had already expressed interest in the knowledge and resources that the CFPAC could provide on land procurement and the Productive Landscapes project.

Throughout my time working on the project, I took part in meetings with members of the Productive Landscapes team. Not only was I able to gain insight on the broader work of the team, but I was also able to show early drafts of maps and data and receive feedback.

As an outsider to these locations, it was very important for me to avoid labeling locations and land parcels as “good” or “bad”. Community members are much more informed and knowledgeable about their own land. The information and analysis I did is important information that can be valuable to community partners. However, without the proper delivery and context, it could be disheartening and violating. My Favorable Land Use scoring should not be used as a way to delineate spaces and exclude potential Productive Landscape sites. Instead, it should be used to understand the history of the land that is being utilized, and should help to inform choices about soil remediation and growing techniques. This scoring system has not been tested for practical use. Before food production, soil should undergo sufficient testing to ensure safety. This system should be used as a guiding tool, not as a determining factor.

There is definite potential to continue this research in different community areas and townships, and to deepen and refine the scoring system that I have produced. At its current level, this scoring and mapping technique does not account for traffic levels or distinctions in industry or commerce types. Ideally, roads with high traffic should have lower Favorable Land Use scores than smaller residential roads and alleys. Industries should have slightly different scores depending on their potential for pollution. Adding these factors could generate a more productive scoring system. There is also the opportunity to accumulate older land use data, and factor those categorizations into the final scores. This may require special data access or the transcribing of maps into digital format. Another way to increase the efficacy of this work is to have more conversations with partners and visits to communities. I was able to take part in a visit to the Village of Maywood during my fellowship. During this time, I was able to learn information from community members that completely changed my understanding of the area, and my understanding of the community’s needs. These in-person meetings can help produce more productive maps and resources.

The purpose of this project was to assist in promoting community-based food systems, and to ensure that community needs are met in this process. Therefore, there is a strong emphasis on equity as my work is one component that can assist residents of a community to be in control of their land and food production.Throughmy fellowship project, CFPAC can provide information to leverage resources necessary for community groups to pursue food sovereignty in the way that they want. This provides support for often-underserved communities without taking agency or decision-making from them. The focus on equity and food sovereignty promotes more sustainable practices in Cook County. By reimagining underutilized land, and growing healthy, non-polluted food, a community can become much more sustainable and self-reliant.​