The Urbanist Musings of Pete Saunders

Corner Side Yard Update — Changes Afoot

View of downtown Peoria, IL, looking west across Peoria Lake.  Source:

I wanted to publicly acknowledge a personal change that will happen in the very near future.  Starting this Monday, I will start as the director for the Tri County Regional Planning Commission in Peoria, IL.  TCRPC is the federally mandated metropolitan planning organization for the Peoria metropolitan area, and I’m honored to take on the role.

The last year has mostly been spent with me doing consulting work for cities and nonprofits in the Chicago area, which I do find incredibly fulfilling.  However, this new move is a great opportunity to bring what I’ve learned throughout my career to a different platform, and I’m excited to give it a shot.

I’ve learned a lot about Peoria since my hire.  I think it’s fair to say that Peoria is the economic capital and urban center of central Illinois, a region of 2 million people in the middle of the state.  Being the international headquarters for a Fortune 50 (yes, 50) company like Caterpillar can do that for a city.  Peoria enjoys many of the amenities and benefits of much larger cities, and maintains its Midwestern Heartland character.  But it’s also fair to say that in this era of urban renaissance for our nation’s largest cities, no one has yet to really shift their focus to the growth and revitalization of metros with less than, say, 1 million in population.  Peoria, with just under 400,000 in its metro area, fits that description.  Metros of similar size cannot look to New York or San Francisco for answers; Peoria cannot even really look 130 miles to the northeast to Chicago for answers.  Midsize metros have strengths and concerns of their own.  I believe Peoria is ready to be a leader in the exploration and development of solutions.

What I don’t know yet is what it will mean for this blog.  I intend to keep writing, but the new gig will definitely be the priority.  Two things will be clear for the blog going forward — the focus may naturally shift to address the issues and concerns related to midsize Midwestern metros like Peoria, and I’ll work hard to ensure that potential conflicts of interests related to my new role and what’s written here do not arise.

For now I’ll continue to play this by ear.  Continue to look for more very soon from the Corner Side Yard.

9 Responses to “Corner Side Yard Update — Changes Afoot”

  1. Mike Healy

    Congratulations! Very exciting stuff — extremely interested to see how things play in Peoria. Could not ask for a better test case for applying leading theories to the future of the Rust Belt. I'm with IDOT at the moment, working on our first ever Statewide Transit Plan (among other things). Let me know if you have any interest in getting involved.


  2. Anonymous

    Hey that's great, congrats! As a native of downstate I can vouch for Peoria being the must urban-feeling city in the area, more so than Springfield, Bloomington-Normal, or Urbana-Champaign. I'll definitely be interested in hearing your thoughts on their particular issues, especially contrasted with issues the bigger cities face.


  3. Anonymous

    Congratulations on the promotion! Sounds like life is going your way.I haven't been around as much because it's football season so I've been spending more time on football websites, but I'm still here, so I figured I'd check in, especially after reading this.I've always gotten the sense that Peoria is the most significant city in \”downstate\” Illinois, so that helps give it some extra gravity. Being only two hours from Chicago helps too, because it has proximity to a global node.


  4. Christopher Andrews

    Congrats Pete! I hope you can still offer your thoughts on issues in the Rustbelt, especially Detroit. And, hopefully we'll all be able to learn more about Peoria too!


  5. Pete Saunders

    Thanks to all of you for the well wishes! For this blog, five comments represents an effusive outpouring. So I thank you again.Regarding Peoria. At various times I've visited the four other midsize central Illinois cities nearby — Champaign/Urbana, Bloomington/Normal, Springfield and Decatur. On my first visit to Peoria I also found it to be the most urban of the group. Without a doubt Peoria appears to be the economic and cultural hub of central Illinois. However, the other four seem to have a more direct interstate highway connection to Chicago than Peoria enjoys, even though it's closer. The same goes for Amtrak passenger train service. It seems the other four have made decent use of the more direct Chicago connections. Peoria's been able to accomplish quite a bit without such connections to Chicago. Are stronger connections necessary for future growth there? If so, how? I'll be looking at questions like that in Peoria.


  6. Kenny

    Congratulations! I think that the urban renaissance does appear to be happening even in the smaller-sized cities. I recently moved to Bryan/College Station in Texas (a metro area of about 250,000) and have heard that the activity in downtown Bryan (three live music venues on multiple nights a week, several walkable restaurants and bars, and a monthly event that draws thousands from the surrounding community) is an exciting new development that bears little resemblance to what it was ten years ago. But understandably, the national media and blogs aren't necessarily covering the similarities and differences between what's happening in these places and in the big cities, and I haven't figured out much about how to think about it myself.


  7. D Holmes

    Congrats. I am a native of Peoria. I look forward to your insights. I think the current narrative on Peoria and other smaller Midwest manufacturing cities is a little too negative..



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