Windy City Looks to a Green Future


Last month, we brought you the story of the green roof that will sit atop Chicago's first Wal-Mart, and the broader Green Roofs initiative the city is undertaking. It turns out that even an ambitious plan like that is only part of the story in Chicago: a recent article at notes that the Windy City has set a goal for itself of becoming "the most environmentally friendly city in the U.S.," and has a comprehensive plan, as well as an enthusiastic environmental commissioner, dedicated towards that end. Can a decidedly working-class town, with a long tradition of heavy manufacturing and slaughterhouses, make the transition to the nation's Green Capital? Mayor Richard Daley thinks so, and has put ample city resources behind the plan.

Chicago, a blue-collar city of asphalt and glass and concrete canyons, would seem an odd place for admitted tree-hugger Sadhu Johnston to think he could save the planet. But Johnston, Mayor Richard M. Daley' s environmental commissioner, believes that cities are actually the answer to the earth's environmental ills. And with that in mind, he is working to turn Chicago into what he claims will be the most environmentally friendly city in the U.S. — as well as the nation's center for environmental design and the manufacturing of components for the production of alternative energy.

If it works — and Daley is betting a hefty sum it will, with promises to buy millions in solar panels, for example — the green movement here is expected to yield the city perhaps billions in saved energy costs and new business."This is way beyond tree hugging in Chicago," said Johnston, 31, who before coming to Chicago helped dust some of the rust off of Cleveland's image by serving as executive director of the non-profit Cleveland Green Building Coalition. "This is about quality of life. What we're talking about is creating a city that exists in harmony with the world, a place that can be a model. Cities have long been hurtful to the environment. Raw materials came in and waste went out. We' re trying to redefine that relationship, and cities can be models."

While Chicago, like most American cities, has had its share of environmental problems (the article notes, for instance, the lackluster results of a citywide recycling program and continued poor air quality), Daley and Johnston are pushing ahead with efforts to increase use of renewable energy, make water-absorbing asphalt the norm in paving projects, and build a fleet of green vehicles. Others are paying attention: Green Bay, Wisconsin, another blue-collar town, plans to base its own environmental initiatives on Chicago's model. All we need now is organic beer at the ballpark... via commonground