The July issue of Metropolis carries a glowing article about Mayor Daley’s green initiatives. Several mayoral staffers argue that part of Daley’s brilliance is that he’s somehow progressing along some grand plan to make Chicago environmentally friendly. Oddly enough, the only such plan that has ever been publicly hinted at — his consultations with Bill McDonough — aren’t mentioned at all in the article.
Meanwhile, Dan Johnson-Weinberger went to the exact same interview with Mayor Daley that Lisa Chamberlain wrote her fawning Metropolis piece from. Their different takes on the same issues were brilliantly contrasted in a WBEZ interview (RA file) of the two. DJW correctly identifies a few glaringly huge holes in the “Daley’s grand plan”: the pair of ancient coal fired power plants spilling deadly soot and sulfur over the densely populated (and 90% Latino) southwest side, for instance. Oddly, Chamberlain leads by pointing to Meigs Field, a quintessential knee-jerk power grab, as proof that the city (and particularly Daley) is thinking through environmental initiatives in a holistic way.
Any systematic look at the city’s environmental impact, though, would have addressed many other key issues that are lost amidst the many laudable micro-programs out there. (When I worked in housing, we called the city’s myriad budget options “boutiquey programs,” rather like a lifestyle center filled with tiny shops but without, oh, a supermarket.) Sure, disconnecting downspouts, permeable alleys, and the Calumet environmental center (which smells more like Bill Ford’s doing than Richie Daley’s) are all great steps forward.
But the city’s curious insistence that green roofs are the end-all and be-all of green site planning — even when said green roof is surrounded by a moat of parking, on a street which had its bus service axed in the 1997 service cuts — surely points to the absence of any thorough thinking on green issues. Despite the fact that transportation arguably has as great an impact on the environment as buildings do, the city pursues the easy greenwashing of LEED while chronically under-investing in transit. Chicago pays a paltry $3 million operating subsidy to CTA (garnered solely from its gas tax receipts, which it has state authorization to raise), and wastes its CMAQ grants on throwaway tourist trolleys that duplicate perfectly good CTA services. Meanwhile, as cities elsewhere (notably Seattle) lead the way with transportation demand management services that provide real answers to the question “but what will I do without my car?”, Chicago has yet to investigate any meaningful options besides providing a few token parking spaces in city-owned lots for car sharing. Word has it that TDM ideas were cut out of the forthcoming bicycle plan, since they weren’t “bike enough.”
Incidentally, does anyone know why David Reynolds is abruptly leaving his job at the Department of the Environment? He was due to speak at CNU XII about the city’s green initiatives, but has suddenly disappeared. Too bad; along with Abolt, he was one of the more pleasant, competent people to shape Department of Environment policy.