When he took office in 2011, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel dismantled the city’s Department of the Environment and proceeded to integrate environmental and sustainability initiatives within other departments of Chicago’s government. These programs and initiatives are documented on the city’s website in this Environment and Sustainability page.
In September of 2012, Chicago launched Sustainable Chicago 2015, a three-year action agenda for the urban environment that focuses on 24 goals across seven areas. According to the administration, “In the past three months progress has been made in all areas, with announcements or milestones in 21 of the 24 goals.” These seven areas of focus are:
1) Economic Development and Job Creation
2) Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy
3) Transportation Options
4) Water and Wastewater
5) Parks, Open Space, and Healthy Food
6) Waste and Recycling
7) Climate Change
Here, according to the city, are some of its sustainability-related accomplishments of 2012:
- Chicago announced the nation’s leading program to convert private and public fleets to electric vehicles. In addition the City is purchasing 20 EVs for its own fleet (light, medium and heavy duty) and Smith Electric Vehicles announced plans to open a manufacturing facility in Chicago.
- Chicago’s first two-way bike lanes opened on Dearborn Street and the City launched the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 (link opens pdf) calling for a 645-mile network of biking facilities to be in place by 2020.
- Chicago became largest municipality to undertake electricity aggregation, and is delivering a new model where residents and small business will save money and use power that is coal-free.
- The ecological restoration of Northerly Island Park was announced as the park becomes a new urban camping hub for families, children and at-risk youth.
What is ripe for discussion, beyond Chicago’s promotion of its laudable plan, is how much tangible progress has been made in other areas of Sustainability 2015, and the extent to which these efforts have spread across the geographic reach of the city and impacted residents throughout Chicago’s neighborhoods.