Apr. 22nd, 2013

Chicago Strives to Become "The Greenest City in The Country"

Photo Courtesy of Shutter Stock
Of all the “green” cities in the world, Chicago, home of deep dish pizza and the third most populated city in the U.S., probably doesn’t make your top five list of environmentally sound metropolises. However, Chicago is making some of the country’s largest efforts towards becoming an eco-friendly place to live. From solar bus shelters to bringing organic food into city schools, the past several years have brought incredible changes to the locale’s green status.
Photo Courtesy of InteriorDesign.net

Between 2006 and 2010, the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) developed The Green Alley Program, the most recent in a long list of environmentally savvy initiatives to better qualify the city transit avenues. Through the program sidewalks were outfitted with open-bottom catch basins, reflective pavements and were crafted from reusable materials, such as old tires. The CDOT built 550 feet of recycled rubber sidewalk on the West Side of the city. Compared to its concrete counterparts, the rubber is more durable and requires less maintenance, disallowing roots to break through the surfaces and also helping with drainage. In addition, the CDOT also moved to build around 100 solar-powered bus shelters, saving the city an estimated of $20,000 in electricity costs annually.
Photo Courtesy of ChicagoMag.com

Other city-driven initiatives over the past few years have included outfitting City Hall with green roofs, turning off fountains in city parks overnight and retrofitting pickle barrels into rain harvesters. The city sells the upcycled barrels to residents for $20, a far cry cheaper than buying them online where they can retail as high as $250. But aside from local government assistance, Chicago businesses and homeowners have taken on the green challenge themselves, working towards the common goal of becoming “the greenest city in the country.” Chicago can proudly claim the United States’ “greenest home” as well as its “greenest restaurant.” Located in the neighborhood of Egdebrook, on what is described as a “quiet, tree-lined street” lies the home of Jacek and Marta Helenowski. Taking more than 10 years to create, their geo-thermally designed residence runs on a rooftop turbine (much to the dismay of their neighbors) and solar panels, making it an essentially net-zero energy home. What does this mean? Even though some energy is used, the overall energy consumption equates to zero because it operates on renewable energy sources.
Photo Courtesy of ChicagoMag.com

The interior features energy-efficient lighting, CFC-free soy-based foam insulation, bamboo flooring and a basement spa which is heated by a pellet burner. Taking a hint from the CDOT (or perhaps it’s the other way around) the roof was built with recycled car tires, and the Helenowski’s spent a year and a half reconstructing reclaimed lumber from other homes. As a result of their efforts, the couple earned the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum certification in 2011 after achieving one of the highest scores on record, 119 out of 136 points.
Photo Courtesy of Uncommon Ground

What’s more, Uncommon Ground, located on Chicago’s north side, was named the “Greenest Restaurant in the Country” by the Green Restaurant Association. The restaurant is independently-owned and has implemented 116 environmental steps to ensure they produce zero waste. Uncommon Ground has two locations, in Devon (which simultaneously won #1 and celebrated its 20th anniversary) and in Lakeview, which stole the #2 greenest restaurant spot. Aside from that honor, the restaurant also won recognition in 2008 for being the “First Certified Organic Rooftop Farm in the Country;” “Winner of the ‘USGBC Environ-motion Award’” in 2009; and “Winner of the ‘Mayor’s Landscape Award’ City of Chicago,” 2009, 2010 and 2011 among a whole host of other awards.
Photo Courtesy of Uncommon Ground

While they pioneered the first certified organic rooftop farm, it’s more than just the farm-to-table approach that has earned them their recognition. The entire restaurant was built upon a “green mentality,” using recyclable, earth-friendly supplies and ensuring leftover materials could be used elsewhere. Everything from the farm’s plumbing to where they would purchase design materials (all local, of course) was planned from its inception.
Photo Courtesy of Serious Eats Chicago

Enough about eco-friendly paint and more about food you say? Well all right. Because ingredients are seasonal and fresh, menu items are constantly evolving. But to give you an idea about what kind of great eats can be found at Uncommon Ground, think baked artichoke with capriole goat cheese and pesto dip; roasted maitake mushroom tacos with butterkase cheese and chili-tomatillo puree; and for brunch, the Montana omelet with organic eggs, cherry wood bacon and prairie pure cheddar cheese.
Photo Courtesy of Organic School Project

Staying on the topic of food, the Chicago city school system has Greg Christian of Greg Christian Catering to thank for the organic meal program that has begun to take root in many of the area schools, and especially in the Alcott School in Lincoln Park. After approaching his daughter’s health issues with a change in diet, Christian took on a broader scope of nutrition. He launched the Organic School Project, a monthly program which combines healthy eating with other wellness techniques such as relaxation and yoga. Christian also tackled the well-known challenge of getting kids to eat their veggies by allowing them to be a part of the growth process. Taking Christian’s lead, parents helped to install container gardens inside the school so kids could see firsthand where healthy food comes from.
Photo Courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

Like many initiatives, the green movement is one that is evolving over time, taking advantage of innovative ideas, advances in technology and good old fashioned teamwork. Everyone from Chicago-based entrepreneurs and city legislators to architects like Jeanne Gang (Bloomberg wrote a fascinating article about how Gang is challenging traditional architectural ideas in favor of eco-friendly methods ) are brainstorming ways to make the city, and in extension, the world they live in, a better place.
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