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Chicago offers example of smart city work-in-progress

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As the smart-city-work-in-progress shows in Chicago, it is crucial to make the most of what a community already has, while altering economic incentives to support sustainable goals.

Really well-researched article about Chicago as a smart city ("Redrawing the American City") in the latest edition of Onearth, published by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The focus of the story is about how three very different communities in the Chicago metro area -- the eco-minded Prairie Crossing suburban development, the down-and-out blue-collar Blue Island suburb in Chicago's industrial "wasteland" and West Garfield Park -- are great examples of smart growth while pretty much looking absolutely nothing alike.

Also, they are great examples of why smart growth ideas for one community won't necessarily apply elsewhere. As the author states: the first rule of smart growth is "always begin with the stuff you've already got."

Prairie Crossing, for example, is rife with energy-efficient homes, while lacking on sidewalks. Blue Island boasts great space for small businesses, but it lacks the trees that would make it an attractive "main street." You'll see solar panels in West Garfield Park, but also lots of empty buildings. Improvements in all of these communities won't necessarily focus on the same thing and therein lies the challenge for the largest metro areas: how to support the needs of many, many diverse neighborhoods and communities.

Of course, state and regional government agencies and planning authorities will be key for creating the environment to support smart growth. In Chicago, many of the smart city planning efforts will be spearheaded or at least guided by Chicago Metropolis 2020, which combines resources across the region. At the federal level, this hopefully will be mirrored by the collaborative efforts of HUD-DOT-EPA (the Housing and Urban Development Authority, the Department of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency). The concerns of all three -- smart living space, smart transportation alternatives and smart environmental planning -- are closely intertwined in any smart city initiative.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure