Solving Cities

Will Rahm Emanuel make Chicago a greener city?

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Chicago's new mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to add miles of bike lanes, retrofit more buildings, and encourage urban agriculture. Find out what else he plans to do to make Chicago a leader in sustainability.

We now know that former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will take over as mayor of Chicago -- the third largest U.S. city -- in May. But will Emanuel be able to improve on Mayor Richard Daley's attempts to make Chicago the greenest city in America?

During his tenure, Mayor Daley improved green building codes, added acres of open green space, along with miles of bike lanes, and adopted a complete streets policy. Will Emanuel be able to improve on what his predecessor has already done? From the looks of his campaign promises I think it's safe to say that he will.

On transportation:

Chicago is an international city and the economic center of the Midwest. Essential to its success and continued growth is a diverse, multi-modal transportation network, linking the city to the region and to the world, and neighborhoods to downtown and to each other.

He plans to:

  • Make transit-friendly development a priority.
  • Increase the number of miles of bike lanes added every year from 8 to 25, and build more protected bike lanes.
  • Update building codes so that buildings with 200-plus tenants have one space in a protected bike facility for every 20 employees.
  • Make Chicago the hub of the Midwest's high-speed rail network.

On green buildings:

Investments in weatherization and efficiency upgrades create jobs, lower household utility bills, make Chicago businesses more competitive and lessen our impact on the environment. Reducing Chicago’s energy demand also keeps money in people’s pockets and in the region’s economy.

He plans to:

  • Triple the number of buildings that undergo retrofits.
  • Help building owners find available funding for weatherization projects, energy efficiency and water conservation upgrades.
  • Create a dozen Energy Efficiency Target Zones, to locate the areas of the city that would benefit the most from energy efficiency retrofits.

On food:

More than 600,000 of Chicago's three million residents live in neighborhoods that lack access to fresh food. Located primarily on Chicago’s south and west sides, these "food deserts" make it difficult to purchase healthy and fresh fruits, vegetables and meat. ... While there is no simple solution to eradicate food deserts, the public health and economic development consequences require action.

He plans to:

  • Build a grocery store in every neighborhood.
  • Cut zoning regulations to encourage urban agriculture.
  • Allow fresh produce to be sold where it is grown.
  • Reform regulations that prohibit street food vendors.

His plans are certainly ambitious. But, we'll have to see if the city's budget crisis keeps him from realizing his green dreams.

Fortunately, for the city, his ties with the White House will be an advantage, especially when it comes to federal transportation funding. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told the Chicago Tribune that, while there are no big pots of federal money for Emanuel to tap into, "there are several smaller pots, and Rahm knows where they are, knows who the people are who control them and he knows the requirements to use these resources."

A big advantage indeed. We'll see if it pays off.

Photo: juggernautco/Flickr

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Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure