Tagsustainability

Tribune points out why we need something better than Deep Tunnel

60 billion gallons of rain fell on Cook County on Friday night, according to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s (MWRD) president Terrence O’Brien.

The world’s largest wastewater treatment plant just north of Navy Pier in downtown Chicago. One of two plants in the city limits. Photo by kendoman26.

That’s enough to fill 1.2 billion of these Suncast rain barrels*. The rain was too much for the Deep Tunnel – the underground network of  water reservoirs. They hold water runoff during storms before it goes to the water treatment plant for cleaning, after which it will flow into one of the water channels in and around Chicago. But the storms on Friday were too much – the MWRD had to release sewage into Lake Michigan because the reservoirs were full.

This in turn forced the Chicago Park District to close the beaches.

“All 109 miles of the Deep Tunnel system were filled during the storm, O’Brien said.”

We find ourselves in a situation similar to that of traffic congestion. Building new and wider roads doesn’t relieve traffic congestion. The same might be true for Deep Tunnel construction. Longer and wider tubes won’t reduce our water usage or how much stormwater is directed to the sewers (Chicago has a combined sewer, draining sewage from buildings and stormwater from the street). The Chicago Tribune article doesn’t exactly point out the solution, and it only hints at the problem: We get more water in our tunnel than we can handle.

The Chicago Harbor Lock separates the Chicago River from Lake Michigan was opened to allow the river to discharge its overflow into the lake. The water at Chicago’s magnificent beaches could have been contaminated so the Park District closed swimming at ALL beaches until at least Monday morning. Photo by Norma Fernandez.

Chicagoland needs a better stormwater management plan that incorporates sustainable best practices. We can start by encouraging landscaping that absorbs stormwater instead of acting like a slope towards the nearest drain. New streetscape projects can have bioswale planters. What other ideas are there to reduce the amount of runoff that has to be stored in hundreds of underground tunnels?

*The MWRD sells rain barrels to the public online for pickup. Rain barrels are just one part of a multi-pronged solution to stormwater management.

Norma Fernandez

Chicago’s big box saga continues

The Chicago big box saga is a tale of who gets to build where, how big, and how much wage it pays. It can be extended to include debates on store design.

While big box stores were built here before the first Wal-Mart in Chicago, the saga begins with that megastore. The City Council passed a “living wage” ordinance (also called the big box wage ordinance) that required stores with over 90,000 square feet and $1 billion in revenue to pay their employees a minimum of $10 per hour, and an additional $3 per hour in fringe benefits. The Mayor vetoed the ordinance. Wal-Mart built its store in the Austin neighborhood and paid their normal wage (in 2010 it seems to be $8.75). It won’t be until 2011 (at the earliest) that the second Wal-Mart will open in Pullman.

An urban-friendly Best Buy in the same complex as a senior citizen assisted living center.

Meanwhile, Target opens new Chicago stores in McKinley Park and West Rogers Park (on Peterson Avenue), both in 2006. Best Buy opened stores on Elston Avenue, Belmont Avenue, Clark Street, Roosevelt Road, and Michigan Avenue. Kohl’s, a discount department store, opened a store alongside Best Buy on Elston (to the tune of 130,000 square feet, on par with Wal-Mart) in 2005. Home Depot and Menards have also opened stores since the big box ordinance veto in 2006 seemingly without a hitch.

This month, Target proposed to a group of residents and the 2nd Ward Alderman, Robert Fioretti, a new store at Jackson and Aberdeen in the West Loop. Many residents were disappointed by the store design. At least one resident didn’t understand the need for a store with the South Loop store on Roosevelt so close.

How the saga can end

The prevailing wages at big box stores in Chicago should be researched. The current research about Wal-Mart and big box stores’ tax revenue contributions should be validated by additional studies. There are several universities up to this task, and mine, the University of Illinois at Chicago, has released multiple studies – here’s one about localized job creation and elimination.

With solid background information, alderman and city agencies, as well as residents, can potentially make better informed and more effective decisions about the future of large-scale retailing in Chicago.

More of this please (Home Depot hardware store in dense neighborhood)…

…And less of these.

Lastly, the City Council and Zoning and Planning departments should set design standards for this style of shopping to ensure urban friendly and transit oriented developments. Home Depot and Target should be lauded for their stores on Halsted Street in Lincoln Park (more info), and on Roosevelt Road in South Loop, respectively*. However, each has since built their typical suburban monstrosities in other neighborhoods, that neither recognize that some customers would like to arrive by car (instead by transit or bike), nor consider the environment (minimum-size parking lots make a large contribution to the city’s current problems managing stormwater runoff). Future Wal-Marts should promote sustainable design.

First and second photos by Payton Chung. Third photo by PonderInc.

*While the Target in McKinley Park (Chicago) is LEED Certified, the South Loop store probably has an annual lower carbon footprint because of all the visitors who arrive by transit and bike. The South Loop store is near a major train station and several bus routes (at least five). The McKinley store is on a highway and two bus routes.

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