The future of Chicago is colored green. It isn’t exactly a new story, but the business opportunities that seek to make a green vision pay entrepreneurs green dollars became more apparent at a September 10 event, Green Innovation and Entrepreneurship, sponsored by the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
Environmentally conscious practices in all areas of society designated by “green” are gaining momentum but not yet completely mainstream or else we wouldn’t need a term to differentiate them. “These things are debated,” marveled Channel 5 meteorologist Ginger Zee in her opening story of growing up on an organic farm in western Michigan. Her story illustrated the tension between the common sense of the health advantages of environmentally sustainable practices and the convenience of the American consumer lifestyle.
In real estate development, the term “adaptive reuse” designates the environmentally sustainable practice of retrofitting and reusing old buildings for new purposes. “Adaptive reuse is the greenest project you can build,” said developer David Baum, principal Baum Realty Group.
Mr. Baum’s talk focused on the Green Exchange (GX), a building and community his company is developing for organizations concerned with environmentally conscious and sustainable practices. GX is housed in the former Cooper Lamp factory in Chicago and aspires to LEED Platinum status, the highest environmental designation a building can have. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED is a set of standards that measure a variety of environmental metrics in construction, including energy use, water efficiency, and carbon emissions.
Mr. Baum made the case that the energy savings and productivity gains of adaptive reuse specifically and green building practices in general provide a return-on-investment that more than justifies the costs. On productivity savings, for instance, Mr. Baum said, “If people feel better in a space, they are more productive.” He also outlined savings from energy efficient systems and the shared use in GX of administrative spaces and resources.
As green building practices become increasingly adopted and people are more familiar with the benefits, they will want green buildings. Build for the future, Mr. Baum advises. “If you are not building for the future, you will go the way of the (American) car companies,” (he referenced the downfall of the Hummer with the rise of gas prices and environmental awareness).
First Ward Alderman Manuel “Manny” Flores championed the Green Exchange and is working on several other green initiatives. In an energetic and impassioned talk, Ald. Flores told the story of the Cooper Lamp factory and how its family owners wanted a zoning change to shutter the factory, which could no longer compete with Chinese lamp manufacturers, and convert the history building to condos.
Read the business version of the story in Crain’s, “Green light goes on at old Cooper lamp factory” and a more neighborhood-focused view in, “Green-focused development seems to revel in betting against the house” in Medill Reports Chicago. For the more politically oriented story, see “On sustainability and politics,” in the Chicago Reader blog.
Ald. Flores appears to be staking out the green territory in Chicago politics, with his sponsorship of GX and the Green Economy Chicago web forum, along with his vision of a district in his ward defined by green jobs, sustainable housing, and clean manufacturing.
In the housing area, Ald. Flores mentioned the Chicago Housing Authority’s plans to redevelop the Lathrop Homes into a mixed-housing area following LEED standards. The three people who attended from the CHA were extremely enthusiastic about the project. Published information on the CHA’s plans to redevelop the historic Lathrop Homes is difficult to come by, with little major media coverage on the housing project but good coverage by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association on its website and a story on the community controversy in Chi-Town Daily News.
In the economic development area, Ald. Flores mentioned his hopes for establishing a clean manufacturing district in the 1st Ward, near GX and Lathrop homes, in hopes for providing additional opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovators to establish jobs. The City of Chicago Department of Community Development is creating a master plan for the Addison Industrial Corridor. The next Addison Corridor Study Community Meeting is set for 7-9 pm Sept. 22 in the auditorium of Lane Tech High School.
“Connecting the dots” between GX, a revitalized Lathrop Homes, and a new clean manufacturing corridor provides “a much stronger opportunity” for innovation and entrepreneurship in Chicago, he said. Taken in the context of work at the region’s universities, the city’s architectural heritage and reputation for being green, and the Chamber’s desire to promote green technology, this Ald. Flores quote has value as both sound byte and call to action: “The City of Chicago is uniquely positioned to be the green Silicon Valley.”