Monday, May 28, 2007

Measuring Chicago's sustainability

On Saturday, Zephyr at the Climate of Our Future blog asked readers to check out the sustainability rankings for their home cities. I finally took a look at Chicago's scores, and it turns out we fared quite well in comparison to other US cities, ranking 4th overall in 2006. Here's a graph with the breakdown of the rated categories:

You can read the full report for Chicago on the SustainLane website.

As well as Chicago did, there are a few glaring defficiencies that need to be addressed: Congestion, Air Quality, and Affordable Housing. Those three areas are definitely interconnected and will need to be remedied by city planners in a systematic fashion.

Here in the far northside community of Rogers Park we've seen an erosion of our affordable housing stock; a fact documented in the housing audit conducted by Lakeside CDC last year (you can read the full report here in PDF format). Although most wouldn't view that in terms of environmental impact, the failure to address the problem will have repercussions beyond demographic shifts.

As city residents are forced further into the outlying suburbs where housing is more affordable, they face longer commutes and the necessity of automobile ownership that exacerbates our problems with carbon dioxide emissions. Ensuring that people can live close to their jobs is an important social consideration that we must pressure our politicians to recognize.

Reversing the current under-funding of the city's public transportation system also needs to be addressed. A few days ago, the newly appointed president of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) announced the possibility of further service cuts and hefty fare hikes without an increased budget (see Giving fare warning from the May 25 Chicago Sun-Times).

The threat may be exaggerated to literally scare up more money for the CTA, but the fact that there is a budget shortfall is not fiction. Unfortunately public transportation, both locally and nationally, is never given the same funding priorities as auto-based tranportation needs. That has to change if we're ever going to make real progress in the fight to improve our air quality.

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