The Chicago Department of Health recently denied a permit for a metal crushing and recycling facility on the southeast side of the city, a decision that Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, called the “appropriate course.”
“We found that in an already overburdened community, there were some increased risks to the environment, human health and quality of life, and some historical compliance issues,” Arwady said.
Following this decision, environmental justice advocates say now is the time for the city and industry leaders to work together and find ways to meet the needs of both the community and businesses.
Gina Ramirez, an activist and Midwest outreach manager at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said one lesson of the decision is that a concentrated industry simply isn’t compatible with densely populated areas.
“I think the city needs to look specifically at the south and west sides of Chicago, which are bearing the brunt of the pollution,” Ramirez said. “I think the city needs to take its time, do health impact assessments like they did for the Southeast Side, and really consider the community’s input when making such big decisions that impact the quality of life and health of these residents.” .”
dr Teresa Cordova, director of the University of Illinois’ Great Cities Institute, believes the case is a result of Chicago’s historic land use policies.
“We [need to] Start thinking about what our manufacturing policy is going to be and what our manufacturing land use policy is going to be,” Cordova said. “Because part of what happened in this case, where the conditions for denial were right — more and more industry was being concentrated in an area that was already polluted, and less and less industry and less and less zoning for industrial activity, including manufacturing activity , is available in other parts of the city.”
But it would be a mistake to dismiss the need for low-barrier jobs, said Erica Swinney Staley, executive director of Manufacturing Renaissance. She believes this provides an opportunity to think ahead about how the industry can fit in Chicago.
“I think in a big metropolitan area like Chicago, we need to make a difference, we need good jobs, we need wealth-building opportunities… Let’s be proactive as a community, as a city, as industrial developers, as environmentalists. Let’s really plan this out,” Staley said. “I think the city of Chicago can take a leadership position now and say, hey, let’s find the right way to go about industrial development that respects the values of our communities, environmental issues, and the need for education and training that people who do.” live in these communities can actually work in these advanced green technology industries that we might want to encourage to come into every community in Chicago. So I think this is an opportunity for us to do it right.”
Ramirez sees the Method plant in Pullman as an example of “the right way”.
“It’s high quality work that doesn’t have many outcomes that impact quality of life and human health,” Ramirez said. “We’re a blue-collar community, we’re proud of that, and we want jobs, but we don’t want jobs at the expense of our health. It is therefore important to sit at the table with industry as they make plans that will impact future generations. We need community benefits and we need to realize the 21st century vision for the Southeast Side.”
Cordova said an often-cited reason for locating industries in neighborhoods — the idea that it allows workers to live close to where they work — isn’t supported in her research.
“When we talk about the supposed benefits of these types of industries in terms of jobs, that doesn’t show up for the people who live there,” Cordova said. “And indeed, the data also shows that people commute — the majority of people who work in this area commute relatively long distances to get to work in this area. So in the end, people have to deal with the health impact without getting the employment impact.”
“We can’t just rely on the entrepreneurial spirit – industrialists who come up with a great idea. Any development that goes ahead needs to be in the context of the Green New Deal,” Staley said. “Climate change is here, and we need to adjust our development priorities accordingly… Invest in education and training… Inspire people to actually learn the skills and receive the education to be leaders in STEM fields… We can decide to go in that direction, but we have to do the planning.”