Category Archives: policy

COVID-19 Pandemic Resources

Some quick links on the pandemic, organized from local to global:

Pratt Institute (includes resources for students, discussion of current schedule, online teaching, and updates for the campus community).

New York City (includes factsheets, public health posters, and citywide resources, as well as current case count in the city).

New York State (includes hotline number and statewide case count organized by county).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (nationwide public health tips and case count organized by state).

World Health Organization (FAQ, updated news on global responses).

If one of your responses to the pandemic is to curl up with a good book, here are a few titles that can provide historical perspective. (This is not even an attempt at a comprehensive bibliography, just a small selection of relevant titles.)

Alfred W. Crosby, America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918 (2003 edition).

Richard J. Evans, Death in Hamburg: Society and Politics in the Cholera Years, 1830-1910 (1987).

Suellen Hoy, Chasing Dirt: The American Pursuit of Cleanliness (1995).

Melanie Kiechle, Smell Detectives: An Olfactory History of Nineteenth Century Urban America (2017).

Martin V. Melosi, The Sanitary City: Environmental Services in Urban America from Colonial Times to the Present (2005 abridged edition, 2000 original Johns Hopkins University Press edition).

Geoffrey W. Rice, Black Flu 1918: The Story of New Zealand’s Worst Public Health Disaster (2018).

George Rosen, A History of Public Health (1993 revised expanded edition).

Charles E. Rosenberg, The Cholera Years: The United States in 1832, 1849, and 1866 (1987 edition).

Kara Murphy Schlichting, New York Recentered: Building the Metropolis from the Shore (2019).

Daniel Schneider, Hybrid Nature: Sewage Treatment and the Contradictions of the Industrial Ecosystem (2011).

Joel A. Tarr, The Search for the Ultimate Sink: Urban Pollution in Historical Perspective (1996).

2019 NYC Climate Strike Actions

Pratt Climate Strike Poster - 1

Information in this post came from a September 13 session in Main Building.

The Global Climate Strike organized by young people all around the world begins with mass protests on September 20. As an educator discussion global sustainability issues with young people at Pratt, I am compelled to share information about what my students and their peers are doing to address the environmental and social problems the planet faces.

A group of Pratt students will join Friday’s New York City protest (September 20). A contingent is leaving Pratt’s Brooklyn campus from the Chapel in East Building shortly before noon and joining others in Manhattan’s Foley Square before the 2:30pm march in Battery Park. For more information on the larger event, see the Facebook page.

On Monday, September 23 at 5:30pm, people will gather ahead of the Climate Strike with Greta Thunberg. For more information on this event, see its Facebook page.

On Friday, September 27 at 2:30pm, the Communities Strike for Climate over Colonialism takes place in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood. For more information on this event, see its Facebook page.

On Sunday, September 29, the SOS Amazon festival takes place in Tompkins Square Park. “Celebrating Preservation of Amazonian Ecosystem and all Ecosystems, indigenous culture, human rights  with DJs, Live music, dance, art, speakers, drummers and ceremonies. THIS IS A FREE PARTY!” For more information on this event, see its Facebook page.

Related, Leonel Ponce, who coordinates Pratt’s Sustainable Environmental Systems MA program has helped draft an open letter from the academic community demanding United Nations action in support of the Amazon and its peoples. You may read and sign the letter at this link. Related to this letter is the petition to call on the United Nations to #CancelBolsonaro at the UN General Assembly.




The Discard Studies Blog Is Back! (And Could Use Our Support.)


New York City’s curbside recycling collections being sorted at the Sims facility in Sunset Park.

September brings with it the resumption of posts on the remarkably generative Discard Studies blog edited by Professors Max Liboiron and Josh Lepawsky and graduate student Alex Zahara of Memorial University of Newfoundland. Over the last several years, the authors of the blog have generated some of the best critical thinking across disciplines assessing the power relations, systems, culture, and economics of how and why modern societies discard. What Is Discard Studies?

We tend to think that we are familiar with waste because we deal with it every day. Yet,  most aspects of waste are entirely hidden from common view and understanding, including the wider social, economic, political, cultural, and material systems that shape waste and wasting. Unlike studies that take waste and trash as their primary objects of study, discard studies looks at wider systems that make waste and wasting they ways they are. For instance, rather than asking how much people recycle and why they don’t recycle more, discard studies asks why recycling is considered good in the first place (MacBride 2011, Liboiron 2009, Ackerman 1997).

The field of discard studies is  united by a critical framework that questions premises of what seems normal or given, and analyzes the wider role of society and culture, including social norms, economic systems, forms of labor, ideology, infrastructure, and power in definitions of, attitudes toward, behaviors around, and materialities of waste, broadly defined. As its starting point, discard studies holds that waste is not produced by individuals and is not automatically disgusting, harmful, or morally offensive, but that both the materials of discards and their meanings are part of wider sociocultural-economic systems. Our task is to interrogate these systems for how waste comes to be, and our work is often to offer critical alternatives to popular and normative notions of waste.

Discard Studies is designed as an online hub for scholars, activists, environmentalists, students, artists, planners, and others who are asking questions about waste, not just as an ecological problem, but as a process, category, mentality, judgment, an infrastructural and economic challenge, and as a site for producing power as well as struggles against power structures. We produce and host: monthly research-based articles on discard studies; compile a monthly report on recent articles, jobs, and calls for participation relevant to discard studies called “The Dirt”; and maintain a repository of definitionsbibliographies, and syllabi as resources.

The kind of reader who would wander onto my blog would certainly get a lot out of reading Discard Studies, and I recommend it for anyone interested in STS, environmental studies, urban studies, material culture, critical waste studies, political economy, ethnography, or environmental history. (A few of us environmental historians, including Martin Melosi, Steve Corey, Ruth Rand, Peter Thorsheim, and I, have structured sessions at ASEH to advance the approach Max, Josh, Alex, blog founder Robin Nagle, and their colleagues have championed on this site.)

The blog is back, and it has costs to meet, including paying for the server, compensating the collaborating editor who is a graduate student, and (if enough of us donate) allowing the writers of each piece to be compensated for their labors. If this strikes you as a valuable endeavor, consider supporting Discard Studies on Patreon.

A Future without Waste? Zero Waste in Theory and Practice. (New RCC Perspectives issue.)

The 2014 Rachel Carson Center workshop Whose Waste? Whose Problem? revealed many fascinating perspectives on the topic of waste, and now several of these contributions (including articles by Tian Song, Michael Braungart, Zsuzsa Gille, Jutta Gutberlet, Stafania Gallini, Herbert Köpnick, and me, as well as a roundtable) are available in the new RCC Perspectives issue “A Future without Waste? Zero Waste in Theory and Practice.”

A PDF of the issue is free at this link.

The White Privilege of Henry Loeb

Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb, 1968.

Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb, 1968.

Today is the 95th anniversary of onetime Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb’s birth. As I discuss in my forthcoming book Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States (available from NYU Press January 8, 2016, and available for preorder now) Loeb’s life and actions reflect the shifting power relations around white identity in the 20th century, and the ways those power relations were used to exacerbate environmental racism.

Loeb is most famous (or infamous) for his role in the events leading up to Martin Luther King, Jr’s 1968 assassination. Dr. King was in Memphis to support a strike of sanitation workers when he was killed. That strike was triggered by Mayor Loeb’s actions.

Loeb became mayor as a champion of white supremacy. That fact does not set him apart from George Wallace, Lester Maddox, or the many politicians who used racist ideology to win and retain office in the 1960s. Loeb’s history, however, illuminates an aspect of white supremacy usually not remarked upon — its association with hygiene.

Loeb was descended from German Jewish immigrants who arrived in Memphis during the nineteenth century. His grandfather opened a successful chain of laundries that employed African-American women to do the hard work of keeping the customers’ clothes clean. The Loeb family grew prosperous off this labor; Henry was born in 1920 into a family of wealth and privilege. He attended Philips Academy prep school and Brown University. His friends included John F. Kennedy (who, like Henry, served on a patrol boat during World War II).

Henry tended to the family business after World War II. He resisted efforts from black workers to organize unions, kept wages and overhead low, and continued to keep the enterprise profitable. He married Mary Gregg, the 1950 queen of the Memphis Cotton Carnival (a celebration of the Cotton South and the Confederacy) and converted from Judiasm to the Episcopal Church.

Having assimilated into the upper crust of white Memphis society, Loeb began a political career. He got elected to the Memphis City Commission in 1955 and began his oversight of the Public Works Department, which included streets and sanitation.

As historian Michael K. Honey observed in his terrific book Going Down Jericho Road, the workers in Memphis’s Sanitation Department charged with collecting garbage were overwhelmingly African American and male. Under Loeb, they were subject to dangerous working conditions and often forced to work an additional hour each day without pay.

Loeb used his experience to run an explicitly racist campaign for mayor in 1959, serving a term before stepping down to run the family business after the manager had died of a heart attack. After four years away, he ran again for the office in 1967, once again winning an explicitly racist campaign.

Mayor Loeb refused to entertain workers’ desire to have their union recognized or their desire for improved working conditions. With tensions rising, two workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, were killed on a garbage truck. They were riding on the back of the truck as was procedure in Memphis’s Department of Public Works. In a pouring rain, the two men tried to take cover as best they could by climbing onto a perch between a hydraulic ram used to compact the garbage and the inner wall of the truck. Somewhere along the drive, the ram activated, crushing the two men to death. One had tried to escape, but the mechanism caught his raincoat and pulled him back to his death.

C&WcoverThe men’s deaths led to an immediate walkout. Loeb did not back down, refusing to negotiate with the workers. The history of the strike, Dr. King’s involvement in it, its marches, its violence, Loeb’s refusal to negotiate, and the aftermath of Dr. King’s assassination are discussed in Chapter 8 of Clean and White. Available January 8 from NYU Press, the book contextualizes Loeb’s actions in a time when fears about waste and racial purity intertwined, producing new labor markets and spatial arrangements to manage the materials Americans classified as waste. Loeb is one of the actors in a long history of Americans’ often troubled relationship with those wastes and with each other. This is how I remember him on the 95th anniversary of his birth.

George Waring and the Legacy of Clean and White

george_waring_mdToday is the anniversary of Col. George E. Waring’s death. Waring, most famous for the sanitary reforms he developed as Street Commissioner of New York City, had been appointed by President McKinley to investigate sanitation in Cuba. There, he contracted yellow fever, which killed him at the age of 65.

Waring had immediate and enduring influence on the sanitation of two major American cities. He developed a sewer system for Memphis that alleviated that city’s chronic cholera and yellow fever epidemics. In New York City, he modernized waste management, establishing the “White Wings” street-cleaners (teams dressed in immaculate white uniforms to sweep the streets), and transforming sanitation work from patronage to a necessary city service.

Waring’s work saved thousands of lives and made urban life both cleaner and safer. The way he conducted his work also revealed attitudes about waste and race widespread in late nineteenth-century American life. In New York City, Waring expanded the department to scavenge value from discards. To do so, he hired Italian immigrants, “a race,” Waring reasoned, “with a genius for rag-and-bone picking and for subsisting on rejected trifles of food.”

C&WcoverThis attitude is jarring in 2015, but was commonplace in the 1890s. Sanitary engineers, sociologists, and advertisements have all left evidence that peoples other than native-born whites in the United States were seen as somehow more fit to handle waste or otherwise be exposed to waste. How this attitude developed, how it was resisted by many affected people, and what consequences it has had for American society is the subject of my new book Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States. Available Nov. 13 from NYU Press, the book contextualizes Waring’s work in a time when fears about waste and racial purity intertwined, producing new labor markets and spatial arrangements to manage the materials Americans classified as waste. Waring is one of the actors in a long history of Americans’ often troubled relationship with those wastes and with each other.

Waring’s death from yellow fever was a reminder that the hazards he sought to eliminate endured in the Americas. His life, and his life’s work, showed the complex ways in which perception of those hazards shaped American society. He should be remembered for both his accomplishments and these complexities, and that is one of the goals of the book.

The Obama Presidential Library Should Be Designed With the Help of Chicago’s South Side Residents

Washington Park, one of the two South Side neighborhoods proposed for the Obama Presidential Library's site.

Washington Park, one of the two South Side neighborhoods proposed for the Obama Presidential Library’s site.

Chicago Tribune architectural critic Blair Kamin reported that the Barack Obama Presidential Library that (according to multiple news reports) will be built on the South Side of Chicago in 2017 may be designed by London-based, Tanzanian-born architect David Adjaye. Kamin discusses the possible controversy over not using a Chicago-based, or African-American, or American architect — for this iconic national building.

Adjaye would be the first non-American architect to design a presidential library. Boosting his already substantial profile, the Art Institute of Chicago in September will mount a solo exhibition of his work, which includes the under-construction National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall and Denver’s cool, cubelike Museum of Contemporary Art.

Yet some are asking: Why the focus on Adjaye? Why not an African-American architect like North Carolina’s Philip Freelon, who designed a Washington, D.C., library that Obama visited last week? Or why not one of Chicago’s leading architects, like Jeanne Gang, Helmut Jahn, Ralph Johnson or John Ronan?

“Why aren’t we bringing up the names of African-American architects?” said Marshall Brown, an associate professor of architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, who is African-American. “Why aren’t we talking about younger architects, bringing someone new onto the national or international stage?”

As a sustainability scholar, I have further questions, though perhaps not ones one might suspect from a sustainability scholar. True, I could hope that the building be designed to adhere to LEED or Passive or Living Building Challenge specifications, all of which focus on the performance of the completed structure as it relates to environmental concerns. I do support those goals, but my question is simple. Shouldn’t this library that will reshape a large swath of the South Side of Chicago be designed with the help and approval of the oft-negelected South Siders who will live around it?

Before dismissing my question as silly, consider that what I propose is in keeping with the work MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellow Rick Lowe has done for decades. His most famous achievement, Houston’s Project Row Houses (PRH), is lauded for its use of artistic expression in neighborhood revitalization. Central to that innovation is a careful, sustained dialogue with the members of the affected community about what a development may mean to them and how it may serve them.

The MacArthur Foundation recognized the value of Lowe’s work, stating:

Originally trained as a painter, Lowe shifted the focus of his artistic practice in the early 1990s in order to address more directly the pressing social, economic, and cultural needs of his community. With a group of fellow artists, he organized the purchase and restoration of a block and a half of derelict properties—twenty-two shotgun houses from the 1930s—in Houston’s predominantly African American Third Ward and turned them into Project Row Houses (PRH), an unusual amalgam of arts venue and community support center.

Since its founding in 1993, PRH has served as a vital anchor for what had been a fast-eroding neighborhood, providing arts education programs for youth, exhibition spaces and studio residencies for emerging and established artists, a residential mentorship program for young mothers, an organic gardening program, and an incubator for historically appropriate designs for low-income housing on land surrounding the original row houses. While inviting constant collaboration with local residents, artists, church groups, architects, and urban planners, Lowe continues to provide the guiding vision for PRH as he pursues his overarching goal of animating the assets of a place and the creativity of its people. He is not only bringing visibility and pride to the Third Ward by celebrating the beauty of its iconic shotgun houses; he is also changing the lives of many PRH program graduates and expanding the PRH campus to cover a six-block area in an effort to preserve the historic district’s character in the face of encroaching gentrification.

Why is this important? Barack Obama’s presidential library has strong symbolic value as one sited in an urban area with many social and economic challenges. Too often, the people who live near the proposed sites have suffered neglect or conscious abuse by those in power (such as the municipal government or, as Jane Jacobs illustrated in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, the University of Chicago). At a time when Chicago’s municipal government is criticized for not attending to the voices and needs of many of its citizens, planning a presidential library with the help of the working-class people who will be affected by its construction and operation strikes me as the most sustainable process possible. Giving these community members a stake it its design may lead to them creating ways to use and contribute to the library in the decades ahead. Allowing their voices to be heard in a meaningful way also strikes me as setting a tone for the legacy of community organizer-turned-President Obama in history.

Bringing the library’s neighbors into the planning process is more revolutionary than selecting a particular architect. It is consistent with the state of the art of sustainable building strategies (as this half-hour video from the Rocky Mountain Institute emphasizes). It runs counter to the decades of neglect and abuse heaped upon the communities surrounding the sites. It also would be a favorable part of the legacy of whichever architect gets her or his name attached to the project. I urge the Barack Obama Foundation to consider this approach when planning this important historic development.

Participate in PlaNYC’s Survey On What New York City Should Do Next

The chance to implement sustainable social and environmental practices in municipal policy is one of the benefits of living in New York City. Right now, NYC is reaching out about ways to revise its planning:

Every four years, New York City writes a plan to help chart our course as a city. This year we are providing a forum for all New Yorkers to join us in this important process. Leave your mark on the future of New York City by sharing your ideas for how we move forward.

You can participate in the survey here.

A few possible resources to consult:
If you’re concerned about the city’s carbon footprint, you can consult the Urban Green Council’s plan to reduce emissions beyond the city’s own plan.
If you’re concerned about how the city’s working-class residents are or are not served by the existing built environment and services, a possible design model is MacArthur Fellow Rick Lowe’s approach. (Note: My response to the city involved this approach.)
If you’d like the city to enact Zero Waste approaches to solid waste (ranging from single-use packaging restrictions to citywide composting of organics), the case studies at Zero Waste Europe may be useful.

The survey is open-ended enough to include a broad set of concerns ranging from incarceration to affordable housing. Broad responses will give the city a better idea of what its residents value as it makes its new plan, so I encourage residents to participate.

Remembering Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Sustainability Promises Ahead of the 2015 Election

With this week’s news that Chicago Alderman Robert Fioretti is challenging incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the 2015 mayoral election is officially under way. It is a good time to take stock of the promises Candidate Emanuel made when he ran for mayor in 2011.

During that campaign, the Environmental Law & Policy Center sent a questionnaire to the candidates about several environmental concerns facing Chicagoans. You can read the complete questionnaire and responses from Emanuel (and his opponents Carol Mosley Braun, Gerry Chico, Miguel Del Valle, William Walls II, and Patricia Van Pelt Watkins) on the ELPC website. My post quotes Emanuel’s stances only and compares them to his administration’s actions since 2011.

ELPC Question 1. Will you strongly advocate for the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance and take other actions to require the clean up of all pollutants or the shut down of the highly-polluting Fisk and Crawford coal plants by 2015?

Emanuel did not answer yes or no, but made the following statement: “Midwest Generation must clean up these two plants, either by installing the necessary infrastructure to dramatically reduce the pollution they emit, or by converting to natural gas or another clean fuel. I will work closely with State and Federal regulators and the City Council to make sure it happens.”

Goal Met? Yes. Emanuel’s statement reflected his knowledge of what the Obama administration and EPA were doing on the federal level to regulate coal powers plants. EPA regulations of mercury emissions enacted in late 2011 effectively made it impossible for aging coal-fired power plants to stay in operation. In 2012, Fisk and Crawford shut down, as did the larger State Lane Power Plant just across the border in Indiana and dozens of other plants across the nation.

ELPC Question 2. Do you support the Chicago Climate Action Plan goal to reduce greenhouse gas pollution by 25% by 2020 and commit to take the necessary actions to achieve these results? ELPC Question 3. Do you support investment in auditing and retrofitting all City-owned and City-leased buildings in the next five years with energy efficiency measures that have paybacks of about ten years or less?

Emanuel responded yes to both questions, with the following statements: “The City of Chicago is facing a budget crisis, and cutting energy use in City buildings is an important way to both save money and improve the environment. Chicago city government has to be a leader in demonstrating that environmentally smart choices make economic sense, and I will dramatically improve energy efficiency in City facilities and assist sister agencies in doing the same thing.

But we can’t just stop at City operations, I have outlined a proposal to triple the number of homes and businesses – from the current 7000 to 21,000 annually – that are retrofitted each year in Chicago by creating a $10 million fund that allows current programs to be significantly scaled and expanded. The city’s investment is projected to leverage an additional $100 million in outside resources from ComEd, People’s Gas, and various governmental and lending institutions. The plan is estimated to create more than 400 good-paying jobs and reduce harmful carbon emissions by more than 5,000 tons – the equivalent of cutting our gas consumption by 618,000 gallons annually.

My plan begins by designating a dozen Energy Efficiency Target Zones in areas that are shown to be least energy efficient, and select an anchor organization in each area to act as a one-stop-shop to significantly increase efficiency projects. I would then create a $10 million fund to support efforts in each zone so that local building owners can leverage an additional $100 million in private and public funds. Finally, my plan sets a firm deadline to complete an online one-stop-shop so that every Chicagoan can easily navigate the funding options to make efficiency improvements in their own homes and businesses.

My proposal, which is attached, is fully paid for through savings in other programs.”

“The City of Chicago is facing a budget crisis, and cutting energy use in City buildings is an important way to both save money and improve the environment. Chicago city government has to be a leader in demonstrating that environmentally smart choices make economic sense, and I will dramatically improve energy efficiency in City facilities and assist sister agencies in doing the same thing.

But we can’t just stop at City operations, I have outlined a proposal to triple the number of homes and businesses – from the current 7000 to 21,000 annually – that are retrofitted each year in Chicago by creating a $10 million fund that allows current programs to be significantly scaled and expanded. The city’s investment is projected to leverage an additional $100 million in outside resources from ComEd, People’s Gas, and various governmental and lending institutions. The plan is estimated to create more than 400 good-paying jobs and reduce harmful carbon emissions by more than 5,000 tons – the equivalent of cutting our gas consumption by 618,000 gallons annually.

My plan begins by designating a dozen Energy Efficiency Target Zones in areas that are shown to be least energy efficient, and select an anchor organization in each area to act as a one-stop-shop to significantly increase efficiency projects. I would then create a $10 million fund to support efforts in each zone so that local building owners can leverage an additional $100 million in private and public funds. Finally, my plan sets a firm deadline to complete an online one-stop-shop so that every Chicagoan can easily navigate the funding options to make efficiency improvements in their own homes and businesses.

My proposal, which is attached, is fully paid for through savings in other programs.”

Goals Met? Not Yet. Emanuel’s major initiative on this point was creation of the Chicago Infrastructure Trust to make downtown buildings more energy-efficient. It is too early to tell the results. The Trust approved its first project in November 2013 to make improvements in 75 city buildings, and this spring the Associated Press concluded that the Trust has “started slowly.”

When first talking about the trust in 2012, Emanuel spoke of including more than 1,000 city buildings, $225 million in investment and $20 million in energy savings. The ultimate $12.2 million deal is even smaller than what went into Chicago’s bike-sharing program: about $22 million. Instead of 2,000 construction jobs, it’s around 100.
The retrofit shrank in part because some buildings couldn’t generate enough of a payback over the 15-year term; others had liens.
The trust’s CEO, Stephen Beitler, says the initiative might later include some of those sites in separate deals. He said he envisions “greater and greater investor interest” as the project gets “better and better.”
Emanuel, in an interview, said he’s not disappointed. He said with a framework now in place the city is ready for projects targeting energy-sucking city swimming pools and a quarter-million streetlights.
“We’re going to do it in steps — since it’s something new,” he said.

In the City of Chicago’s “Sustainable Chicago 2015” report (DDF), the administration announced a goal to improve citywide energy efficiency by 5% through a variety of incentives. Data on how successful the initiatives have been is not public as of this writing.

EPLC Question 4. Do you support requiring all newly constructed and substantially-rehabilitated buildings in Chicago to include wiring to accommodate an on-site renewable energy generation system, starting in 2014?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “I will work with the City Council to establish these requirements for new buildings of a certain size. Further, I will conduct a detailed review of City code and permit requirements to identify and eliminate barriers to the expansion of renewable energy installations throughout the City and make sure that the City Energy code is fully and effectively implemented.”

Goal Met? No. Perhaps the City has not updated its website on the Energy code yet.

ELPC Question: 5. Will you commit the City of Chicago and its affiliated agencies to purchasing at least 20% of their electricity supply from locally or in-state generated renewable energy resources by 2014?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Renewable energy has to be a critical part of the City’s energy mix and integrated into an overall strategy that dramatically expands efficiency and reduces our dependence on fossil fuels. Given the dire financial situation of the City, we need to get the most out of every dollar spent, and I will emphasize local renewable energy sources that support jobs and renewable energy development in Chicago. Further, the State’s renewable energy portfolio standard should be enhanced to support affordable, distributed renewable energy sources in urban areas.”

Goal Met? No. The Sustainable Chicago 2015 report (PDF) now offers a goal of 2 MW of solar panels on public buildings and 20 MW of solar panels on private buildings by 2015. No public data supports the achievement of either those goals or the 20% renewable pledge made in 2011.

ELPC Question 6. Will you support an ordinance that would require cleaner diesel fuel and equipment to be used on City-funded construction projects?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “As part of my comprehensive strategy to reform the procurement process and green Chicago’s supply chain, I have made a commitment to review all City contracts, including construction contracts, to identify environmental impacts and modify specifications to ensure environmentally safe and affordable choices.”

Goal Met? Yes. The City Council passed such an ordinance in April 2011.

ELPC Question 7. Will you ensure that Chicago’s current solid waste recycling ordinance is enforced and that source-separated recycling is available to all homes and businesses by 2014?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “I will enforce the City’s solid waste recycling ordinance.

Improving and expanding curbside recycling is a top priority of mine. Picking up garbage in Chicago is too expensive and inefficient and must be reformed. Recycling has to be part of a comprehensive plan to overhaul the City’s garbage collection system, particularly in light of the massive deficits in the City’s budget. I am committed to making this a long-term project so that all Chicago residents have access to curbside recycling, but the time frame for implementing the expansion will have to be determined based upon the availability of revenue and in the context of the City’s budget crisis.”

Goal Met? No. Two months into his term, Mayor Emanuel unveiled the first step in attempting to provide all Chicago residents with access to curbside recycling, announcing an expansion of blue carts to 20,000 additional households by November of 2011, with further expansion to come. To offset costs, collection from the blue carts would come from dividing the city up into six collection areas, with the massive private vendor Waste Management (previously the city’s partner in the failed blue bag program) collecting from three areas, Midwest Metal Management (a division of Sims) collecting from two areas, and the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation collecting from one area.

The idea was that the three entities were participating in a “managed competition” program, and the goal of the program was to reduce the high costs of recycling. The competition would take place for six months (starting in November 2011), and the city would assess its results as it moved to expand recycling services.

In April of 2012, the city announced that the competition had reduced the costs of the recycling program. The city claimed that blue cart collection had cost the city $4.77 for every blue cart collected before the managed competition program, and those costs were lowered to $3.28 per bin in the area collected by the Department of Streets and Sanitation and to $2.70 a cart in the areas collected by the private vendors. Mayor Emanuel also promised to complete the rollout of blue bins to single-family dwellings by the end of 2014.

In October of 2013, Mayor Emanuel followed up on that promise, detailing plans to deliver 72,000 more blue bins, bringing the number of households served by the program to 600,000 citywide.  At the announcement he remarked, “With the final phase of the blue cart recycling expansion, Chicago is no longer the tale of two cities when it comes to recycling. “Recycling is now a reality for every neighborhood in every community, and we have made Chicago a greener, more environmentally friendly city.”

The mayor overstated his case.  Blue bins are going to houses throughout the city, but hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans do not live in houses.  As WLS-TV noted, “twice a week, the blue carts are collected at residences in single family homes and buildings with fewer than four units.”  Larger, multi-dwelling buildings have not received blue bins.  The Burke-Hansen ordinance, law in Chicago for more than twenty years, requires such buildings to hire private vendors to collect recyclables.  The ordinance, however, was never enforced during the Daley administration and thus far has not been enforced during the first term of the Emanuel administration. The administration has given no specifics how Chicago might improve recycling services in large buildings.

It also remains to be seen whether Chicago will comply with Illinois state law and collect yard waste, or how much of the collected material from the recycling program is actually recycled. That said, the expansion of blue bin services is an improvement.

ELPC Question 8. Will you change Chicago’s MeterSave program from a voluntary installation system to a mandatory one with a goal of reaching 50% of single-family homes and two-flats during your first term?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Yes. Too often, water is squandered as though it is limitless. As Mayor, I will direct the Department of Water Management to increase efforts to educate the public about the importance of water conservation, ensure proper water metering, and accelerate its water main replacement program to reduce leaks in the system. He will also task the Department of Water Management to study water rates in the city to determine the best way to adjust rates to encourage conservation and keep water rates affordable for all Chicagoans.

Goal Met? No. The MeterSave program remains voluntary, though the City announced in January 2014 that it “is progressing ahead of schedule.”

ELPC Question 9. Will you commit to requiring all City building, street, alley, sidewalk and parking lot projects to adhere to the City’s own stormwater ordinance in order to significantly reduce stormwater runoff, localized flooding and basement backups?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “I will direct the Departments of Water Management, Environment, Housing and Economic Development, Transportation and the Office of Budget and Management, to develop a multi-year plan to reduce overflows and basement flooding. The plan will set measurable targets for reductions in sewer overflows and basement flooding, identify the priority locations for sewer improvements and green infrastructure, like permeable alleys and planted parkways, coordinate projects to minimize costs and leverage state and federal dollars to make it happen.”

Goal Met? Yes. In October of 2013, the Metropolitan Planning Council praised the progress of the city and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District on this point. This progress included a plan the city unveiled that month.

EPLC Question 10. Will you publicly support disinfecting the sewage effluent that is pumped into the Chicago-area waterways?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Disinfection is a standard practice around the country and it is long overdue in Chicago.”

Goal Met? Yes. After longstanding pressure by Friends of the Chicago River and attention from the US EPA, Chicago is finally developing a system of disinfecting the sewage effluent that has polluted the river.

EPLC Question 11. Will you advocate for an accelerated timeline for the U.S. Army Corps’ Great Lakes-Mississippi River Interbasin Study that is examining watershed separation to permanently solve our invasive species problem?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Invasive species are a significant and immediate threat, and separation of the watersheds is an important opportunity to invest in and improve the environment, our infrastructure and our economy. We cannot go slow or take a wait and see approach. The study must be expedited.”

Goal Met? Yes. The Study was released in early 2014.

EPLC Question 12. Will you be a vocal advocate for increased capital and operating funds for the Chicago Transit Authority from all levels of government in order to maintain transit operations and provide for necessary service expansions?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Reliable and affordable public transit is critical to Chicago’s environmental and economic well being. I will push to expand state and federal funding, advocate for reform of the State funding formula to ensure adequate resources for critical services and demand better planning and coordination by CTA, Metra and Pace to enhance customer convenience and increase ridership.”

Goal Met? Mixed. The Civic Foundation praised the CTA’s 2014 budget for not relying as heavily on one-time revenue sources but also stated that the CTA’s funding precariously depended upon the state’s funding (which had not been reformed).

EPLC Question 13. Will you support ensuring that 100% of CTA’s diesel bus fleet is equipped with modern pollution controls within three years?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Public agencies need to be leaders in converting their fleets, and diesel improvements are a reasonable and affordable step.”

Goal Met? No. The last time the CTA’s website bragging about pollution reduction was updated was 2011, with the last statement about diesel coming from 2003.

ELPC Question 14. Will you be a strong advocate for the federal government’s increased investment in the Chicago-hubbed Midwest high-speed rail network and work to ensure that Chicago’s high-speed train station is designed to catalyze economic development and connect well with CTA, Metra and other transportation modes?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “High-Speed rail will create jobs and investment in Chicago and throughout the Midwest. To ensure that Chicago gets the maximum benefit, I will make sure that high-speed rail investments are closely coordinated with local transit and other transportation improvements. A high speed rail terminal, with easy access to other transit options, will be a tremendous anchor that will drive investment and economic development both around the terminal and for the communities linked to it.”

Goal Met? Too Early to Tell. As the question indicated, this is a complex issue in which federal activity is particularly important. That said, the HSR line to Saint Louis is progressing.

The Midwest High-Speed Rail website last had a post tagged with Emanuel’s name on May 30, 2012, when the city announced upgrades to Union Station.

ELPC Question 15. Will you commit to implementing strategies outlined in the 2015 Bike Plan, Chicago’s Pedestrian Plan and Chicago’s Complete Streets Policy to increase bicycle use and promote safe walkways?

Goal Met? Yes. As with other cities, including Boston and New York City, Chicago introduced a bike-share program in 2013 and has implemented protected bike lanes. The Active Transportation Alliance summarized the city’s progress on this front in July, concluding “since 2011 Chicago has built nearly twice as many miles of barrier-protected bike lanes than any American city including New York, Portland and San Francisco.

But 100 miles by 2015? Well, that’s proven to be a very ambitious goal the city won’t meet. The city is counting protected and buffered bike lanes towards meeting a 100 mile goal for “advanced” bike lanes, which will be a huge accomplishment and way ahead of other cities.

We love buffered lanes, too, but remain committed to at least 100 miles of protected lanes as part of a comprehensive network.”

ELPC Question 16. Will you support the adoption of policies to promote car sharing and electric vehicles, which can relieve congestion and reduce air pollution?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Car sharing and electric vehicles are important alternatives that need to be fully integrated into transportation planning. But we need to do more than plan; we need to invest in the infrastructure that will make those plans reality. As part of my green fleets strategy I have set specific targets for reducing trips and switching to transportation alternatives reducing City employee vehicle miles travelled by 10% and switching 10% of their work related trips to alternative transportation. Transportation alternatives will include car sharing, bicycling and transit. Chicago has received over $15 million dollars in Federal Stimulus grants to increase the conversion to alternative fuel vehicles and development of alternative fueling infrastructure. Chicago needs to make the most of the federal dollars that it has received by expediting the implementation of the fueling infrastructure and developing a concrete plan for continued expansion of that infrastructure network after the federal stimulus program has ended. Chicago, and other state and local governments have fallen behind in spending their energy related stimulus dollars. I will conduct a detailed review of the performance of stimulus energy dollars, set hard deadlines for meeting grant targets and reprogram money that isn’t effectively spent to important priorities like expanding the alternative fuelling infrastructure and tripling the rate of energy retrofits for Chicago homes and businesses.”

Goal Met? Yes. Chicago’s car-sharing services (as with other cities) have proven sufficiently successful that large rental agencies such as Enterprise and Avis have gotten into the business locally.

ELPC Question 17. Do you commit to adding neighborhood public park space in communities that have less than 2 acres of parks per 1,000 residents?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “I will work to expand parks and make sure that those parks are properly programmed to provide recreational opportunities, improve quality of life and support environmental education and stewardship.”

Goal Met? Partially. The answer to this question depends on how you count the progress of the new 606 and Chicago Riverwalk expansion developments. A July article of “the five most anticipated parks” in Chicago involved reuse of existing parkland in Grant Park. The last space allotted to parks on the South Side was Stearns Quarry Park in 2009, and neighborhoods such as Little Village have not seen new spaces devoted to public parks.

ELPC Question 18. Are you committed to transferring the approximately 1,500 acres of City- or Port District-owned land in the Calumet region to the Chicago Park District and/or Forest Preserve District as identified in the City’s Calumet Open Space Reserve Plan?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Despite a legacy of contamination and neglect, the Calumet region is home to nationally significant environmental assets that demonstrate the resilience of nature. Protecting the region’s natural resources is fully compatible with plans to create jobs and economic development, and celebrating and enhancing environmental assets must be a critical component of the sustainable development of the southeast side. I support the Open Space Reserve Plan including the transfer of property to the Park District and Forest Preserve.”

Goal Met? No property transfer reported yet. While I could find no news on a formal property transfer as stated in the Calumet Open Space Reserve Plan, Mayor Emanuel has appeared with Governor Quinn to announce redevelopments of the region, including Millennium Reserve.

ELPC Question 19. Do you commit to completing the south lakefront park system from 71st Street to the Indiana border by 2015?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Chicago’s lakefront is an incredible natural resource that helps define our City and drive our economy. Completing the park system to the Indiana border during my first term will be a priority of my administration. I will make sure that that connection, brings the wonders of the lakefront to Chicago neighborhoods that have been cut off from Lake Michigan, and I will implement park development strategies that improve water quality and enhance and celebrate natural resources.”

Goal Met? Not Yet. With three months to go before 2015, no news on “The Last Four Miles” becoming part of the park system yet.

ELPC Question 20. Will you support coordinated and flexible city policies and zoning ordinances that will remove barriers and provide incentives for growing, producing and selling locally grown foods in Chicago neighborhoods?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Local food and urban agriculture create jobs, improve healthy food opportunities, and provide access to fresh and affordable produce. The City shouldn’t create barriers to expansion through excessive setbacks and overly restrictive zoning requirements, and we need better models to promote urban agriculture as a transitional use in communities that want it – particularly those that are currently in a food desert. I will do a top to bottom review of all existing programs and requirements and will develop and implement common sense approaches that promote the growth, production and sale of locally grown food in Chicago neighborhoods.”

Goal Met? Yes. The Emanuel administration has worked with Growing Power to use vacant lots for agriculture and provided incentives for farmers market purchases with LINK cards. The city has yet to make progress on collecting compost to use as soil in local agriculture, but overall Mayor Emanuel has kept this campaign pledge.

Now that Mayor Emanuel and Alderman Fioretti are formally in the 2015 campaign (with other candidates, perhaps including Karen Lewis, to follow), it is my hope that questions about sustainable energy, waste reclamation, water, food, and public lands will inform the debate to come so that Chicago citizens may make an informed decision this winter.