Keep the Olympic Momentum Alive for a Sustainable City
The Chicago 2016 bid fueled a renaissance of ideas—inside and outside the official bid process—on how to transform our region for the better. Now, even though Chicago won’t be hosting the 2016 Olympics, these new ideas are giving the City the opportunity to build a world-class, environmentally sustainable city—one that can pay both economic and environmental dividends. Creating a cutting-edge, environmentally sustainable city isn’t just about creating something that “our grandkids will thank us for.” By investing in the infrastructure and innovation that would have demonstrated Chicago as a model of sustainability for the Olympics, we can also address long-standing, confounding problems that have kept many Chicago neighborhoods from offering a high quality of life, affordable for everyone.
CNT has worked for over 30 years in Chicago to imagine, develop, promote and achieve solutions for urban sustainability. We believe that to deliver a sustainable legacy for the region, Chicago must:
- Revitalize and expand local and regional public transit systems;
- Realize transportation investments that correspond to and stimulate community investments, ensuring that our neighborhoods are affordable, sustainable and livable;
- Reduce energy consumption in both the built environment and the transportation sector;
- Promote green infrastructure practices that protect our water and make our neighborhoods more sustainable;
- Advance the goal of the Chicago Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 25% of 1990 levels by 2020; and
- Infuse transparency and accountability into every step of the process.
Over the last decade, Chicagoland has gained momentum as a leader in green building; in redefining and capturing water as an asset, not waste; showing the efficiency of sharing cars with each other, and streets with people; and even showing how it pays to grant building permits quickly for the right kinds of investments.
Then there’s transportation. A sustainable city needs an efficient and integrated mass transportation system. Imagine—travelers driving, flying or taking high-speed rail to a high-speed air-rail “travelport” in Chicago, Gary or Milwaukee. They then walk to an electric train and are whisked to their hotel, where they have unlimited use of mass transit, bicycles and shared cars. They return home, never having rented a car.
When President Obama announced the national high-speed rail commitment earlier this year, he said people should be able to get from their homes to final destinations in other cities without using cars. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood repeated the commitment when he recently visited a neighborhood transit-oriented development in Chicago.
These systems exist today, but not in the U.S. It’s time to change all that.
The “green” in this vision is both environmental and economic. Restoring the level of transit service to what it was a century ago can reduce the cost of living for working families by 10 to 20 percent, making up much of what’s been lost in the recession, while cutting harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Building infrastructure in communities will restore fuller employment, much as the recovery did after the Great Depression.
We still need to invest in the neighborhoods that would have been the sites for Olympic events. Improving these communities will benefit our region as a whole.
What we need to do to meet our climate protection challenge and to restore economic security and prosperity are largely the same things. So let’s work to make this vision real, and let’s be smart about it—we won’t get as full an economic recovery by repeating past mistakes. Where we build and redevelop is as important as what we build, so by getting our systems right, communities become economic engines in a smart network of places.
An effort that begins to build the sustainable city of the future will improve the quality of life in Chicago and will have a ripple effect throughout the state, Midwest and country. It’s time to lead by example on the world stage. Let’s come together in a way that no other region has—but that every region must—to meet our economic and environmental challenges. Now is our chance to get the basics down: efficient transportation, natural resource conservation, affordable housing, local employment, and connections that affirm our place in the nation and world.
Chicago’s Olympic bid may be over, but the world is still watching. This remains a race worth running. Let’s get started.