Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Green revolution is in our hands

We inherit a legacy from our past. Often times in the Southeast side this is viewed as negative: a polluted landscape from large industries such as steel, an out of work manufacturing workforce which is over skilled and underpaid, and resultant pervasive unemployment. Yet if one looks at our situation from the angle of climate change, he/she sees the excellent opportunities the Calumet affords. For instance, due to our steel industry, we have a large, talented, and ready labor force experienced in manufacturing, perfect to take on the challenge of green industry. This could come in a variety of forms, such as manufacturing jobs for solar panels. The southeast side also has 3,000 acres of 'brownfields' (abandoned or under-used industrial lands) potentially conducive to alternative energy sites. Indeed, the Calumet region could produce a whole slough of "Green Collar" jobs, perhaps the best in the country. SETF sees the green revolution as a means of revitalizing the southeast side through the creation of jobs.

Poverty is multidimensional. Matrices that are of most valuable to measure poverty deal not only with economic benefit, but also freedom to choose a better life or the ability to run your own business. Green collar jobs are springing up nationwide in areas similar to the Southeast side. Minority owned green businesses are already established in the south Bronx for example. The challenge then, is to make sure that the new wave of industry, green industry, is able to proactively combat poverty in our communities. SETF looks forward to future collaboration with organizations like Green for All (www.greenforall.org) to make this happen. Indeed, our children's future is in our hands.
Photo by Jessica Canas

A ravaged landscape?

Calumet and the southeast side of Chicago is often stereotyped as a barren wasteland; a landscape stripped of its natural resources and left to rot away. This narrow-minded view often thwarts sustainable development and conservation in the region, which is unfortunate. A root cause of this problem is that Chicagoland residents often forget the illustrious past of the region.

The labor force of the Calumet built the steel which fueled all of our regional railroad developments, aided us greatly in World War II, and made Chicago one of the great American cities it is today. Moreover, the ecology of the region sits atop an eco-tone, which is an intersection of of various habitats from wetlands to forest to prairie.

As imperfect as the landscape may be, it is still a very important refugia for diverse wildlife on the edge, holding important bird nesting sites as well as rare plant assemblages. SETF believes the people of Chicago should look towards the southeast side's past with more pride, and also hopes that residents will now look toward the future with more optimism. Our natural and human resources still abound, if we find creative ways to tap into them.

1st photo by Rod Sellers
2nd photo by Jessica Canas

A rich tapestry of cultural diversity structures our views of nature

Calumet's waves of immigration have a region claiming routes from Croatia to Mexico. Steel workers such as the one pictured here were responsible in large part for this blending of cultures. Equally diverse are the landscapes which have been carved out from Native Americans to European settlers to industry. Unfortunately, the latter two have left a very difficult legacy for nature to recover from.

This dramatic region is now negotiating its rich industrial past with future plans for economic and environmental revitalization. Unfortunately, this negotiation is thwarted by unjustly high rates of poverty and unemployment, due to the waning of industry which helped to build up the Southeast side in its hey day. Yet diversity still thrives, even more so nowadays. Today, one finds African Americans living side by side to Haitians and Ethiopians. Unfortunately, these social groups share a commonality of pollution from the air, water, and land. Ships coming through the harbors below, cars commuting on the highways above, and industry fouling the air they breathe all present a multi-pronged assault on the health of residents.

Environmental problems and poverty challenges are arguably the two biggest problems facing our world today. In this sense, the Southeast Side is a microcosm of our world’s failures. Moreover, the two phenomena are linked and we are now seeing an increase in poverty and inequality as our natural systems collapse. Both of these issues are already acute and only stand to worsen in the coming decades for the Southeast side. SETF will work hard to address both of these facets, which we see as key to the region's development in the coming decades. We hope to build a future that leaves us as proud as we are about our past.
Photos by Rod Sellers