Beckman Fellow 2012-13

Julie L Cidell

Geography & Geographic Information Science

The City That Greens: Creating Chicago's New Urban Environment

Urbs in Hortis (the city in a garden) has long been the official motto of Chicago. During her Center appointment, Professor Cidell will make a case study of the city’s efforts to “green” its urban environment, from the 1996 beautification of selected downtown streets in preparation for the Democratic National Convention through the end of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s term in 2011.

Within city government, not all departments and employees are working toward the same goals, and individuals may interpret the same mandate in different ways. It is not surprising, then, that movement toward greening Chicago has not been wholly consistent. Some largely aesthetic programs (e.g., street trees and flower boxes in areas visited by tourists) have been criticized for their limited impacts. Other projects are contradictory, such as declaring O’Hare to be a “green” airport while increasing flights via expanded runways. On the other hand, the Green Alleys project reduces stormwater runoff and flooding in places that only residents see and benefit from; and the household hazardous waste recycling program creates jobs for former convicts while reducing the amount of electronic waste entering the global wastestream. Some of these programs were brought in or adapted from other cities, while others are now being exported beyond Chicago as the city positions itself as a role model in urban greening.

Through interviews and document analysis, Professor Cidell will ask: (a) Under what conditions were the relevant programs or policies established? (b) How have programs’ effects been measured, and what have those effects been? and (c) Have those effects been equitably distributed across space and across different social groups? She will use GIS to map the spatial distribution of these programs and identify the extent and equality of their distribution.

The project is expected to result in a book proposal that will address the reasons why potentially contradictory programs exist side by side, and how different city departments and individuals within those departments produced these different programs under the umbrella of greening the city. As city staff promote their greening efforts – traveling to international conferences and hosting delegations to demonstrate how they have developed and implemented environmental programs and policies – the case study will also offer insights into wider efforts to introduce urban environmental change.