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Chicago Neighborhoods Show Sustainability & Economic Dev...

Chicago Neighborhoods Show Sustainability & Economic Development Go Hand-in-Hand

The South East Chicago Commission (SECC) has spearheaded the creation of Green Healthy Neighborhoods in Action (GHNA). The effort is focused around building a coalition of South Side sustainability organizations that do work with urban gardens and sustainable business practices. GHNA works to adopt Chicago’s Green Healthy Neighborhood (GHN) Land Use Plan on a neighborhood

South East Chicago Commissions orange awning is pictured. SECC is helping drive the Green Healthy Neighborhoods program. SECC, Chicago, Illinois South East Chicago Commission is helping drive the Green Healthy Neighborhoods program

The South East Chicago Commission (SECC) has spearheaded the creation of Green Healthy Neighborhoods in Action (GHNA). The effort is focused around building a coalition of South Side sustainability organizations that do work with urban gardens and sustainable business practices. GHNA works to adopt Chicago’s Green Healthy Neighborhood (GHN) Land Use Plan on a neighborhood level, specifically targeting businesses located in the Washington Park and Woodlawn neighborhoods on the South Side. Through its local focus, GHNA is helping to build an infrastructure for community businesses to see economic benefits from sustainable choices.

The GHN Land Use Plan was adopted by the city of Chicago in March 2014. Since then, the GHNA project benefited over 30 businesses in 2015 and 10, so far, in 2016, estimated Diane Burnham, project manager at SECC. GHNA’s primary tool for benefitting local businesses involves a partnership with People’s Gas and their Natural Gas Savings Program. After completing a free energy efficiency assessment, businesses are eligible for grants of up to $1,000 to make energy-efficient upgrades that reduce operating costs.

Additionally, the GHNA project helps local businesses “take advantage of any free upgrades available to help them be more sustainable, energy efficient and save money, especially with the ever changing economic impacts that affect Chicago,” Burnham explained. She referred especially to the volatility of the South Side of Chicago’s economic situation, referencing the scheduled Obama Presidential Center.

Pictured on a street corner is the Arts Incubator, which is one of the participating businesses in the GHNA program. Arts Incubator, Chicago, Illinois The Arts Incubator is one of the participating businesses in the GHNA program

As the GHNA project extends its reach through newsletters, social media, aldermanic support, and presentations to business groups, it is also honing its community orientation through focused programs. For example, GHNA is partnering with three Washington Park businesses – the Arts Incubator, Currency Exchange Café, and Bing Art Books – to address a storm water management issue; by creating a rainwater capture garden with permeable pathways, rain barrels, and a garden. The project will be both practical and educational, serving as an example for best practices in preventing storm water issues such as flooding and standing water. GHNA will then hold workshops to teach community members how to implement the same achievable improvements for mitigating a historic issue of flooding in the neighborhood.

GHNA has used its workshops, rebates, and projects to create a network of resources for Washington Park and Woodlawn businesses. GHNA certainly helps by giving local businesses access to grants and upgrades. But it also builds the capacity for long-term improvement by educating community members on how to access and use expert resources and connect with city agencies. Through its hyper-local focus, GHNA has taken a well-intentioned city-wide initiative and made sure it would benefit two economically vulnerable Southside neighborhoods. Because of its focus on easy to understand education, GHNA gives these neighborhoods a chance to make lasting improvements.

How can citywide initiatives customize their focus on specific neighborhoods to benefit them more? Does your city offer grants for energy efficiency improvements? Are there programs like this in your city? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.

Credits: Images by Hannah Flynn. Data linked to sources.

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Hannah is a fourth year undergraduate Environmental Studies student at the University of Chicago with a concentration in Economics and Policy and a minor in Visual Arts. She is interested in climate change policy, public transit, and how we can use a...

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