Go Green and Go Beyond: Spotlight on South Side Environmental Leaders

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By: Madalyn Frigo, Class of 2014

Washington Park Conservancy

Credit: Madiem Kawa, Washington Park Conservatory Facebook Page

           On Tuesday, April 10, students at the University of Chicago gathered at the International House Assembly Hall for an interesting discussion about jobs, manufacturing, and green economy in black communities.  Leading the talk titled "At Your Own Risk: What Is To Be Done?" were environmental advocate Van Jones and artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph. Jones is a former Green Jobs advisor to the Obama Administration and co-founder of "Rebuild the Dream", a jobs initiative to help fix the U.S. economy.  Bamuthi is the Artistic Director of the Living World Project, which works to artistically tell stories about important social issues and movements taking place today. The talk may have inspired some of the attendees to start thinking not only about their role in helping keep the environment clean, but also about the community's role as a whole in being environmentally friendly and creating sustainable communities within Chicago.  In fact, Chicago has more than a few of its own environmental advocates and organizations that are already providing a great example.

          Since 1978, the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) has been working to educate people and help create positive change concerning issues in local transportation, energy, water, climate change, and community development. Jacky Grimshaw, CNT's Vice President of Policy, describes CNT as "a think-and-do tank that focuses on creating sustainable environments for urban residents, with a particular focus on low and moderate income people". They currently have a variety of programs that focus on different issues, all of which work to address these problems.

           One of these programs is CNT Energy, created in 2000 to measure energy usage and to assist consumer households and communities in creating sustainable and affordable ways to manage their energy usage. Another program, and CNT's most recent project, is one that will benefit families and individuals living in both the city and the nearby suburbs. CNT is working with  I-GO Car Sharing to create the Chicago Card Plus I-GO card, which "is the only one of its kind in the nation, allowing a seamless transfer between public transit and a car sharing vehicle," according to CNT's website. The card contributes to CNT's push to create transit reform for Chicago, by creating a region where people have more transportation options.     

            Grimshaw has a deep history of community and environmental involvement.  Prior to joining CNT in 1992, she was a public health researcher at the state and federal level.  A political advisor for the late Mayor Harold Washington, Grimshaw served as Director of the Mayor's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and Deputy City Treasurer.  She has been both a host and commentator with a variety of local media outlets.

           Closer to home, the Washington Park Conservancy works to protect, preserve, and promote Washington Parks' natural resources.  Located on 5531 S. King Drive, the grassroots organization, was founded by Madiem Kawa in 2008 and as a resident of Woodlawn, Kawa would look outside her window across the street from the park and see the park being underserved. "I felt a special obligation as a resident and someone who lives in the community to help preserve the park," said Kawa. Now the Washington Park Conservancy has a variety of volunteers from neighboring communities and high schools, ranging in age from twenty to seventy, all who want to help preserve Washington Park's historic landscape and natural resources.

           A main part of the Conservancy's work is to educate local citizens about the importance of the park both naturally and historically.  Some activities include workdays every third Saturday during the months of March through October, from nine a.m. until noon.  Kawa also organizes bird walks, habitation restoration days, garden workshops, and service learning days for youth to learn about the importance of sustaining local parks. "The park had been appreciated by park advocates and historians, but the Conservancy has opened up the eyes of the people that are not park advocates or nature lovers. It has raised awareness of its value from a natural work perspective as well as a historical one," said Kawa. 

           Whether part of a regional company like Jacky Grimshaw or a leader of a local community group like Madiem Kawa, these environmental advocates have helped create sustainable and livable communities in and around Chicago.  The Center for Neighborhood Technology and the Washington Park Conservancy both have a great amount of respect for the natural environment, and share their passion and knowledge with their communities about how to create more sustainable living close to home.   "We believe in treating our natural environment as assets rather than problems or things that are detrimental to urban living," said Grimshaw.


Find out more:

Center for Neighborhood Technology

Washington Park Conservatory

Van Jones, Green Jobs, and the Rebuild the Dream Project

Living World Project

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London said:

The discussion about jobs and their lack,have been an often topic of discussion in black communities, but adding the green economy as a part of it, is a whole new stance and concept, which I think may open many doors and bring lots of alternatives. The programs and initiatives undertaken by society's leading figures, setting the example, are really not just related with preserving the sources we have been abusing for so long, but also offering more reasonable variants to the middle class families. the concept of treating our natural environment as an asset should be employed by anyone!

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