Pollution and real estate development are still happening during COVID-19

Notes from the May 27, 2020, issue

The state will start to reopen at the end of May, but the city is not ready

Governor J.B. Pritzker has charted a path forward for the state to move to “phase three” of his five-phase reopening plan by May 29, when his stay-at-home order expires, and issued detailed guidelines for how businesses like barber shops and restaurants might do so. But Pritzker’s plan uses statewide data that doesn’t accurately reflect the reality in Cook County, which remains a hot spot for COVID-19 infection. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said that the city is not yet able to predict the date Chicago might move to phase three, though she speculated it might happen in early June. 

Pollution and real estate development are still happening during COVID-19 

There was an explosion and fire at the General Iron metal shredder in Lincoln Park recently, the same one that’s planning to move at the end of the year from the wealthy North Side neighborhood to the Southeast Side, a working-class industrial community with mostly Black and brown people that is usually City Hall’s afterthought. The city issued an emergency closing order after environmental groups and local aldermen called for General Iron to be shut down completely. Meanwhile, the mayor is failing to engage the Little Village community in a substantive way after Hilco’s sloppy demolition of a closed coal plant smokestack engulfed the neighborhood in dust, and insists that demolition needs to continue during the respiratory pandemic. That’s why Little Village protesters showed up at her house in Logan Square to get her attention and managed to pressure her into delaying a second demolition. 25th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez has been supportive of protesters, as Hilco owns yet another closed coal plant in the Pilsen neighborhood. He recently called off the proposed designation of a historical district in his ward, stating that it only “protects buildings, not people,” and in its place introduced an ordinance for a three-year moratorium on demolitions and deconversions, unless deemed necessary and only after obtaining public input.

Did you know about the Chicago River reversal?

In 1900, engineers reversed the course of the Chicago River, causing the river to flow from Chicago south to the Mississippi. For several hours a couple weeks ago, however, the river temporarily re-reversed, sending the city’s sewage into Lake Michigan. In other words: the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s $3 billion Deep Tunnel project, under construction since the mid-1970s, was overwhelmed with a few inches of rain. The Deep Tunnel is still under construction, and will more than triple its capacity by 2029. But as climate change makes downpours more intense and development converts more green space to asphalt and condos, there’s no guarantee the Deep Tunnel will work. For communities hit hardest by flooding, like Chatham and South Shore, alternative strategies—such as city support for permeable pavements and rain gardens—may be necessary in addition to the Deep Tunnel. Without more action, Chicagoans may be stuck with damp basements for decades to come.

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