Keeley Parenteau

Student Essay: Windy City: The City With Less Air to Breathe

Last month, Rachel Kim, our outgoing education editor, had the idea for the South Side Weekly to hold a student essay contest this summer. The theme for the contest was topical: as Lori Lightfoot was to be sworn in as mayor, we wanted to hear from middle and high school students from around the South Side what they wanted Mayor Lightfoot “to know and understand about [their] neighborhood,” and the “stories and memories about the people and places in [their] community” that “best exemplify the future of Chicago [they] want to see.”

We received over twenty-five submissions from all over the South Side. It was difficult to narrow them down. There were so many beautiful, thoughtful essays, each offering a different view of their South Side community and what they thought was the most important thing to tell Chicago’s new mayor. In the end, we chose three essays to print. Read the other two: “Chicago’s ‘Crooked Smile’” and “Where We’re From.”

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Dear Mayor Lightfoot,

Life is like a marathon. We keep on running towards our goals in order to achieve a better future for our children. We run in order to live the American dream. You demonstrated how we run towards our goals by running for the Mayor of Chicago, and you were able to win that race. You are one step closer to shaping social justice and equality, expanding and investing education, reforming police departments, and defending immigrants.

As a person that lives in the South Side of Chicago, I would like you to know about the things that occur in the South Side.

The South Side flourishes despite how dangerous people think it is. Some locations on the South Side are beautiful: there are children playing outside, families are having a cookout, and they’re together and enjoying life. The houses are similar in size and colors, but these families don’t mind as long as they have a place to live.

Other parts of the South Side, however, are dirty and surrounded by smoke. There’s trash on the ground where children are supposed to play. Mothers don’t allow their children to play outside unless it’s in their yard to prevent their child from stepping on glass from a bottle thrown the night before.

When my family bought a plane ticket from Mexico to Chicago, my grandmother visited us, and we took a stroll around the city. It was peaceful, but it seemed like time stopped once I saw blood coming out of her foot. She had stepped on a piece of glass and it went through her flip-flop.

Pollution and the way we treat the city is hazardous for us. We are leading our city to an uninhabitable place where our children won’t prosper. We treat our city as if we can easily find a different one. Yes, there are other, bigger cities we can move to, but what will happen there? Would our new city become as uninhabitable as our previous loved home?

Our city was already given a higher rank on the “State of the Air” report by the American Lung Association. In 2018, it was ranked 22nd in the list of most ozone-polluted cities. In 2019, its rank went up by four. We need to dismantle the root causes of pollution to prevent the city from taking a short cut towards its own end. The carbon in our sky affects humans, animals, and plants.

The race towards our end is getting closer. We need to slow down and breathe.

My neighborhood has many children and many of them are still developing. Their lungs breathe in and out quicker than us because they’re constantly running outside. There’s also a population of older residents, and they struggle to leave their house because their small brittle bones ache when they move. I envision a Chicago with fewer children developing asthma, and where there is a reduced risk of developmental and reproductive harm.

Cutting less trees will help us have cleaner air, recycling will make landfills smaller, and having more green areas such as parks helps residents have a place to be without worrying about trash. Families will be able to live an active life in areas in which they feel safe and therefore live a life in harmony and have better health.

We also need to use more solar panels to obtain solar energy without using fossil fuels. We can use more hydroelectric energy and use fewer coal-fired factories and vehicles. Improving environmental conditions by planting trees and reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the air will help reduce pollution and improve the health of people that live in Chicago.

We need to build a greener Chicago—a windy city with cleaner air, a city with more oxygen for us to breathe in.

I envision a Chicago with fewer illnesses such as pneumonia and bronchitis.

I envision a Chicago with citizens with a lower risk of heart disease, lung cancer, and diseases such as emphysema.

I envision a Chicago with more children outside and more families living a longer life.

This is Chicago.

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Karla Santiago is a writer from Chicago, Illinois. She is an oversensitive person that tends to write rather than speak her emotions. Her interests include: going on small dates in a cafe, hanging out with her friends, and visiting art museums. She’s the new vice president in John Hancock High School’s student council. She is one of the three winners of the South Side Weekly 2019 Student Essay Contest. This is her first contribution to the Weekly.

2 Comments

  1. Well done! I can tell you are a brilliant, well educated, young woman. Congratulations on winning the Contest:-)

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