By Dave Coulter
Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Chicago Wilderness Congress downtown. The name sounds a bit oxymoronic but Chicago Wilderness is an umbrella group that is devoted to protecting the what’s left of the natural world in our region. They do a good job of it: their methods are a model for similar groups around the country and they were recognized for their efforts by the Department of the Interior with a Partners in Conservation Award for 2010.
This slow economy has taken it’s toll during these past few years, and one of the ideas that seems to have garnered a lot of interest - if not necessarily paying work - has been that of “green infrastructure.” And so recently the Chicago Wilderness team is expanding it’s focus into the worlds of green infrastructure and urban forestry. The more the merrier. As a horticulturist I don’t need to be sold on the value of greening the world - actually, I need to sell you on it, but that will come later.
Take the example of our big neighbor to the east, Chicago. There have been rumblings amongst many of the tree-huggers I know expressing concern about what will become of Mayor Daley’s Green Agenda once he is gone from office. One can take issue with exactly how green Chicago is or isn’t, but it can’t be denied that things were going in the right direction. The new mayor will certainly have plenty on his or her plate, and there’s no guarantee that trees, flowers and green roofs will be a priority.
Which brings us back infrastructure. We all understand that roads, bridges, sewers and railways need repair. Many of us in the green industry see that trees and flowers along with functioning wetlands, wooded areas, et al are also infrastructure. More than half of the people on Earth now live in urban areas. The living and green are no longer discretionary luxuries - they make life here livable and civilized.
Readers like you should know that there are a lot of talented people in the area that are probably better known nationally than they are here (names provided upon request). I have been to conferences around the US and overseas where speakers have praised the work being done back here. I don’t know why the Chicago area has been a leader in green affairs - it seems odd (or maybe not?) when you consider out agricultural and industrial heritage.
Perhaps our in interest and talent in re-greening is an attempt to heal a landscape impacted greatly by both. As a child I grew up in the south suburbs, where many of the dads worked in the mills and factories on the south side or in Indiana. Those jobs have been draining away since the 1970’s , and it’s occurred to me more than once that we have this home grown pool of talent ready to help re-green the world.
Can you see where I’m going with this?
Let me explain: In World War II the world needed steel, and our region stepped up in a way that few could match. It seems pretty clear that the world now needs greening in all sorts of ways, and here we have home-grown (ahem) team available for export. What are we waiting for? If Texans can own the oil industry and Greeks the shipping industry why can’t Chicagoans dominate the re-green industry?