The Greening of Oak Park

Green Community Connections Works to Raise Village's Eco-Consciousness

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By David Hammond

Traveling in Germany last month, I was amazed at the green attitudes I saw in evidence everywhere. Driving north from Bavaria to Brandenburg, I witnessed as efforts as grand as vast fields of wind power generators stretching to the horizons as well as humbler initiatives, like the common practice of distributing biodegradable eating utensils with even cheap street food like the much-beloved currywurst.

I don't believe it's coincidental that one of the European Union's most prosperous nations is also one of the greenest. Being environmentally aware, and practicing good stewardship of the earth, is more than just an ethical way to live: it's also good business. And when municipalities take a strong and clear green stance, the green attitude seems to carry through the population.

Back home in Oak Park, it's heartening to see local efforts to make a more green community for all of us.

At the Oak Park Farmers' Market  earlier this summer, I met Sally Stovall and was introduced to her organization, Green Community Connections. GCC is described as a "grassroots network for a sustainable future in Oak Park, IL."  GCC sponsored the One Earth Film Festival at the Lake Theater last April.

Stovall told me that "GCC is passionate about local, healthy, ethically raised food since it impacts so many factors related to sustainability -- everything from how much carbon is released into the air, to our health, to opportunities to build relationships in our community and gain a deeper connection with the wonder of nature.  We are amazingly gifted in the Oak Park area by many wonderful initiatives in this area."

Currently the primary focus of the GCC network is a communications web for community green initiatives like the PlanItGreen Sustainability Plan for Oak Park and River Forest, which engages community residents and stakeholder organizations in realizing a vision for a sustainable Oak Park and River Forest, which includes encouraging buildings that are designed to reduce energy consumption.

One of the more dramatic instances of economically and environmentally sensible building in Oak Park is the solar array mounted atop the Avenue garage last spring. Solar modules convert sunlight into electricity. The array is expected to pay for itself in as little as ten years, perhaps sooner if carbon offsets can be sold as assets. Of course, this solar energy source also reduces the garage's need to use energy from other sources. When it generates more energy than it can use, it can sell electricity to ComEd.

Oak Parkers who use the garage actually park right next to the solar array, so they're always reminded on a daily basis of how the village is working to be greener…and that kind of attitude is something people take home with them.

Similarly, even for Oak Parkers who don't shop at the Oak Park Farmers' Market, this gathering of local farmers is a weekly reminder that there are alternatives to buying the packaged food that rolls off the corporate conveyor belt.

Organizations like Green Community Connections are making sure that we stay aware of the options out there for people who want greener alternatives. Me, I recycle, compost and try to buy food from small farmers who are going back to the old ways of growing food without multiple chemical inputs. Just seeing these small farmers selling their produce every weekend at the farmers' market tells me that such efforts – greener and also tastier – are good business.

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