Susan Buchanan

Village Trustee Susan Buchanan has been a pioneering force in the village of Oak Park’s sustainability efforts, and her desire to keep the village moving forward on that path has spurred her to seek a second term. 

“It’s going to take some concentrated attention at the board level to make sure we meet our climate action goals,” she told Wednesday Journal.

The village has embarked on a comprehensive plan to reduce Oak Park’s carbon footprint, making the community more sustainable and resilient in the face of climate change. The plan calls for a decrease in community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent by 2030, relative to 2019 levels, with a goal to reach community-wide, net-zero emissions by 2050. 

Other facets of the plan include establishing 30% of Oak Park’s land as green infrastructure or enhanced park management for native plants, wildlife and people, as well as directing 40% of public climate and sustainability funds to vulnerable and impacted community members. The village will also partner with those impacted community members and outside organizations to create suitable sustainability and climate-change policies and programs.  

Buchanan was a co-founder of the Oak Park Climate Action Network (OPCAN), a group of sustainability-minded residents with a mission of eliminating pollution through equitable practices and regulations. OPCAN recommended that the village create a climate action plan and gave its endorsement to that plan in August. Other recommendations made by the group, and taken up by the village, include the hiring of a full-time sustainability coordinator and providing retrofitting grants to make housing in Oak Park more environmentally sound. 

Much national and international turmoil coincided with Buchanan’s time on the board. She was there throughout the village’s COVID-19 efforts, from emergency declarations and stay-at-home orders to doling out federal aid funding and opening up public streets for outside dining. She also volunteered at the Oak Park Public Health Department’s vaccination clinics.

“That felt really rewarding as something I could do about the problem, instead of just worrying about people wearing masks and washing their hands and staying distant from each other,” she said.

Her professional experience brought a medical perspective to pandemic-related discussions and votes. Buchanan is a practicing occupational and environmental physician, an area of medicine dedicated to studying and treating illnesses caused by exposure to chemicals and pollutants in the workplace and in the environment. She is on the faculty of the Public Health Department at the University of Illinois Chicago, where she runs research grant programs on top of teaching.

The village board not only had a global health crisis to contend with, but also civil unrest over the treatment of Black people in the U.S. by police, reignited by the death of George Floyd. The board, at the time led by Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, began to reassess the equitability of its law enforcement policies, deciding to bring on an outside consultant to do an assessment of the police department. 

Buchanan got to see this through with almost an entirely new board — Abu-Taleb and three trustees, including current trustee candidate Simone Boutet, had completed their terms. Buchanan was there to weigh in on the decision to engage the services of BerryDunn, and there to examine their results of the assessment months later. 

“Not everybody agrees with using that consultant, which was made up primarily of former police officers,” Buchanan said. “But their findings, I think, are really useful.”

The report offered several recommendations, from increasing the partnership with mental health providers as an alternative to police calls, as well as increasing personnel development, implementing procedures and policies to check on impartial policing, and greater utilization of technology and training. 

Buchanan believes all of that, plus the day-to-day responsibilities of a village trustee, has given her the experience and wherewithal needed to keep Oak Park advancing in progressive, equitable policymaking. She genuinely enjoys putting in that work too.

“It takes concentration and effort and I also love it,” she said of being a trustee. 

Buchanan is not easily satisfied with the status quo. She said that during her first two years on the board, under Abu-Taleb’s leadership, she learned some elected officials were unwilling to change due to feeling content with the current situation. She disagrees with that approach and believes the community does too.

“We want to keep moving forward; we want to keep making the quality of life and affordability better for everyone,” she said. “I’m someone who is really comfortable moving forward.”

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