Blog 2: Urban Sustainability, Energy & Public Health

Image result for east chicago  waste

In east Chicago, there is an ongoing concern about hazardous waste in the area.  The area has been polluted for decades due to it being a former industrial town.  In the 80’s the EPA found manufacturers in the area exceeded allowable limits of soil and water toxins, like zinc, arsenic, copper, cadmium, and lead.  However, now, people are still moving into the area without the knowledge about the history of pollution in the area. One, the best source of actions for this case is that the EPA makes this a priority. Often, many minority communities that effected by pollution tends to not be fixed. I believe there should be a great effort into cleaning up the area, also moving residence to a different housing away from the affected area, ways to prevent further problems, also compensate the residence from the company government.I think this plan would be beneficial because it will force the government to fix a problem that should not have happened. However, I dont know how they are going to replace the grass and ground. I think they should close that area. It’ll also reduce the risk of health problems for residence who lives there. Also, there needs to be ways to prevent that from happening. It relates to urban sustainability because it speaks of innovation, responsibility, and public health for the residents who live there.



Urban Agriculture

Fresh market fruits and vegetables

In Chicago, more than 500,000 residents live in food deserts, and an additional 400,000 live in neighborhoods with a prevalence of fast food restaurants and no grocery stores nearby. In areas plagued by food deserts, health problems like type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and other diet related conditions. My proposal to alleviate this problem would be to introduce urban agriculture into neighborhoods in the west and south side of Chicago, where food deserts are most prevalent. According to Organic Farming for Sustainable Agriculture, urban agriculture is defined as the growing, processing, and distribution of food and other products through intensive plant cultivation and animal husbandry in and around cities. In particular, I propose that the city uses the empty space in each neighborhood as designated area for growing fresh fruits and vegetables. From there, the community can host farmers markets every weekend where members of the community will be able to come and buy these products for extremely reasonable prices, and the money made can go directly back into growing more produce. This would be beneficial because it would give communities that don’t have grocery stores nearby a place where they can buy fresh fruits and vegetables at a reasonable price. The farmers market could also help bring in fresh and healthier foods to the neighborhood because small businesses would be able to sell their products at these farmer’s markets. This ties into urban sustainability because it would help to give back to the community by supplying them with the fresh fruits and vegetables they would otherwise have to travel to obtain. It also helps to bring these resources into areas where they are most needed. The government can help promote this idea by giving money and resources needed to the neighborhoods in order to jumpstart this idea. After awhile, the produce will begin to pay for itself.



Improving Air Quality by Increasing Greenery

Image result for air pollution

Air pollution is commonly defined as the presence of “toxic chemicals or compounds in the air at levels that pose a serious health risk.”(6) Air pollution is broken down into two categories — indoor or outdoor air pollution. Pollutants, ranging from microorganisms and pesticides to chemical compounds found in household products, directly contribute to harmful indoor pollution. Since a majority of people spend a large part of their day indoors, the decreased air quality caused various pollutants can result in serious health complications. Therefore, people repeatedly exposed to poor air quality tend to suffer from a variety of lung and heart-related illnesses. For instance, people in frequent contact with asbestos may develop mesothelioma due to the fact that when inhaled microscopic asbestos fibers “can [cause] scarring of the lung tissue.”(3) Additionally, other indoor pollutants such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide can lead to asthma or aggravate existing asthma symptoms.(4)

  The second category of air pollution — outdoor air pollution– is caused by combustion processes from motor vehicles (5), industrialization, and other factors that emit chemical compounds into the air. Though not considered nearly as harmful to human health as indoor pollution, ,outdoor pollution is still detrimental to the environment and bad for human health. Outdoor pollution can also cause a variety of lung-related disorders including asthma since it contains many of the same pollutants, CO2 and NO2, as indoor pollution. With this in mind, it is imperative we take action to mitigate the effects of indoor and outdoor air pollution to maintain healthy air quality.

The best course of action for improving air quality, inside and out,  is increasing the amount of greenery inside of urban settings.  A recent study conducted in 2017 by the EPA, came to the same conclusion claiming that “Green infrastructure can play a significant role in mitigating urban air pollution.”(1) Essentially, leading to the idea that existing infrastructure in cities can be easily adapted to incorporate plant life to help improve air quality.  For example, green walls are a perfect option as they  can effectively “reduce pollution in streets [and] open roads.”(1) Additionally, the study concluded that increasing the amount small shrubs and tall trees would also improve air quality within cities — like Chicago.(2) This plan is not limited to outside city infrastructure, it can be incorporated into building and homes to mitigate indoor air pollution. The implementation of this plan would positively affect everyone by improving air quality. This plan relates to urban sustainability as it aims to increase the amount of plant life in urban environments which will in turn decrease the effect of air pollution.


(1.)  “Air Pollution Abatement Performances of Green Infrastructure in Open Road and Built-up Street Canyon Environments – A Review.” Atmospheric Environment, Pergamon, 10 May 2017,

(2.) “Cities Need to ‘Green up’ to Reduce Impact of Air Pollution.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily,

(3.)  “Indoor Air Can Cause Health Problems.” Indoor Air Can Cause Health Problems – Health Encyclopedia – University of Rochester Medical Center,

(4.)  “Indoor Air Pollutants and Health.” American Lung Association,

(5.) “Outdoor Air Pollution.” Outdoor Air Pollution, NSW Health,

(6.) “What Is Air Pollution?” What Is Air Pollution | Environmental Pollution Centers,   

(7.) Picture : jpg


Internet Tracking

In current cities, energy is using in many aspects such as transport, manufacturing, mining and so on. Those aspects really tied with our daily life. Usually, Transportation takes almost 60% of operational energy and the rest of commercial buildings, Residential buildings, water & waste landfill take are taking for 26%. Those things are connecting with all humans, so it means we need to using energy mostly for every second as we live in urban area. However, we usually do not notice that in our daily lives. As long as we did not notice about how many energy we used in our cities, we won’t care about the solution of wasting energy. Therefore, I would like to encourage the government to create some apps that we could track the situation of using energy in Chicago. In present, apps could help us track how long can a bus reach a bus station, what is the weather for the next week, and map the distance from your destination to where you are. Then, why don’t we create an app that is for energy using? Everyone could check for how many energy used in transport, residential buildings, commercial buildings and so on. Also, people could input their actions, such as driving for 30 mins, and the app will calculate how much energy may cause by that action. Other than that, the app could also suggest you for how to create the smallest amount of energy use in daily life. Then, all of the people in Chicago could track what their daily using energy straightly by their phone.  Based on that, I think people will start to notice and care about saving energy in daily life.

“Water” we doing?

Being that the earth is 70% water, we expect to always have a good supply when we need it or simply want it. We take this resource for granted and have yet to learn about problems that not only affect our surroundings, but also affects the people. In 2016, Pepsi admitted that the bottled water brand, Aquafina, was not purified. Which means that they simply used tap water. (Ryan 2016) Because Aquafina was using tap water, they had to change their labels to indicate what they had done. “Aquafina is the single biggest bottled water brand, and its bottles are now labeled ‘P.W.S.’ The new labels will spell out ‘public water source.’” (Aquafina Changes Label to Identify Water Source 2007) Even though tap water is much cheaper, it could most likely be contaminated with “high levels fluoride and pharmaceuticals. And in the case of Flint, Michigan, dangerously high levels of lead.” (Ryan 2016) Contaminated water affects people globally, and sadly, companies like Pepsi Co. have contributed to this water poisoning.


Water poisoning is not only an issue in water bottles, it also affects neighborhoods. Neighborhoods like Pilsen are doing their part to alleviate this problem. The Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization distributed water filters and indicated how to install the filters. On September 23rd, 2017, the St. Pius V Parish passed out these filters to their residents and “the Pilsen Clean Water Expo also feature[d] chlorine test demonstrations and signups for water quality tests.” (Cheung 2017) They’re informing their neighborhoods and teaching them that it doesn’t matter how little lead is found in the water, it is still not safe.


Earlier this year, I heard on the news that kids at school were becoming sick. After further investigation, they found out that these kids had a percentage of lead in their systems. School were closed because kids could not drink from the fountains. “Elevated lead levels have been found in hundreds of water fixtures in Illinois’ second largest public-school district following an initial round of testing earlier this year.” (Masterson 2017) Kids were being poisoned without even knowing. “Nearly 350 sinks, coolers and water fountains tested in May for lead came back above Illinois’ actionable level, according to the Elgin-based U-46 School District, which notified parents last week about the testing results conducted at 37 of its 57 schools.” (Masterson 2017) Hanover Elementary had results of 1,690 ppb, while at Clinton Elementary had a result of 3,120 ppb. “More than 620 times higher than the state’s minimum action level.” (Masterson 2017) The way the school district is handling this situation is by making sure fixtures that were installed before 1987 to go through testing before 2017 ends. Apparently, if even a water fountain has more than 5 ppb, it would be shut off. Hopefully, all schools will be tested for lead, especially in neighborhoods with low income. All pipes should be examined and replaced if they are too old or rusted to prevent further contamination.


Works Cited:

  1. Aquafina Changes Label to Identify Water Source. August 1. Accessed October 5, 2017.

Cheung, Ariel. 2017. Pilsen Group Giving Away Free Water Filters At Clean Water Expo Saturday. September 22. Accessed October 5, 2017.

Masterson, Matt. 2017. Testing Reveals High Lead Levels in U-46 District Schools. July 14. Accessed October 5, 2017.

Ryan, Kate. 2016. Pepsi Admits Aquafina Bottled Water Is Plain Tap Water, AKA Straight Trash. February 25. Accessed October 5, 2017.


Air pollution from transportation

People living in Chicago and nearby areas are facing some serious high risk of cancer, lung diseases, and other public health issue according to a Tribune analysis of federal data. One of the problems causing the air pollution is the vehicle we use every day, it produces significant amount of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and other harmful elements. In 2013, transportation provided more than half of the carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, and almost a quarter of the hydrocarbons emitted into our air. Hence, one of the ideas I am thinking is we can imitate what Beijing is doing which cars are blocked from the street once every weekday, depending on the final digit of their license plate with two numbers banned each day. For example, Monday the final digit with 1 and 2 will be banned and Tuesday the final digit with 3 and 4 will be banned and so on.  Although it might cause some inconvenience for some people who have been driving to work or school I think it is possible and reasonable to make a sacrifice just for one day. In this way, there will be less pollution every day and the city will benefit from it in the long term. The government should also release some data to the citizen so that they will recognize the issue and the reason behind, it is important for us to keep the environment sustainable not only for us but also for our future generation.
Vehicles produce significant amounts of air pollution that's harmful to human health.




Chicago Water: Still Safe?

Water sources can be an essential part of life for urban cities. Whether it is in our showers, or in our cups to drink, water is a huge part of life. Chicago has Lake Michigan to thank for its water source, and even the Chicago River helps to bring some relief from all the cars and concrete. A well-known fact is that Chicago has great drinking water, but this is not to say that we can rule out all hazards. Lead, of course, is one of the main water hazards for any place of residence. If found in a city’s water source, the people who live there and drink it could have health issues related to the brain. Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has made it very clear that one of his top priorities is to make Chicago as green as possible. With this “green movement” so far up on his list he often likes to start on projects as soon as possible. Last year, around February, the Mayor and city officials decided to replace several water mains and install new meters. Though proving beneficial in the long-run, what the city failed to do was warn the residents of the possible lead contamination they could receive from such a construction project. The EPA notes that after such a disruption to the water mains, lead can be an issue for up to years after the initial project completion.

So how can a city prevent all and every possible lead contamination? Well, I guess the solution would not be one hundred percent perfect, but other cities have benefited greatly from removing all lead pipes. For example, Madison, Wisconsin was one of the first cities to be greatly affected by lead contamination in the water. In total, they removed all 8,000 pipes, making it a rather drastic plan for other cities. The entire transformation took about 10 years to complete.

If such a plan were to manifest in Chicago, it would really only affect those living in older buildings/houses. From a study conducted by the EPA in 2011 and 2012, it was estimated that the city of Chicago had about 400,000 lead service lines bringing water into people’s homes. Replacing all of the lead sources seems to be the only real solution to such a public health concern, though it certainly wouldn’t be very cost-friendly. This solution could also make for an opportunity to implement newer, better, and more sustainable pipes. It is recommended, that when looking for appropriate pipes to reduce water waste, that they be leak-free and well insulated. If the city would be removing the old pipes anyway, why not just take advantage and replace them with these more sustainable ones?



Brownfield Remediation: Public Health & Urban Planning – As One.

During the Spring 2016, I was enrolled in a research course on the topic of brownfield remediation and redevelopment. Essentially, the course covered topics from negative health implications from these lands, devalued housing prices, and policy initiatives to combat the lack on interest from the public/private sectors. Although the issue itself is rather complex, the topic of brownfield remediation offers an interesting look into the world of public health and urban planning. With that being said, let’s take a look at what a brownfield is and why it is important to address these areas.


Photo Source:International Risk Management Institute, Inc. (IRMI)

According to the City of Chicago, “Brownfields, as defined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), are “abandoned, idled, or under-utilized industrial and commercial facilities where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination” (1). So, these areas contain contaminates that are detrimental to the livelihood of the public. They often resided near low-income communities and made it rather challenging for much of the neighborhood to stay immune from the toxins.

There should be a lot of interests for brownfields. Why? Well, these lands pose a major opportunity for municipalities to strike gold in development. They can be redeveloped as commercial districts, public services, or residential amenities. With the process of soil remediation and contaminate capping, post-industrial areas can be a beneficial tool in the improvement of existing and future communities.

Land developers should be seeking these projects for many reasons, but the fact that these projects offer distinctive health and environmental benefits should be a no brainer for these individuals. The environment gains cleaner soil and developers can construct sustainable facilities atop of the new, clean land: a double-whammy for sustainable practices.

Chicago is one of many U.S. cities offering incentives to developers interested in these lands. Whether it’s tax breaks or increased grant-funding, major cities are looking at these places for the economic, environmental, and health security of our future.

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Lots of Room for Improvement

     Throughout many cities across the US, there are many abandoned lots which decrease the land value and attract crime. Over time some of these lots become informal garbage dumps or home to squatters. This can lead to public health issues such as the breaking down of chemicals from garbage which can result in low air quality and increased incidence of disease. In order to combat this, some cities have formed community organizations which seek to clean up these areas and replace them with urban farms or parks. 

     Urban farms have begun to sprout up around Chicago as people become more aware of where their food comes from and the chemicals involved in producing and transporting them. Not only do the farms provide access to healthy foods they also serve to educate the local community about other ways to be sustainable such as composting and rainwater collection. With the presence of large food deserts in Chicago, this solution can be very effective not just economically but also health wise.

     While less common than urban farms a number of parks have also been developed from abandoned lots. One of the most famous examples of this is Millennium Park which was built above an abandoned train yard. This transformation was a costly one but has provided downtown residents with open green space that allows them an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Smaller parks have also been made by clearing overgrown lots and building playgrounds.

     Other empty lots have been transformed into solar farms which can provide both jobs and energy for surrounding homes. Since this type of transformation requires significantly more capital than urban farms or parks, a strong community or municipal group is necessary to make solar farms successful. Through this process, governments are often able to gain exposure for the neighborhood which in some cases provides new forms of funding for the area.



Courtesy of Exelon 




Trotter, Greg. “Five urban farming projects in Chicago to watch in 2017.”, Chicago Tribune, 21 Dec. 2016,

PHOTOGRAPH BY BENJAMIN RASMUSSEN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC. “The New Urban Farmers.” National Geographic, National Geographic, 24 Oct. 2016,

Recycling Participation



Everyday people throw out some sort of trash. Whether its newspaper, water bottles, tin foil, or bags almost everyone can’t go throughout their day without being able to throw away some sort of garbage. People in the Chicago land area throw away more than 900,000 tons of garbage away every year. Although there are increasing efforts to combat this problem it may not be enough to derail our current track. It’s projected by the Illinois EPA that the state will run out of space for garbage within the next 20 years. It’s a rapidly approaching problem that most people don’t even blink an eye at.

In 2007 the city of Chicago introduce the blue recycling cart program to 7 seven communities which now expands to any single, 2-flat, 3-flat and 4-flat housing. While the city of Chicago have streamed line the process and have tried to make it more accessible by using its single stream process, not enough people are participating or participating correctly. Recently the city has enforced a new no bag rule, which requires all recyclables to be loose inside the blue cart instead of inside plastic bags. This rule has been causing lots of problems in part by its very unclear instructions on the lid of the cart. A negative result of this miscommunication is that people are less likely to recycle because it becomes too cumbersome to deal with.

To help educate the public and make recycling easier, the city of Chicago needs to step up and change their graphic approach to their recycling program. The informational sticker on the blue cart’s lid lacks clear information hierarchy. At a quick glance anyone should be able to figure out what can and can’t be recycled and right now it doesn’t provide a clear solution. It’s inconstant visual language and misplaced importance on key instructions cause this info card to be ineffective. Another change I would like to see in their program would be their advertising. Most people are ignorant of how their everyday trash adds up over time. Once people throw out their trash its out of sight and out of mind. I propose a more radical solution using pictures of landfills and unpleasing pictures of waste sights to bring attention to the very real problem of over wasting.