A Nod to Europe

The build-up of America’s interstate highway system began during the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower in the mid-1950s. Heavy reliance on the automobile had begun much earlier, during the 1900s-1930s, when a mass reorganization of many cities’ mass transit systems had been spurred by major automobile manufacturing corporations such as General Motors, Firestone Tire, and Standard Oil, all seeking monopolization of the industry for maximum profitability. Urban theorists Joe Feagin and Robert Parker have written on the subject:

“Because of successful lobbying by executives from the auto-oil-rubber complex, and their own acceptance of a motorization perspective, most government officials increasingly backed street and highway construction. They cooperated with the auto industry in eliminating many mass transit systems. Increased governmental support for auto and truck transportation systems has meant systematic disinvestment in mass transit systems.”

Today, American highway infrastructure is crumbling, costing taxpayers tens of billions of dollars in repairs. The Environmental Protection Agency reported in 2015 that vehicle transportation accounted for 27% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that there were a whopping 35,092 traffic-related fatalities in 2015, a 7.2% increase from auto deaths in 2014. The reliance on and preference for the vehicle by Americans is clearly an issue in several areas of urban health and safety. In their book, Building American Cities, Feagin and Parker discuss a study on American attitudes on the automobile. They write:

“One question asked in this survey was: ‘The auto pollutes air, creates traffic, demolishes property, and kills people. Is the contribution the auto makes to our way of life worth this?’ 15% said no, and 85% said yes. This seems to confirm the argument that consumers prefer the heavy reliance on auto transportation.”

It is clear that the United States’ inter-state and intra-city transportation modes are in need of reconfiguration. Heavy reliance on the automobile for traveling short and long distances is no longer adequate, and has dangerous and unhealthy consequences for the American public. I would suggest we look to Europe for the answer.

The Eurail system extends across 28 participating countries across the European continent. It’s electric rail allows for affordable, time-saving, energy-efficient, and safe travel for short distances and lengthy trips.


Implementing an efficient transit system such as the European Rail in the United States would improve energy-efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and cultivate public health and safety for our country.

Works Cited

Feagin, Joe R., and Robert Parker. Building American Cities: The Urban Real Estate Game. N.p.: Beard, 2002. Print.
Henry, Kathryn. “Traffic Fatalities up Sharply in 2015.” NHTSA. Public Affairs, 06 July 2017. Web.
“A Single Stop for European Rail Travel.” Travel By Train In Europe: Eurorail, Eurail Pass & Train Tickets – Rail Europe. N.p., n.d. Web.
“Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. Environmental Protection Agency, 2015. Web.



Edible Oasis in the City

Since its founding, leaders in Chicago have been trying to preserve and make new green space in the city. Being able to escape the city noise and hustle and bustle and enjoy nature at work can be very beneficial. Along with enjoying nature more, there is an urban farming trend that seems to be getting more and more popular. Growing one’s own food can have a ton of health benefits and greatly reduce emissions by food not having to travel as far into the city. Even though these trends are increasing in popularity, there is still an overall lack of education and practice in the local food market and what it could mean for reducing carbon emissions. Grocery store food travels from all corners of the globe at all times of the year to get to the local Jewel and often times the food is picked before being ripe and it is falsey ripened so it looks pretty on the grocery store shelf. We should educate more people on food systems and motivate them to make a conscious change in their eating habits not only as it relates to their health but the health of the environment.


At this point in the problem, I do not think small scale urban farming like community gardens will put a large dent in solving the problem. I think we need to go a step further and practice regenerative agriculture principals in the city. Regenerative agriculture goes one step further than sustainable agriculture because it returns the soil/ a plot of land to better conditions than it was in before. One way to do this is taking empty lots and setting up a permaculture oasis in the city. The idea of permaculture is “ development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient”. So instead of gardening raised beds, we can take a site and grow food directly in the soil using a wide range of perennials and annuals that work in harmony and self sustain itself while producing food. The use of perennials, plants and that grow back every year, will help establish an ecosystem and sequester carbon back into the soil year after year. This would set up an edible oasis in the city and could benefit not only the environment but the health of the citizens. Rather than walking through a park that is perfectly mowed these edible gardens would provide nature and education to citizens.


 Eric Toensmeier’s, author of Paradise lot, edible oasis in Massachusetts, 

A good way to institute these gardens could be taking empty lots and sheet composting the site to allow plants to start to grow. Through the use of nitrogen fixing trees and compost, the site would slowly become a carbon sequestering machine that produces food for the community. Depending on where these gardens would go this could help solve the problem of food deserts as they are significantly more productive than a raised bed community garden. Setting up these oases  in the city would help the environment, local food systems, and citizens mental and physical health.








Genetically modified organisms are the result of a laboratory process that involves extracting the DNA from one organism and inserting it into a plant or animal. Scientists use this technology to produce seeds for farmers that yield more crops that are immune to diseases, insects, and herbicides. They provide a more sustainable future we must provide a more sustainable way to produce food and crops. There are many health risks associated with GMO’s and there are not enough health studies to determine the long-term effects. What needs to be done is more research. If it was 100% safe then they would have done the research and proved it to us by now. But, it isn’t and everyone knows it. Allergies and pesticide related reactions have gone up almost 50% since the introduction of GMO soy crops. Also due to the mutation of genes most GMOs are antibiotic resistant. This opens a whole door on the epidemic involving antibiotic resistant bacteria and how it can wipeout the entire globe. The government is also failing to pass measures that  would inform the consumer about possible risks of GMO crops.

The government, both local and federal, should monitor and more closely study the risks and effects of GMO’s on the surrounding environments and populations. They should be limited until they are proven safe from all adverse health effects. People should also have the right to be advised when they are purchasing any GMO products. A more  sustainable future involves both taking care of the people and surrounding environment. Current GMOs are not the answer to that.







From Engineering Marvel to 21st Century Destination; the Chicago River

Any true Chicagoan knows three things to be true: deep dish is the best pizza, it will always be the Sears Tower, and that the Chicago River flows the wrong way. Indeed, most foreigners to the Windy city are baffled by the concept that the river and the lake are two separate bodies of water. While the namesake river did originally dump into the lake, early residents undertook a massive infrastructure project to reverse the flow of the Chicago River. But, why did they do this? To understand this question, we can look at the original uses of the Chicago River, how the River has changed over time, and what the city is doing now to make the river waterfront a 21st Century destination.

Image result for chicago river

So, why change the course of a natural river? It comes back to Industry and Pollution in the late 1800’s. The natural transportation hub that is Chicago facilitated the growth of many industries along the Chicago River. However, the pollution caused by the businesses, residents, and factories caused outbreaks of disease. The Chicago Health Department reported that from 1849 to 1867, multiple outbreaks of Cholera killed hundreds of residents. (1)

Thus, the city & state undertook one of the largest public works project in the nation and reversed the flow of the river. The American Public Works Association States, “In 1889, the State of Illinois enacted a law enabling creation of the Sanitary District of Chicago (which continues to exist today as the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago) for safeguarding Chicago’s water supply. It would do so by constructing canals to make the Chicago River flow backwards, away from the lake”  (2). While it took until 1931 to fully implement; the complex system of canals, dams, and locks was a huge success. Not only did the city now have direct waterway access to the Mississippi River, but industry could freely dump into the Chicago River while not harming the residents drinking water collected from Lake Michigan.

Image result for chicago river reversal

This idea worked for a while, and in effect it was good Urban Planning and Sustainability for its time. Yet as the decades passed, it became clear the system was far from perfect. Obviously, factories dumped thousands of chemicals and waste products into the river, but perhaps the worst culprit to pollution was the very sanitation district created to reduce waste. The Sanitary District of Chicago established under the river reversing law built a combined sewer and water drainage collection system. A good idea for the time quickly revealed its flaws as large storms could overload the system, resulting in millions of gallons of raw sewage being blasted into the Chicago River. Known as a CSO, or Combined Sewer Overflow, these events resulted in the Chicago river being one of the most polluted waterways in the United States.

While common throughout the 20th century, CSO’s still occur to this day. The Tribune of June 23rd, 2017 reports, “The chronic sewage overflows are a major reason the amount of disease-causing bacteria in the river remains staggeringly high, despite years of efforts to improve water quality” (3). As a result, many residents are asking what the best course of action is to fix this public health hazard. While the city, state, and federal government are trying to remedy the situation, local community groups have forged the most success in resolving this public health crisis.

Map Pollution.PNG

One such group that has stepped forward to clean up the Chicago River is the aptly named organization: Friends of the Chicago River. With private and governmental funding, this community of residents has set forth a policy of finding key projects which can cleanup the Chicago River. In fact, there have been over 32 different awards given out to help minimize pollution. One such project was the Riverline (4), a plan to beautify acres of Riverfront property by creating parks and natural areas. This project is one part of many in creating a livable and sustainable riverfront. Plans like these promise to increase land values while decreasing pollution on the Chicago River.

The Friends of the Chicago River state, “As a result, the Chicago River is emerging as one of the best opportunities for improving quality of life for the people who live and work in the greater Chicago metropolitan area.” (4). The future growth of Chicago relies as always on its waterways; new residents will want a clean, beautiful lake and river to recreate on. Project supported by community organizations will result in fixing Chicago’s Public Health Hazard one step at a time.

Related image

All in all, ingenious designs like the reversal of the Chicago River to the Awarded projects of the Riverline are what will help forge Chicago’s Future as a leader in Urban Sustainability and Design.


(1) https://web.archive.org/web/20070309133936/http://www.chipublib.org/004chicago/disasters/early_cholera.html





Car City, Illinois

To live in such a beautiful city such as Chicago, we are blessed with the visual representation of an urban society. We are also blessed with the beautiful sounds of city life: “Beep Beep!!”, “VROOM VROOM!!!”, and the occasional swear word due to road rage. Cars have become such an essential part of our lives in Chicago we’ve almost forgotten the enormous dangers these vehicles pose to the environment, and directly back to our health.


Living in a City with almost 3 million in population, the necessities of available transportation may become scarce. In Chicago, According to Governing.com, a site that measures car use in American Cities, There are 1.1 cars per household (An estimated 1.2 million households in Chicago). There are many environmental dangers when it comes to the production and maintenance of a vehicle, but this reading will focus mainly on the effects of vehicles on air quality and air pollution, as well as the effect it has on public health.

The Air Quality in Chicago has long and enduring effects on the population’s health. According to a work on the impact of air pollution, air pollution has been linked to may health concerns such as: Allergies, limited lung function, cardiovascular issues, and death. The more vehicles in Chicago, the more damage to the air quality is occurring. Vehicles constantly are exerting pollution from fossil fuels in the forms of Smog and Carbon Monoxide. As mentioned before, this can be as harmful to our health as it is to our environment.


Now that the dangers are clear and present, the next question that comes to mind is: How do we fix this? Now the best possible course of action would be to limit the amount of vehicles on the road. In a city as vast as Chicago, it may not be as easy as it seems. Chicago’s metropolitan area requires the use of vehicles, even if it were simply just for public transportation purposes. There’s where the key lies: Public Transportation.  By using public transportation,  individuals can limit the amount of pollutants produced by vehicles. In an article on the effects of public transportation on the environment, the author states that “ Public transportation also benefits those not using it because it helps reduce energy consumption, greenhouse gases and other pollutants”. Public Transportation would be the ideal route to take in the pathway to reduce smog and carbon monoxide emissions in Chicago.

Chicago is one of the largest and ever-expanding cities in the world and limiting the amount of gas emissions in the City would be beneficial for not only the environment but the health of the growing population. The first step in solving a problem is realizing there is one. The long lasting effects of gas emissions and degradation of air quality should be a priority in the city if it is to avoid becoming a smog city such as those in China.








Before moving to UIC, I used to live in the middle of nowhere where there was a massive abundance of quietness. I was so used to absolute silence to fall asleep that some nights the crickets outside of my house would keep me from falling asleep. The first night spent at UIC was horrendous, to say the least. I might have slept a total of three hours spread out over eight hours of just lying in bed.

The noise pollution became a serious issue to me from the get-go, but only lasted a few days before I got used to the roar of constant traffic. But this does not fix the serious issue of noise pollution which can cause hypertension, high-stress levels, tinnitus, hearing loss, and sleep disturbances. Its main sources are from transportation activities such as automobile traffic on highways and roads, trains moving on tracks, and airplanes landing and lifting off. Other significant sources would be construction sites and industrial machinery. There are many ways to combat noise pollution with a minimal effort such as planting rows of trees along noisy traffic arteries, implementing quiet zones for parks and residential areas, and changing the road layout to offer more pedestrian and bike oriented transportation and at the same time limiting the amount of automobile that can use certain roads. More extreme measures include physically covering highways with a roof (often with parks on top), keeping sound underground, covering the highway surface with a rubbery material that dampens traffic noise, building walls around highways that direct sound up instead of in all directions, mandating electric vehicles, and banning vehicles that can be louder than a set maximum of decibels.

I believe the best path to take is cautious and begins slowly. Starting with planting trees along the loudest parts of the city and adding quiet zoning into the city’s agenda. Latter using the rubber material to cover major highways and implementing traffic restrictions in favor of electric vehicles and lastly capping the sinking highways and expressways and building parks on top of them. This relates to energy because many of these ideas discussed involve lowering the demand for loud gas-powered cars and increasing the demand for quiet electric powered cars.









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.






Gone in 60 Seconds

Chicago is famous for numerous things such as hotdogs, passionate sports fans, and deep dish pizza. One other aspect Chicagoans are familiar with is the terrible traffic congestion that occurs each day on the 94, delaying many people from arriving to their destination on time. But what if I told you that reaching downtown would take you less than 15 minutes from any surrounding suburbs? What if we could also eliminate a ton of pollution caused by commuters and also cut commuting costs by a fraction? Bullet trains have made their debut all around the globe and have shown many signs of success. These trains carry hundreds of commuters and travels at speeds of up to 200 mph, getting everyone to their destination in a timely manner. Aside from the obvious stress free travel experience, bullet trains have been proven to be much more economically and environmentally friendly than standard trains. Bullet trains are usually powered using renewable resources such as electricity or solar, reducing the carbon footprint of everyday commuters. In a city that is infamous for its “L” system, bullet trains would provide the efficiency and enviromental precautions that the current train system does not. According to the US High Speed Rail Association, “43 million Americans die each year in car accidents”(USHSR2017). Adding a reliable, fast way to reach downtown Chicago would persuade many commuters to utilize bullet trains, thus lowering the amount of fatalities caused by cars. Now of course, technology of this magnitude does not come cheap. Los Angeles is actually one of the first cities in the US to began construction of a bullet train railway. According to a Los Angeles Times article, “The final tab could top $100 billion”(LA Times 2017). But according to the USHSR, bullet trains, “Pays for itself by significantly reducing our $700 billion-a-year foreign oil purchase trade deficit”(USHSR2017). This innovative technology could shift the US from depending on oil and other carbon-heavy energy sources to greener, more efficient energy. As a commuter, I rely on the Metra to get me to and from school. If there was an option for me to cut my commuting time in half, save money on commuting costs all while reducing my carbon footprint, I would choose to use this method of transportation over anything else. Sustainability should be the goals of every major city and what Chicago needs is a new, innovative and environmentally friends way of enjoying the vast amount of scenery the city has to offer. cta-blue-crash-2bullet-train


“US HIGH SPEED RAIL ASSOCIATION.” High Speed Rail Benefits, High Speed Rail Association, 2017, http://www.ushsr.com/benefits.html.

Smart, Michael. “Why Can’t America Have High-Speed Trains?” CNN, Cable News Network, 4 May 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/03/opinions/smart-high-speed-trains-america/index.html.

Vartabedian, Ralph. “California Bullet Train Costs up $1.7 Billion for Central Valley Segment.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 29 Sept. 2017, http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-bullet-train-cost-overrun-20170928-story.html.

Breathing in Unhealthy Air

Pollution in the Chicagoland area has begun to reach elevated levels more often than not in recent years. This air pollution is one of the more serious problems that large cities are facing in which harmful substances or chemicals begin to contaminate the atmosphere. These are direct results from being exposed to greater amounts of freeways, airports, or industrial facilities, and especially in the more heavily concentrated cities like Chicago because there is a need to support a much larger population.

According to a report by Chicago Tonight, Chicago had elevated levels of air pollution for 151 days in the year 2015 alone and the number is only beginning to rise. Air pollution not only raises concern for our environment but also begins to put our health at risk. Each year on a global scale, pollution causes 10 million deaths per year from the inhalation of unhealthy air and separately it’s causing damage to our bodies of water.

There are ways that the population of Chicago can begin to take action to combat the elevating levels of air pollution in the city. One important factor is the need to begin better educate the public in order for them to become more self aware about bad habits that they do that contribute some to air pollution. It is important to conserve energy. That can mean to simply turn off any lights, computers, or electric appliances when they aren’t being used. The use of energy efficient light bulbs can help reduce the impact as well. With a city like Chicago, finding transportation is a concern and carpooling or walking everywhere will stop the excessive burning of gas from cars. At the same time, it’s important to begin to shift away from fuels like coal and gas that cause air pollution in order to clean out the air by using renewable energy sources.

A smog-filled day in Chicago in 2009. (Owen Clay / Flickr)








Healthy Homes= Healthy People



It is important to remember that homes and buildings not only play a huge role in the realm of public health, but also transcend into urban sustainability . The homes that people inhabit can cause a number of undetected bodily damage such as poisoning, asthma and brain damage because of repeated emissions of carbon monoxide, mold, radon etc. throughout the home. Most of the homes in Chicagowere built over 60 years ago, so this issue is very abundant. The way these homes were once built and are now being maintained does not match the standard of health of the men, women and children that live in them, making these homes unsustainable. Because of the obvious factors of pollution and social irresponsibility put into these homes, the problem has increased. The issue of unhealthy homes is actually so plentiful that it was included in the Healthy Chicago Public Health Agenda. Now that this hidden problem is addressed, how can we reach a solution while upholding the values of sustainability ?


Our best course of action would be utilizing data and policy as a tool of developing and implementing sustainable maintenance to slowly but surely make homes more healthy in Chicago. This data would include how certain methods of maintenance effect people and their health, how maintenance is working now, what specific materials and costs look like, and matters of that nature. Through this data a policy can be manifested. This would affect neighborhoods that have high levels of unhealthy homes. This plan allows for small steps to be taken gradually, and then solutions to be implemented gradually due to data. When addressing environmental and health issues , it is important to integrate the two to the best of the city’s abilities because they ultimately go hand in hand. If environmental health is diminishing, it is unlikely that the health of the people that live in the environment is thriving.