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Chicago Converting Industrial Strip Into ‘Greenest Street In America’

Cermak Road, Chicago

Cermak, an industrial strip on Chicago’s West Side, is ridden with unappealing smokestacks, steel warehouses, train tracks, barbed wire fencing, underpasses, and a coal-fired power plant. Despite the gritty exterior, a 1.5-mile section of the street is soon to be overhauled into what city officials are calling the greenest street in America, and possibly even the world.

The Chicago Department of Transportation has spent two years and $16 million on this stretch of Cermak street, using the qualities of a LEED platinum building as a reference to clean up the area. Solar-paneled bus stops and pavement that sucks up rainwater are just two of the innovative ideas implemented by the Chicago Department of Transportation.

A few ground rules were set for how to go about the project, now known as the Cermak/Blue Island Sustainable Street Scape. Most importantly, materials had to come from within 500 miles of Cermak; 23% of materials used in the project were recycled, and more than 60% of overall construction waste was recycled.

Sidewalks along the street reflect summer’s light and heat, and traffic lanes are coated with self-cleaning photocatalytic cement, which absorbs nitrogen oxide from car traffic and cleans the surrounding air. Energy-efficient streetlights draw power from solar panels and cut down on nighttime light pollution. The street is lined with 95 species of native plants, grasses, shrubs, and trees, all irrigated by filtered rainwater runoff via from overloaded sewers.

Aside from the plants, Cermak Road doesn’t look all that different from any other streetscape; most of the change has taken place inside and underneath the pavement.

I see this as a big incentive for cities who want to clean up their act without sacrificing their old-time industrial appeal (my Detroit neighborhood rings a bell). If the scrubbing is done from the inside and the exterior architecture gets to stay the same, where is the loss?

I am interested to see if this turns into an environmental blueprint for other places over time. What do you think?

Image courtesy of CDOT

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