Jan 6, 2023 - News

5 Chicago environmental stories to watch in 2023

Illustration of a tree growing from a column

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Two decades ago, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley pledged to make Chicago "the greenest city in America."

  • Though our city has made some progress, we're not there yet. So this year, Axios Chicago plans to keep tabs on that progress by asking five questions:

Where's the Department of the Environment?

As a candidate four years ago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot campaigned on a promise to re-establish the standalone department shuttered by her predecessor. But as mayor she never delivered, disappointing environmental advocates.

How will the city address HUD charges?

Noting a city practice of shifting polluters from white neighborhoods to Black and Latino communities, federal housing officials threatened to withhold funds from the Lightfoot administration last year unless it reformed its policies.

Will trees planted in the cold survive?

As part of Lightfoot's promise to plant 15,000 trees in 2022, officials rushed to put thousands in the ground after temperatures had already dropped below the ideal conditions for root establishment.

  • We plan to check on those trees in the spring and summer to see whether politics trumped sound planting practices.

How's our air quality?

The federal government this week announced infrastructure grants that include $2 million to UIC's school of public health for a "community-driven air monitoring program" analyzing local air quality variations.

  • We'll be watching for the results from various neighborhoods.

Will composting finally arrive?

Streets and Sanitation last year hired two longtime composting advocates to work inside the department and launch a modest food scrap drop-off program at gardens.

  • These hires might help Chicago join places like San Francisco, Seattle, Evanston and Oak Park in offering municipal composting. Studies show it could divert nearly 20% of our garbage from landfills.

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