Program Seeks to Identify, Unite Chicago Area Green Projects

Since last year, several volunteers and more than 200 students from 17 local and national universities have been canvassing all 77 community areas in Chicago, looking for sustainability projects in an attempt to create the city’s first comprehensive green initiative database, map and website. It’s a large undertaking that has never been done before, largely because many of these green initiatives are flying under the media radar and have gone unrecognized even within their own communities.

Volunteers of the Accelerate77 program, an initiative of the Institute of Cultural Affairs, have traveled around the city by foot, bike and car, talking to community residents. So far they have documented more than 650 green enterprises, more than one-third of which are on the city’s South and West Sides. These include urban agriculture sites, schools, social organizations, green businesses and more that are thinking in innovative ways about sustaining their communities.

There are established community members with government backing—like Carlos DeJesus, a vice principal and science teacher in Humboldt Park who built a greenhouse with his students. He grows everything from habañero peppers to Puerto Rican oregano and has established a high school curriculum aimed at changing the community’s food desert status.

But the program has also stumbled upon community members quietly going about their work like Berlin Brittman, a 60-something urban gardener. He grows kale, corn and squash in a Washington Heights vacant lot and lets anyone stop by to pick his garden.

From individuals to large city-wide organizations, the initiatives that Accelerate77 has mapped are all invited to join together in a new community forum. On Sept. 15, the Institute of Cultural Affairs is organizing a fair called “Sharing Approaches that Work” at Truman College, where more than 230 community initiatives are invited to share their green projects. Karen Wiegert, the mayor’s Chief Sustainability Officer, will be delivering a keynote address, and some of Chicago’s leading organizations in sustainability will be hosting information breakout sessions. These include Open Lands, the Field Museum and the Center for Neighborhood Technology.

The Institute of Cultural Affairs hopes that by introducing the city’s green initiative leaders to one another and providing them with a comprehensive list of sustainable projects, collaboration can be fostered between informal and formal networks. The Accelerate77 project is a facilitative link that will allow the resiliency of Chicago neighborhoods to grow in scope and in depth and make Chicago a leading example of a sustainable city for the rest of the nation.

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