Sustainable Chicago, Spring 2017 - page 2

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During a family trip to Charlotte, North Carolina
some years ago, we went on a carriage tour to take
in the sites. As the horses paraded us around—
from the glassy towers of downtown into the Fourth
Ward with its historic Victorian homes—something
nagged at me, something missing. “Excuse me,” I
asked the guide, “does Charlotte not border a major
body of water?”
It turns out it doesn’t. This is quite rare for a
city of such size. Oceans, lakes and rivers are inte-
gral to society. It’s where tribes met for trade and
where communities settled. These waterways pro-
vide food, transportation, commerce, drinking
water and power.
Recently, the mayors of Paris, Cape Town,
Haifa, Montreal and a dozen other cities around the
globe came to Chicago for the Urban Waterways
Forum. Mayor Rahm Emanuel invited them, to fos-
ter an international conversation directed at how
cities interact with their waterways. And, probably,
to eagerly show off the just-completed Riverwalk.
I’m not blaming him on that point; any pride he has
for the Riverwalk is fair as it is a beautiful amenity
that gives Chicagoans and visitors a second shore-
line on which to frolic.
That modern view of the water, as a play-
ground, may disguise just how vital our waterways
still are. That’s why it’s disheartening to see the
White House propose hollowing out the budget for
the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. It’s short-
sighted. This initiative is responsible for combatting
invasive species, retarding algal blooms and clean-
ing up contamination in the Great Lakes and reduc-
ing the program’s financial support by 97% would
all but eradicate it.
This defunding seems partly ideological and
partly to support budget increases for national se-
curity. But what would there be to defend without
robust, diverse ecosystems? One of America’s
greatest strengths is its natural resources. Few
countries can claim to have hundreds of millions of
hectares of arable land with which to feed them-
selves, let alone access to the planet’s five largest
freshwater lakes from which to drink.
And even this line of thinking is selfish. We are
stewards and should be protecting the environment
around us. But if the argument is about protecting
ourselves, then what better defense is there than
preserving the natural resources that keep us alive?
Is this just the thinking of someone who grew
up next to an enormous lake? I don’t think so. I
would hope that even those who don’t have the ac-
cess that we enjoy can see how important preser-
vation is for our way of life and for our future
generations.
Sustainable Chicago is available at no charge
and, in keeping with the green mission, is available
only electronically. I hope you enjoy this issue of
Sustainable Chicago and welcome your comments
and suggestions.
Cheers,
Matt Baker
Editor
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