22nd Ward and 12th Ward: Merging communities to fight

By Gerardo Salgado

The 12th Ward and 22nd Ward Aldermanic Forums hosted by the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) featured calls for a major turn-around from both residents and candidates on environmental issues affecting the health of local residents

The community questioned candidates about what will happen with the former Crawford coal plant site, recently purchased by the company Hilco, which specializes in logistics and warehousing facilities. Many lean towards recreational and eco-friendly amenities.

Candidate Richard Juarez, director of Long-Term Services & Supports at the Lawndale Christian Health Center (LCHC), said “I am completely in support of green spaces.” The LCHC was part of the initiative The Farm, an indoor aquaponics facility where  fish fertilize the plants without the need for pesticides. “I would like to see a facility like that on a much larger scale there,” Juarez said, “and above that I would like to see solar panels, while on the side wind turbines.”

Michael D. Rodriguez, who is the 22nd Ward President of the Independent Political Organization (IPO), said he was in favor of using community processes to determine the future of the Hilco site. “I’m in favor [of] putting together an economic development advisory council made up of various organizations in the neighborhood, leaders in the community that will sit and make sure that we hold these economic development projects accountable to the community.”

Mirroring talks for the Hilco site within the 22nd forums and echoing questions of what should be done in the industrial zone, 12th Ward candidates also highlighted environmental issues.

The 22nd and 12th wards neighbor each other. 

12th Ward candidate Pete DeMay voiced concerns about the pollution produced by the neighboring industrial corridor. “There’s really high levels of particulate matter [and] diesel fumes around the Kedzie corridor. Where they have that BNSF intermodal facility, I want to make sure that we can deal with this and minimize citizen exposure to environmental contaminants, and we have to do that by going after the intermodal facility.”

Adding to the dangers affecting  residents, DeMay spoke on how he would deal with the controversial MAT asphalt plant that recently opened in McKinley Park in the 12th ward. “I’m calling for a federal investigation into how that deal got done. They lied on their application. They said it was distant from residents, and that simply wasn’t the case. … I want to make sure they’re not developing the rest of their investment until they do right by the community and move the asphalt plant.”

Bringing public pressure to discussions of the dangers facing these communities  is a great example of how both residents and fellow candidates desire a much cleaner and healthier environment for not just residents of the 12th and 22nd wards, but for the City of Chicago.

José Rico, current senior vice president of community impact at United Way of Metro Chicago (UWMC) and a candidate for the 12th Ward, opened up about his time as a former high school principal and how he saw the amount of diesel truck traffic affecting schools and their students. Exposure to diesel fumes can create health problems for the youth of neighboring wards, he said.

“The truck traffic is the worst pollutant in the neighborhood,” he said. The inhalation of diesel fumes can raise one’s risk of developing asthma and cancer, Rico said, noting that limiting the number of trucks that pass through the industrial corridor and banning new manufacturing centers like Hilco from entering the ward are priorities of his.  “That’s just going increase the contaminants in the air, in the ground and in the water.” he said of the Hilco plan.

Rico said he wants to convert vacant industrial buildings into urban farms where constituents would be able to learn how to produce and distribute food for the community. “That way we don’t need these trucks to come from across the country. We can do it local and in our neighborhoods, on bikes, using small electrical vehicles to [transport food to] those areas where they can actually use it.”

This story was produced as a partnership between Yollocalli Arts Reach and Medill.

Featured photo by Chris Schulz.
Edited by Katie Rice and Chris Schulz.