Crime has dominated much of the local and national media coverage around Chicago’s mayoral election. But environmental justice activists contend that environmental issues also have a significant impact on quality of life for residents.
“I’d love to see not only Chicago’s Department of Environment return, but I want to see an Office of Environmental Justice. Chicago needs an environmental justice ordinance,” says Cheryl Johnson, executive director of People for Community Recovery, an environmental advocacy group based in the Altgeld Gardens Homes on the city’s far South Side. “Our community’s top environmental concerns are air pollution, water pollution and soil contamination. But any kind of deprivation is an environmental justice issue and Altgeld Gardens is a desert area in many ways. We’re working on the revitalization of an abandoned school. We have a commercial strip with seven storefronts, which are all vacant except for one, and we're also a food desert.”
Yet Johnson remains hopeful.
“There’s great potential with the Red Line extension. The 130th Street stop would be just down the street from Altgeld Gardens,” says Johnson. “Whoever the next mayor is needs to keep momentum going on that.”
What environmental issues should be priorities for Chicago's next mayor? Johnson joined Olga Bautista, executive director of the Southeast Environmental Task Force and Kim Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, to discuss the issue.