Blue Island’s Resistance to Annexation by Chicago

Blue Island map in ChgoThis article by WBEZ’s Curious City features Blue Island, a Calumet-area inner suburb on Chicago’s far southern border that many years ago resisted annexation by a then rapidly expanding Chicago. Located at a juncture of several railroads, including the Rock Island Line commuter train that connects Chicago and Joliet, Blue Island is a vibrant, diverse, and close-knit community that exemplifies the potential of sustainable suburban development.

If Blue Island, a Southwestern suburb of just four square miles, once beat back Chicago’s attempt to annex it, we shouldn’t be surprised that they trounced other suburbs in a Curious City face-off.

Recall that curious citizen Jim Padden asked Curious City how Chicago grew over time by annexing its neighbors. (The answer? It’s in an animated map).

But then, we asked you: Which Chicago suburb’s story of resisting annexation do you want to hear more about?

Blue Island prevailed against Oak Park, which is on the city’s western border, and Evanston to the north. I want to thank the thousands of you who voted.

Where’s Blue Island?

If you’re not familiar with the place, Blue Island is a diverse, proudly working class suburb of about 24,000 people. It’s about 16 miles southwest of Chicago’s loop, as the crow flies.

To get to the heart of why this suburb said ‘No thanks’ when Chicago came knocking, we need to go back in time.

Read the entire article by Tricia Bobeda here.

Posted in Blue Island, Chicago, Communities, Economics, News, Planning, Sustainability, Transportation

Joliet IL Contracts for 167 Million KW Hours of Clean Energy

This announcement on the City of Joliet IL’s planned use of clean energy is from the 5 Feb 2014 online edition of the Herald-News.

CITYsealbest.cdrJoliet announced a deal Wednesday to use 167 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy in the next three years.

City officials said the purchase of wind power to offset greenhouse gas emissions is the equivalent of taking 25,000 vehicles off the roads.

“This year it turned out that this is cheaper than regular coal-burning power plants,” City Manager Jim Hock said.

Noting that alternative energy suppliers have been subsidized by the federal government, Hock said those power suppliers are “very competitive with the coal and the natural gas powered plants.”

Joliet will purchase the wind power through JustGreen, a subsidiary of Just Energy Group Inc.

Posted in Communities, Economics, Energy, Joliet, News, Sustainability

Biodiversity Course Preview for Spring 2014 at RU’s Schaumburg Campus

This spring the Sustainability Studies Program at Roosevelt University will offer SUST 330 Biodiversity for at the Schaumburg Campus. Taught by popular Adjunct Professor Maris Cooke in an innovative weekend/hybrid format, the 13-week seminar meets on five Saturdays and utilizes Blackboard for online interaction. The Saturday meetings are opportunities for field study, as detailed below in Prof. Cooke’s preview of the course:

What is biodiversity and why is it important? What factors are threatening the rich and varied abundance of life on Earth, and what are scientists doing to stem the losses in genetic, species and ecosystem variation?  Come take a walk on the wild side as we explore the biodiversity of the Earth’s prairies, woodland communities, wetlands and waters. 

We’ll go behind the scenes at the Field Museum of Natural History; study the oceans and the coral reefs through the rich resources of Shedd Aquarium; follow the springmigration of the nation’s imperiled song birds; learn how scientists track coyotes at the Crabtree Nature Center; and learn to use telemetry data to find the radio-collared wolf packs of Minnesota’s Superior National Forest. Join us as we learn about the importance of conserving biodiversity to our natural systems and human communities. 

Fast Facts about SUST 330 Biodiversity

  • SUST 330, section L30
  • Meets Saturday 10am-4pm on five dates: Feb. 1, Feb. 22, Mar. 8, Mar. 29, and Apr. 19
  • Online interaction required (through Blackboard)
  • Hands-on, field-based learning opportunities about biodiversity and conservation
  • Pre-requisite: ENG 102
  • Taught by: Professor Maris Cooke (

SUST 330 Spr2014 Flyer

If you are interested in enrolling in SUST 330 this coming spring, please contact your academic advisor. And if you’ve never tried an online course before, taking a hybrid course such as this is a great way to “test the waters,” since students will have ample opportunity to interact with the instructor and each other face-to-face, as well as get help/support with the online component if need be. Prof. Cooke is a longtime expert in online teaching and is someone who makes it fun and highly interactive.

Detailed Course Description (from the RU Catalog)

Development, pollution, agriculture, invasive species, and habitat destruction have resulted in an alarming loss of species worldwide. This course explores biodiversity in the context of ecology, conservation, ecosystem restoration, and regional planning. Students learn about a variety of natural science concepts and theories relevant to understanding the biological and ecological significance of biodiversity, such as ecosystems, species, genes, ecological interactions, and evolution. Students will gain a detailed understanding of the importance of conserving biodiversity to natural systems and human communities; and will learn the value of open space, parklands, and wildlife refuges for preserving biodiversity, particularly in urban areas.

Field experiences in selected ecosystems in the region (such as prairie or wetlands restorations, forest preserves, waterways, and/or dunes) provide students with opportunities to learn and apply biodiversity assessment techniques, such as field-based plant or animal surveys. Includes field trip / service learning opportunities with local conservation and restoration organizations in the Chicago region.

Posted in Biodiversity, Education, Schaumburg Campus, Sustainability

New Year’s Resolution for RU’s Schaumburg Campus: Composting and Better Recycling

by Mike Bryson, Associate Professor of Humanities and Director of Sustainability Studies

Colleges and universities throughout the US are increasingly mindful of reducing solid waste production and increasing recycling/composting rates as part of overall efforts to make their physical campus operations more sustainable and less wasteful. Diverting waste away from landfills not only saves landfill space but also reduces associated greenhouse gas emissions.

Roosevelt University has an excellent recycling policy and program in place. The university’s current goals for reducing the waste it generates include a 50% diversion of all solid waste by 2015 at both campuses. An essential step in meeting this laudable goal is to conduct regular and systematic waste audits at both campuses. Students in SUST 240 Waste audited the Wabash Building at the Chicago Campus in Fall 2012, and the Schaumburg campus this past October.

R1-03477-006AWaste and recycling was collected by cleaning staff on Tuesday, Oct 22nd, from three areas of the Schaumburg Campus’ first floor: Two adjacent office areas, a high-traffic corridor and student lounge, and a classroom area. Then, a team of students from my SUST 240 Waste class — Travis Dominguez, Reece Krishnan, Laura Miller Hill, Ken Schmidt, and Tom Shelton (who is also RU’s sustainability coordinator in the Physical Resources department) — spent a few hours on Wednesday, Oct. 23rd, systematically sorting and weighing all the categories of material within the waste and recycling refuse. As we sorted, we segregated the waste by material type according to the EPA’s WARM framework. This allowed us to compare the material types (glass, metal, paper, plastic, food, etc.) in both the trash and recycling streams, and to weigh each material category.

The results varied according to the area of the building we sampled; but in general, way too much recyclable and compostable material is getting into the trash stream at the Schaumburg Campus, and not nearly enough is being diverted into the recycling stream.

SCH waste audit classroom data 2013-10-23As the above graph from our waste audit report shows, there is a relatively good balance of materials in the recycling stream in the classroom area of the campus that was sampled (top bar), but most of the trash stream is potentially recyclable, particularly paper. This potential for improving the diversion rate is aptly illustrated by the graph below, which documents the percentage of material (by weight) within the trash stream that day which could’ve been either recycled or composted. Had that been done, the waste diversion rate would’ve exceeded 70% — way above the university’s near-term goal of 50%, thus saving space in existing landfills and reducing associated greenhouse gas emissions.

SCH waste audit % recyclable 2013-10-23As a result of our Schaumburg Campus waste audit this past fall, SUST 240 Waste students note that the waste diversion rate can be vastly improved by the following measures:

  1. Providing more recycling bins (for metal, glass, and plastic) in the office areas. Right now there are paper recycling bins, but nothing else.
  2. Designating “Recycling Captains” for each office area and academic unit (e.g., college) who can champion recycling in that part of the building.
  3. Educating students, faculty, and staff on proper recycling protocol through new student orientation, staff training, posters, etc.
  4. Implementing on-site composting for food and yard waste, which would divert a tremendous amount of organic material from landfill and provide soil for the community garden.
  5. Banning bottled water, plastic bottles, and single-use “K-cups” from campus to decrease unnecessary plastic waste.

Find the full report here: pdf

The SUST 240 Waste Audit team: Laura, Tom, Ken, Reece, and Travis (photo: M. Bryson)

The SUST 240 Waste Audit team: Laura, Tom, Ken, Reece, and Travis
(photo: M. Bryson)

Posted in Education, Events, Pollution, Recycling, Roosevelt, Schaumburg Campus, Students, Waste | 1 Comment

DIVVY Bike Program and Chicago’s Suburbs

by Tom Shelton for SUST 210

By now, most people have heard of DIVVY, unless of course you live under a rock. For those of us who do live under rocks, DIVVY is the new Chicago bike share program which aims to take back the streets from those pesky gas guzzling motorcars. Everyone upcycle your driving gloves into biking gloves, because the suburbs are looking for a piece of the action!

Photo: WBEZ Chicago Public Radio

Photo: WBEZ Chicago Public Radio

According to our public radio folks at WBEZ, the suburbs of Oak Park and Evanston have applied for federal funding to expand DIVVY out into the suburbs. How much funding you ask? Well, the US Department of Transportation has provided $25 million for the DIVVY program that could become the largest in the nation if the expansions are approved.

Wonderful — Oak Park and Evanston are getting another alternate form of transportation! Wait a minute; don’t Oak Park and Evanston already have CTA and Metra? Yes, they do! Cool, now all those high income folks can ride their bikes to the train and get to work even faster! Does anyone else see a trend here?

What about the long advocated-for Red Line expansion project to the south suburbs? How about expanding DIVVY in those communities, where people currently have less income and fewer public transportation opportunities? Oh wait, that’s not happening yet. According to Gabe Klein at DIVVY, they are expanding to Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood in the spring, but no other comments were made about the criticism that DIVVY does not serve the poor areas on the South and West side of the city, let alone lower-income South or West Side suburbs like Maywood or Cicero. How much further is the program really going to go in some of the poorest and most violent areas in the nation? What about the depressed low-income south suburbs or places like Joliet?

Alternative transportation is all well and good, but when it’s not paired with a program to assist those who cannot even get transportation when they need it because of socioeconomic status it really does nothing but generate profit. With all the problems in the new rollout of the CTA Ventra system, I’d like to see what people on the South and West Sides of the city as well as their neighboring suburbs have to say about DIVVY coming their way.


Each week during the Fall 2013 semester, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 210 Sustainable Future online class at Roosevelt University will contribute blog posts on suburban sustainability issues to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.

Posted in Biking, Chicago, Economics, News, Students, Sustainability, Transportation | Tagged

Sustainability at Elgin Community College

by Yesenia Lopez for SUST 210

The city of Elgin is a northwest suburb of Chicago, IL, that has been noticed for its recent changes and its efforts in promoting sustainability. The city has drawn up a detailed plan of action to establish a more sustainable community. Elgin is also home to Elgin Community College, which is an affordable option for the first two years of a college career and a good choice for technical school. The college is also undertaking significant initiatives in various areas of sustainability.

As reported here by the Elgin Courier News, “In 2010 ECC gave sustainability its own division at the college: Sustainability, Safety & Career Technologies.” The college also created a sustainability committee that focuses on different things they can implement at the campus to make it more sustainable. The campus also joined the Illinois Green Economy Network, which involves community colleges all over Illinois that work toward creating a more sustainable future through curriculum development, campus planning, job readiness preparation, and other initiatives.

ECC's Health and Life Science Center

ECC’s Health and Life Science Center

In recent years the college has undergone many changes/additions to its campus, and they are not done yet, as future plans include the addition of a sustainability center.  Current sustainability efforts at the campus include planting of native vegetation in wetlands at the Spartan and Rener Drives, as well as participation in the Prairie at Home program. Small changes that are underway are the installation of water bottle refilling stations, and effort to make office and classroom processes as paperless as possible, and getting the college’s new buildings LEED certified. These two new buildings include the Health and Life Science Center and the Renner Academic Library, which were constructed with renewable resources.

ECC's Library

ECC’s Library

It is exciting to see current and future efforts by ECC. They are on the right track and these accomplishments and goals should spark great interest from the community. The addition of sustainability within different parts of the academic and technical curricula is also a great advancement; not a lot of schools in the area offer such choices, and thus ECC is making a substantial contribution to fostering sustainability within the region’s educational landscape.

McFarland, E. (2012, June 18). ECC sustains green efforts with passion for native plants. Elgin Courier News. Retrieved December 6, 2013, from

Each week during the Fall 2013 semester, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 210 Sustainable Future online class at Roosevelt University will contribute blog posts on suburban sustainability issues to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.

Posted in Architecture, Education, Elgin, Landscaping, Students, Sustainability | Tagged

Asian Carp Continue to Threaten Great Lakes Ecosystem

by Jim Lockefeer for SUST 210

It appears that the invasive fish known as Asian carp are making their way to Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes. According to an article posted on the Daily Herald’s website on November 6th, 2013, Asian carp DNA has been found and detected in Lake Michigan. Asian carp are huge, plankton-eating, and fast-reproducing fish that are known around the Midwest because of their sheer numbers and their ability to leap out of the water when startled from boat engines.

Silver carp jumping out of the Illinois River near Havana, IL (Source:

Silver carp jumping out of the Illinois River near Havana, IL

Both of these non-native, invasive species — bighead and silver carp — come from Southeast Asia; they were brought to the Southern US in the 1970s and were placed in fish farm ponds to control algal growth. They soon, however, escaped the confines of these aquaculture operations, spread across much of the central US, and are currently found in the Mississippi River, Illinois River, and in the waters of 23 states.

According to this article it’s unknown whether or not this DNA sample came from an a live fish or not. Chris Jerde, a Notre Dame biologist, compares this sample to a “smoke detector” and if a few more samples are found it will lead to a “fire.” Whether these samples came from alive or dead Asian carp, one thing is for sure: they are a huge environmental and economic threat and are on the verge of invading Lake Michigan.

Source: U.S. Geological Survey

Source: U.S. Geological Survey

These fish are known to be very adaptable, aggressive, and fast-growing, and thus are already a serious threat to many rivers and lakes. Because of these characteristics, Asian carp are out-competing many native fish species for food and habitat, which causes a huge strain on ecosystems. US Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, has even gone as far to say, “These fish could destroy the Great Lakes ecosystem, as well as boating and fishing industries and hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

Stabenow isn’t the only government official that has voiced her opinion on the matter and called for action. In fact an article was posted on the Daily Herald a day after (November 7th) the article above was posted, explaining how all 16 US senators from the Great Lakes states are urging quick action to stop the movement of these carp from entering the Great Lakes. As of now all we can hope for is that this DNA sample that was found is only just a “smoke detector” that has actually made this serious matter more urgent to discuss and eventually combat.

Each week during the Fall 2013 semester, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 210 Sustainable Future online class at Roosevelt University will contribute blog posts on suburban sustainability issues to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website. For more on the threat posed by Asian carp to the Great Lakes ecosystem, see these posts on Prof. Mike Bryson’s faculty website, as well as these articles on the SUST at RU blog.

Posted in Biodiversity, Chicago, Conservation, Economics, Invasive Species, Planning, Students, Sustainability, Water | Tagged