A New American Dream

by Mary Beth Radeck
(April 2011)

Last Century’s Vision

The aerial view of Schaumburg today reveals the impact of progress on the American Dream. Sleek highways, a vast corporate and retail infrastructure support safe, comfortable communities and pastoral homes for baby boom families. One can pursue a career with a nearby Fortune 500 company, pick up groceries, buy any brand of car and more on Golf Road alone. Plentiful, quality schools and universities ensure a bright future for generations to come. Schaumburg participated in a national trend: the creation of suburban areas as major employment hubs as well as residential neighborhoods. Schaumburg is no sleepy haven providing talent and sales to a nearby metropolis. According to Jackson (1985), “by 1970…nine out of the fifteen metropolitan area suburbs were principle sources of employment” (p. 266-267). In the 1970s, Schaumburg was well on its way to realizing the progressive American Dream by constructing office buildings, highways, malls and single-family enclaves.

Today’s Reality

Many things have changed since Schaumburg helped lead the nation to growth and prosperity. Today, according to the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] (2010), Schaumburg’s air quality has been “good” only 50% of the time as stated by CNNMoney.com’s Best places to live 2010 report. Schaumburg’s neighbors Arlington Heights and Mt. Prospect, on the other hand, ranked 59 and 56 respectively. Contributing greatly to air quality are Schaumburg’s roads—which are choked with traffic—and the lack of natural resources to mitigate the pollution. Once open spaces were paved, roofed and turfed, they became so impervious, explained Dennis (2007), that they carry non-point source pollution and sediment (p. 3) directly into lakes and streams, a more serious threat to waterways than industrial pollution is today. Non-point pollution includes road salt, lawn fertilizer, chemicals, sediment and heavy metals from roof shingles and motor vehicles. Contaminated runoff is then diverted by storm sewers and dumped into rivers and streams which channel it to the Mississippi River, and the Gulf of Mexico, where it pollutes the ocean and creates “dead zones.”

In addition to degrading water quality, the speed at which the polluted storm water is channeled into the waterways is very destructive. Storm sewers move water quickly and efficiently, increasing speed and “erosional power” according to the EPA (2003). As storm water strikes a river, it “blast(s) out stream banks, damaging streamside vegetation and wiping out aquatic habitat.” Polluted storm water runoff is destroying streams and rivers and making life within them unsustainable for many species.

Even if all of this news seems bleak, it’s not the end of the world as the Village knows it. Fortunately, Schaumburg has already established itself as a visionary leader of the new sustainable American Dream by initiating plans to adjust as described in two documents: Schaumburg’s Comprehensive Green Action Plan (2008) and Biodiversity Recovery Plan (Applied Ecological Services, Inc., 2004).  Both plans outline the Village’s commitment to reinvent how Schaumburg will shift to an infrastructure which manages rain water and supports life.

The first steps have been taken by village leaders. What’s needed now is a concerted effort from residents, corporations, and retail stores to reduce Schaumburg’s ecological footprint on the world. The Village can make a huge impact to meet today’s challenges with progressive improvements–just as it did in the last century.

Next page: Managing Schaumburg’s Water

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