Untapped Urban Land Resource: the Chicago Transit Authority

by Katie Budney for SUST 240

Most of us are familiar with the CTA as a method of transportation. Fewer of us are aware that the agency also operates in a landlord capacity. The CTA rents parking spaces, offices, and retail spaces to interested commuters and business owners. Any ground under the CTA tracks is technically owned by the agency. This means that all the coffee shops, corner markets, and bike repair shops directly under the train tracks are renting space from the rightful owner: the CTA.

Someone who has only spent time around RU’s Chicago campus wouldn’t know it, but in other parts of the city, the elevated train tracks often have barren patches of grass and gravel underneath them. Jack Meyer, a longtime Boystown resident, has found a creative use for this land by renting it from the CTA. He’s turned a shady spot under the tracks into a charming retreat, in lieu of a traditional backyard. His innovative use of the space reminded me that living in a big city means finding the hidden corners of tranquility.

If someone wanted to create an urban garden in a highly-trafficked, very visible area, using CTA property could be a great way to do it. It would be a cool means of engaging people and raising awareness of the possibilities of urban agricultural spaces. Unlike some other sources of land for urban gardens, it’s not a free option. However, with some fundraising, it could potentially be an interesting prospect. It is important to draw attention to all available options when space is so limited.

I am sure that using CTA property as land for urban farming is not the point at which our creativity snaps. Maybe we could form relationships with commercial buildings to use their rooftops, basements, or patios as places to grow food, compost, or tend green rooftops. Even the private property of sustainability-minded Chicagoans might be a viable option (assuming they gave their full, informed consent, of course). The Chicago Park District has options for people who want to start a community garden on public property, and resources for participating in existing community gardens. What other territory can we cover? Who else can we collaborate with to make Chicago a more eco-friendly city? Fortunately for us, human ingenuity is an unlimited resource.

Each week during the Fall 2014 semester, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 210 Sustainable Future and SUST 240 Waste classes at Roosevelt University will contribute blog posts on urban and suburban sustainability issues to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.

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About Suburban Sustainability

Founder and editor of the Schaumburg's Sustainability Future social media project (est. Earth Day, 2011)
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