By Tom Shelton
Originally I had hoped to find a suburb of Chicago to explore in terms of sustainability simply because I feel like I know this place like the back of my hand. I could have chosen the obvious suburbs which are doing some nice things with sustainability like Oak Park or Evanston. I could have chosen Schaumburg, or perhaps my old home town of Oak Lawn. There are plenty of suburbs in Chicagoland, and many of them do in fact have sustainability on their radar. It is nice to see that, but I personally have had enough with Chicago, which is why I moved out to the suburbs in the first place.
However, as I have found living in the west suburbs, the city is really not that far away and it really isn’t that different. So, in an attempt to connect my current situation with my future hopes and dreams, and as an excuse to do a little research into where I would like to live in a place I have been dreaming of for the better part of my life we will be looking at Shoreline, Washington. Shoreline is a suburb of the Emerald City, which is better known as Seattle.
Currently I reside in a suburb of Chicago called Forest Park. It is a small suburb near the western edge of the city with more dead residents than living – by about a 30 to 1 ratio (Forest Park Review, 2013). On a map, it’s easy to see why I would say that. Forest Park has more cemeteries than any other part of the Chicago metropolitan area, which is nice if you’re a Goth kid I suppose. Other than that, Forest Park has a glut of transit connections, which in terms of sustainability is nice. We have the end of the blue and green lines on the CTA about five to eight blocks from our apartment, as well as two Metra stations and a major highway about the same distance away from our front door.
Forest Park is not a food desert, nor is it in the center of a petcoke ash scandal. In fact, those of us who live in Forest Park should really consider ourselves lucky to reside in such an upscale little part of the world. I actually like it here, which is saying a lot for a kid who has dreamed of leaving Chicago for the better part of two decades. I’m not going to sugar coat it, I hate Chicago. I hate the politics, the people, the transit system, the traffic, the sports teams, the weather, and even the skyline nauseates me for whatever reason; but if I absolutely had to stay here for the rest of my days I would live in Forest Park. It’s my little oasis in this desert of flat land, oppressive hot headed people, and deep dish pizza. I actually love deep dish pizza, so I guess Chicago has at least that going for it. Forest Park is friendly enough, quiet enough, close enough to just about everything, and the municipal government seems to stay out of people’s business, unlike many others in Illinois. They don’t have many ordinances compared to places like the People’s Republic of Evanston or the Socialist Republic of Oak Park, aside from an overzealous and often times blindly inept parking enforcement division. For a supposedly sustainable community like Oak Park, it sure does have a glut of useless and often intrusive ordinances. (Oak Park Municipal Code) (Forest Park Municipal Code)
Most notably, one thing Forest Park does lack is a sustainability plan, or rather any mention of sustainability at all. Part of me thinks this place is a mob-safe zone of sorts with the surprising difficulty of being able to research anything about this town (Forest Park). The town does have a “Comprehensive Plan” written back in 2001 which is fairly in depth, but really focuses more on maintaining the character of the town rather than fostering a real sense of sustainability or lessening the impact of traffic on our already extremely congested streets. I think it’s a nice start, but something that in well over a decade has yet to be updated. One thing that stood out for me as quite frankly insane was the entire section dedicated to thinking up new parking expansion areas, blatantly tearing through existing buildings (such as my apartment) to make way for more parking. Forest Park is basically in the center of Chicagoland, right at a nexus of every possible transportation option available to the average Midwesterner aside from a runway, and the town thinks it’s a good idea to add more cars to the mix? Obviously this never happened, and I think the town is more sustainable as a result. (Comprehensive Plan, 2001)
It’s strange to see the difference in planning between a town like Forest Park and a town like Shoreline just north of Seattle in Washington. (Shoreline Sustainability Page) Forest Park’s 78- page comprehensive plan is a joke compared to Shoreline’s 182-page in-depth Environmental Sustainability Strategy updated in July of 2008 or their 244-page Transportation Master Plan updated in 2011. (Shoreline ESS, 2008) (Shoreline Transit Master Plan) I was speechless after reading through these two documents and paging through the community’s website. This town has basically created a framework for every municipality to follow in every aspect of sustainability. As might be expected, the town took many of their ideas from Seattle, which by far is one of the most impressively green cities in the United States.
In an interesting parallel to Chicago, Seattle has its own nightmarish traffic problem. Interstate 5 runs north and south right through downtown Seattle as well as through downtown Shoreline, and if you look at a traffic map at any point during rush hour it has been known to make people’s heads explode. I have personally had the pleasure of traveling along I-5 during rush hour after a Mariners game and would not recommend the adventure to anyone.
Luckily, Seattle and Shoreline have a solution to this problem, or rather multiple solutions. For one, I was able to take advantage of the carpool lane the second time I went out to Seattle because I drove with my fiancée. More importantly, when I do end up living out there, I will have the pleasure of taking the new Link Light Rail train (pictured at right) from Shoreline to Seattle as well as a new streetcar line down Broadway to go to my favorite noodle place. It’s refreshing to see a plan actually come to fruition as opposed to constant talk of a Red or Blue Line expansion with no results.
Instead of adding more parking spaces, Shoreline has decided to increase its transit options and maintain walkability. Forest Park is right at the center of a major metropolitan area, and should as such rely on mass transit as opposed to more cars. It’s interesting to see the difference in thinking between the two towns.
I have been lucky enough to visit Seattle twice in the past two years, but I have yet to visit Shoreline. Obviously there is just so much to do when you put yourself in a new metropolis, and I of course did all the touristy things before I even thought about looking around for a nice area to perhaps call home in the future, let alone explore some of the sustainable initiatives in the area. I will have to make it a point to check out Shoreline in person next time I head to the Emerald City.
Banner image: Forest Park Park District (grtsaganos, 2010)