By Ed Hallisy
Chicago and its surrounding suburban communities are things to marvel at. The access to Lake Michigan and the seemingly endless prairie-lands make up a diverse and unique landscape to live in. The changes that were required in order to settle this area to make it economically viable also put roadblocks between us and nature. This brings us to today’s challenge of balancing economic growth with preservation of the environment freely given to us.
This essay focuses on the Village of Lombard and biodiversity challenges facing it. Lombard is located in DuPage County about 20 miles west of Chicago. The town has a total of 43,000 people within an area of 10.5 square miles. Within this land area Lombard has 18 parks for the use of the residents. As noted on the village website, there is an “Environmental Concerns Committee which developed the Sustainability Framework to comprehensively identify programs, accomplishments and goals in the areas of Air, Greenhouse Gasses, Water, Transportation, Land Use, Waste Diversion and Energy Use. The Village will engage residents, businesses and organizations to make continual progress in the effort to be a sustainable community.”
Biodiversity is defined as the variety of life in the world or in a particular habitat or ecosystem. It is crucial not only to sustaining the basic elements of life, it is also vital for quality of life concerns. It is of concern in both urban and suburban areas with many initiatives underway to sustain biodiversity. I am focusing here on biodiversity in suburban areas in large part to understand the area I live in better.
Many people move to or live in suburban areas because of the lifestyle it affords them. This includes their relationship to the environment as well as to other people. There is simply more space available in suburban areas. There are typically more grasslands, trees and a much stronger connection to nature in general. However, there is limited amount of space in the world and not all suburban areas provide large open land. Even in towns such as Lombard, the space surrounding each home may be anything but diverse. As suburbs become more prevalent and their populations increase, there is a legitimate concern as to how the finite resources of an area are used. Fixing the rainforest is important and necessary, but do we need to travel somewhere else to help create a more diverse area that can thrive?
No, we can get to work in our own communities. For example, the Village of Lombard could promote a more direct manner of helping fix and prevent many biodiversity issues today. Taking action at home is an easy way to start. Today most people would concede that humans have had some impact on the world in which we live. Specifically, as we have sprawled outward from city centers, the surrounding area have been significantly altered. A large part of this impact is specific to suburban areas. Douglas Tallamay’ article “A Call for Backyard Biodiversity” looks at the loss of native flora and fauna plants and how we can go about regenerating them. He discusses at the population explosion and the impact that has had on the environment. The decline of these plants has a far reaching ripple effect which has altered the environment as a whole. However, it is not all doom and gloom, as Tallamay offers a plan and strategy to repair the damage from our own backyards.
The ideas that Tallamay promotes really center on the concept of personal involvement. While Lombard has resources available and even a committee devoted to “Sustainability,” there is not an apparent outreach to residents in the community to get them involved. While the efforts they have taken are most definitely steps in the right direction, there is still more to be done. The Village of Schaumburg provides a great example of not only promoting these ideas but actually getting involved with city buildings and getting the business community to take action as well. This is something that would definitely have a positive impact in the Lombard community.
There are many great examples in other communities around the world that provide unique ideas relevant to the challenge of maintaining and promoting biodiversity in the Village of Lombard. While each community may have some different circumstances, they all grapple with the issue of people and their impact on the local ecology.
In considering the human part of the equation, the work of James Miller and Richard Hobbs, “Conservation Where People Live and Work,” explores communities similar to the Lombard area. Specifically they looked at the impacts of human settlements. Miller and Hobbs point out that while the largest land use in the world is human settlements, less than 6% of all works on conservation biology look at city/suburban areas and how humans have impacted the land. Where people live and where people work are two key factors. How do we get to work and what are the environmental impacts of “us”.
Lombard, just like many of its surrounding communities, originates from old railroad lines. At the time of its founding and as recently as 50 years ago, the community was largely grassland. As the town has grown and expanded way beyond that of an old railroad stop, so have people changed the landscape with housing and shopping areas. The once hilly landscape has been largely leveled to accommodate new malls. This expansion has impacted the areas in large part due to the human settlements noted above. So what lessons can be learned from studying these settlements?
Human behavior is such that to maintain order and provide everyone with some level of security or protection, there must be a set of laws that we all agree to follow. Coexisting with the environment is no different. This begs the question of how general vs. how specific to each community do laws need to be? Lombard has no major conflicts with federal guidelines as some other communities do. This conflict is the real problem according to Jamison Colburn in “Localism’s Ecology: Protecting and Restoring Habitat in the Suburban Nation.” Colburn claims a major problem is ability of local governments to blatantly undermine federal laws. They do this by passing their own legislation with loopholes or setting aside the penalties of Federal guideline.
While there are many people who look to the EPA to do more, there is a limit to what the Federal government can do in local communities. The structure of our government provides for a very strong local government. The real power of our governments lies at the local level despite the immense powers of the Federal government. So, a federal law may be necessary and appropriate, however, it may not be applicable or even favorable to a certain community. Therefore, that particular community decides to pass its own legislation which can have the end result of weakening or even completely eroding the federal law.
Colburn advocates spending time, energy and resources at the local level to influence laws that really matter. I believe in the case of Lombard, this is true. Every town has some sense of community. In order to get improvements made that will have a serious impact and create lasting change, we must utilize resources locally to get things done.
Part of getting things done in today’s world often times means restoration. A good, albeit far away, example of people taking the initiative and helping to restore their own communities comes from Bill and Noela Jones. They took an area that had been previously altered for the sake of its looks that was causing many environmental problems and try to undo the damage done. Through their efforts, they were able to get native plants to grow again and in turn attract many native animals to help restore the area to its previous health. This is a great example of what can happen when people of a given community choose to get involved and take action.
While Lombard’s main biodiversity challenges are with the mall and housing development areas, the same actions are required to make this community one that can thrive. Taking action close to home will help ensure the impact is meaningful. With an involved and active community any future development plans will take into account the impact on the entire community.
Finally, taking what we have learned from the past and looking to the future, we can use the lessons learned to plan for a better future. It has become apparent that we need to work with nature. The way that we plan our communities and human habitats will greatly assist in helping average people create the backyard biodiversity that Tallamay called for. In addition, Alan Bull and David Hawkworth wrote a piece titled “Human Exploitation and Biodiversity Conservation” which looks at the planning phase. It is easy to forget about people living in and working in biodiverse areas. Knowing what needs to be protected and monitored is a key consideration. During the planning phase there are many goals that conservationists look to achieve. There are many things to consider but one that often gets overlooked is making conservation efforts work in harmony with the people that are living in a given area. Even when considering some remote areas of the world, there are still indigenous groups to be considered. The balance that needs to be kept between the goals of biodiversity and the actual use of resources of a given area is the focus of Hawksworth’s work. He compiled a list of works looking at what he terms the front lines. Lombard also has to take into consideration its residents when it makes decisions on how to make positive change.
Lombard is an average town with average people. I selected it in part because it is very Midwestern in its character and seemingly very typical of our region of the country. It was a pleasant surprise to see that there are in fact some initiatives underway to address the issues of biodiversity and sustainability. While these programs could be publicized more and have more community involvement, the fact remains that there is a strong push towards living in harmony with the environment. There are many areas that can use improvement but it is very refreshing to see that the groundwork has been laid for a sustainable future in the Village of Lombard.
Colburn, J. (2006). Localism’s Ecology: Protecting and Restoring Habitat in the Suburban Nation. University of California.
Hawksworth, D. & Bull, A. (2006). Human Exploitation and Biodiversity Conservation. The Netherlands: Springer.
Jones, B. & Jones, N. (2009). Streetcare: a new way of incorporating biodiversity in the suburbs? Ecological Society of Australia.
Miller, J., & Hobbs, R. (2001). Conservation Where People Live and Work. Wiley.
Tallamay, Douglas. (Autumn 2009). A Call For Backyard Biodiversity. American Forests.
Banner image: downtown Lombard IL (E. Weems)