By Tiffany Mucci
Since its incorporation as a city in the mid-1800s, Joliet has been solidly rooted in industry. It’s maintained the nickname of “Stone City,” and the high school mascot is a hulk-like “Steelman.” Before industrialization ever took place, the land on which Joliet was founded is eloquently described by the city’s website as “marked by bluffs to the west of the Des Plaines River Valley , at the time well-timbered, and by gently rolling prairie” (City, 2015). However, having grown up in Joliet myself, I cannot describe my hometown with the same beautiful imagery. My description does not include bluffs or vast prairies, but instead is marked with smokestacks and odd smells, with farmland and forest/prairie restoration projects at the edges of town.
The southern region of Joliet holds much of the city’s industry today, in particular a cluster of industrial plants and waste sites huddled around the Des Plaines River, and spilling south and southwest into the nearby Illinois towns of Channahon, Elwood, and Wilmington. Six of these sites will be examined for their toxic contributions to the environment and surrounding communities: the Amoco Chemicals Joliet Landfill, two Superfund sites at the former Joliet Army Ammunition Plant, the CDT Landfill, Caterpillar Inc., and Midwest Generation.
As these sites are being closed, cleaned up, or relocated, many residents of this predominantly blue-collar community are reluctant to let go of the disappearing industries which once served as the backbone of the city. However, these recent vacancies in the local economy are also opportunities for sustainable growth for this highly diverse community.