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Alongside a broad range of related concepts, sustainability has been one of the most commonly discussed topics in the contemporary fields of science, economics, business, and politics. As the number of environmental effects resulting from the anthropogenic activities is growing, and the list of challenges the humanity is expected to face in the future is expanding, sustainability in the present days is becoming a very important and pressing issue.
Due to the global and ubiquitous nature of environmental challenges and the adverse effects of the pollution of the atmosphere and oceans, deforestation, and the destruction of sea beds and ecosystems, the need for sustainable development and practices begins to occur almost in every sphere of people’s daily activities. Moreover, the expanding and irreversible quality of the environmental effects, as well as their wide variety, dictate the complexity of sustainability as a concept, its flexibility, and applicability to many different spheres of life. As one of the most important domains of human activity and social organization, cities require special attention in terms of sustainable planning and development.
In this paper, the concept of the sustainable city will be discussed and explored using an existing urban area (West Loop Area in Chicago) as an example of sustainability or its absence in general terms, regarding the use of land, transportation solutions, possible reconfigurations, street management, and potentially use policies that could help improve the levels of sustainability in the city under analysis.
Sustainable City as a Concept
As specified by Beatley and Manning, there is a certain degree of ambiguity that is typical to the concept of sustainability; differently put, the authors specify that it is not always obvious when present (3). However, the authors add that sustainability is easier to grasp when viewed in application to renewable resources such as freshwater, soils, and forests (Beatley and Manning 5). In addition to being quite difficult to comprehend and describe, the concept of sustainability is also new.
It is especially new when applied to city planning and development; it was powered by the rapid growth of the urban population triggered by the process of globalization and that increased communication and transportation activities. As the density of the population residing in large cities of our planet began to maximize driving the need for more and more resources, city planners started to consider the sustainability of the latter that would help support the expanding numbers of residents without damaging the areas or destroying the environment (Beatley and Manning 6).
When it comes to city planning and development, the society in the United States, as well as its preferences in terms of living conditions are usually characterized with what is known as a sprawl – a set of typical residential behaviors creating dangerous and unsustainable systems (Freilich et al. 23). In particular, some of the most common signs of the sprawl are the large mansions, huge territories, and privately owned lands with communities demanding the same services and conveniences as the urban multistoried buildings, numerous cars often exceeding the number of families living in an area, urban decay, and abandoned sites.
In that way, a sustainable city can be characterized as an urban area recognized for its smart planning helping to minimize the waste of consumed resources such as drinking water, electricity, and event space, minimized rates of pollution of soil, water, and air, with effectively planned and managed streets and roads allowing the free and efficient movement of vehicles.
Sustainability in West Loop Area in Chicago: General Overview
The urban area selected for the analysis and discussion in this paper is the West Loop area in Chicago. This is a territory with a dense population, busy roads, and multiple landmarks and places of attraction.
One of the most noticeable features of the selected area is its busy traffic and a large number of cars on the streets. However, the look at the map of this area helps notice that the roads and well-planned and the districts do not have any isolated parts or the regions reaching which could be a challenge. Large roads are located parallel to one another and allow even traffic movement throughout the entire territory of the area.
Also, as one of the most populated and busy areas of Chicago, West Loop is known for its multiple green initiatives such as green roofs, farmers’ markets, and parks. The areas along the roads are often surrounded by trees; other green oases can be found almost in every block or two. As reported by DNA Info, the West Loop area is known to be at the top of the list of the greenest areas in Chicago (Cox).
Land Use and Transportation
The land of the West Loop area is used very effectively, driving around its blocks and studying its maps, I could not locate any buildings that were inefficiently used or the large private houses that were likely to consume a lot of resources and complicate the way they are delivered and allocated around the districts.
Moreover, as noted by Condon, the effectiveness of the land use in an urban area can be evaluated based on what is referred to as a 5-minute walk rule, according to which the convenient and frequently visited locations such as schools, supermarkets, markets, and other community services could be reached within a five-minute walk (68). This is the case because humans, as practical thinkers are sensitive to minor conveniences and would prefer a brief walk to a series of tasks related to driving and finding parking spots.
In the area selected for this analysis, I could locate a school, a church, several stores and supermarkets, a dental clinic, several parks, and recreation areas, as well as a hotel within a five-minute walk. The only essential facility that I could not seem to locate during my exploration of the area was a hospital.
Regarding the transportation, it is important to mention that a large and very busy multilevel road junction is located in this area; it adds to the amount of traffic as several highways and main roads cross it. In that way, it is possible to conclude that the air in this area suffers from extra pollution brought about by the active traffic. Additionally, it is quite possible that during the busiest days and hours, the blocks with apartment buildings situated near the road also suffer from increased noise pollution. Also, many pedestrians and bicycle riders could be seen around the area; this could be the result of the convenient location of most essential facilities in the areas allowing residents to reach them without having to drive.
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Land use and transportation management are the two aspects that should go hand-in-hand when it comes to finding solutions to the lack of sustainability in any area (Wier). Discussing the sustainability and city planning challenges specific to West Loop area in Chicago, it is important to point out that the issues related to the closeness of the multilevel junction, as well as the passages of many main road and highways are impossible to address by moving these objects or removing them whatsoever. However, the adverse effects of the roads and active traffic could be minimized via a couple of changes.
First of all, since a great deal of air pollution results from the emissions of CO2 produced by the passing vehicles, the initiative aimed at the improvement of the quality of air in the area could design more parks and green areas around the roads. As for the noise pollution, the potential reconfiguration could aim at the relocation of the urban dwellers to the areas situated further away from the highways, which is a very complicated mission to accomplish.
Also, a general policy or a promotion program aiming at the reduction of the number of vehicles in the area (using carpooling, for instance) could be beneficial in terms of traffic.
As specified by Seskin et al., inclusive, sustainable, and safe road use is the primary aspect of the Complete Streets Initiative. As mentioned in one of the previous sections, the five-minute walk rule outlined by Condon applies to the area under discussion. In addition to the well-planned stress, the resources and facilities placed in the area are managed in a smart manner making the most essential locations easy to access without having to start a car.
This aspect of the area’s planning approach is designed for the purpose to encourage walking on the use of green means of transportation such as bicycles as alternatives to driving. In this manner, the planners of the area created the conditions favorable for the reduced use of vehicles, which is especially important for West Loop as its territory is crossed by several highways and the main road, this adding to the amount of traffic passing through.
Based on my evaluation of the area during a personal visit, I was able to locate a wide range of essential facilities such as markets, supermarkets, shopping malls, a dental clinic, a church, a hotel, several parks, and recreation sites, and a school placed within a relatively short distance from one another and several apartment blocks. In that way, I was able to conclude that the streets of West Loop match the main requirements of the Complete Streets Initiative.
Prospects and Policies
Currently, the area under discussion is the carrier of one of the highest scores in the region of Chicago in terms of green initiatives; the score is based on the presence of green roofs, parks, and other green facilities and sites throughout the entire territory, thus improving the quality of air (Cox). This initiative should be taken further in the future and some more green areas should be added around the main roads and especially around the multilevel road junction located in the area that serves as a massive source of air and noise pollution.
The policies recommended for the area could aim at the addition of more green sites, the potential relocation of the dwellers of multistoried apartment buildings from the junction – the initiative that could cause a significant public dissatisfaction if done wrong. Also, another policy for the area could aim at the further minimization of the number of vehicles used in its streets using the promotion of green transportation modes and carpooling.
Beatley, Timothy and Kristy Manning. The Ecology of Place. Island Press, 1992.
Freilich, Robert H. et al. From Sprawl to Sustainability. American Bar Association, n.d.
Condon, Patrick M. Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities. Island Press, n.d.
Cox, Ted. “How Green Is Your Neighborhood? New App Reveals Some Surprises.” DNA Info. 2014. Web.
Seskin, Stefani, et al. Guide to Complete Streets Campaigns. 3rd ed., Alliance for Biking&Walking, 2010.
Wier, Emily and Alisa Zomer. “Land Use Planning: The Critical Part of Climate Action Plans that Most Cities Miss.” The Nature of Cities, n.d.. Web.