The Importance of Greening and Grant Program

Mark Schipper

In Berlin, Germany, the Tiergarten lays like a green forest-blanket across the long center of the modern capital. It is an urban forest of nearly 500 acres that Berliners call the Green Lungs of the city.

In the very old days it had been a wild hunting grounds for the Prussian kings and their sharply disciplined aristocracy. After World War II, when it was a bombed out and splintered wreck of shattered timber, the Germans knew it must be rebuilt to restore the natural world they had always kept intact.

Daniel_Burnham_c1890Chicago was lucky that it had city planners who somehow saw more than one hundred years into the future. There has been a purposeful preservation of lakefront, prairie, wetland and woodlands alongside the creation of park spaces since Daniel Burnham’s famous City Plan of 1909.

“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood,” said Burnham at the turn of the 20th century. “Make big plans. Aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever growing insistency.”

Burnham believed no Chicagoan should be outside of walking distance to a park. He drew also plans for a necklace of broad boulevards—with generous medians shaded by trees—encircling the city. They were to run through sprawling parks that Burnham visualized as the green pearls of the necklace.

Now, 105 years later, the old planner’s green vision is asserting itself with more insistency than ever before. While his outlook had visionary scale, yours need not to make Chicago a more living, breathing city than it ever has been.

There are many ways to “green” a place. The term itself is nothing more than an umbrella concept for the idea of making man-made urban centers more natural, healthy and environmentally sustainable places to live. It means being a responsible citizen and giving back to the landscape you inhabit some of what you take in the course of living your life.

Greener-REV2013-solidLocally, the Ravenswood Community Council maintains an initiative called “A Greener Ravenswood” to raise funds for landscaping projects and educational events. On Feb. 27 they invited a series of guests with experience using sustainable practices in their professional lives to set up stations at Dolce Casa, 4857 N. Damen Avenue, and talk to the public.

Jeff Leider of Beekeeper’s Reserve brought a hive box along with his protective suit and a smoker that he kept closed up in a bucket beneath the table. Reider, who tends 80 hives across Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, was there to teach people about the importance of the docile honeybee to the natural world.

bee-pollen-3“Without honeybees we would be crippled,” said Leider. “We wouldn’t be able to produce enough food. Everything but wheat, corn and rice is pollinated by bees.

“Look at California, the almond capital of the world. However many thousands of acres of almonds there, we need about 1.7 million hives to go out there and pollinate those crops. Sometimes we don’t have enough bees to do it so it effects prices and productivity. At one point there’s going to be so much demand for food crops that we don’t have the supply to meet it.”

Leider emphasized the importance of the environment to the healthy functioning of honeybees. Pesticides, insecticides, fungicides and a host of other unnecessary chemicals people use to treat their home lawns and gardens are fatal to bees. If chemicals get on the flowers and poison the nectar or on the trees and pollen that bees bring back to their hives it can stop honey from fermenting in the cells.

“Almost every chemical we use here is banned in other countries,” said Leider.

If there is no honey the bees have no food and cannot do their work. If the bees cannot do their work everything humans love, from almonds, pears, coconuts, blueberries, strawberries, apples, cabbage, broccoli, mustard, cucumbers and hundreds of other crops are in danger of never being pollinated or growing at all.

This is the conscientious green way of thinking about the world. Consideration is given to an insect as seemingly inconsequential as the honeybee with the understanding that beyond the reach of your eyes is where most of the important work of the world happens, and what you do has an enormous capacity for affecting it.

JordanRoseJordan Rose, who co-owns and runs River Valley Farmer’s Table out of the former City Provisions space on Wilson Avenue, was at Dolce Casa as a mushroom farmer. He brought a feast of hors d’oeuvres–stuffed mushrooms, chili with onions, and mushroom and kale tamales with a hot tomato sauce—from the restaurant.

Rose’s family has been growing mushrooms and farming 38 years off of Highway 60 near Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. It began when his grandfather, a restaurant owner and chef in Chicago, could not find a mushroom to meet his quality standards and learned how to farm them himself.

At the farm, which has grown to 35 acres, they make compost and farm herbs and vegetables—garlic, onions, tomatoes, onions, shallots, asparagus, basil, along with the mushrooms.

They harvest their crops and load them into an Isuzu Cube Truck with an aftermarket modification to make it a zero emissions vehicle, and truck them into the city. In addition to the restaurant, Rose said they sell their produce and products at 30 Farmers’ Markets a week.

“Working on a farm and having a very symbiotic relationship with the land sort of gives you that feeling of responsibility,” said Rose.

“A lot of farms are not necessarily clean operations, they’re massive polluters, there’s a lot of waste generated, they have all this chemical sludge that runs off, and mushroom growing by its very nature is an ecological process. We’re taking the byproducts and turning it into a food crop. Aside from just feeling like the right thing to do, it makes good business sense. We try to be a zero loss facility, everything finds a use somewhere.”

The idea of being green, or responsible to your environment, is so broad and open to possibility that a person’s imagination is really the limit when it comes to creating ways to do something better, cleaner or more efficiently.

“We take ‘green’ to not only mean planting trees and beautifying, but also to focus on practices that lend themselves to more sustainable lifestyle choices, both personal and business,” said Danielle Inendino, assistant director at RCC.

“That’s from alternative transit, to shop local initiatives, to farmer’s markets, to educating people on how and where to get products that uphold these principles.”

Projects to change the way 47th Ward infrastructure works have been underway for several years. A major upgrade to the streetscape along W. Lawrence Ave. between N. Western and N. Ashland Avenues is in its middle stages.

The $13 million project to modernize the roadway includes several integral pieces of green technology. The sidewalk pavers are permeable to allow storm water and runoff to sink more quickly into the ground and flow evenly into the city’s sewers.

The same span is also integrating the amazing bioswales—which allow plants and trees dug into the earth along a soiled slope with a channel—to filter the pollutants from storm water before it’s allowed to run into the underground pipes.

Charles Daas, former RCC Executive Director; Rosemary and Gene Schulter,  Jeremy Custer

Charles Daas, former RCC Executive Director; Rosemary and Gene Schulter, Jeremy Custer

The streetscape is also an aesthetic project, with opportunities to plant flowers, bushes and trees at certain intersections and medians. Volunteers at the Gene and Rosemary Schulter Foundation raised more than $10,000 to support the community’s efforts.

The first $2,500 has been entrusted to the Ravenswood Community Council to award five micro-grants of $500 each for getting out in the spring and planting at specific intersections along the roadway. In each of the next three years, the Schulter Foundation’s largesse will make $2,500 available to continue the work.

The grants could become just seed money—so to speak—for a larger fundraising effort and broader grass roots effort to make the community healthier and more aesthetically appealing. To apply for the grants, individuals and groups must contact the RCC, which is administering the program, with well defined proposals.

The Schulter Foundation asks that you state clearly who you are, what and where you intend to make your plantings, and who will be responsible for watering and maintaining the flora after it has been rooted in the earth. Plans are being made to work with the City on training sessions for initial plantings and maintenance.

“This will perpetuate the idea that our neighborhood is a living, breathing thing—and we need to care for it as such,” said Inendino. “Green vistas and a vibrant local economy are things that Ravenswood has boasted historically. We’re here to kick it up a notch and provide those additional connections that our creative, engaged constituents want to know about, and to support and enhance connections for those who already do.”

Ravenswood-SchoolBigAnother big project is the $1.5 million “Green Not Gray” playground at Ravenswood Elementary School, 4332 N. Paulina St. That project started October of 2013 when the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency awarded the school one of 13, $750,000 green infrastructure grants to participate in managing storm water runoff.

The City of Chicago added $350,000 to the project and fundraising covered the rest. What’s being created includes 6,500 total square feet of rain gardens with downspouts from the buildings to pour water directly over their plants and soil. The school will plant 27 new trees over its grounds to absorb water and pollutants while producing clean oxygen.

Beneath the 15,000 square feet of pavers—which again have been made permeable—is underground storage for ground water, preventing the sewers from flooding in heavy weather. The school will keep 4,000 gallon cisterns to collect rainwater and reuse it for crop and plant irrigation.

The work of greening can be done anywhere and by anyone with conscience for it and the energy for the work. For those looking to become involved in Ravenswood and the 47th Ward, the RCC is going to stage a second greening educational series and benefit June 12, 5-7 p.m. at Beyond Design, 4515 N. Ravenswood Ave.

Its purpose is to focus on Ravenswood’s hyperlocal vendors introducing topics and products based around sustainable business practices. There will be beer, food and music paired with the educational and local shopping opportunities.

The RCC can be found on the web at


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