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Chicago Neighborhoods Consider Life After Coal

Chris Bentley reports on the complex discussions centered around what to do with the sites of two massive coal plants closing this month in Chicago. As Bentley notes, "what happens to these 132 acres in Chicago could have nationwide implications."
September 26, 2012, 2pm PDT | Emily Williams
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The closing of the Fisk and Crawford coal plants in Chicago's southwest side this month is the result of a variety of factors including mounting concerns from environmental groups and the decrease in natural gas prices. Now the community is faced with the difficult decision of what to do with the two sites, which are owned by Midwest Generation.

A task force set up by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in March has been tackling various reuse ideas that need to address pertinent issues like "historic preservation, environmental cleanup, and unemployment in a rapidly gentrifying area." The project has proven productive thus far, claims Bentley, as negotiations between Midwest Generation and local agencies have been "collaborative and respectful."

"'This is the first brownfield coal site that has engaged in this kind of process with the community,' said Jean Pogge, CEO of the Delta Institute, the Chicago–based non-profit leading the mayor's task force."

Community members have been vocal in their desire to see the sites provide new jobs and green space. Housing was taken off the list due to the sites' industrial zoning and residents' fears of gentrification. The city must determine the toxicity of the areas before any plans move forward.

These plants follow a string of other coal plant closings, as "[m]ore than 100 coal plants have closed nationwide in the last three years, roughly one-sixth the total number of plants in the United States." Worldwide, former coal plant sites have been reborn with a range of inventive uses, from parks to museums. As the discussion over the future of the Fisk and Crawford plants continues, the groups involved "hope the task force will be a model for community engagement, as well as a positive influence on the community in this time of transition."

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Published on Wednesday, September 19, 2012 in The Architect's Newspaper
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