Historic Victory for Environmental Justice on Chicago’s South Side

The city of Chicago has agreed to take significant steps to remediate decades of discriminatory zoning and land use policies.

2 minute read

August 31, 2023, 5:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

An aerial view of the South Side of Chicago, with Lake Michigan to the left in the distance.

Nicholas / Adobe Stock

A May 2023 settlement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and three South Side environmental justice organizations (Southeast Environmental Task Force, the South East Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke, and People for Community Recovery) will require the city of Chicago to take significant actions to prevent and reverse decades of discriminatory land use and development practices that placed the burden of pollution on disadvantaged communities.

An article by Gina Ramirez for the National Resources Defense Council refers to the locations and communities in the city subject to the pollution of industrial facilities and other noxious uses as “sacrifice zones.”

According to the Ramirez, the settlement requires the city’s chief sustainability officer and the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) to share the results of a cumulative impact assessment (CIA) with both the mayor and the chair of the city council’s Committee on Environmental Protection and Energy by October 31, 2023. The goal of the report: to begin a public process for the development of a cumulative impacts ordinance, designed to “change business as usual in Chicago and begin to dismantle the structures that created sacrifice zones in the first place.”

Moreover, “The Office of Climate and Environmental Equity (OCEE) and CDPH will lead a team of representatives from across city departments to address environmental impacts and develop an Environmental Justice Action Plan by Sept. 1, 2023, to address cumulative impacts and change internal policies for better protection.”

Also, “The settlement includes a commitment from the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) to submit a plan that will propose updating zoning regulations, such as the alteration or elimination of permitted-by-right or special use status for manufacturing, recycling, waste-related, and other intensive industrial land uses in commercial, manufacturing, and planned manufacturing zoning districts.”

There are more actions required of the city, including steps to improve date transparency and partnerships, as well as adding new public information resources for the city’s Industrial Corridor Modernization Initiative, Chicago Sustainable Development Policy, and the Chicago Plan Commission, along with other land use initiatives.

More info on the settlement is available in a May 12, 2023 press release from HUD. One of the community groups that helped achieve the settlement, People for Community Recovery, has since been threatened with eviction from its longtime home at Chicago Housing Authority’s Altgeld Gardens in Riverdale.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023 in The National Resources Defense Council

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