Chicago, Illinois was historically known for its meat packaging industry, as well as their rail yards and steel plants. These industries are what helped form Chicago into the magnificent city that it is today— by initiating two successful waves of unionization and inspiring Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle to name a few. Unfortunately, with these industries comes a great deal of pollution that plagues its past and present residents. Chicago’s own Little Village is no exception. Through decades of unjust policies and environmental racism, more than half of the community’s land is dedicated to industrial uses like large warehouses, asphalt plants, and oil facilities. As a result, Little Village’s air quality is among the worst in Illinois, causing many of its residents to suffer from health conditions like asthma.
However, the community members are not so easily disheartened. For years, the residents and environmental justice advocates have pressured the City of Chicago to help clean the pollutant-riddled messes. In 2012, Little Village was able to successfully push the close of one of the area’s heaviest polluters–Chicago’s Crawford and Fisk coal plant linked to years of asthma attacks, emergency room visits, and premature deaths. Unfortunately, the victory was short-lived. Currently, the plant is being torn down and replaced by a one-million-square-foot distribution warehouse that will generate significant daily diesel semi-truck traffic. The warehouse, Hilco Redevelopment Partners based in Northbrook, is said to have the potential to create 360 construction jobs and 178 permanent warehouse jobs. Regardless of the economic benefits, this news has sparked anger among residents and concerns of swapping one air pollutant for another.
Despite the pushback from the community, the Chicago Plan Commission voted in favor of the warehouse’s development, and the facility is expected to be completed in early 2020. Activists had called the developer to sign a Community Benefits Agreement ensuring that the project would not negatively impact the health of nearby residents. While the development is expected to create 178 permanent positions, opponents are also calling for written guarantees that the Hilco complex would pay a living wage, provide unionized jobs, and employment opportunities for undocumented area residents.
Written by Ana Mendoza