Why is there no real dialogue about mega-project on North Branch of Chicago River?

SHARE Why is there no real dialogue about mega-project on North Branch of Chicago River?

The North Branch plan will create over 60 acres of publicly accessible, open space. There will be new fields. New networks of riverfront trails. But critics say the city isn’t being open enough about the project. | Rendering provided by the mayor’s office

Sterling Bay’s 70-plus acre venture on the North Branch of the Chicago River will transform the entire North Side of the city, swelling the daytime population by at least 50,000 occupants — the equivalent size of a new city ward. As if already a done deal, news reports show a year-round, 20,000-seat stadium, a five-venue Live Nation “Disneyland” on the riverbank along with renderings of a sprawling mixed-use development.

However, the developer has yet to come to the community with any plans. Ald. Brian Hopkins states there is no done deal. Mayor Emanuel says he is “looking forward to the … community-driven process … ” claiming there is an appetite for the mega project.

But, taxpayers have been clamoring to be heard on the most important development in our backyard in a century. We represent community organizations encompassing 200,000 residents on both sides of the river. For over 50 years, our volunteer groups have fought to ensure residents have a seat at the development table. Historically we have. Until now.

SEND LETTERS TO: letters@suntimes.com. Please include your neighborhood or hometown and a phone number for verification purposes.

Last year, the city Department of Planning and Development held public meetings about how to transform the former North Branch Industrial area. Residents repeatedly questioned vague guidelines that left more questions than answers while leaving fundamental planning issues such as infrastructure improvements and public park space in the exclusive hands of developers. The city ignored public sentiment. The community needs to see the plans, be given the time to regroup to review how Sterling Bay and the city might address our concerns and be allowed to voice community consensus in a public forum. Communities routinely have multiple public meetings on projects far, far smaller than Lincoln Yards. This represents a huge break from tradition.

Residents are concerned about increased traffic congestion, the “Disneyland,” carnivalesque entertainment districts being reported in press releases, inadequate public park space, insufficient public transportation and potential local school overcrowding. We want to preserve the quality of life that keeps us in the city and we believe taxpayers have a right to seek benefits from a 10 billion-dollar project in exchange for increased density. Instead of Sterling Bay’s slogan “Where Chicago Connects” this development could become “Where Chicago Collides.”

This is the moment for good, honest government. Open and transparent public dialogue is what citizens want to hear, not the sound of a political steamroller.

Jim Gramata, president, Sheffield Neighborhood Association

Ted Wrobleski, planning chairman, Sheffield Neighborhood Association

Paul Dickman, planning chairman, Wicker Park Committee

Reatha Kay, president, RANCH Triangle Community Conservation Association

Charles Griffin, planning chairman, RANCH Triangle Community Conservation Association

Kenneth Dotson, president, Lincoln Central Association

Bucktown Community Organization

Erma Tranter, former president, Friends of the Parks

Divest Illinois’ pension funds from oil, natural-gas companies

Stephanie Trussell’s recent op-ed reeks of the past (“Fossil fuel divestment would make Illinois’ pension crisis even worse” — June 8). The time for fossil fuels has come and gone — economically, scientifically, and morally.

Regarding economics, the point of a good investment strategy is to hedge against the future, and the trends leading into the future already demonstrate that returns on fossil fuel investments are shrinking while returns on renewable energy investments continue to grow.

As the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis recently reported, “Global spending on renewable energy is outpacing investment in electricity from coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants, driven by falling costs of producing wind and solar power.” Likewise, when New York City recently announced it would divest its pension funds from fossil fuels, the comptroller, Scott Stringer, argued, “Safeguarding the retirement of our city’s police officers, teachers and firefighters is our top priority, and we believe that their financial future is linked to the sustainability of the planet.”

Besides the economics, fossil fuel divestment is also about scientific fact. Trussell nonsensically argues that divestment “won’t reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.” Of course it will. The raison d’etre for fossil fuel companies is to dig up fossil fuels. Pulling financial support from those digging operations means less fossil fuel produced — which logically leads to less fossil fuel available for burning. Less fossil fuel burned means less carbon in the atmosphere.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is the moral argument for divestment, which recognizes the current danger to our earth — and ourselves and our children’s futures, if it needs to be said — posed by climate change. Notably, Trussell does not address the moral issue of fossil fuels at all, perhaps because she has no argument there. No less a moral authority than the Pope recently urged oil company executives to make a priority of the transition to a clean energy economy. We are hopeful they will listen, but in the meantime we will continue to fight for the city of Chicago’s total divestment from fossil fuels to ensure a livable future for all.

Christine Rey, Irving Park

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