Mayor Rahm Emanuel received the report of his Fisk and Crawford Reuse Task Force Saturday, reiterating his administration’s commitment to making the plant sites a national example of Brownfield redevelopment. The coal power plants in Pilsen and Little Village cease operations in September. The Task Force report offers an agreeable framework for redevelopment and a set of recommendations for the reuse of the properties.
“During the campaign and after becoming mayor, I promised to work to ensure these plants were either cleaned up or shut down,” Emanuel said. After accomplishing that task, he said, the next step is “to return these areas to active, productive use for the residents of the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods.”
After more than a decade of protests against the plants for the negative impact of coal on people’s health, as well as the concentration of coal combustion emissions in poor and minority communities, Emanuel brokered a deal to shut down the plants. The deal was signed in February between the plants’ owner, Midwest Generation, and the Chicago Clean Power Coalition. Pilsen Alliance is a member of the CCPC, and its executive director, Nelson Soza, is a member of the Task Force. When he announced the creation of the Task Force, the mayor said shutting down the plants was only the beginning.
“Closing these plants is a first step,” Emanuel said in a statement March 8. “The key is to make sure these facilities are used to spur economic development and job creation for these neighborhoods.”
According to a Pilsen Alliance survey of 392 community residents conducted in June, the top neighborhood redevelopment choices for the Fisk site are green areas, and educational and recreational uses. Respondents evaluated the availability of Living Wage Jobs poorly, a situation that will not improve with the closing of the plants. To neighbors, this calls for making the creation of Living Wage Jobs another redevelopment priority.
“Most people we spoke to would like the Fisk site redevelopment to prioritize living wage jobs and green public space,” said Rosalie Mancera, Pilsen Alliance board member. “What matters now is to keep going until some of the ideas materialize.”
The community’s feedback is consistent with views shared by residents in other forums and with governmental data about Pilsen today. According to Friends of the Parks, Pilsen has a shortage of park space of between 21.4 percent and 57.1 percent. Similarly, a low evaluation of Living Wage jobs may be a reflection of Pilsen unemployment, which doubled between 2000 and 2010.
At the press event held after receiving the report, Emanuel also announced the allocation of $8 million to build a park on the site of former asphalt factory Celotex in Little Village.