The Flowering of the First Ward

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

By Vivek Jayaram

Sustainability. Twitter. Eco-Industrial corridors. These words are not historically germane to political discourse. Then again, Manuel “Manny” Flores, the alderman of Chicago’s First Ward, isn’t exactly a conventional politician. As a member of the Democratic Party, Flores has successfully held public office since 2003 by focusing his efforts on developing Chicago’s flourishing green economy and implementing high-tech initiatives throughout local government. Alderman Flores is currently the youngest Alderman in the City.

During a recent conversation with Green Bean, Alderman Flores, whose district extends from approximately Belmont to Ohio and California to Greenview, discussed the First Ward’s Green Exchange, plans for an eco-industrial park in the Addison corridor, and the growth of Chicago’s sustainable sector as a whole.

Alderman Flores is quick to concede that he does not have any formal training or prior experience related to sustainability. “I am not an environmentalist,” Flores, a lawyer, states without hesitation. “However, the development of a green economy will necessarily improve the quality of life for all Chicagoans.”

Like education, safety, and affordable housing, Flores believes that sustainability has risen to the forefront of many government officials’ agendas.

“The City has so many unbelievable Aldermen who are doing great things in a number of areas, including [sustainability],” Flores said.

“From the Green Exchange we move to the Addison corridor,” Flores explains, “in which we hope to develop into an eco-industrial area that will attract a variety of manufacturers of green tech. [The Addison eco-industrial project] will really help make Chicago an incubator for innovation in the areas of clean and green technologies.”

If the eco-industrial park in the Addison corridor comes to fruition, it would be hard to argue with Flores. Although there are a at least a dozen eco-industrial parks in the United States, none are nearly visible as the Addison corridor proposal.

Flores is doing his part in developing Chicago’s green economy. And even though the Addison corridor is in its nascent stages, the Alderman appears to have the ability to implement significant sustainability initiatives in the First Ward.

But what about the rest of the City? Between the current financial crisis and the emerging nature of Chicago’s green economy, obtaining funding for projects that many feel are mere architectural luxuries seems insurmountable. When asked about Chicago’s floundering Green Permit process, President Obama’s stimulus package and its relevance to green funding in Chicago, and the issuance of tax-exempt development bonds to stimulate green development around the city, Alderman Flores delivers an assuring response.

“The funding is there. It is up to the community, the green business owners, to educate and raise awareness about these issues.” The Alderman seems to believe that the financial incentives already in place – coupled with a growing need and interest in sustainable development – provides an adequate platform for green entrepreneurs to seek and obtain the support they need to develop their businesses.

To those unfamiliar with Chicago, it may come as a surprise that Chicago is among the global leaders in sustainability. Alderman Flores, however, sees it as a natural evolution for the City that showcases the work of innovators like Daniel Burnham and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

“Chicago has always been an industrious city,” concludes Flores. “It has a history of innovation.” It, then, comes as no surprise to Alderman Flores that the Green Exchange and the potential Addison corridor eco-industrial park will “make the city the true green economic development capital of the world.”

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