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Looking east along Cermak Road at the Benito Juarez Community Academy along the “greenest street in America”. 

Okay, we first need to discuss the hyperbole in the headline. “Greenest street in America”. Really? At a press conference on Tuesday, October 9, in front of the Benito Juarez Community Academy, politicians and city staff described the features and collective effort to get to this point. I talked to David Leopold, project manager for the Cermak/Blue Island Sustainable Streetscape at the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) to understand how Cermak Road and Blue Island Avenue in the Pilsen neighborhood could be considered the greenest street in America.

Watch the press conference on Vimeo.

My first question, “What’s the second greenest street in America?” He replied, “We don’t admit that there is one”.

All kidding aside, it really is, he explained. CDOT has been experimenting with sustainable landscaping, construction, and pavement techniques for more than half a decade. Its green alley program is probably the most well-known. It also operates the sustainable backyards program. Another project is the permable pavement parking lot at Desplaines and Polk Streets at the new location for Maxwell Street Market. Next to the parking lot is a bioswale (landscaping that naturally absorbs water, keeping it from our sewers that combine waste water and runoff) with underground monitoring tools.

In 2009, to start off the project, CDOT installed monitoring tools along Cermak Road, before visible construction began. Then came a bioswale at the high school (1450 W Cermak Road), smog-fighting bike and parking lanes on Blue Island Avenue, and multiple bioswales along both streets to divert runoff from the sewers. To cap it off, information kiosks with street lighting powered by wind turbines and solar panels were added as well as new sidewalks and crosswalks.

Back to it being the greenest street in America, Leopold said that they couldn’t find any other street that used as many sustainable techniques in a single project. The leaders in sustainable street design are in the Pacific Northwest (Portland and Seattle, specifically), but those were more focused on plantings and water diversion while Cermak/Blue Island has transportation elements as well.

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After the ribbon cutting. View all photos from before, during, and after construction.

Updated October 14 to add links and refine narrative. 

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