WBEZ | Calumet http://www.wbez.org/tags/calumet Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Calumet brain trust tackles environmental issues across state line http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-05/calumet-brain-trust-tackles-environmental-issues-across-state-line <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/marquette-park610px.jpg" title="One of the pannes in Marquette Park, along the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Wetlands nestled between lakeshore sand dunes, the fragile ecosystems foster biodiversity. (WBEZ/Chris Bentley) " /></p><p>Although county lines parcel out the southern shore of Lake Michigan like garden plots, the environmental issues that unify people from Michigan City, Ind. to Chicago do not respect political boundaries.</p><p>Nor do most economic issues. Industrial decay and depopulation have left communities throughout the greater <a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/calumet" target="_blank">Calumet</a> region with some common problems, as well as shared opportunities.</p><p>That was the message from the inaugural Calumet Summit, a conference convened this week in Gary, Indiana&rsquo;s lakefront Marquette Park by the <a href="http://calumetstewardship.org/" target="_blank">Calumet Stewardship Initiative</a>.</p><p>The summit follows some major moves in the Calumet area, not least of which is the <a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/millennium-reserve" target="_blank">Millennium Reserve</a> initiative, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/governor-greenlights-funding-nations-largest-open-space-project-105857">dubbed the nation&#39;s largest &quot;open space&quot; project</a>. (Although it might better be described as <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/how-open-millennium-reserve-open-space-project-105925" target="_blank">a regional plan that ties conservation to urban redevelopment</a>.)</p><p>After 140 years of heavy industry, many of the region&rsquo;s factories have closed and left brownfields, violence and unemployment in their wake. And while efforts to rehabilitate the Great Lakes have mopped up some pollution and begun to clamp down on invasive species, a <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/report-card-great-lakes-big-problems-19179661#.UZVhjiuG3Os" target="_blank">report released Tuesday by the international body that advises Canada and U.S. on the lakes said</a> the area still faces serious challenges. Agricultural runoff, flooding, drought, and the march of both invasive species and a changing climate are among the problems that plague people who call the southern end of Lake Michigan home.</p><p>Joel Brammeier, president and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, said as much Tuesday at the Calumet Summit. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a federal funding program initiated by President Barack Obama&rsquo;s administration, has enabled environmental work and research in recent years. Perhaps more importantly, Brammeier said, it has brought attention to the region and galvanized those already doing important work on the ground.</p><p>&quot;As important as the money is the near-universal expression of support for the program year after year,&quot; he said.&nbsp;&quot;That&rsquo;s really at the heart of the success in moving money to entities on the ground.&quot;</p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-05/keeping-aromatic-invader-bay-107163" target="_blank">Volunteer environmental stewards</a> and <a href="http://www.nirpc.org/2040-plan.aspx" target="_blank">planners alike</a> see a future in green development.</p><p>Few people articulate that vision better than Lauren Riga. Tapped by Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson to head Gary&rsquo;s new department of Green Urbanism, 28-year-old Riga previously served as a U.N. delegate at the 2010 climate change conference. About <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/25/us/mayor-of-struggling-gary-ind-turns-to-chicagos-richard-daley-for-advice.html" target="_blank">one quarter of Gary&#39;s buildings are vacant</a>. As Riga and the mayor look to spur an economic revival, they plan to incorporate green infrastructure into new development. Meanwhile local and state agencies have helped rehabilitate habitat along the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, home to a series of <a href="http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2425735?uid=3739656&amp;uid=2&amp;uid=4&amp;uid=3739256&amp;sid=21102293343277" target="_blank">fragile ecosystems</a> known as pannes &mdash; wetlands nestled between sand dunes.</p><p>&quot;[Riga] represents a new way of thinking for the region,&quot; said Andrew Pelloso, an environmental consultant who formerly worked for Indiana&rsquo;s Department of Environmental Management.</p><p>&quot;Everyone seems to see the region by Gary&rsquo;s fate and fortune so what they do matters,&quot; he said.</p><p>Whether <a href="http://lakeshorepublicmedia.org/east-chicago-sewers-get-a-makeover/" target="_blank">updating Northwest Indiana&#39;s stormwater infrastructure</a> or <a href="http://healthyschoolscampaign.org/blog/green-schoolyards-for-healthy-students-a-new-chicago-initiative/" target="_blank">retrofitting Chicago schoolyards</a>, presenters at the summit emphasized action.</p><p>&quot;Between now and the next summit go out and do something,&quot; U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky told the audience, &quot;or everyone will have wasted their time over the two days.&quot;</p><p>Pelloso said for all the region&rsquo;s challenges, and the bureaucratic headache it can be to get things done, the conference&rsquo;s take-home message was affirming.</p><p>&quot;We&rsquo;re bound together by a common resource,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Not by state lines.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Chris Bentley writes about environmental issues. Follow him on Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley" target="_blank">@Cementley</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 16 May 2013 18:24:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-05/calumet-brain-trust-tackles-environmental-issues-across-state-line How open is the Millennium Reserve 'open space' project? http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/how-open-millennium-reserve-open-space-project-105925 <p><p><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/24831034@N08/8303625555/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/powdhorn%20via%20flickr.jpg" style="height: 365px; width: 610px;" title="Powderhorn Lake, a Forest Preserve holding in the Millennium Reserve Calumet Core area. (Courtesy ✿Low✿ via Flickr)" /></a></p><p>During <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/governor-greenlights-funding-nations-largest-open-space-project-105857">his announcement Friday that federal and state agencies would commit an additional $6.8 million towards Millennium Reserve projects</a>, Gov. Pat Quinn repeated the claim that the massive Southeast Side restoration initiative constituted the &ldquo;<a href="http://www3.illinois.gov/PressReleases/ShowPressRelease.cfm?SubjectID=2&amp;RecNum=10970">largest open space project in the country</a>.&rdquo;</p><p>While it is undoubtedly ambitious, and unique in a few ways, the &ldquo;open space&rdquo; project is not exactly that. After all, the initial project area (the &ldquo;Calumet Core&rdquo;) is home to nearly half a million people, as well as 2,000 acres of industrial land.</p><p>The Illinois Department of Natural Resources prefers the more accurate, admittedly less sexy, term &ldquo;one of the largest collaborative urban open space projects&rdquo; in the country.</p><p>At 140,000 acres, the Calumet Core certainly is a huge tract of land. Open space holdings in that area, however, only total about 15,000 acres. That includes Indian Ridge Marsh, the Burnham Greenway, and other high-profile projects.</p><p>About 60 percent of that open space land is owned by the Cook County Forest Preserve District. The Chicago Park District recently acquired more than 680 acres in the Calumet area from the city, which it plans to convert into open lands.</p><p>The <a href="http://www2.illinois.gov/gov/millennium-reserve/Documents/Maps/Calumet%20Core%20and%20Expansion%20Area.pdf">expansion zone</a>, Millennium Reserve&rsquo;s long-term target area, includes another 18,000 acres of &ldquo;<a href="http://www2.illinois.gov/gov/millennium-reserve/Pages/numbers.aspx">high-quality natural areas</a>.&rdquo;</p><p>Urban growth <a href="http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0009509">has long reduced open land in and around cities</a>, and Chicago ranks <a href="http://persquaremile.com/2011/01/27/parkland-per-person-in-the-united-states/">at or near the bottom</a>, <a href="http://www.inhs.uiuc.edu/programs/hd/Special%20Reports/OpenSpaceReport.pdf">depending</a> on methodology, of parkland per capita.</p><p>&ldquo;The significance of it being an urban project is that people have the best opportunity to become connected to the outdoors in the places most easily accessible to them, such as where they live,&rdquo; said John Rogner, chairman of the Millennium Reserve Initiative steering committee that Quinn unveiled Friday.</p><p>Several cities and counties around the country have large urban open space projects &mdash; <a href="http://www.godowntownbaltimore.com/docs/openspaceplan.pdf">Baltimore</a>,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.cityofmadison.com/parks/about/documents/2012-2017AdoptedPOSPSmallFileSize.pdf">Madison</a>, Wisc., and&nbsp;<a href="http://www.eng.hctx.net/pdf/park_plan_2.pdf">Harris County, Texas</a>, for example&nbsp;&mdash; but unlike the Millennium Reserve they are strictly city- or county-led.&nbsp;</p><p>By partnering governments and civilian organizations, Rogner said, the Millennium Reserve team may be able to more quickly acquire new land than conservation groups would be independently.</p><p>Larger projects consolidating and connecting open space exist in the U.S., but they don&rsquo;t share the Millennium Reserve&rsquo;s urban focus. Plans to conserve land in Pennsylvania&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.dvrpc.org/OpenSpace/network.htm">Delaware Valley</a>, and in the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.farmland.org/programs/states/documents/ConservingGreenNetwork.pdf">Washington-Baltimore</a>&nbsp;metro area, focus on rural greenways and, apart from their emphasis on farmland, might be considered more traditionally conservationist projects than Millennium Reserve.</p><p><a href="http://open2100.org/">Seattle&rsquo;s Open Space 2100 plan</a> is both collaborative and urban. It took the form of a generalized plan, however, while Millennium Reserve is, according to the department of natural resources&rsquo; Lisa Cotner, &ldquo;an on-going initiative to make on-the-ground projects happen.&rdquo;</p><p>What these other projects really illustrate about the Millennium Reserve is how wide-ranging its goals are &mdash; industrial resurgence, economic development, recreation and ecological restoration all share top-billing with open space, depending on who you talk to.&nbsp;The broad scope may help clear the path for action by the project&rsquo;s more than 50 partner organizations, but it&rsquo;s also likely to foster some disputes over just what the &ldquo;open space&rdquo; project is all about.</p></p> Thu, 07 Mar 2013 05:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/how-open-millennium-reserve-open-space-project-105925 Hacking back invasive species, and crime http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/hacking-back-invasive-species-and-crime-105895 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/kickapoo610px.jpg" title="Members of the Calumet Invasive Species Conservation Corps toss sections of felled tress onto a fire in Kickapoo Woods. (WBEZ/Chris Bentley)" /></p><p>Brenda Elmore grew up in West Pullman, literally a stone&rsquo;s throw from the Whistler Preserve in Riverdale, Ill. Even though she has always lived within walking distance of some of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County&rsquo;s largest holdings, she learned from a young age to stay away from them.</p><p>&ldquo;I used to be scared to come anywhere near it,&rdquo; Elmore said.</p><p>She says her parents told her that Jason, the machete-wielding killer from the <em>Friday the 13<sup>th </sup></em>movies, lived in the Forest Preserves. In reality, they were worried about gangs. The far south side forest preserves&rsquo; seclusion and proximity to areas troubled by gang activity made them ideal <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1991-12-10/news/9104210097_1_decomposed-body-shallow-graves">dumping grounds for bodies</a>. And a dense underbrush of white poplar, buckthorn and purple loosestrife &mdash; all invasive species &mdash; obscured any view of the interior from the road.</p><p>As she cuts back invasive species with a chainsaw&nbsp;in Kickapoo Woods, it&rsquo;s clear Elmore, 50, has come a long way &mdash; and so have the Forest Preserves. She is part of the Calumet Invasive Species Conservation Corps, an EPA-funded program that hired workers from underrepresented areas of Chicago to restore at least 228 acres of wetland and wet prairieland in the Calumet region. Friends of the Forest Preserves co-administers the $518,467 federal grant, which is part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, with the Student Conservation Association.</p><p>&ldquo;Our first time out here it was just an impenetrable mass,&rdquo; says Elmore, an alumna of the city&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-01/greencorps-graduates-cultivate-citys-green-jobs-105042">Green Corps job training program</a>. &ldquo;We had to fight our way through it.&rdquo;</p><p>Prairie restoration in the Calumet, as in many places, is largely about <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-01/restoring-prairieland-calumets-industrial-corridor-104751">clearing invasives that have choked out native species</a> by blocking all the light. Dozens of species of bygone prairie grasses still have seeds lying dormant in the soil, and could take off once again if conservationists can help them establish a foothold.</p><p>A five-person crew hacked at ash trees and white poplars Monday, nearly one and a half years into their two-year stint with the program. Aerial photographs from 2007 and 2011 show how much progress they, along with volunteer groups and contractors, have made.</p><p>&ldquo;I always turn the group around on their way out of the site after a day&rsquo;s work,&rdquo; says group supervisor Brian Mann. &ldquo;So they can see the impact they have.&rdquo;</p><p>A <a href="http://thenatureniche.com/2011/10/11/construction-of-sandhill-cranes/">construction</a> of sandhill cranes flies overhead. They are migrating and looking for somewhere to stop off. Kickapoo probably doesn&rsquo;t have enough water to attract them, Mann says, but as biodiversity returns to the site it is likely to sustain species the area&#39;s stewards would have been lucky to spot decades ago.</p><p>For Mann, who came to this line of work from real estate and then plumbing, restoration is also about self-discovery.</p><p>&ldquo;I used to hate getting up in the morning,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;Now I love my job.&rdquo;</p><p>It is a similar story for Elmore.</p><p>&ldquo;I didn&rsquo;t realize I liked being outside as much as I do,&rdquo; she says. At first Green Corps was &ldquo;just a job&rdquo; for her, she says, but she soon realized she liked the work. After the Calumet Invasive Species Conservation Corps program is complete, Elmore hopes to land a job that will keep her outside, working with nature.</p><p><object height="458" width="610"><param name="flashvars" value="offsite=true&amp;lang=en-us&amp;page_show_url=%2Fphotos%2F34610267%40N05%2Fsets%2F72157632920439174%2Fshow%2F&amp;page_show_back_url=%2Fphotos%2F34610267%40N05%2Fsets%2F72157632920439174%2F&amp;set_id=72157632920439174&amp;jump_to=" /><param name="movie" value="http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=124984" /><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true" /><embed allowfullscreen="true" flashvars="offsite=true&amp;lang=en-us&amp;page_show_url=%2Fphotos%2F34610267%40N05%2Fsets%2F72157632920439174%2Fshow%2F&amp;page_show_back_url=%2Fphotos%2F34610267%40N05%2Fsets%2F72157632920439174%2F&amp;set_id=72157632920439174&amp;jump_to=" height="458" src="http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=124984" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="610"></embed></object></p></p> Tue, 05 Mar 2013 05:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/hacking-back-invasive-species-and-crime-105895 Governor greenlights funding for nation's largest open space project http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/governor-greenlights-funding-nations-largest-open-space-project-105857 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/quinn-millennium-reserve-bill.jpg" title="Gov. Pat Quinn signed the executive order in the William W. Powers Visitor Center, a new building in the Calumet area's Millennium Reserve. (WBEZ/Chris Bentley)" /></p><p>Once an interwoven swath of wetlands and oak savannas, the Calumet region is home to Chicago&rsquo;s largest concentration of industrial jobs, as well as some of its most threatened wildlife and natural areas.</p><p>In the first major development since the nation&rsquo;s largest open space project was announced in 2011, federal and state agencies Friday committed $6.8 million to fund environmental restoration and recreation programs through the <a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/millennium-reserve">Millennium Reserve</a> Initiative.</p><p>Gov. Pat Quinn also signed an executive order creating the southeast side reserve&rsquo;s steering committee, a 21-member board tasked with realizing the Initiative&rsquo;s goals of &ldquo;environmental restoration and remediation, outdoor recreation, economic development, and community development.&rdquo;</p><p>Brownfield remediation, public recreation industries, intermodal freight shipping, and a developing network of trails are among the specific projects outlined in the executive order.</p><p>Quinn&rsquo;s message tied environmental protection to economic development. &ldquo;Doing things right by our environment, having a conservation ethic is very important for jobs,&rdquo; Quinn said.</p><p>Citing <a href="http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/upload/FWS-National-Preliminary-Report-2011.pdf">a figure from the Department of the Interior</a>, he said wildlife-related recreation generated $145 billion in 2011.</p><p>&ldquo;We want people to come from far and wide to enjoy everything we&rsquo;ve got in Millennium Reserve,&rdquo; he said.&nbsp;</p><p>The Calumet region&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.wbez.org/results?s=calumet">conflicted environmental history</a>, however, demonstrates the difficulty of balancing conservation principles with the pressures of development in practice.</p><p>&ldquo;We won&rsquo;t let conservation be an afterthought,&rdquo; said the committee&rsquo;s chairman, John Rogner, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re going to build out green infrastructure and gray infrastructure together.&rdquo;</p><p>As for the composition of the steering committee, appointees were from the region&rsquo;s main landholders &mdash; the Park District, the Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation District and the Forest Preserve District &mdash; as well as government agencies and conservation groups.</p><p>Although she applauded the initiative&rsquo;s mission, Peggy Salazar of the Southeast Environmental Task Force said the steering committee could use more community members.</p><p>&ldquo;We hear lots of announcements,&rdquo; she said. Years before the Millennium Reserve Initiative was announced, she noted, community groups developed their own vision plans for the area. Salazar&rsquo;s own group hopes to develop a &ldquo;green industrial corridor&rdquo; with light manufacturing that uses renewable energy, to complement the &ldquo;green natural corridor&rdquo; of nature preserves.</p><p>The committee will report to the Governor every six months, beginning after their first meeting. Rogner said the group plans to meet before the end of March. Meetings will be open to public input, Quinn said.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/millennium_core_111811_poster_final.jpg" style="width: 610px;" title="" /></div></p> Fri, 01 Mar 2013 17:53:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/governor-greenlights-funding-nations-largest-open-space-project-105857 Calumet restoration efforts get influx of cash from feds http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-02/calumet-restoration-efforts-get-influx-cash-feds-105422 <p><p><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/virtualphotographers/5129850054/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/calumet.jpg" style="height: 456px; width: 610px;" title="In the Calumet region, Chicago's industrial and ecological histories are deeply intertwined. (virtualphotographers via Flickr)" /></a></p><p>The Forest Preserve District of Cook County announced Wednesday a $520,000 restoration project that will help knit together sensitive ecosystems in the Calumet region, where <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/grand-calumet-river%E2%80%99s-road-recovery-105164">a contaminated river</a> and <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-01/restoring-prairieland-calumets-industrial-corridor-104751">an abundance of invasive species</a> have long threatened <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/question-answered-what-part-chicago-has-most-biodiversity-103725">biodiversity in the Chicago region</a>.</p><p>&ldquo;What is great about this project,&rdquo; said Forest Preserve District Resource Ecologist Dan Spencer, &ldquo;is it takes elements of projects that other agencies have done in the past and puts them into a cohesive whole.&rdquo;</p><p>The targeted sites &mdash; Sand Ridge Nature Preserve,&nbsp;Jurgensen Woods and Green Lake Savanna &mdash; are all within three miles of one another. In addition to clearing out invasive species, the restoration will focus on education. Audubon and Fuller Park Community Development will encourage local conservationists to engage with the site, although details are still being worked out.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve wanted to work at Jurgensen woods for a while but never had the funds to do it,&rdquo; Spencer said. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awarded the bulk of the money, which come from the Obama Administration&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.glri.us/">Great Lakes Restoration Initiative</a>. Cook County is contributing $160,000, while Audubon will kick in $10,000.</p><p>The four sites span more than 1,000 acres of vulnerable &ldquo;dune and swale&rdquo; ecosystems, composed of interwoven strings of wetlands and dry, sandy ridges.</p><p>When ancient glaciers covering much of the Midwest receded hundreds of thousands of years ago, they dumped their water into Lake Michigan&rsquo;s ancestor, Lake Chicago. The Calumet region&rsquo;s sandy ridges are the geological remains of ancient beaches.</p><p>Work will start in the spring, Spencer said, and the funds must be spent by October of 2014.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/GreenLakeSavBrush2012.jpg" style="height: 471px; width: 610px;" title="Green Lake Savanna" /></div><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/JurgensenWds%282%292012.jpg" style="height: 471px; width: 610px;" title="Jurgensen Woods" /></div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/SRNP_Total_CalumetProject13.jpg" style="height: 471px; width: 610px;" title="Sand Ridge Nature Preserve" /></div><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/SRNC_TotalCalumet13.jpg" style="height: 789px; width: 610px;" title="Sand Ridge Nature Center" /></div></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 08 Feb 2013 06:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-02/calumet-restoration-efforts-get-influx-cash-feds-105422 What ruins of a former Chicago steel mill say about our past and future http://www.wbez.org/blogs/lee-bey/2013-01/what-ruins-former-chicago-steel-mill-say-about-our-past-and-future-104692 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Screen%20Shot%202013-01-06%20at%209.23.07%20PM.png" style="height: 571px; width: 600px;" title="" /></div></div></div><div class="image-insert-image ">In a golden moment during the 20th Century, Chicago&#39;s Southeast Side made more steel than did all the mills of Great Britain. The old Acme Steel &amp; Coke site at 114th Street and Torrence Avenue is both evidence and a fading vestige of that past.</div><p>Acme&#39;s 100+ acre site awaits a future uncertain. The complex closed in 2001, almost a generation after larger and more prosperous competitors in the area shuttered. A movement to preserve Acme as a museum failed; the plant&#39;s assembly of blast furnaces, coke ovens, conveyors, lifts, pipes, chutes and other works were demolished and sold for scrap.</p><p>What&#39;s left is a solemn handful of spectacular industrial ruins scattered about Acme&#39;s vast, stilled grounds. Let&#39;s take a look around, beginning with the photo above in which a coke tower once connected to a battery of ovens stands against the open sky. A tumble of spent coal used in the coke-making process sits in the foreground.</p><p>Here is a westward view into Acme through the main gate:</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Screen%20Shot%202013-01-06%20at%209.25.27%20PM.png" style="height: 341px; width: 600px;" title="" /></div><p>The photo below shows the base of a former quenching tower. The long-gone apparatus above would pour down water, cooling the newly-made coke. Now, graffiti artists have found a secret canvas inside the base&#39;s yawning concrete mouths:</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Screen%20Shot%202013-01-06%20at%209.27.38%20PM.png" style="height: 798px; width: 600px;" title="" /></div><p>A twin column of chimneys spring up from the prairie:</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Screen%20Shot%202013-01-06%20at%209.29.50%20PM.png" style="height: 662px; width: 600px;" title="" /></div><p>Here, a dilapidated guard&#39;s house&mdash;quaintly Germanic, with its brick base and half-timbered second floor&mdash;rots along Torrence Avenue:</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Screen%20Shot%202013-01-06%20at%209.31.48%20PM.png" style="height: 308px; width: 600px;" title="" /></div><p>The steel and iron churned out from this side of town became the skeletons that held up skyscrapers; the grid that supported roadways and bridges across the nation; the rails that criss-crossed the country and more. Such a heritage needs honoring.</p><p>Ships carrying this hard cargo kept city&#39;s port busy and railroads humming. The steel industry provided good, solid jobs for tens of thousands of working class folk. Food on the table. Money in the bank. An offering for the church. A Buick in the garage.</p><p>Is it all in the past? Mingling with the industrial ghosts at Acme Steel, it certainly seems so. Until you look at an aerial map. Transcontinental freight rail continues to pass through and near Acme and the former mill sites along Torrence between 95th and 130th streets. An active channel a few blocks east leads northward to Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes. Though aged and better-known for its golf course than for commerce, the Port of Chicago is still doing business at the nearby Lake Calumet.</p><p>The Southeast Side is still physically wired to the nation and linked to the world, even if age and neglect have weakened those connections. What can those vast acres so close to rail, water and expressways yield in the 21st century? A fresh and comprehensive look at the Southeast Side&mdash;done today and with global perspective&mdash;is in order. The city has a ton of economists, urban planners, bankers, world market experts and more than a few friends in Washington D.C. Something can be done.</p><p>The best way to honor this region and its contribution to Chicago and the nation is to rebuild it.</p></p> Mon, 07 Jan 2013 05:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/lee-bey/2013-01/what-ruins-former-chicago-steel-mill-say-about-our-past-and-future-104692