The Competition: Chicago is in it to win it

Most people are fascinated with lists and obsessed with competition. When used to rank cities they become tangible measures of pride. Perpetuated by the ease of access media now provides, there are lists for just about everything and everyone gets to hear about it. “New York City, home of the Empire State Building, the first to reach 100 stories!” (Granted, not everyone is as enthusiastic about architecture, but it’s safe to assume people at least know about their city’s landmarks).

They paint a picture of the grand competition between cities: the biggest city, the densest city, the city with the lowest unemployment rates, the city with the most overweight citizens, etc.  While the lists reflected the sour trends of reality (health, economy, and climate change), it seems more people are starting to focus on, (and compete with!) the solutions: bike friendliness, public transportation, greenest, etc.

There are an endless list of benefits for greening cities and improving the environment. Most people understand the ‘saving the Earth’ idea, but are detached and lack passion because they don’t feel any personal benefits. In tough times environmental issues are pushed aside to focus on things that are more pressing. But the environment could really be the solution! Investing in the improvements of our surroundings makes money (Millennium park generated $1.4 billion dollars in economic activity since its opening in 2004), creates jobs, and improves health physically and mentally.  

Chicago, famous contender in the race for tallest skyscraper, is dusting off the old gloves and is competing to be the greenest city. They are pushing for green roofs with grant programs, greening alleys, extending bikeways and now devoting a lot of money and space to create a park reserve 10 times the size of Manhattan! (Take that NYC).

As the largest open space project in the country, The Millennium Reserve is a major conservation initiative that will strengthen the economy and green space of Chicago. The three main goals of the first phase, the Calumet Core Reserve, are:


  • Managing and restoring the 6,000 acres of natural areas that contain important high-quality biological communities and support over 20 rare plants and 40 rare animal species.
  • Completing and connecting 53 miles of trails and wildlife corridors throughout the area
  • Expanding and connecting natural areas and habitats with green infrastructure.


  • Modernizing the Illinois International Port District and creating thousands of new jobs.
  • Creating a destination region for tourists and visitors that will generate tourism jobs.
  • Increasing property values for home owners near the Reserve.


  • Reclaiming more than 3,500 acres of underutilized lands and brownfields.
  • Increasing opportunities for kids to be physically active.

Currently the leaders, Portland, Seattle, Chicago and several more, are paving the way, but this is a competition everyone can benefit from if only more cities will jump on board! Citizens, businesses, policy makers and representatives wouldn’t like finding out their city is the worst city at anything. So, can we peer-pressure other cities into action?

Check out the maps for Chicago’s 140,000 acre Millennium Reserve.


The Atlantic Cities

Smart Planet


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