Sunday, August 14, 2011

Open Your Eyes and You May See it Too

Back in 2003, I worked on a team with this guy to help re-vision a problematic traffic circle in the heart of our neighborhood. I realized then he wasn't your average bear.

John's role was designer, and he painstakingly moved from ink-on-paper sketches to AutoCAD renderings that removed or simplified every last conflict point for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. It would've cost about $10 million -- worth every dime -- but it was a tough sell for a cash-strapped ward. Fortunately my role was pest, and I was able to convince the alderman he owed it to the community to do at least a portion. We got our bump-outs at Wrightwood and Kedzie. Within the next two years, we may get the closure of the slip-lane that feeds Logan Boulevard into Milwaukee Avenue. That unsightly piece of asphalt would expand the green space for an apple orchard slated for the site.

In all the ensuing years since our planning, as I've been floundering around trying on new jobs for size, John's been incubating a vision: A zero-waste, fully energy-efficient vertical indoor farm in one of Chicago's own manufacturing districts. With the purchase of a former hog-processing plant about a year ago, he's already started to bring this vision to fruition.

As we speak, an aquaponics program uses fish waste to fertilize indoor organic greens. A craft brewery has taken up residence on the first floor, and discarded barley, hops, and yeast will be converted into energy to help heat and light the building. A timed lighting system for the indoor farm will allow wattage to be maximized at the cheapest hours of the day, and vegetables will adapt to a growth cycle accordingly. All usable materials from the former version of the building will be reused in some capacity for its next iteration. The acres and acres of outdoor land will become raised-bed gardens and hoophouses, farmed by the formerly homeless and incarcerated for a living-wage job-training program. Organic bakeries, chocolatiers, and cheesemakers are already lined up as tenants, and all their waste material will marry with other sustainable energy sources for the building in something called a "digester."

Zero waste. Fully sustainable. A closed loop.

On any given morning, I might pass John on his bike, saying goodbye to his affable wife and kids, as he rides the 10 miles from our neighborhood to his own personal Wonka to the south. He may be hauling drywall rescued from the alley, compost worms, or beer for his army of volunteers for the day.

Somebody get this guy a MacArthur Genius Grant, stat.


Rosemary said...

Wow--just wow. John is the sort of *real*"job creator" I'm happy to support in any way these days!

Christy said...

He actually has a nice list of donation requests here, if folks were ever to find themselves so moved:

Go John!

tracy said...

What Rosemary said!
Inspiring and humbling.

Berdawn said...

What an amazing project. Thanks for sharing!

leslie said...

Whoa. Wow. I get the feeling I'll be bringing this up in my community development class this semester. Wow.

Christy said...

Any of you folks visiting Chicago, I bet I can arrange a field trip (let that be an incentive to plan a visit to Chicago) :-).

kristen said...

Thanks for making my morning! Chicago needs more people/ideas/projects like this, but I am thrilled to know we have even this one. Sign me up for the field trip, please!!!