Celebrate Earth Day
this year by checking out some local green landmarks. While we can't yet call Chicago the ideal Emerald City (hello, recycling program?), plenty of businesses are paving greener paths by building green structures. And we don't mean mossy brick or lime-color paint jobs. We're talking about businesses that reduce their use of energy, eliminate toxins and conserve natural resources. Since 1999 the city has been implementing green measures for the construction and renovation of public and private buildings, often using the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification standards. From City Hall's green roof to the Center for Green Technology, these spots will give you a whole new view of Chicago.
City Hall Rooftop Garden
Also known as rooftop gardens, green roofs replace tar or dark colored roofs that retain heat and make buildings up to 10 degrees warmer than sun-loving, heat-absorbing plants that help cool buildings in summer and insulate them (much like a hat for your head) in winter. The first green roof on a municipal structure sits atop the 11-story City Hall building in the Loop. Although the garden can't be accessed from the building itself, surrounding buildings like the Department of Environment, 30 N. Lasalle Street, offer great views of the well-pruned garden filled with mostly local, sustainable plants and flowers.
Call the DOE at (312) 744-5903 to set up a viewing time.
Other green roofs: Center for Green Technology, Millennium Park, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, True Nature Foods, Uncommon Ground on Devon and the parking lot at Soldier Field.
Chicago Center for Green Technology
This former brownfield (a squalid site with risks for environmental contamination) now has the highest LEED rating (platinum) a building can receive. It's composed of mostly local materials; 45 percent of the building is solar-powered, which comes in handy for heating the on-site greenhouse; and there's a rooftop garden. In addition to hosting offices for green businesses, including community gardening and training program Greencorps Chicago, the place hosts a library filled with articles on building green.
CCGT is also home to Green Tech U, which offers free classes and workshops for adults looking to learn about green issues and receive certification in programs like landscape design and green business. Take a self-guided tour or schedule a private group during business hours.
CCGT, 445 N. Sacramento, (312) 746-9642. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday; 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday; 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday
Seen one dolphin show, seen 'em all. But what about exotic sea horses, frogs no wider than a quarter and komodo dragons all under one soy-based roof? But more than a super cool aquarium, the Shedd is a hub for conservation, preservation and education; programs for adults range from trainer for a day and marine biology workshops to the Right Bite Dinners, monthly dinners held at various restaurants (such as Oceanique) featuring sustainable seafood and guest speakers. As for the building, recycling bins are scattered across the grounds, and there's a soy roof (equivalent to 36 acres of soybeans) that keeps the aquarium's A/C bill in check.
During Earth Week, families can meet face to face with many different animals, and participate in an Earth Day garden celebration on April 25 and 26, which will include discussions on how to conserve resources at home.
Center for Neighborhood Technology
The CNT, 2125 W. North Avenue, aims to show urban communities the importance of sustainable development through better use of currently available resources and natural systems in hopes of helping communities develop and share the economic gains. The building was the first in the nation to receive a LEED platinum certification and houses a variety of community-conscious, eco-friendly businesses, such as I-go cars and the Community Energy Cooperative. After a tour here, you'll surely have an in-depth understanding of green tech. Call Annette Stahelin at (773) 2469-4039 to schedule a tour.
Garfield Park Conservatory
Immerse yourself in a wonderland of exotic palms, plants and koi fish ponds at this West Side conservatory, free of charge. Find six greenhouses and a full calendar of events and workshops, like weekend plant clinics and Thursday night yoga classes.
Tucked between Cabrini Green and the Gold Coast, this former vacant lot now houses a lush garden with melons, herbs, squash and over 30 varieties of tomatoes. Chefs from some of the most prestigious restaurants buy produce here, and you can, too, at the onsite stand.
Near North SRO
photo: courtesy of Lucid Dream Productions
Before taking your ripe produce from City Farm home to enjoy, keep an eye out for an unusual structure standing nearby. The Near North SRO, a 96-unit green housing structure for the city's homeless and less fortunate, has been grabbing the attention for its concept
and Twinkie-like design when it was started a few years ago. The large wind tunnels aren't just for display; the building is partially wind-and solar-powered and will generate 15 percent of its own electricity.
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
In 2003, the museum received a Green Roof Excellence award; the 17,000-square-foot green roof uses a solar-powered irrigation system to collect storm water. Families will get a kick out of the Extreme Green house, a full-size bungalow where you can learn about ways to green your home. Even the cafe serves up local, sustainable and organic noshes from Sunday Dinner catering.
Gary Comer Youth Center
Thanks to a $30 million gift from Lands End owner and South Side native Gary Comer, this 74,000-square-foot building designed by Chicagoan John Ronan features a rooftop garden, with herbs and veggies used in all the meals served onsite.
Gary Comer Youth Center, 7200 S. Ingleside Avenue. Call (773) 358-4100 to set up a tour.
Museum of Science and Industry
There's a lot you can learn about Mother Earth in the main museum here (there's free admission on Earth Day!), but for some real insight into ecological advancements, head over to the recently re-opened Smart Home. The futuristic house has been renovated and outfitted with tons of new, even even cooler stuff, like a robot that'll get rid of your snow (the I-Shovel) and a "green" baby nursery. Plus, on April 22, students will celebrate Earth Day by helping master gardeners plant a sustainable garden.