CITY HALL — An app developed last month in a technology competition ranks city neighborhoods according to environmental criteria and has the potential to spur improvement on green and sustainability issues, one of its inventors said.
Tom Greenhaw, founder of Windy City Sustainability, came up with the app with a half-dozen colleagues in June at the Center for Neighborhood Technology Urban Sustainability Apps competition. Judges gave it the top prize against a dozen competing teams.
Using data readily available online, the app, Chicago Green Score, ranks city neighborhoods according to whether they have abundant green roofs, community gardens, farmers markets, parks and public transit and bike facilities, while lowering scores for environmental complaints.
The Loop ranked first with a score of 84, no surprise given its concentration of public transportation, Divvy stations, farmers markets and increasing number of green roofs, including at City Hall. At the other end, a handful of neighborhoods produced scores of zero, including South Deering, Hegewisch, Garfield Ridge, Gage Park and O'Hare.
"They've got a lot of issues around there that were causing environmental complaints," Greenhaw said of the low-ranking neighborhoods, citing abandoned factories and the like.
As for O'Hare International Airport, he added, "They just didn't have a lot of data points there. So the buildings themselves might be really great, they might have water-saving fixtures or natural ventilation and all the great green-building bells and whistles, but that's not in our data right now."
That was a product of the circumstances, Greenhaw added.
"It was just kind of a weekend hackathon," he said. "We went into the weekend with pretty much just an idea for the team and built it over the course of three days.
"There's a lot more we wanted to add. We just sort of ran out of time over the weekend," he added. "We'll do that in version 2.0. We've got a pretty long list of things we want to do and continue working on."
Yet the Chicago Green Score map they've produced is a useful tool right now, Greenhaw said.
"The big-picture goal of this is not just to say, 'Here's your score,'" he added. "You can actually use it as motivation to do something to make your neighborhood more livable. Hopefully, people take it in that light.
"We wanted to use it as a tool for community leaders to kind of see where they're at, see how they can make improvements."
Greenhaw and his colleagues were concerned about the data simply serving to beat up on low-income areas lacking the resources to make green improvements that other neighborhoods take for granted. Yet they found surprises, with strong showings by Oakland, North Lawndale and Woodlawn, which averaged a 60 score.
"If you look at North Lawndale, they have a lot of community gardens, so that was a big positive effect for their score," Greenhaw said. "And they've got a lot of parks as well.
"Oakland's pretty small, as far as the community area goes, but they have a big cluster of green roofs," he added. "And they've got a lot of parks as well, and have a Divvy station or two."
On the other hand, Greenhaw was surprised by the lackluster showing of Logan Square and other North Side neighborhoods around Ravenswood. North Center and Lincoln Square both posted scores of 9.
"I thought they would do very well, and the data show they didn't do too well," Greenhaw said. "That was a surprise."
Not necessarily to Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), however.
"We have a tremendous amount of access to mass transit," Pawar said. "On transit, this ward is very, very green. However, a significant plank in my re-election program is going to be on flooding and green and sustainability issues here in the ward."
Pawar said the increase in huge single-family homes that take up entire city lots has limited green space and exacerbated flooding problems already worsened by climate change, in which 100-year events are happening every two or three years, such as the flooding that hit his ward during Monday night's storms.
"This flooding related to climate change is real, and as a city we have to take aggressive action on it," Pawar said. "I think green issues are a major problem here and in a lot of neighborhoods on the North Side."
Pawar said he'd like to see city programs to provide incentives for green-roof garages and rain barrels, as well as green alleys, which can cost four times what a normal alley replacement costs. He welcomed the Chicago Green Score map as a tool to point out problems and gain leverage in seeking solutions.
Greenhaw said Windy City Sustainability has not yet had any contact with city leaders on Chicago Green Score, but one of the prizes from their victory in the competition was a chance to pitch staffers for Gov. Pat Quinn on it. Greenhaw said they'd push for the same sort of data to be compiled statewide so that communities can construct the same sort of green score maps and focus more attention on the issue.
The city, however, said the app could help make Chicagoans adopt a greener lifestyle.
"The city welcomes the use of data in increasing awareness about ways residents can make Chicago a more sustainable city," mayoral spokeswoman Libby Langsdorf said. She said city officials would be taking a look at Green Score and compared it to the city's own interactive energy map found at www.cityofchicago.org/energymap.
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