Environmental injustices, particularly as they impact communities of color, will receive special focus under a resolution that was approved unanimously at the Sept. 14 City Council meeting.

Aldermen approved the resolution as a first step in fulfilling the City’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan (CARP), which called for the adoption of an environmental justice ordinance that builds on the work of the city’s Environmental Justice Evanston and the Equity and Empowerment Commission.

The resolution aims “to acknowledge the historic and current harm that generations of Black Evanstonians, Latinx and other communities of color in Evanston have experienced due to environmental injustices,” Interim Assistant Manager Kimberly Richardson pointed out in a memo.

Under the proposal, the City will develop and maintain an active geographic inventory of environmental justice areas in Evanston “in which there are likely to be disparities in access to environmental assets or exposure to hazards,” the resolution stated.

Once completed, the tool will help identify “existing burdens, needed infrastructure improvements, and investments that can be considered by City Departments through their planning process,” Ms. Richardson wrote.

“The resolution indicates that in order to move forward in correcting this historic harm and in order to prevent further harm the City must move beyond acknowledgement and take specific actions to set corrective forces into motion,” she said.

The “corrective forces”  include the following:

— Incorporating environmental justice into City ordinances, codes, policies and processes;

— Creating  a meaningful public engagement policy and decision making process in direct consultation with the Equity and Empowerment Commission.

— Developing and maintaining an active GIS-based (Geographical Information Systems) inventory of environmental justice areas in Evanston.

At the Council’s Administration & Public Works Committee meeting, Rick Nelson, e co-chair of Environmental Justice Evanston (EJE) with Janet Alexander Davis, said the resolution resulted from work with a number of sources, including the City’s Environment Board, its Equity and Empowerment Commission, current City staff members, citizens, as well as current and past aldermen.

“So the point here is really that we got a lot of input from a lot of different sources, and we really didn’t put ourselves in a vacuum,” he said.

Two environmental issues dating back decades are centered around sites in the City’s Second and Fifth Wards, where a higher percentage of minorities reside.

EJE supported the City in its efforts to study and address the environmental impacts the Church Street Waste Transfer Station, at 1711 Church St., may be having on its surrounding neighbors.

In addition, the Smith Park Neighbors community group recently was successful in working with the City and State of Illinois to end an odor-producing process of an industrial company near Smith Park on Ashland Avenue, Mr. Nelson and Ms. Davis noted in a recent RoundTable guest essay.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.