Carolyn Marsh’s house in Whiting, Indiana, just southeast of Chicago, sits within walking distance of both Lake Michigan and the BP Whiting Refinery. One is beautiful and the other, Marsh says, looks like “a death trap zone.” Now BP is pushing to expand the capacity of its refinery to process tar sands crude.
The synthetic heavy crude produced from tar sands is laden with more toxins than conventional oil. If the expansion goes through, people like Marsh, who live in the shadow of these refineries, will face increased exposure to heavy metals, sulfur, and carcinogens like benzene.
After learning of BP’s plans to pump tar sands pollution into the air and her community, Marsh was galvanized to action. She joined a legal challenge to the oil giant’s air permit.
Marsh believes BP’s permit application dramatically underestimates the potential air pollution from their tar sands expansion. The company understated the amount of toxic gases vented from flares, claiming they would only be released occasionally. But flaring will only increase as the refinery handles more of the world’s dirtiest oil.
Flaring is only one part of the refinery’s massive polluting process, and air pollution is not the only threat that Marsh fears from the tar sands expansion.
“We don’t want Lake Michigan to become another oil industry sacrifice zone. Quality of life here in Indiana should not suffer for foreign oil profits.”
The refinery is already one of the largest sources of mercury pollution in Lake Michigan. Mercury is a
Tar sands crude spells disaster for clean water in every step of its life cycle. If tar sands operations continue to expand in America, Lake Michigan will be exposed to the same types of contamination spreading through the once pristine water sources along the Athabasca River in Alberta, where tar sands are mined.
A recent study published by leading Canadian scientists found elevated concentrations of toxic heavy metals including arsenic, lead and mercury around and downstream from tar sands mining operations, suggesting a strong correlation between tar sands mining and toxic discharges to water resources.These poisonous impurities are released in refining as well, and discharges from BP’s tar sands expansion will bring the pollution of the Athabasca directly to Lake Michigan.
Marsh believes the citizen struggle to stop the tar sands expansion is her community’s best line of defense, and she has committed to the fight. She has little faith in state regulators, whom she believes are too complicit with toxic conditions created by BP’s refinery. Marsh knows what’s at stake.
Lake Michigan, which provides drinking water for 10 million people, will be exposed to new levels of contamination from particulate emissions and huge increases in ammonia and other discharges into the water from the refinery’s tar sands expansion.potent neurotoxin that causes severe fetal damage, impaired motor function, and kidney and respiratory damage in humans. “We don’t want Lake Michigan to become another oil industry sacrifice zone. Quality of life here in Indiana should not suffer for foreign oil profits,” she says.
During these difficult economic times there are many losers, including our land, water, air, biology and the local population. This is especially amplified by the more than 40-years since the Industry’s fortunes where coupled with those of the community’s. The results of this decoupling can be horribly seen in the our cultural landscape of existing conditions,
This is what I see when I look at existing conditions and opportunities along the southern shores of Lake Michigan here in East Chicago. Below you will find someone else’s vision which is limited to reindustrialize our lakefront.
A Gated Industrial Community
Arguably the most polluted waters in the country – the Indiana Harbor Shipping Canal (IHSC)
Joerse Beach: most contaminated beach in the Great Lakes and third most in the country.
Arguably the most polluted air-shed in the country – Lake county indiana ranking as the 9th most polluted air-shed in the country with the sources of pollution concentrated on East Chicago’s lakefront
>80% of East Chicago’s land-use is dedicated to heavy industry – ~50 of these industrial lands are out of productive use and considered contaminated, e.g., brownfields
14% of East Chicago’s land-use is dedicated Residential – ~17% of these residential properties are apart of a superfund site.
Immediate access to the world’s greatest freshwater resource
Adjacent to Chicago
Diversified land-use and therefore a diversified water-use, air-shed use resulting in a diversified regional economy
And a Plan to address the impairments of existing conditions and realize the opportunities – The Marquette Plan.
This is a story about the good, and a lot of tough love between communities.
To date the Portage lakefront is the only location where progress toward realizing the Marquette Plan is visible, and there are significant reasons why this is the case. The predominant reason is that Portage is a solidly white middle-class suburban community with middle-class values and an intact civil society. That is not the case with East Chicago or Gary. The Marquette Plan comes out of middle-class desires to access and utilize the commons on our lakefront.
Portage Lakefront Plan seen in context of the Marquette Plan
Unlike Hammond, Whiting, East Chicago and Gary, Portage’s industrial history only goes back to 1959 when National Steel opened a plant along Lake Michigan on the very site where the new Portage Lakefront Park now resides. In 1961 the Port of Indiana at Burns harbor, a deep water port, was opened. And in 1963 Bethlehem Steel Company started construction on their large integrated steel facility.
This eastern expansion of heavy industry along Lake Michigan’s southern shores prompted Senator Paul H. Douglas of Illinois to establish the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in an effort to preserve portions of Indiana’s natural shoreline, including its biodiversity, and unique landscape left thousands of years ago by the receding glaciers of the ice age.
In a few short years Portage went from a farming community with ancient dunes and swales and an expansive lakefront to an industrial community with no lakefront access. While Gary experienced a hollowing-out of its neighborhoods due to “White Flight” and massive disinvestment by Industry, Gary’s new neighbor, Portage was a fast expanding brand new, and mostly white, industrial community. Today, Portage has an estimated population of 36,000, the largest city in Porter County and the third largest in Northwest Indiana, behind Gary and Hammond. Portage is still mostly white with 92% white, ~8% hispanic, and <.2% black. Like most developments during this era Portage was designed on a suburban pattern model.
</Quick History Lesson>
Portage’s civic leaders not only adopted the Marquette Plan immediately, they expanded on it with their City’s Northside Master Plan. Of the five lakefront communities included in Phase I of the Marquette Plan, Portage is the only community to take advantage of JJR’s (award winning) work. You can see from the diagrams below how Portage has benefitted from a consistent visioning and planning process. Like East Chicago, Portage suffers from very little public access to the lake, and yet they propose to gain additional access by recovering existing brownfields along its waterway – the same strategy proposed in the Marquette Plan for East Chicago. You can see from these plans how Portage is looking to maximize what little they have by leveraging its waterways and River front. Clearly they have a long way to go, and not all the solutions are the most ideal, but this is a very good beginning. It is a testament to what can be done.
Marquette Subarea Conceptual Plan for Portage Lakefront
Portage Master Plan for Lakefront and Riverfront
In contrast to Portage, East Chicago has traded against the plan for a private development along the lakefront for one of the Mayor’s largest fundraisers (a family member was chief of staff and is now chief of police) and branded it as the Marquette Plan with no public input. The Mayor’s plan completely abandons the Marquette Plan which, like Portage, aimed to recover abandoned brownfields along its waterway – The Indiana Harbor Shipping Canal. Both the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) and the Regional Development Authority (RDA) have not only allowed this to occur without objection, but are encouraging and funding it. I will leave this story for another post.
It is important not to down play Portage’s regional identity as a white community as a contributing factor for its success. Unfortunately, “white” is still an important factor in identity politics in this challenged region. I don’t mean in any way to take away from the hard work that went into Portage’s successes, but to clarify the impediments the other communities face. It is just as important to acknowledge Portages ability to pull together a professional staff capable of realizing opportunities, attracting investment dollars, managing resources, and implementing solutions. And this is exactly why Portage poses a formidable challenge for the highly blighted older minority and urban communities along the lake. Because the leaders of Portage are more capable of forging the right relationships to produce results through an efficient process they are afforded more opportunities. Portage isn’t sitting still, in fact, they have begun to cherry pick opportunities slated for the other shoreline communities.
As an advocate for the older urban Lakefront communities, which dominate the Southern Shores of Lake Michigan, there is a part of me that is insulted that this project spearheads the redevelopment efforts as envisioned in the Marquette Plan. There is also a reality that money’s from the other minority communities, through the RDA, help finance this project. Now that Portage has completed this catalytic project, and jump-started its market by bringing valuable brownfields into productive common recreation use, Portage is set to realize its broader vision. Unfortunately, now that they have realized all this they no longer have a need to contribute to the RDA.
What Portage is able to realize is exactly what we had hope would happen when we first set out to develop the Marquette Plan. That is why we developed catalytic projects in each of our urban lakefront communities. The blighted conditions that remain in East Chicago and Gary are waiting for someone to implement their catalytic project as outlined in the Marquette Plan.
While regional entities praise the Portage project for reclaiming valuable though contaminated lakefront property, they also sight contamination as an impediment to redevelopment in my community. When it comes to redeveloping the Brownfields in East Chicago, all too often we are treated as if East Chicago were Chernobyl. If East Chicago is Chernobyl, and I am serious about this, then the USEPA ought to make this perfectly clear so we can begin abandon our properties and all our industrial facilities. If East Chicago is not Chernobyl then lets get to work and stop avoiding the impediments to change.
With the Portage project success has been gained, but now we need greater success.
This past spring we went out to Portage to take a look at the new lakefront park. Finding the entrance and then realizing that it was the entrance was just plain weird to say the least. It required entering and traversing a poorly marked U.S. Steel facility adjacent and across the river from the park. I suspect this was only a temporary solution, at least until they can construct a more formal and appropriate entrance. The most striking feature of the park besides the feeling of trespassing on industrial property when you enter is the pavilion. The Pavilion provides a very strong silhouette dominating the site and the visual field. By its design it begins to inform your experience in this rather strange setting.
The NWI Times posted a wonderful video introducing the new lakefront and laying out the awesomeness of its achievement:
Former Portage Mayor Doug Olson and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Superintendent Costa
Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) is conducting a 2040 plan for Northwest Indiana. This includes Lake, Porter, and LaPorte Counties. On July 15th, 2009 they issued a DRAFT VISION STATEMENT with an outline of goals, objectives, and strategies. I was asked to comment on its 44 pages, which takes a little commitment of time to review it in its entirety. The following is the first page, “A Thriving Economy” along with my comments. My additions and comments are in red.
The BP project in East Chicago has many ramifications not only for the health of local residents who live under the plumb of BP, but also upstream political cultures who trade on the investment of BP. The political elite are very much aware of the increase risk factors and the data that reveals local residents losing additional personal wealth due to this project. In a era that has become ever more sensitive to increased risk factors due to environmental pollution, the thought of increasing toxic releases will suppress even further the future assessed values of properties in this very poor community, leaving East Chicagoans in even weaker position to compete in the future economy.
In addition to the loss of health and personal wealth the residents of East Chicago, who pay the highest property taxes in the state, are expected to provide $165,000,000 in charity to BP for a tax abatement. The construction phase of the project has already begun, but for some reason East Chicago and whiting businesses and restaurants are not seeing new business from construction workers. It appears BP is staging workers in Lancing Illinois and frequenting their businesses and restaurants.
I am discussed in local environmentalist who speak on behalf of such projects because of job creation. What do they know about economic development. 40% of East Chicago’s Adult population are considered functionally illiterate, with less than 2% obtaining a collage degree required for one of the ~70 jobs at BP. I think my circle of friends skew this.
Nikiforuk called it comparable to “mountaintop” coal mining in the Appalachian region. Moreover, the industry has made ripples in America’s energy policy, he said. Canada’s tar sands have been touted as a sustainable alternative to oil fields in Saudi Arabia. Canada has become the No. 1 oil source for the U.S., a trend that likely will continue, he said.
“You’re trading bloody oil for dirty oil,” he said. “Which is like shifting your mortgage from Countrywide to Bear Stearns and hoping it’ll solve your problems.”
The expansion of refinery capacity at BP brings with it questions about future air quality and emissions, Nikiforuk said. So far, BP has not adopted the stringent standards in place at refineries in the San Francisco Bay Area in California.
On March 26th the School of the Art Institute held a panel discussion to “address perceptions that artists on Chicago’s South Side are under-known and undervalued or, at worst, intentionally ignored” as Jason Foumberg so aptly states in his piece titled “Why Have There Been No Great South Side Artists?” at Newcity Art.
Andre Guichard, artist and owner of Gallery Guichard
Joyce Owens, Chicago State faculty, Art & Design Department
Lowell Thompson, artist and writer
Natalie Moore, reporter, Chicago Public Radio
Patrick Rivers, SAIC faculty, Visual & Critical Studies Department
Living so far south that I inhabit a whole other state (which is still part of Chicago’s Calumet region), my marginal location gives me a very useful perspective on this subject. The subject speaks to the importance of identity and place and the old stories of enfranchisement. And I am very glad it has been brought up. I hope many Artist from Northwest Indiana participate in the ongoing discussions.
A major characteristic of my identity with Chicago growing up on the North Side was what was absent. I had a massive blackhole in my awareness of the city’s South Side. My family took advantage of a few South Side islands such as Hyde Park, China town, and Maxwell Street and I was a Sox fan, besides that I had no other identity with the South Side.
Chicago is known for its iconic neighborhoods, and yet during my youth – from the 1960s through the 1980s, most of Chicagoan’s lived in what I now call “Gap Areas.” These are places that lie between identities, mostly serving the nimby instincts (not in my backyard) of more powerful iconic identities. Consequently, these places tended to receive discarded land, material, infrastructure, and peoples; out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Whether they are brownfields or brownpeople north siders were too preoccupied with the forming of their own identities that they gave little attention to the South Side. It is hard for an enlightened northsider to speak to a Blackhole, even if they grew up in one.
When I think about this topic and its ramifications for Artist I don’t just think about the agents of art (makers and consumers) but also the place of art. Whatever you may think about the person, place also has an important role in Art. And when you add markets to the mix, well then, you just created hierarchies of place and centers of the arts which are highly biased toward monied interests.
There has always been a conflict between where the market is and where the artist live. Artists (or the Creative Class), being more mobile, have been known to abandoned where they live to migrate in mass and cluster around these highly capitalized creative centers. But now that capital has become highly mobile itself, actually much more mobile than people, there is no reason we can not bring these markets to these once discarded communities and neighborhoods and seed the development of more great artist.
See I believe, some of the blind neglect by the institutions of art and the media has expression in our built environment. The built environment is a physical record that also solicits certain behavior – it’s the construction of the Dan Ryan all over again. What has occurred on the southside with respect to the art world is another form of white flight and building barriers.
We are only beginning to see revitalization in the Bronzeville neighborhood and the near southside. My worry is that developers such as Community Builders, who are developing the Ida B. Wells area, have neglected the importance of Culture and the Arts to such an extent that they have not attracted the necessary capital to seed a vital cultural life.
Although Pilsen is a near southside community it can serve as a good example for seeding the development of a cultural center. There are several initiatives that make it a vital place for artist to live (the Hispanic Art Museum and the Podmajerski properties to name just two). The last decade has also seen an expansion of the art scene into Bridgeport and farther south. Then of course there is Hyde Park, Beverly and Morgan Park.
But what is forgotten are the neighborhoods that lie under the plumb of existing and fallow 20th century industry – steel mills and oil refineries. There has been very little to no progress in these neighborhoods.
By the title “Why have there been no great South Side Artists?” Jason Founberg references Linda Nochlin’s famous Feminist essay, “Why have there been no great women artists?” This is a great rhetorical tactic that worked well for women in the arts in the late 1980’s and early 1990s. It creates a dialectic between the art establishment and South Side Artists. The framing of the dialectic repositions the South Side Artist to a position of equivalence. Remember this is also the era that produced the Guerilla Girls, Hillary Clinton and other effective tactics of identity politics to empower disenfranchised women. If I was a community organizer, I would say we made same great gains here. So, as much as we need to continue building channels for great artists to reach the great show rooms of the Art establishment so too we need build the channels that brings the Art establishment to the South Side.
Finally, there are perceptual advantages to living at the margins of this Metropolis. ….
<Looking back at November 2006>This conference occurred more than 2 years ago at Indiana University Northwest. This is the kind of stuff that peeks my interests and tickles my hand. There was great significance to hosting such a conference at this time and place. Northwest Indiana had been looking for strategies to revitalize the region. They had developed the Marquette Plan, the Regional Development Authority, transportation projects, etc. This was in a continuation of efforts to move things along.
This brings to mind two issues.
What is the role of the Artist in urban vitalization?
Too often the artist’s voice in these kinds of discussions are treated like a craft booth artist, pedaling their cute works. Otherwise they are deaf, dumb and blind. Artists are to perform and be quiet. This is what I call the “Dirty Dancing” treatment. I am often embarrassed for Artist who accept such roles.
I believe the Artist needs to step up and contribute their voice to the built environment. I believe that Artist voice should take the leading role more often in civil society.
And what has happened in the last 2-years?
I am not certain anything has happened. I don’t know of any new initiatives or changes in the way the region is approaching revitalization.
It appears to me with the announcement of the BP project the region has actually regressed from advancing such initiatives.
Revitalization of the region reverted back to a reliance on old heavy industry, in this case the refining of the even dirtier fossil fuels – the Alberta tar sand.
The region became ensnarled in a lack of initiative and culture once again. Indiana and regional Leaders approved environmental permitting with out ANY objection. It wasn’t until Illinois voice objection to violating the the Clean water act that the issue was heard. Regional Leaders and the press did not investigate. They promoted the project without investigation. They approved with out reviewing impacts, particularly to initiatives outlined in this conference.
“The Arts Can Define a Region” John M. Cain, South Shore Arts
“Revive: Using Art to Help Heal a Superfund Site” Minda Douglas, Marcia Gillette, and Ann Cameron, Indiana University Kokomo
“The Impact of Visual and Expressive Art on Public Policy and Public Voice” Karen G. Evans, Indiana University Northwest Daniel Lowery, Calumet College of St. Joseph
“Cool Cities” Through Their “Creative Class”: A Model for Revitalizing Indiana’s Essential Cities” Bruce Frankel, Ball State University Deborah Malitz, Indiana City Corp. Larry Francer, Historic Farmland Flo Lapin, Goldspace Theater, Muncie Richard Sowers, Anderson Symphony David Bowdon, Columbus Symphony, Terra Haute Symphony, Carmel Symphony
“The Interstices Between Art and Economic Development” Michelle Golden, Books, Brushes and Bands Mary Kaczka, Hammond Development Corporation John Davies, Woodlands Communications Daniel Lowery, Quality of Life Council
“The Poetics of Space: IU Northwest’s Sculpture Garden” Neil Goodman, Indiana University Northwest
“Available: post-industrial development and design at Lake Calumet” Ellen Grimes, w / M. Powell, A. Kirschner, and M. al Khurasat, University of Illinois at Chicago
“Urban Redevelopment and the Arts: Flagship Cultural Projects in Los Angeles and San Francisco” Carl Grodach, University of Texas at Arlington
“Leveraging Culture to Build a City’s External Brand and Internal Cohesiveness” Tom Jones, Smart City Consulting
“The IU Northwest Klamen Mural Project” David Klamen, Indiana University Northwest
“Art in the Region” Patricia Lundberg, Indiana University Northwest
“Looking at Urban Renewal Trials” Peter Matthews, University of Mar
“Spaces of vernacular creativity” Steve Millington, Manchester Metropolitan University
“The Other City Beautiful: Philadelphia and its Avenue of the Arts” Micheline Nilsen, Indiana University South Bend
“Bilbao: a spectacular but somehow disenchanted city” Antonio Román,, University of Deusto
“The Creative Class and Urban Economic Growth Revisited” Michael Rushton, Indiana University, Bloomington
“Creating A Vision for International Community Development: Indianapolis in 2050” William Plater, Indiana University Purdue University, Indianapolis
“Projects to Save a City” Sanjit Sethi, Memphis College of Ar
“The ‘Guggenheim Effect’ and the ‘New Bilbao’: On the Social Costs of Bilbao’s Urban Regeneration” Lorenzo Vicario and Manuel Martínez-Monje, University of the Basque Country.
The following are some of my thoughts as I consider the impact the RDA can have on the region.
Agreement is not only elusive it is counterproductive to the very nature of our mission. The necessary range of our endeavor can only be achieved through a decentralized network of interests.
Organizing a region is one of the most ambitious human endeavors. Concepts at this scale are at the height of what is to be a Metropolis and why the RDA has formed. Where planning is generally considered a local responsibility municipal fragmentation is inevitable. Ordering the regional system has generally taken one of three approaches; social, environmental, or transportation.
Social plans emanating from a concern for creating a better place to live include Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City concept, and today’s New Urbanism. They establish three fundamental foci: The Urban Boundary, The Rural Boundary and Transit-Oriented Development. (NWI does not have regional example of this approach, However we do have a few scattered developments ranging from the worker villages of Marktown and Sunnyside to more recent developments such as Coffee Creek)
The environmentally structured plans include Olmsted and Eliot’s Boston Regional Plan. These examplify how the juxtaposition of nature to human settlements transcends ideology. Concerns for health, recreation, as well as our watershed, land and forests can overcome socioeconomic divisions. (The Marquette Plan as our first and only regional land use plan is a worthy expression of a Metropolis)
Until recent concerns for the environment, transportation had been the strongest determinant of the regional form, and continuous to be the ruling determinant here in NWI. (Again NWI is looking to transportation)
It is my recommendation, as we build this Metropolis and compete against other regions, that NWI and the RDA along with other regional authorities seed and overlay plans along all three approaches, To be a successful community we must learn to juggle many balls, and not ignore any for the emanance of one. From a land use perspective NWI has suffered from the tyrrany of single – use planning (some may argue the lack of planning). We must now acknowledge that this approach has not done us well. It has not been smart nor sustainable.
Today is an apt time to release some of my thoughts about the forming of the RDA. The following is a message I sent on to Tim Sanders, the NWI representative of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. and one of the organizers of the RDA, on September 6, 2005.
Today’s Opinion section of the Times outlined a number of initiatives for the RDA. Although I fully support the economic opportunities these projects represent to the region, I must encourage the RDA to adopt principles of “smart growth” and “sustainable development” to mitigate against any adverse impact. With the ongoing events on the Gulf Coast (due in part to the weakened wetlands system), the mission of the Great Lakes Collaborative in protecting our water supply, and the regional movement to improve the quality of life here in NWI, it is timely that the economic mission of the RDA partner with ecological principles. As we all know our waterways and air are amongst the most polluted in the country. We have the need and the opportunity to reverse the damage. First, in so doing, we have the opportunity to seed an industry of environmental re-mediation, secondly, in so doing, we open the opportunity to feed-up the American economic food chain and attract knowledge based industries and workers to the region. I have an idea, lets get obsessive about cleaning our environment and lets be known throughout the country for this obsession. Chattanooga, Tennessee can serve as a great example, considered America’s dirtiest city in the 1980’s today it is one of America’s greenest.
At present the mission of the RDA is project or action/transportation orientated, as the outline of initiatives show. The RDA, as a natural outgrowth of NIRPC is like NIRPC, and threatens to duplicate NIRPC and past mistakes. With that said NIRPC’s historical role has been in transportation, leaving land use to the municipalities, in reality to industry (In the case of East Chicago and Gary City Planning and building standards are no longer existent). At some point, municipal shortfalls will need to be addressed at the regional level, if we are to maximize economic growth opportunities. The regions lack of history in land use planning and lack of balance between land use and transportation has contributed to the regions lack of quality of life. We lack so much. I encourage the members of the RDA to bring greater emphasis to land use planning and establish a committee addressing Brownfield redevelopment. For further discussion on Brownfield Redevelopment and three case studies see below.
Although I am not a Historical Preservationist I must also encourage the RDA to act responsibly when it comes to the few remaining remnants of our regions heritage. In the right hands these resources offer nodes of development from which to cluster new industries in todays knowledge based economy. These historical references can give location a place, and a marker to time. In our zeal to get something done don’t forgot the value of what was already here. WE DO NOT LIVE IN AN ENVIRONMENT OF SCARCE OPPORTUNITIES AND WE DON’T HAVE TO BEHAVE AS IF WE DO. We need to behave as we want to be, and we will become that. We just need to prove that we are economically rational, that we understand the value of what we have, and that we treat what we have with value.
Next, I would like to raise a tone of caution when it comes to the planned expansion of Gary/Chicago International Airport, I fear the need to aggressively push expansion through will negatively and severely impact East Chicago’s harbor neighborhoods as this does not have to be the case. As presently planned the expansion would negatively impact the only stable middle class neighborhood in the City, a hospital, three elementary schools, and acres of parkland. If I could I would nominate the airport expansion as a candidate for a smart growth initiative, by orienting growth in a much more compatible manner. It appears the planned configuration is a political configuration, and perhaps a product of the petty fiefdoms. The intent seems to be to threaten the desirability of East chicago, and force East Chicago to negotiate from a negative position, to gain back its future economic potential. The only problem is East Chicago leadership does not yet perceive the threat and are not engaging the issue.
Lastly, Lets be vision makers, and lets build upon our identity.