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Outdoor air quality can have lasting long-term effects on health. According to the CDC, poor

air quality can lead to respiratory and cardiovascular damage. There are many sources that can

lead to poor air quality from industrial pollution to wildfires. The CDC notes that unhealthy air

emissions have been decreasing, but that as many as 127 million people still live in areas where

poor air quality exceeds national standards.

In Chicago, the neighborhood of Little Village, is heavily impacted by poor air quality due to

industrial pollution. When looking at a map of Chicago, we can see that Little Village is zoned

for residential areas and industry. This industry is one of the major causes of poor air quality in

Little Village. The Natural Resources Defense Council (2018), with data from the CDC, created

an interactive map showing that Little Village area had one of the heaviest environmental

burdens in the city. This poor air quality also leads to health problems. In 2017, Little Village

had 1,008 admissions to ER for issues related to asthma (Chicago Health Atlas, 2017).

Historically, Little Village has long been an area with heavy industry. After the great

Chicago fire in 1871, some industrial companies decided to rebuild on the outskirts of the city,

which is now the neighborhood of Little Village (Schmidt, 2013). This area at the time was

mostly farmland. People began to move to the area to work in these newly built factories. The

neighborhood grew and was one of the most densely packed neighborhoods in Chicago

(Schmidt, 2013). In 1926, the Crawford coal plant was built. It would remain operational in

Little Village for almost 100 years. In 2012, after years of pressure from environmental groups,

then mayor Rahm Emmanuel, brokered an agreement to have the coal plant shut down (Wernau,

2012). A neighboring coal plant in Pilsen, the Fisk Coal Plant, was also shut down at the same


The Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVJEO) has long been active in

advocating and strategizing plans to improve the environmental health of the Community. The

LVJEO were heavily responsible in the closure of the Crawford Power Plant (Wernau. 2012).

They worked closely with the city and the EPA to bring a much-needed park to the neighborhood

in 2014. Currently, they are protesting the decision by the city to allow the former Crawford site

to become a large-scale Target distribution center. The LVJEO claims that a distribution center

will still impact the neighborhood air quality negatively due to increase in diesel truck emissions

(Isaacs, 2020). The LVJEO said the city shut them out of talks related to the sale of the land

(Isaacs, 2020).

After the closure of the plant in 2012, the LVEJO advanced a proposal to repurpose the

land into an area for urban agriculture that would offer training and jobs to residents of the

community (Isaacs, 2020). They secured an agreement with the owners of the land to follow

certain “guiding principles”, like environmental impact, when considering development options.

A year later, the land was sold to Hilco development who ignored these “guiding principles” set

by the LVEJO and petitioned the city to allow the construction of a distribution center.

The LVEJO must focus on a policy level change to Chicago zoning laws as a strategy for

environmental justice. Chicago’s zoning laws were designed in the early part of the 20th century

to advance the construction of industries in the city. These laws do not require that meetings be

held with the community when zoning an area, they do not require the city to perform an impact

assessment on health, transportation, or environment of the zoned area, nor does it require the

city to share information with the public on zoning decisions (Isaacs, 2020). All of this keeps the

community in the dark and allows major zoning decisions and sales to be made without public


There is always the question of what will bring the greatest good to the community.

Industries that are currently operating in Little Village and those that want to build industry in

Little Village say that they bring the benefit of much need employment to an area were many

live in poverty. The environmental impact of the industries is real. Do jobs outweigh the lasting

health effects that residents will suffer from? Is justice really being served if the only small

percentage of peoples are benefiting, while the rest of a community must deal with the issues

brought on by poor air quality? The residents of Little Village think that the greater good

includes environmental justice and will continue to work towards that goal.


Chicago Health Atlas. (2017). https://chicagohealthatlas.org/indicators/HDED?topic=asthma-ed-


Geertsma, M. (2018). Natural Resource Defense Council. https://www.nrdc.org/experts/meleah-


Isaacs, C. (2020). Environmental justice in Little Village: A case for reforming Chicago’s zoning

laws. Northwestern Journal of Law & Social Policy, 15(3).

Click to access 322576386.pdf

Schimdt, J. (2013). South Lawndale, aka Little Village. WBEZ Chicago.



Wernau, J. (2012). Fisk, Crawford coal plants had long history, as did battle to close them.

Chicago Tribune. https://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-xpm-2012-09-02-ct-biz-


  • Wernau, J. (2012). Fisk, Crawford coal plants had long history, as did battle to close them. Chicago Tribune. https://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-xpm-2012-09-02-ct-biz-0902-crawford-fisk-20120902-story.html

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