By Doug Ross
Environmentalists from throughout Northwest Indiana and the southeast suburbs, and even a bit beyond, gathered Tuesday and Wednesday at Marquette Park in Gary to make connections across the Indiana-Illinois state line. They left with a resolve to continue that process.
It's a good lesson not just for environmentalist, but also others in the Calumet area.
"Between now and the next summit, do something," U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., urged the Calumet Summit attendees.
"Think ahead 100 years from now, because that's how long some of this will take," Visclosky said.
That's a clear reference to Daniel Burnham's Plan of Chicago, which is still being implemented. Chicago's business leaders and others began transforming the city a century ago to create beauty out of the ashes of Chicago's devastating fire.
Today, environmentalists and other stakeholders see a region with some challenges left by heavy industry, but also with natural areas to protect or restore.
Like the Burnham plan, Visclosky's Marquette Plan aims to reclaim as much of the Lake Michigan shoreline as possible for public use. That plan focuses on Northwest Indiana, but the southeast suburbs and Chicago's South Side have much in common.
Improving the environment can pay off in quality of life, but also for economic development.
"They don't move here because the street grid is quare. They move here because they like what's outside the window," said Randy Blankenhorn, executive director of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.
Ty Warner, executive director of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, spoke of a text message from his wife, who was enjoying the beach Tuesday night. "Are we on vacation? I can't believe we actually live here," her message said.
That's the kind of quality of life the Calumet Summit attendees are working together to create.
It's important for environmentalists to strengthen connections throughout the Calumet area. That's an important message for environmentalists, but also for the region in general. The state line should not be a barrier to communication and cooperation any more than county lines are.