Chicago’s new Chief Sustainability Officer, Angela Tovar, visited ICA GreenRise on September 28, 2020 to tour the mixed-use building and learn how it serves both people and the environment as a hub for sustainable community.
Tovar’s visit came in response to a letter sent by the GreenRise Restoration Project (GRRP) Advisory Team to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot urging her administration to support the project with capital investment and an operating grant. Lightfoot was previously introduced to ICA GreenRise at a North Side community meeting organized by LISC Chicago in May, 2019, just prior to being sworn in as Mayor.
GRRP Advisory Team members Ted Wysocki, Lesley Showers, Karen Snyder, and Mary Laura Jones used the letter to give a brief history of the building since it was given to ICA by Kemper Insurance in 1971, focusing primarily on how its current position as a community anchor would be strengthened by the proposed $18 million restoration project.
The project, which aims to “create an environmentally efficient building to become a local and national demonstration of how to retrofit a vintage building to be green and save money,” should be supported by the City because it “offers a new narrative for investing in a community anchor that serves Uptown’s vulnerable populations,” the letter argues.
When the Mayor assigned Tovar to follow up on the letter, she was eager to arrange a site visit.
Tovar, a native Chicagoan who grew up on the South Side, was appointed as Chief Sustainability Officer in June. She pledged to advance a “robust climate and sustainability agenda that is rooted in equity and is aimed at mitigating environmental harm in our most overburdened communities” through partners that “help uplift community-based solutions and to create new opportunities for our most underserved residents.”
At the late September visit, Ecumenical Institute (EI) COO Lesley Showers set out to demonstrate how deeply ICA GreenRise aligns with Tovar’s statements and the City’s climate goals. She explained that GreenRise has long been a strong partner with the City on its energy goals, serving as the pilot project for the Energy Benchmarking ordinance and the first nonprofit-owned building to participate in the Retrofit Chicago program in 2013. By 2016, the building had exceeded its energy reduction goals, earning it a place in the Mayor’s Leadership Circle. The building hosts the second largest rooftop solar array in Chicago, consisting of 485 panels that generate 25% of the power it uses.
ICA GreenRise is also a historic building. It was designated a Chicago Landmark by the City in 2013 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2017. The renovation project will retain and restore the building’s historic elements—such as the terra cotta facade, storefronts, elevators bays, stairwell, and lobby—while further enhancing energy efficiency with innovative HVAC and additional solar capacity grounded in Passive House principles.
As they walked through several floors of the building, Lesley explained to Tovar how the first five floors host a mix of social service agencies such as Heartland Alliance Health and Sarah’s Circle and community-serving commercial businesses like Lawrence House Pharmacy and Great Lakes Credit Union.
The remaining floors are used for ICA’s offices, a conference and retreat center, and and two intentional communities. Lesley introduced Tovar to Bilinda Pringle, a resident of the GreenRise Intentional Community located on the seventh floor. Bilinda explained how the Intentional Community is unique in merging affordable housing with a rich communal experience. This kind of communal living situation, Lesley argues, is largely absent from mainstream discourse on housing affordability and should be explored as a viable alternative.
Following the tour, Lesley asked Tovar to be an advocate with the City to fund the project. Tovar affirmed that she can clearly see the vision of the GreenRise and the value it poses as a demonstration of sustainability and equitable community development. She agreed to follow through with other City officials to find funding streams that can be allocated to support the GreenRise Renovation Project.