Chicago City Council to Take Up Native Gardens Protections

New Native Garden Registry to Curb Discriminatory Crackdown, Protect the Environment

CHICAGO Today, advocates joined Alderman Brian Hopkins (2nd Ward-Chicago) and a dozen other aldermen to introduce the Native Plants Gardens Registry Ordinance (O2021-362) for consideration by the Chicago City Council. The proposal would create a new Managed Native Garden Registry, protecting citizens who follow sustainable landscaping practices from enforcement actions under the current Weed Ordinance and promoting the sustainable landscaping practices that contribute to the health and vibrancy of Chicago.
Residents may register native plant gardens on their properties with the Department of Planning and Development at no cost, which will shield them from excessive Weed Ordinance citations as long as they responsibly manage their plantings.

“The Native Garden Registry Ordinance will fix a technicality that has resulted in tickets issued to residents who have purposefully curated native plantings on their properties. Native gardens play a small-yet-critical role in supporting endangered pollinators, while alleviating flooding with additional rainwater capture. Residents may now pursue native landscaping elements without fear of tickets, so they may do their part to enhance environmental protections, one property at a time,” said Alderman Brian Hopkins. 

The city’s Weed Ordinance enforcement efforts have increased since the dissolution of the Department of the Environment and have resulted in citations against native plants and vegetable gardens–upwards of $600 for some homeowners. In working with Mayor Lightfoot’s administration to develop this registry, advocates look forward to the continued promotion of these sustainable and ecologically desirable practices.
“We all benefit when local food, native plants and sustainable landscape practices are not just allowed in the city of Chicago, but are actively fostered by city policy and practice,” said Colleen Smith, deputy director of the Illinois Environmental Council. “This is an opportunity for the city to promote sustainable practices and improve quality of life in communities across Chicago.”
Compounding the problem, city inspectors are focusing their enforcement efforts on disinvested communities struggling with vacant lots, leading to disproportionate ticketing of individuals in parts of the South and West side of Chicago.
“Blacks in Green (BIG) has paid the $600 fine, so we know the pain,” said Naomi Davis, BIG founder and director. “We’ve fought the fine, lost, and racked up hundreds more in fees. BIG has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in value on green infrastructure over the past 10 years in our walkable-village of West Woodlawn, lifting up beauty and attracting new neighbors, teaching about the climate crisis and ecology and cultivating garden love. We’ve planted hundreds of trees, taught neighbors to grow food anywhere, and jump-started a horticultural economy, because black neighbors are hit first and worst by global warming, only to be told by the city that this resilience work was a problem.”
Native and edible gardens are beneficial to the environment and those living nearby. They reduce flooding, stormwater runoff and pollution associated with turfgrass maintenance while conserving water, supporting endangered pollinators and feeding local families.
“The Field Museum supports a Native Garden Registry as part of its mission to work with community partners to bring about nature- and culture-based solutions in the City of Chicago,” said Carter O’Brien, Field Museum sustainability officer. “We know from establishing our own Rice Native Gardens the benefits they provide, like reducing urban flooding and run-off, sequestering carbon, cooling summer heat, and hosting birds and butterflies. A citywide native garden registry will reduce unwarranted citations and encourage these same benefits throughout the city.”
Cosponsors of the ordinance include: Birian Hopkins (2nd), Patrick Thompson (11th). Michael Rodriguez (22nd), Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), Andre Vasquez (40th), Michele Smith (43rd), Tom Tunney (44th), James Cappleman (46th), Matt Martin (47th), Harry Osterman (48th) and Maria Hadden (49th).

Organizations in support include: Blacks in Green, the Chicago Region Tree Initiative, Faith in Place, Advocate for Urban Agriculture, Friends of the Chicago River, The Field Museum, Openlands, Center for Neighborhood Technology, Chicago Eco House and Angelic Organics Learning Center.

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