As DeKalb prepares to update Sustainability Plan of 2014, here’s a brief history

Editor’s note: This is the December installment of a monthly column written by the City of DeKalb’s Citizens’ Environmental Commission that focuses on increased awareness of issues such as promoting projects and ordinance changes involved in recycling, reducing energy consumption, and planting native habitat.

In 2012, the City of DeKalb took a giant step into the future: It initiated work on a Sustainability Plan, a 10-year vision for the city.

To emphasize the importance of this move, note that the most often quoted definition of “sustainability” comes from the United Nations’ World Commission on Environment and Development: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

To this end, the city of DeKalb embarked on a multi-year, collaborative, grassroots strategic planning effort nearly a decade ago.

In 2012, the Citizens’ Environmental Commission formed a sustainability subcommittee to address concerns related to all aspects of DeKalb life such as air quality, alternative energy, natural environment, food security and healthy living, and water resources.

After months of deliberation, the city hosted nine sessions for public input in July 2014, with roundtable discussions engaging residents, students, employers and leaders in a structured effort to collect information to shape a vision for the future. Participants provided ideas to help make our community a sustainable place for current residents while serving as a model community for incoming families.

To reach every sector of the community, flyers in English and Spanish were posted at 90 sites throughout the city, including public facilities (e.g., the library), grocery stores, laundromats, multi-unit residential buildings, rental offices, churches, community-based organizations and other places with significant community traffic. Press releases, radio advertisements and a webpage on the city site devoted time and space to strategic planning.

The Center for Governmental Studies of Northern Illinois University reached out to Latino, African American, and Asian communities as well as high school and university students. The city staff, headed by then DeKalb Mayor John Rey, contacted about 60 leaders from nonprofit, private, faith-based and public sectors to ensure full participation.

Between May 1 and July 31, 2015, 14 locations throughout DeKalb were used to host 15 community conversation sessions, with 48 small-group discussions also contributing concerns.

In total, information was received from 321 people who attended in-person discussions, 91 who completed an online survey, and two additional sets of emailed comments. The Center for Governmental Studies organized and summarized all the information, and a strategic planning framework was presented to the City Council and approved in late August 2015. From September to early November 2015, senior city staff devoted significant time to translating the strategic planning framework into an operational document.

The Citizens’ Environmental Commission was charged with the responsibility of distributing sections of the 18 final goals of the Sustainability Plan to its commissioners. Each goal contained short, medium, and long-term goals, with the understanding that it would take years to accomplish some of the more ambitious goals for the city.

A sampling of the successes and pending work will be covered in next month’s article as the CEC prepares an event to again engage DeKalb citizens on updates to this vital document.

Clare Kron is the chair of the city of DeKalb’s Citizens’ Environmental Commission, an advisory committee for the DeKalb City Council and city staff. The commission examines, studies and identifies issues related to the environment.