Frank Lloyd Wright once said that, "Chicago may eventually be the last beautiful, great city in the world." What Mr. Wright didn't know at the time is that Chicago would also become the greatest green city in the world, leading a revolution in sustainable building.
This past week Chicago hosted the U.S. Green Building Council's annual Greenbuild International Conference and Expo for the second time, uniting individuals from different backgrounds, professions and even nations around one common cause: building a better, healthier, more sustainable world.
Chicago's iconic skyline provided the perfect backdrop to inspire the tens of thousands of professionals involved in green building and manufacturing who attended Greenbuild 2010. The Merchandise Mart is the largest commercial building in the world, and the largest to receive a LEED Silver rating. The Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), the tallest building in North America, is undergoing a massive energy-savings retrofit. Across Chicago's majestic skyline are more LEED-certified buildings than any other city on earth.
For years, we've asked ourselves: Can we build it taller? Can we build it faster? Can we build it cheaper? At the USGBC, we ask a different question: Can we build it better? Can we build in ways that are more sustainable, more energy efficient and that provide clean air and good lighting? In ways that can create jobs, restore our economy, and build healthier, more livable communities?
These are critical questions in this new decade. And the answer depends, in part, on our leaders in Washington, who have a big job ahead of them. They must make the hard choices that will determine the kind of country we're building for tomorrow. Will it be a country where green jobs are as respected and supported as education, medicine, and the law? Where clean energy is referred to simply as energy - because it's the only kind we use?
Washington may or may not enact the policies that make that future a reality. But even without landmark legislation, I am more optimistic about our future than ever before. Because the USGBC and countless Americans are committed to sustainable building and green jobs.
I have a number that should get everyone thinking, regardless of their politics: 7.9 million. That's the number of jobs that a green building agenda, fully realized, could add to our ailing economy. Construction jobs, jobs updating older manufacturing facilities, jobs creating technology, jobs building new infrastructure, jobs that can't be outsourced.
Of course, green building does more than create jobs. Done right, it can improve education. Studies have shown that kids learn better in schools that have been built or retrofitted to meet LEED standards. It makes sense - healthier environments make for healthier, happier kids, and those kids are more ready and better able to achieve as a result.
Green building is a powerful resource in our fight against tough problems, from the economy to the environment to education - a resource we're not using to anywhere near its full potential.
But Chicago is showing us the way, thanks in no small part to Mayor Daley. During his tenure as mayor, he has reinvented Chicago as one of the most environmentally responsible cities in the nation, and the momentum he has built here is invaluable as we move forward. That's why the USGBC created the Mayor Richard M. Daley Legacy Award for Global Leadership in Creating Sustainable Cities. If every city thought more like Chicago, we'd be in a better place today, and creating better spaces for tomorrow.
I may be more of an optimist than Frank Lloyd Wright; I think many of our nation's cities are beautiful, enduring, and great. I hope they'll all look to Chicago, though, and take note. This city's example is so important not only because it's inspiring, but also because it's replicable. We can transform all our cities into better, healthier places to live, places we can all be proud to call home.
But only if we're willing to try.