by Laura Kratz, Elmhurst League of Women Voters (October 31, 2007)
When hundreds of people lined up on a rainy October night in Elmhurst last year to see An Inconvenient Truth, the Elmhurst League of Women Voters (LWV) knew they had touched a nerve in the community. The film had not been shown there during its commercial runs but, when an entire theater sold out for the League’s only screening, theater managers decided to cancel another movie and show it to 100 more people on a second screen.
Within a year, Elmhurst had become a Cool City.
“We knew this was a hot issue in our community,” said Donna Blue, LWV Co-President. “It
was especially popular with the high school kids, but people of all ages came out. And it
certainly wasn’t a partisan audience. After the film, we had a local science teacher give a short talk on what individuals can do to stop global warming. That teacher is a determined
environmentalist – and a Republican committeeman. We knew had to work on this issue.”
Elmhurst LWV followed up in April with a public program on the Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement, presented by area Sierra Club members. Equipped with a clear understanding of the Cool Cities initiative, the League formally adopted it as a local action item for 2007-2008 under LWV environmental positions that have been in place since the 1960’s.
Meanwhile, other community groups and institutions were working on their own educational programs and sustainability efforts. Sierra Club and LWV joined forces over the summer to assemble a Coalition of those groups to persuade the city’s mayor to sign the agreement. In just a few months, the Coalition welcomed the American Association of University Women (AAUW), Elmhurst PTA Council and Elmhurst College, followed by Elmhurst Hospital, the Public Library (part of city government), garden clubs, business organizations, the high school EcoClub and interested individual citizens.
The Coalition set to work, cultivating relationships with city staff who had already been taking measures to save energy, cut costs and help the local environment. And, as staff was looking to elected officials to set policy to further these efforts, the timing was right for a staff member to become a Coalition liaison. This relationship helped the Coalition prepare to approach their elected officials with a solid foundation for the Cool Cities proposal.
“Working alongside city staff members who are committed to the common goal was key,” said Blue. “They can speak to such issues as costs, feasible technologies, what’s unique to Elmhurst, and what their counterparts in other communities have experienced. They were able to anticipate questions that the Aldermen and the Mayor asked so they really added to the credibility of our effort.”
A great deal of thought was given to the formal letter asking the mayor to sign the US Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement. Using the Sierra Club/Cool Cities letter as a guide, the Coalition’s request pointed out benefits to the local community and pledged to follow through once Elmhurst became a Cool City by:
- Providing volunteers to help with the required emissions inventory and other labor intensive activities
- Promoting the City’s on-going sustainability efforts
- Educating the community on ways to continue to decrease pollution and use sustainable practices.
“We had to show the City Council and the Mayor that we expect more than a signed piece of paper and that we are willing to work hard for it,” said Blue. “We thought some aldermen might use the cost of an emissions audit as an excuse for not signing on but we averted it by offering our experienced volunteers to help with that research. Our groups are also very good at getting information out to public and we were saying the City deserves a lot of credit for what it has already done to improve the environment.”
Two City Council committees met together in late September to review the Cool Cities proposal and supporting staff recommendations. Coalition representatives and city staff were on hand to speak to the measure and aldermen responded favorably to the broad community support. Because estimated program costs were included, the aldermen discussed ways Cool Cities would necessitate realigning budget priorities for the city. They reached a consensus that the Cool Cities initiative is a valid statement of principle for future city operations and both committees recommended Elmhurst become a Cool City.
On October 1st, the full City Council voted to advise the Mayor to sign the US Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement. Mayor Tom Marcucci did so on October 4th.
Meanwhile, the Coalition had not been idle. From the beginning, plans were laid for a
community green festival in 2008 and various member groups scheduled educational programs to encourage the public take their own steps toward sustainability.
“Now that we’re a Cool City we really have lots of work to do,” said Blue. “But everyone is up to the challenge and our coalition continues to grow. We’re very excited about the next steps, both at city hall and in our neighborhoods.”