Ken Dunn

[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #2 in February 2006]

What do you see as the future for food production in Chicago?

We’ll have all of the vacant acreage in Chicago under production and the city will be able substantially to produce its own food. That’s probably ten years down the road, but the Mayor is in agreement with the principle of producing food or other beneficial greenery on all of the 10,000 vacant acres and I told the Mayor that if we’re going to produce responsibly, we’ll produce compost from organic matter that’s here in the city anyway. The first thing on that agenda will be to develop the 2,000-ton per day compost facility that will be beginning probably in March. It will be a partnership between the Resource Center and the city producing compost for the soil, so that we can eventually get to greening all of the vacant lots. We can not grow in the contaminated soils that are already there, but we can grow in chemical-free, clean compost. And the alternative, if you’re not producing rich compost, is to go out to the suburbs or farms nearby and strip the soil or get the animal manure—which are needed out there—to bring in here. So the responsible thing is to use the city’s own materials to enrich its space.

Sustainability is increasingly being adopted as a goal and there’s a certain amount of pop-ularity or promiscuity as to how the word is being used. Is this the kind of language you use and if so, what does it mean to you?

I think it means living so that we don’t take more than our share of the earth’s resources, in that it will allow the planet to sustain the diversity and populations we now have in the future.
On the other side, sustainability is not letting the earth’s resources that we do use be distributed unequally. And I take both of those to be equally important. Social justice, I think, would be fair distribution of resources, and the other term would be to just minimize the extraction and the degradation of our planet. I think that the argument as to what needs to be done in the popular use of the word is being simplified to just two or three things to make a “sustainable city” or a “sustainable civilization” and I disagree with that.

Can you address the differences in how people in different communities think about recycling? And can you also speak about some of the ways the Resource Center specifically addresses social and spatial inequities through the recycling?

Inhabit the borders. It is our duty as reflective people to inhabit the boundaries, to discover what the reason for borders are in order to understand society better. We often started recycling in contested communities that inhabited borders. I decided a good place for a recycling site 4716 North Sheridan would be where the lakefront liberals will encounter the other people coming in with their buy-backs. Dan Peterman’s Experimental Station was also on the border; Hyde Parkers would bring their materials in and we would use the site to run material collection and as a buyback for the people of Woodlawn. Many of our sites were selected because they were on the border of two communities. Interest in recycling would come from the more affluent or liberal community while the jobs created were deserved by a low income community where unemployment was pretty high. We established our sites on the borders where everyone would feel safe by not having to go to far into another neighborhood and we were well aware of these differences and crafted our sites to serve both communities.



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