Village of Arlington Heights

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Living Green!


National Geographic Green Guide to Smart Cities : Arlington Heights 

What have been the Village’s biggest environmental challenges? Please tell us things that are unique to Arlington Heights, environmentally, socially, geographically, historically. 

Geographically Arlington Heights is the largest suburb of Chicago in Cook County with a population of nearly 77,000 contained in a 16.40 square mile area. With Cook County being the second most populous in the nation, the Village’s major environmental challenge is traffic congestion and providing innovative environmental programs that influence our community’s impact on the area’s environmental health. It is the home to the Arlington Park Racecourse which is a unique feature of the community and has been in existence since 1927. The Racecourse, owned and operated by Churchill Downs, holds the Arlington Million and also was a host of the famous Breeder’s Cup. Unique geographic characteristics of Arlington Heights include its proximity to Illinois Tollway, I-90, arterial thoroughfares that link many northwest suburbs, O’Hare International Airport, which accommodates over 2,500 flights a day, and the Union Pacific Railway Northwest Line of Metra, a major commuter railway. Arlington Heights is a very linier community. Due to its great location and proximity to Chicago plus its significant span of growth in the 1960s, Arlington Heights is a landlocked community with minimal buildable space which presents challenges -- turned into “green” opportunities -- for building new park space, new buildings, etc.

Socially, the Village has very active participation in its community events, Senior Center, Teen Center, and Park District programs. Our community has an aging populace but many new, young families are moving into the area. One thing that has always been said about Arlington Heights is that children raised here often plan to return here, which gives the community its small-town ambience. Also, having long-time residents devoted to the community is a significant value to the vibrancy of our Village.

Historically Arlington Heights was incorporated in 1887 and is one of the oldest suburbs northwest of Chicago. It “grew up” as a railroad town, where the hub of Village activity was in the center of town near the train stop for the Union Pacific Railroad. Today, Arlington Heights is the largest ridership stop for the Metra railway train system, which transports commuters along the northwest corridor to and from Chicago. The Village’s most significant residential growth occurred in the late 1950s to early 1960s, which today results in challenges with an aged infrastructure.

The Village’s biggest and most interesting environmental accomplishments?

Reviewing the list above, some of the Village’s great success was addressing some of the challenges of area flooding by working cooperatively with other agencies and helping fund major flood control projects that resulted in Arlington Lakes Golf Course, the Deep Tunnel and Lake Arlington. Both of these projects called for leadership that was innovative, willing to negotiate, and patient. Each project took over 10 years to plan. Another success is the redevelopment of Downtown, which brought in a residential component to the heart of the Village. These residents can use the train, shop for groceries, pick up their dry cleaning and enjoy a movie without ever having to use their car for transportation. The new train station, which was a part of the redevelopment, includes a large bike shelter to promote commuters to ride their bike to the Arlington Heights train stop instead of traveling by car.  

How do you consider Arlington Heights a “smart” Village?

A smart community is defined as a community that continually looks to solve the challenges it faces and does not give up until the best solution is found. It works cooperatively with other governmental agencies and looks for funding support where possible. There are projects that may take over a decade to plan, but that careful planning process is what leads to great implementation. Arlington Heights has faced many challenges due to its location and age. Through the leadership’s commitment to offer quality services in Arlington Heights, the Village is always searching for ways to address current challenges. Through collaborative efforts, negotiations and careful planning, most challenges can be successfully addressed.

How do we overcome the Village’s biggest environmental, social and geographic challenges?

The Village of Arlington Heights has always been lead by an innovative Board that always planned for tomorrow. Because of this, challenges have been anticipated and careful planning was done throughout the years to address some of the environmental and geographic challenges facing the Village. Environmental challenges are always monitored through the Environmental Control Commission established by the Village in 1971. The Commission is an advisory group to the Village Board and works in conjunction with the Health Department towards implementing various programs such as our recycling program. Arlington Heights is one of the first communities to begin a residential recycling program and later start a business recycling program. The Village is now one of the leading communities in terms of the amount of recyclables collected. The Village’s environmental efforts encompass a broad spectrum of activities with the goal of improving environmental health and encouraging environmental awareness among our residents.

In addition: 

Arlington Heights was one of the first suburbs in Chicagoland to pass a Clean Indoor Air Ordinance which banned smoking from inside of restaurants, all businesses and other places open to the public. It also instituted a requirement that smoking had to take place at least 15 feet away from an entrance to a building. The Village’s ordinance was in effect one year before the state enacted its Smoke Free Illinois Act. 

For 10 years the Village has run a successful Farmers’ Market which encourages people to buy from farmstands instead of chain grocery stores, which positively affects the environment and supports local growers who do not need to transport their produce and goods to larger stores. 

In 1999 and 2000 Arlington Heights was recognized with major awards for its redevelopment of its Downtown. The transit-oriented, pedestrian friendly planning and working with developers to create high-rises that fit within the character of the Village were major reasons why Arlington Heights was selected for these awards. The awards include the National League of Cities’ Howland Award for Urban Enrichment in 2000; the Metropolitan Planning Council’s Burnham Award for Excellence in Planning and Implementation for Arlington Heights Downtown Re-development in 1999 and the American Planning Association’s 2001 Outstanding Planning Award for Implementation of Downtown Redevelopment. 

As part of our pedestrian-friendly Downtown, the Village ensured easy access to the newly developed train station, improved the sidewalks and crosswalk areas, placed a large bike shelter near the commuter train depot, and later added onto a Downtown parking garage and re-faced it so it would fit in with the new development and tie-in with the new look of the train station. Part of the redevelopment of the Downtown included multi-use high rises that allowed for first floor business space and residential above. That was an entirely new look for a Downtown that had become over the decades a place of empty storefronts, tired-looking buildings and little life and activity. After redevelopment, our Downtown residential condos filled with empty nesters who wanted to stay in the community but not own a home, and with commuters who took the train every day to work. Living nearby the train station became a great draw for young professionals who could simply walk to the train instead of drive and park their vehicle in a garage. 

The Village has agreed to purchase four hybrid vehicles which will be placed into the rotation of non-emergency fleet vehicles once the Village is ready to replace an existing car. 

The Village participated in the Weller Creek Flood Control project which tied into the Chicago Tunnel and Reservoir Plan. This project, known as the “Deep Tunnel,” includes 109 miles of huge underground tunnels that intercept combined sewer overflow from communities and conveys it to large storage reservoirs. After a storm subsides, the overflow is conveyed to treatment plants for cleaning before going to a waterway. The Deep Tunnel, combined with flood control upgrades done by participating municipalities, stopped untreated sewage, diluted with storm runoff, from polluting area lakes, rivers, and streams, and also causing street and basement flooding. 

In conjunction with the Deep Tunnel project, the Village also partnered with the Arlington Heights Park District to build water retention basins in areas that could double as a passive recreation area when it was not storming. This positively impacted basement flooding and allowed storm water runoff to be “held back” until the combined sewer system could handle a heavier intake. The largest water retention area in Arlington Heights, which was created in 1990, is “Lake Arlington.” This 93-acre site was built as water retention area as part of the Village’s Macdonald Creek Flood Control Project. The area stays as a “lake” and also works as a water retention site that handles stormwater run-off. This helps basement flooding in the area and adds a passive recreational component that enhances the lives of Arlington Heights residents. Lake Arlington features a two-mile bike and walking path, includes playground and picnic area, allows fishing and offers sailboat and paddleboat activities. 

Another cooperative project between the Park District and Village was the creation of Nickol Knoll Golf Course, which was the site of a former Village landfill. Once the landfill was finished being used, it was later developed into attractive green space as a 9-hole, par-three golf course. Before it was developed into a golf course, “the hill” was a place where Walter Payton, famous running back for the Chicago Bears, regularly exercised by running up and down the hill with weights. 

In the early 1970s the Village worked in cooperation with the Park District and the U.S. Army base once located here to obtain 110 acres of donated army base land that turned into another flood control project for the south end of the Village. In 1979, this donated property was engineered into an 18-hole golf course with several retention basins that positively affected the basement and street flooding problems in the area.

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