Chicago's champion of trees, water, climate honored by sustainable landscaping group
Suzanne Malec-McKenna, commissioner of the Department of Environment for the City of Chicago, will receive the Polaris Award from the Midwest Ecological Landscaping Association at its annual conference Feb. 17 in Lisle, Ill.
The award recognizes an individual who has demonstrated outstanding commitment to the practices of sustainability in the environment.
Malec-McKenna has been a steward of nature, water, air, trees, energy, people and the green economy in the Chicago region's environment for more than 20 years, since she set up the TreeKeepers volunteer urban forestry program while working for Openlands, a regional conservation nonprofit.
By 1994 she was working for the city's Department of Environment, where her portfolio has ranged from overseeing the creation of the North Park Village Nature Center to implementing the Chicago Climate Action Plan, an ambitious work of analysis that lays out concrete strategies for reducing the region's contribution to climate change and dealing with its inevitable effects. Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed her to lead the department in 2007.
She has led efforts including GreenCorps Chicago, which teams up city agencies and community groups for neighborhood open space; the Chicago Center for Green Technology, an incubator of green building and landscaping ideas; the Calumet Initiative, which brings together interests from Illinois and Indiana for the future of the Calumet region at the south end of Chicago; and the Chicago Conservation Corps, which marshals volunteers for environmental work in the city.
Malec-McKenna is a tireless and eloquent speaker to every audience from neighborhood groups to safety engineers, preaching a pragmatic but passionate approach to keeping Chicago at the forefront of action toward a more sustainable future and a green economy. And she still takes time to teach TreeKeepers volunteers how to identify urban trees in winter.
She has a B.S. degree from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and an M.S. in Managerial Communication from Northwestern University in Evanston, where she is pursuing a doctorate in Communication Studies.
The Midwest Ecological Landscaping Association is a community of landscape designers, contractors, suppliers, nurseries and other professional committed to sustainability. Its conference, titled "HANDS-ON Sustainability: Getting it Done!," will include practical workshops on how to implement sustainable practices in the industry. Find the full schedule and register online at melaweb.org.
The conference will be held from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 17 at The Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Rt. 53, in Lisle, Ill.
Before Feb. 17, registration (including breakfast and lunch) is $235 a person ($165 for MELA members). At the door, registration is $255 ($185 for MELA members). Membership, $60 a year for individuals and $125 per year for organizations, includes member-price registration.
O’Keeffe Garden Sustains the Community; MELA Promotes Virtual Learning
Gardening is changing the lives of teens on the Southside. MELA members are engaged in virtual learning about sustainability on this website. And MELA members will gather at the Morton Arboretum for the first time for their 2011 conference on February 17.
All of these items made news at the Annual Members’ Meeting September 15 at Cantigny Gardens.
Featured speaker Emily Kenny, science teacher at O’Keeffe School at 70th and Merrill, spoke about the development of the garden and how it has engaged the teens who formerly had little to do and no opportunity to interact with nature on a daily basis.
“We cannot tell you what a difference this garden has made to the lives of students and to the entire neighborhood,” Kenny said. “The kids protect this space and are dedicated to it.” They have learned about sustainability in nature, she said, as well as teamwork and community.
The city lot, owned by Neighbor Space, has been the garden for eighth grade students at the school for several years. The students maintain it year round under the guidance of Ms. Kenny.
In recent years, the garden had become overrun with weeds in spite of the students' effort to keep it maintained. Knowing of MELA's interest in creating a sustainable site, Neighbor Space Executive Director Ben Helphand suggested the collaboration with O’Keeffe.
The site now includes raised vegetable beds, a butterfly garden, a memorial garden to a student who was murdered in 2006, garden art, benches, and tables for the students and neighbors to play games. To learn about the sustainable practices utilized in this garden, click here.
Guidance for this project was provided by Lynn Bement, The Organic Garden Coach, Pam Wirtz, Grace Landscaping, and Grace Koehler, Pizzo & Associates. Many MELA members contributed, including: Midwest Trading Horticultural Supplies, Midwest Groundcovers, Lurvey’s, Care of Trees, and The Mike Nowak Radio Show.
The project is funded in part by a grant from The City of Chicago Department of the Environment.
MELA Promotes Sustainability in Action
The Annual Meeting also promoted MELA’s new Sustainability in Action site, a members-only online learning and networking site that offers tips on how to work sustainably. The site includes six areas relating to the Sustainable Sites categories of soils, plants, water, materials and human health and well being. A sixth site offers members a chance to keep up with the developments of MELA’s demonstration sites.
Each site has a moderator to guide online discussion and provide links and resources.
Moderators, including Linda Kiscellus, Moore Landscapes, plants moderator; Laura Haussmann, soils moderator; Mark Moxley, Lake Street Supply, materials moderator; Ernesto Huaracha, WRD Environmental, water moderator; and Grace Koehler, Pizzo & Assoc., demonstration sites moderator, were on hand after the program to preview the site for members.
New Developments for 2011
Incoming Board President Mark Moxley announced initiatives for 2011, including more member involvement opportunities, enhanced member benefits, educational opportunities focused on the “how-to” of sustainability and another great winter conference.
The conference will be held February 17, 2011 at The Morton Arboretum.
New Board Members Stephen Bell, partner, Clean Air Lawn Care; Amy Beltemacchi, Landscape Architect, Site Design Group; Scott Jamieson, Vice President, Bartlett Tree Experts; William Quinlan, partner at Quinlan and Quinlan; Jane Rogers, Senior Horticulturist, Cantigny Gardens; and Greg Schaumburg, Senior Designer, Hursthouse Landscape Architects and Contractors, were also introduced.
See more photos here!
Bement, Wirtz Receive First Annual Sustainability in Action Award
MELA members Lynn Bement and Pam Wirtz were honored at the Members’ Meeting with the organization’s first annual Sustainability in Action Award. They were cited for their leadership in restoring the O’Keeffe School Garden using sustainable practices.
Wirtz, who is owner of Grace Landscaping, provided the design for the garden. Bement, owner of The Organic Garden Coach, assisted with weed suppression, teaching the students the lasagna method. Both also provided ongoing leadership and education for the students as the garden was reclaimed.
“Both of these women have been wholly dedicated to sustainability in this project,”said outgoing Board President Garth Conrad, in making the award. “They are effective and enthusiastic educators, and we are proud and grateful for what they have taught us and the community.
Read what MELA Member Beth Botts says in her blog:
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