Director of Economic Development and Planning Hildy Kingma commits to sustainability in Park Forest, IL

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Local leaders are working to build a more sustainable Park Forest, IL. Photo via Facebook.

Founded in 1948, the village of Park Forest, IL is a suburb built for sustainability. Located 30 miles away from the Chicago Loop, Park Forest was one of the first planned communities built for veterans after World War II, and it was built with both automobiles and pedestrians in mind. Along with the classic suburban curved streets, the community’s original master plan was organized around open space, schools, and small commercial areas accessible on foot. In many ways, Park Forest was an early model for smart growth—decades before the term was coined.

Today, local leaders in Park Forest are committed to continuing that legacy. Hildy Kingma, Director of Economic Development and Planning and a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, is one woman behind the cause. After Mayor John Ostenburg—also a member of the Local Leaders Council—challenged the Village to think more critically about sustainability, Kingma helped oversee the passage of a Comprehensive Sustainability Plan that affects every municipal department. “This is an effort that goes from the top to the bottom of our organization,” says Kingma.

The Comprehensive Sustainability Plan, called Growing Green, was created with the help of the residents of Park Forest and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP). Growing Green attacks sustainability from every angle: the environment, social equity, and the economy. The plan covers a diverse range of topics including development patterns, energy, education, transportation, greenhouse gases, community health, open space and ecosystems, green economy, housing diversity, waste, local food systems, water, and municipal policies. Last year, the Illinois chapter of the American Planning Association recognized Park Forest with their award for Best Sustainability Plan.

To help ensure the plan’s success, a Sustainability Coordinator was hired to initiate and oversee implementation. In the past two years, Park Forest has created new community gardens, expanded access to healthier food, and expanded their recycling campaign. The Village is also in the process of amending the zoning and subdivision ordinances to make them more compliant with the sustainability plan. This means planning for permeable paving and green infrastructure, lowering parking requirements, and allowing zoning for small farms and solar-friendly housing.

Despite the walkability of the subdivision, Park Forest is still a commuter suburb for Chicago. A lack of public transit within the Village makes it difficult to access the three train stations. Growing Green has led to the creation of a new Bike and Pedestrian Plan that will bring multi-modal accessibility to the streets. Bike lanes have already been created on one of the major interior roads, and bike sharrows will soon be added to other main thoroughfares.

In the coming years, Park Forest has big plans to move toward sustainability. Additions to the capital improvement plan will continue to bring more bike lanes, and several grant opportunities could bring needed attention to areas of disinvestment.

Meanwhile, Hildy Kingma is working to improve workforce development and wants to bring light industry and maker spaces to the Village. “I want our community to be a model for sustainable development,” she says. With the continued implementation of Growing Green, that dream is possible.

Local Leaders Council