Chicago's Pullman Neighborhood Ventures into a Greener Industrial Age

Chicago's Pullman neighborhood was named a Great Neighborhood in 2011 in part for its long-standing status as a trailblazer in urban planning. The former company town was designed to resemble a suburban park, a radical notion for a blue-collar development.

The revolutionary railcar neighborhood spearheaded some of the first sanitary sewer and water systems fed from intakes in Lake Michigan, far from shore-side pollution. It even began to compost from sewer system fertilizes garden used to raise produce for village's Market Hall. Now, the Pullman Neighborhood is pioneering a new frontier in food systems planning — urban farming.

Since 2015, the Brooklyn-based Gotham Greens has been operating the largest and most technologically advanced rooftop greenhouse in the Pullman neighborhood. Measuring more than 75,000 square feet, it is the world’s largest and most productive rooftop farm. Every year, the Pullman facility grows up to 10 million heads of leafy greens and herbs for the finest retailers and restaurants throughout Chicago.

Gotham Greens is a leading pioneer in the field of urban agriculture. From Greenpoint to Gowanus, they grow pesticide-free produce using ecologically sustainable methods in technologically-sophisticated, clean energy powered, and climate-controlled urban rooftop greenhouses. 

In Pullman, the two-acre greenhouse facility sits on the second floor rooftop of Method Products manufacturing plant, producers of eco-friendly cleaning products. The partnership between Gotham Greens and Method Products represents an optimistic, groundbreaking vision for the 21st century manufacturing facility – the kind of vision that has defined Pullman for over a century.

David Doig, president of the Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, remembers how planners originally slated the area for housing. After the recession left the housing market lackluster, Pullman planners decided to take a risk and explore the potential for urban farming.

“Any time you do something new, there are going to be challenges,” he explains. Though the area that eventually became Gotham Greens is just east of the historic row houses and gardens, it still required work to adjust residents to the bustling production flows.

But with the change came tasty payoffs: Not only has Gotham Greens brought an influx of fresh produce to Pullman, the greenhouse has also contributed to the economic revitalization of the area. The greenhouse created about 30 full-time jobs, and Gotham Greens made a conscious effort to hire within the neighborhood. And with Whole Foods expanding to the area in the near future, not only will shipping costs fall, but business and fresh produce will continue to flourish.

But why, of all the neighborhoods in Chicago, did Gotham Greens choose Pullman?

For starters, its location on the far South Side of Chicago ideally situates it for transportation and distribution. Beyond the logistical considerations, the character of Pullman is ideal for a project in the innovative world of “green manufacturing.” With the rise of new industries like urban farming and the success of cutting-edge companies like Gotham Greens, Pullman’s legacy made it a natural choice.

Top image: Gotham Greens on the roof of the Method factory in Chicago's Pullman neighborhood. Photo by Jennifer Bransfield.


July 15, 2016

By Samantha Schipani