The Commissioner — Summer 2012

Commissioner's Voice

Glencoe, Illinois: Small Town Sustainability

By Marya Morris, AICP
Glencoe, Illinois, Plan Commission

Like a lot of small towns and suburbs, Glencoe, Illinois (pop. 9,000), is eager to find ways to promote and support sustainability objectives, both within village government and among residents. But in an unstable economy the village is understandably averse to hiring staff or launching a major program. When the village board took up the issue in 2008, it knew success would depend on the commitment of a skilled staff and knowledgeable, enthusiastic volunteers. Here's how we did it.

In 2008 the board of trustees directed the village's Contextual Design Review Commission, chaired by Walter Eckenhoff, a local architect, and staff planner Nathan Parch, to study sustainability programs and policies with an eye toward those that Glencoe could learn from and possibly emulate. The Village of Glencoe Sustainability Study was completed in 2009. It recommended, and the trustees later approved, that the plan commission take the lead in crafting the village's sustainability initiative.

It was clear to my fellow commissioners and me during our first meeting on this topic that we needed to know more about who was doing what in Glencoe (e.g., recycling, preserving trees, conserving water, managing runoff, saving energy). We envisioned the village being part of a collaborative approach to conceptualizing and implementing sustainability tools.

In 2010 we hosted two forum nights in which about 15 entities, including village departments, our three elementary schools, the park district, the public library, the Boy Scouts, and the 280-acre Chicago Botanic Garden (which is located here) walked us through their current and future sustainability activities.

Following the forums, we narrowed our focus to four key areas. As of June 2012 the first three have been successfully implemented:

  1. The village president formed a Sustainability Working Group in June 2011 comprised of seven members-at-large and a representative from the park district and the school board. The group reports to the plan commission.
  2. Village staff and the working group launched an informational website for residents in early 2012. The village also held a public forum in November 2011 to engage the public in creating sustainability goals. (See
  3. Staff audited the village regulations to identify barriers that may impede sustainable goals.
  4. The Working Group is currently considering pilot projects (e.g., rain barrels and rain gardens), to demonstrate how home owners can implement their own sustainable goals.

The people involved in the sustainability initiative in Glencoe accomplished a tremendous amount of work with little more than human capital. It worked for us and I hope it inspires other small suburbs to follow our path.