Morton Grove is a neighborhood of 22,943 people that runs along the North Branch of the Chicago River a few miles northeast of the city. I was drawn to Morton Grove and intrigued by its story because I live in a neighboring community. The EPA has identified five factories in Morton Grove as hazardous waste treatment, storage, or disposal facilities; there is a disproportionately high amount of hazardous waste sites in this community considering its small size and the absence of hazardous waste sites from many of the surrounding neighborhoods. Why is there a disproportionate amount of facilities storing, disposing, or transferring hazardous waste in Morton Grove? I began responding to this research inquiry by looking at the infamous maps created by the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation between 1935 and 1940 which are responsible for mass racial segregation and socioeconomic stratification in America. I found a map created in 1940 with a distinct section of Morton Grove marked “definitely declining” because of its “doubtful future” and poor reputation. This distinct section is the area that is now zoned as a manufacturing and residential district and home to the five hazardous waste sites. My project examines how the legacy of housing discrimination is visible today in the disproportionate siting of hazardous waste facilities. Morton Grove has a higher minority population than surrounding neighborhoods and more people below the poverty line. My visual project represents the trajectory of environmental bads and how they come to be located in vulnerable demographic pockets of our country.
I have created a series of three images to tell this story of unjust sustainability. The foundation of each chapter is the map from 1940 to remind the viewer of the powerful legacy of housing inequality. In Chapter One: Once upon a time in 1940 the area of Morton Grove that was marked “definitely declining” is visible as well as a quote that went along with the areas C grade designation. Chapter Two: Siting of Hazardous Facilities shows the locations of hazardous waste treatment, disposal, and storage facilities and when they moved into the neighborhood. This is an important visual because all the facilities are located within the yellow section of Morton Grove. Chapter Three: 80 years later in Morton Grove contrasts the extreme level of hazardous waste in Morton Grove with the surrounding communities. I include information on three specific chemicals that are being released into the community and the health hazards they pose to the community of Morton Grove.