Cook County

Background Information

Cook County is the second most populous county in the U.S.,1 with an estimated population of 5.2 million people (2016).2 More than 40% of Illinois residents live in Cook County, which comprises more than 130 municipalities, the largest of which is the City of Chicago.

Cook County has been advancing efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and anticipate and adapt to the effects of climate change. The county’s Department of Public Health created WePlan2020, a community health assessment and improvement plan for suburban Cook County, to identify strategies to address health equity; food access, availability, and insecurity as it relates to chronic disease prevention and control; and access to health care, specifically in regards to behavioral health. Cook County has also been aggressively pursuing clean energy expansion and has adopted a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. Recent efforts include an ambitious community solar project, as well as a “SolSmart” designation from the U.S. Department of Energy for the county’s Building and Zoning Department, which oversees unincorporated areas.

As a result of a 2013 federal disaster declaration, Cook County received significant disaster recovery funds and has been using them to address a range of issues related to flooding in suburban Cook County, including infrastructure improvements, resilient rehabs of single-family homes, stormwater planning, and property buyouts. The county has also integrated climate resilience into its funding streams, which has included prioritizing projects that build resilience when allocating their annual Community Development Block Grant funding.

Team Summary

The Cook County team is a cross-sectoral team with expertise in environmental policy, clean energy, public health, emergency management, and economic development. The team is focusing specifically on challenges facing south suburban Cook County. While this team has coordinated in the past on stormwater management, clean energy, and active transportation planning, they are now considering ways to deepen collaboration across agencies working at the county scale. They bring two key questions to the workshop: 1) How can having concrete hazard mitigation and disaster recovery plans drive economic development in low-income, resource-challenged areas with vulnerable populations? 2) How can they ensure the investments being made across county departments in these vulnerable areas are being coordinated to enhance their ability to build community resilience?

Promising Practices

  • Cook County has invested $18.4 million in stormwater infrastructure projects to address flooding, with a goal of also increasing the county’s investment in green infrastructure. Already implemented stormwater infrastructure improvements have greatly reduced or eliminated flooding. The county has also had success integrating green infrastructure approaches in low-income communities and realizing co-benefits, such as economic, recreation, and health benefits.
  • An innovative project in the Village of Robbins has transformed plans for a traditional stormwater retention pond into a stormwater park that will offer green space in a low-income community.

Key Challenges

  • Communication and coordination – Cook County is a geo-politically complex jurisdiction with a high level of fragmentation, making communication and coordination difficult across county government departments and with suburban Cook County.
  • Limited municipal resources – Cook County has many small municipalities with very few resources, including staff and funding. These communities struggle to pay for basic services, such as their police departments, and are reliant on aging water systems they cannot afford to fix. Finding funding for additional resilience projects is a huge challenge.
  • Non-government funding – In recent years, Cook County has been able to use federal funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to support resilience work. However, with federal funding likely to shrink, finding other funding sources will be critical.

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