Regeneration RoadTrip 08

Driving along I-90/94W out of downtown Chicago, you can see London, France, the old Vassar Swiss Underwear Company building now under construction. A sign adorning the highway-facing façade tells you this will soon be the Green Exchange, a retail and office facility that will house some 100 businesses, all of them environmentally and socially responsible.

Todd and Sarah in hard hatsTo fully see the potential for this place, Todd and I were fitted with hard hats and given the hand-wave tour: you know, “this over here” and “that over there” and “imagine here, if you can.” As we stepped over dust and debris in this 95-year-old building — now recognized as a historical landmark and being renovated to LEED platinum standards — the vision for Green Exchange became clearer.

RoadTrip 08 - Day 11

This isn’t your kid sister’s shopping mall. True, it’ll house a number of retailers — ranging from fair-trade goods to green services — but the folks behind this project see it more as a communication tool. And the conversation goes both ways. They’re hoping to talk to the public, of course, via the retailers and signage around the building. But they’re also finding that the soon-to-be tenants are talking to each other, looking to their peers for advice about moving toward sustainability.

To further facilitate dialogue, a wide-open green space and event/café area is being added to the second floor of the building. This will be a place people can gather and interact, as well as serve to reduce the heat-island effect, increase AC/heating-related energy efficiency in the building, and maybe even provide organic produce to the café on site.

Here are some highlights from our conversation with Phil Baugh, the project’s community development director:

Below, renderings of what Green Exchange will look like once it’s completed:

Green Exchange drawing

Green space at the Green Exchange