PBS documentary highlights Elgin's green activity
Elgin took center stage Tuesday night at the Midwest premiere of "Designing Healthy Communities," a four-part, PBS series that focuses on improving public health by restoring and redesigning the toxic environment we've already built.
It specifically focuses on the ways communities across the country are addressing different problems, such as air pollution and the health problems it creates, the urban sprawl and the car culture it fuels and obesity. Filmmakers toured and shot vignettes featuring about a dozen cities across America.
"We're looking for solutions, not indictments," said Harry Wiland, the project's co-executive producer and co-director. "We want to show what can be done and use the best practice example of Elgin around the country for other communities."
The second, hourlong episode, of which Elgin is a part, highlights people working to solve environmental issues that are affecting the community.
It discussed how Elgin is trying to find itself after the collapse of the Elgin National Watch Factory, an entity that contributed to the city's identity and offered housing that was in walking distance to the factory — today, many people endure long commutes to get to work.
The episode, called "Rebuilding Places of the Heart," features a group of students from Elgin High School, led by environmental sciences and biology teacher Deb Perryman, who are helping redefine the city into one that's greener and more sustainable — Perryman was the 2004-2005 Illinois Teacher of the Year.
Her students worked on a survey project for six months in which they polled 500 residents and used their feedback to develop ways to make the city more sustainable.
They later presented their ideas to the Elgin Chamber of Commerce and the public. Their ideas, the feedback and response they received, is documented in the movie.
"I was aware of what we were doing in Elgin and I felt it related to this film," said Perryman, who has remained in contact with Wiland since he featured her in his 2006 documentary "Eden's Lost and Found" and helped Elgin get involved with his latest work. "(Students) really got obsessed with the idea of how a built environment could actually limit how healthy someone can be."
It is today's children who will unfairly inherit the toxic environment and adults need to encourage them to find solutions, instead of dismissing them, said Dr. Richard Jackson, the film's host and interviewer.
"The older generation is not paying enough attention to them and the things they want," said Jackson, also the chair of environmental science at UCLA's School of Public Health.
Camera crews started shooting in Elgin three years ago. Historic footage of the watch factory's demolition, Elgin High School and the downtown are prominently displayed. About 70 people turned out for the premiere, which was held at the Gail Borden Library.
Meanwhile, Elgin has been doing its part to be sustainable, said Aaron Cosentino, the city's sustainability coordinator. Most notably, it will use more than $600,000 to improve stormwater management systems in the SWAN neighborhood and 0 reserve two days instead of one for its annual Green Expo.
"It shows we have a lot of momentum building towards these sorts of initiatives," Cosentino said.
While "Designing Healthy Communities" is due to air on WTTW Channel 11, a date has not yet been set.
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