Chicago, Illinois USA

The infamous “Chicago 5” case in 1991 was among the earliest legal battles to protect native plant gardens in urban settings.  Over twenty years on, a new court case against Chicago repeats that battle.

In December 2012, Kathy Cummings was charged with the crime of not having lawn and fined $640.  Rather than appealing to the same ill-informed municipal system that ordered the original fine (and paying an additional $317 to do so), Ms Cummings is taking her fight to the State legal system.

She is not alone in battling Chicago’s incomprehensible aversion to these environmentally friendly and fiscally responsible plantings.  According to Ms Cummings during an interview on the Mike Nowak radio program in Chicago “…ticketing weeds and other types of ticketing happening all over the country. Many municipalities are in a fiscal crisis, desperate for revenue. Politicians not wanting to hurt their chances for re-election by raising taxes, have been approving increasing fines. It’s the new way to create revenue and keeps them under the radar at election time…since 2008, there’s been a HUGE increase, every year, in the amount of City revenue earned through weed ticketing. The city may collect almost $13 million for weeds, i.e., 7-28-120(a) this year.

Ms Cummings garden received an award for the “most naturalized garden” from the City of Chicago in 2004.  The plaque stated:  “in recognition of your effort to help Chicago live up to its motto, Urbs in Horto — city in a garden”

Nance Klehm, a prominent eco-horticulturalist, has also been fined $640 (the “minimum allowable” under Chicago’s new program geared at attacking urban biodiversity.  During the same show Ms Klehm stated “I am interested in fighting this subjective law with a ridiculously steep fine in the broadest way by getting many people behind it PLUS a darn good lawyer. Everyone is scared (I have been contacted by chicken owners, eco-punks, community gardeners, etc.) and there is nothing that will stop me getting ticketed again for the ‘hippo’ in the parkway or in my yard that only the writer of the ticket and hearing judge could see.  When I asked “where are the weeds?” I wasn’t shown. Just told they were there.

all photo's of Nance's garden are from

all photo’s of Nance’s garden are from

Screen shot 2013-05-27 at 12.03.10 AM

More Nance Klehm's 'parkway'

More Nance Klehm’s ‘parkway’

Shawna Coronado faced fines of $75/day for planting a garden and adding a bench to allow passerby to rest and smell the flowers.

Shawna Coronado's Chicago garden

Shawna Coronado’s Chicago garden

Eventually the city allowed her to pay a processing fee, submit a 10 page application, and meet numerous times with city staff to approve her plan for an existing green space that is widely appreciated by her neighbours.  Similar nearby gardens were not forced to undergo the same process…an example of selective enforcement which is illegal but prevalent.

“I want Chicago to be the greenest city in the world, and I am committed to fostering opportunities for Chicagoans to make sustainability a part of their lives and their experience in the city.” — Mayor Emanuel  

Chicago also offers, through a ‘Sustainable Backyard’ program, a rebate of up to 50% toward the purchase of native trees and plants  Just be sure to keep your highly beneficial plantings out of sight?

Actions speak louder than words Mayor Emanuel…let our gardens grow!

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