Surfside collapse highlights the need for vigilance in Chicago

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As a co-founder of the Lake Shore Caucus, a group of legislators representing the Lake Michigan shoreline in Illinois, and an elected representative for many of Chicago’s shoreline communities, from South Chicago to the Gold Coast, I’m committed to protecting the homes and businesses along the lakefront. 

I watched the scenes of the devastating Surfside building collapse in the Miami area, and I knew we couldn’t wait for the same to happen to Chicago. While the tragedy at Surfside hasn’t been directly tied to rising ocean levels—yet, researchers and engineers believe it may have been a contributing factor that highlights this important vulnerability across the country. 

Lake Michigan’s water levels have begun to swing erratically, and we have already seen shoreline and property damage. To prevent our own tragedy, I have just proposed new legislation to require more frequent and thorough inspections of high-rise buildings near the lakefront.

Just because regulators take a thorough look at a building during construction doesn’t mean all will be well into the future. More frequent inspections to monitor building integrity will help alert owners, associations and operators to needed repairs. It will also provide critical data for local officials to plan for better infrastructure, sustainability and resiliency.

While much of downtown Chicago is built on reclaimed land—land that was once part of the lake, as was the case with Surfside—it’s not just about downtown. Buildings all along Lake Michigan should have thorough inspections. We cannot neglect the condos and apartment buildings on the South Side. 

Chicago is famous for its resiliency; most notably from the rebuilding that occurred after the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. Even though Lake Michigan and our waterways have turned our city into a global powerhouse through trade and a water supply that sustains much of the state, it also poses a great risk if we aren’t proactive.

We have to use innovation and all the resources at our disposal and apply them to prevent the next disaster. 

I encourage local officials to take additional proactive measures to make sure our buildings aren’t just safe now, but will be safe for years to come as the effects of climate change start to take hold. This requires thoughtful partnership between local and state officials so we all work to keep families and businesses safe. 

We can’t afford to wait to protect our lakefront and the buildings that make Chicago one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Let’s address this head on, be more diligent and make Chicago safe and prosperous for generations to come.

Kam Buckner is a Democratic member of the Illinois House of Representatives from the 26th district.

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