Through our Space to Grow partnership, Openlands and Healthy Schools Campaign are working with Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, Chicago Public Schools, and the City of Chicago’s Department of Water Management to transform underutilized schoolyards into lush gardens and safe playgrounds for students, families, and community members. Each schoolyard is designed based on input from the entire school community. Students, staff, parents, and community members are invited to participate in the inclusive planning process, allowing for the unique needs and vision of the entire school community to be communicated and addressed in the design of their schoolyard.
Among the most pressing needs for these communities are plans to reduce urban flooding. Space to Grow schoolyard designs incorporate stormwater management features including rain gardens, cisterns, runnels, and permeable materials, such as permeable asphalt, turf, and playground surfacing, to capture runoff and reduce flooding. Because of these new amenities, we have fewer basement backups, less stormwater flowing into our sewers, reduced flooding, and ultimately less pollution discharged into our waters. The first fourteen of 34 schools are designed to hold 2.4 million gallons of stormwater on site. Grissom Elementary school alone held all of the 250,000 gallons when 9.5 inches of rain fell. That is the equivalent of 10,000 bathtubs of water. The program is gaining national recognition as a model for other cities to leverage public and private partnerships for a multitude of community benefits.
In 2014, Openlands, with assistance from Conservation Design Forum, studied how community and school gardens in flood-prone Chicago neighborhoods can slow, clean, and reduce stormwater runoff that runs into city sewers and ultimately flows into Chicago’s waterways.