Space to Grow

Space to Grow: Greening Chicago Schoolyards is an innovative partnership led by Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands to transform Chicago schoolyards into vibrant spaces to play, learn, and be outside, while helping neighborhoods to reduce urban flooding.

Space to Grow brings together capital funding and expertise from Chicago Public Schools, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, and the Chicago Department of Water Management to transform schoolyards by adding athletic fields, playground equipment, natural elements, and green infrastructure.

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. Although each design is unique, every schoolyard supports the programs three main goals:

  • Effectively managing stormwater by using plants and natural elements such as rain gardens, native gardens, and trees which allow water to infiltrate into the ground. Built features include permeable rubber and asphalt, permeable turf fields, cisterns, and runnels, all of which provide underground water storage that can hold thousands of gallons of water and slowly release it back to the sewer to avoid overloading the system during a big storm.
  • Create outdoor learning opportunities by establishing edible and native plant gardens, planting trees, helping teachers develop outdoor learning curriculum, and building outdoor classrooms.
  • Provide health and wellness opportunities with the addition of tracks, turf fields, exercise equipment, and playground equipment.

Space to Grow uses a unique model that brings together multiple partners from regional agencies to local organizations and neighbors to help build stewardship, provide more opportunities for active play and physical education, outdoor learning and environmental literacy, and educate the community about the benefits of the school design while encouraging them to implement water management initiatives at home.

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Photo: Allison Williams