Chicago’s Outdated Asphalt Schoolyards Transformed into Vibrant Outdoor Spaces

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Chicago, Illinois

Space to Grow is an innovative urban redevelopment program aimed at transforming Chicago’s outdated asphalt schoolyards into vibrant outdoor spaces that benefit students, communities, and the environment. Along with upgraded learning and fitness amenities, green infrastructure solutions to stormwater management help resolve neighborhood flooding.

The Chicago Public Schools, with partners at the City of Chicago and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, retained ECT in 2014 to provide comprehensive landscape architecture and civil engineering services for the pilot year of the program. Subsequently, ECT has designed a total of eight schoolyards for the Space to Grow program and exceeded the 150,000 gallons of water collected goal at each school.

The new outdoor spaces and playgrounds include combinations of pervious sport courts, pervious rubber and artificial turf surfaces, and permeable parking lots. Bioretention approaches to planted areas infiltrate rain water while raised planters are used by the community to grow edible food. The green approaches to stormwater runoff address recurring neighborhood flooding, combined sewer overflows, and reduce the water reclamation facility load – all while providing students with new opportunities for outdoor recreation.

In a post construction study titled Community Based Green Infrastructure Solutions ECT worked with Openlands to research the impacts of the playground and site improvements. ECT monitored and assessed how one elementary school’s outdoor spaces performed in various rain events. The research results found that Grissom Elementary has a projected two-year, 100 percent reduction in runoff volume. It is also expected to hold and use all stormwater that falls on the site for about 99 percent of storms. The garden is expected to reduce total suspended solids (TSS) in runoff by 97 percent on an average annual basis, resulting in an annual TSS load of 970 pounds per acre per year. In total, this is a reduction of virtually 100 percent of all pollutants.

Client / Owner
Chicago Public Schools
Project Timeline
2014 – Ongoing
Highlights
  • Capture of 3.5+ M. gallons of stormwater
  • Research data shows reduction of 100% of pollutants
  • International schoolyard model
  • Pilot study shows increase in physical activity among students
  • Reducing Chicago heat island effect
  • Community engagement
Awards
  • SHIFT Award for Land Management Innovation
  • WEF Public Communication and Outreach Program Award
  • Burnham Award for Excellence in Planning
  • Stormwater Solutions Top Project Award
  • USGBC Emerald Award
  • Friends of the Chicago River Silver Ribbon Award
  • IL Association of Floodplain and Stormwater Management Sustainability Award
  • View More Awards

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