Greening Chicago: Celebrating Space to Grow - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Greening Chicago: Celebrating Space to Grow

Unique partnership reduces neighborhood flooding and improves children’s health and education, one playground at a time

(From left to right) Jerry Adelmann of Openlands, Randy Conner of City of Chicago Dept. of Water Management, Mary De Runtz of Chicago Public Schools, and Claire Marcy of Healthy Schools Campaign receive Burnham Award from MPC’s MarySue Barrett

What do you remember about elementary school recess? Kick ball? Swings? As the students at Space to Grow schoolyards make those fun memories, the ground beneath their feet quietly solves environmental problems.

Space to Grow transforms Chicago Public School schoolyards into beautiful green spaces that capture rainwater, benefitting students, community members and the environment. Led by Healthy Schools Campaign (a nonprofit dedicated to making schools healthier places) and Openlands (a regional conservation organization), Space to Grow uses a unique funding model that brings together capital funds and leadership from the Chicago Department of Water Management, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and Chicago Public Schools.

Imagine a huge asphalt parking lot adjacent to an elementary school that doubles as a basketball court. Next to that, a slim playground whose only slide is punctured with holes. Not only is this kind of environment dangerous for children, it is uninviting. Hard surfaces such as asphalt parking lots contribute to more stormwater runoff during rainfall which causes local flooding.

This was the scenario at James Wadsworth Elementary School in Woodlawn before it was transformed into a safe place for everyone. The schoolyard now includes an elevated multipurpose turf field, jogging track, two half-court basketball courts, play equipment for younger and older students, outdoor classroom areas, rain gardens and a decorative water feature that utilizes roof runoff.

Check out this awesome time lapse video to see how the Wadsworth park lot was completely transformed into an attractive space for the entire community that provides exercise, outdoor learning and flooding benefits.

On March 14 at a spirited event at Concrete Cowboy bar and restaurant blocks away from Healthy Schools Campaign office, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) honored the Space to Grow program and its partners with the 2018 Burnham Award for Excellence in Planning. With 15 schoolyards across the City of Chicago completed and in use every single day, five more schoolyards are ready for construction this year come better weather.

On top of that, Space to Grow is committed to building another 14 more green schoolyards. Given its success, partners have a strong vision for scaling Space to Grow and bringing it to schools and communities all across Chicago.

“Our work [at Openlands] with Healthy Schools Campaign to engage communities, train educators and work with kids of all ages—as well as partner with the three capital partners who make the schoolyards a reality—is a model for cities around the world” said Jerry Adelmann, President and CEO of Openlands, during the Burnham Award event.

It takes a village to deliver tangible results from executing such an ambitious initiative. For Space to Grow, that includes parents, students, community members and school staff who help design, activate and maintain these spaces. Several architects, engineers and design teams as well as philanthropic and corporate partners help to make this incredible program possible.

The Metropolitan Planning Council’s Burnham Award celebrates visionary planning with demonstrated results in the Chicago metropolitan region. Since 1988, MPC has been recognizing initiatives that create more livable communities, address human capital, improve regional mobility or make government more efficient.

Past winners include:

2017 Friends of the Cal-Sag Trail and the Cal-Sag Coalition for their plan and implementation of the Cal-Sag Trail

2016 The Transforming Community of Pullman

2016 Honorary Burnham Award for Excellence in Planning to Peter Skosey for a Lifetime of Excellence in Planning

2015 City of Chicago, Trust for Public Land, Chicago Park District and Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail—The 606

2014 Forest Preserves of Cook County—Next Century Conservation Plan

2013 City of Chicago Dept. of Cultural Affairs and Special Events—Chicago Cultural Plan

2012 Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning—GO TO 2040

2011 Magellan Development Group—Lakeshore East Master Plan, Chicago

2010 Whistler Crossing, Riverdale, Ill.

2009 Chicago Metropolis 2020

Space to Grow touches education, health and wellness, nature, urban resilience and stormwater. As such, the group was a natural fit for our 2018 Burnham Award. MPC congratulates Space to Grow and all the hands involved in this innovative and visionary partnership that is changing the social and environmental landscape for children and communities across the city.


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