Revitalizing school lots to capture stormwater reduces the risk of flooding in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods, while fostering community engagement.

Launched in 2013, Space to Grow has revolutionized everyday asphalt school lots into green stormwater infrastructure playgrounds that serve as educational amenities and community gathering spaces. The project targets low-income areas facing flood risks as well as social and economic challenges.

The design focuses on capturing stormwater, with the city’s current infrastructure unable to withstand the new rainfall patterns caused by climate change. By redesigning playgrounds, the project aims to reduce flood risk in the surrounding school neighborhoods, each designed to manage a 24-hour, 100-year storm, exceeding requirements in Chicago’s Stormwater Management Ordinance. At the same time, there is a focus on environmental education and social engagement. Outdoor classrooms promote environmental education. Growing boxes of food informs students about the value of local food production, and sporting facilities encourage students to be active. Access is provided to families and the community outside school hours, fully utilizing the new spaces. Overall, six school lots have been transformed by Space to Grow and 28 more are expected to be completed by 2019.

6.8 million liters of water is able to be retained by the completed projects.

The challenge

Poor areas in Chicago already suffer the consequences of flooding. With climate change causing new rainfall patterns, risks have increased to new levels. In the last eight years, the city has experienced four storms exceeding the rainfall amount of a “10-year-storm.” Space to Grow mitigates the problem by providing green infrastructure to soak up stormwater.


Economic Due to the implementation of Space to Grow, property values in surrounding neighborhoods are expected to increase.

Environmental Damage from flooding events and land subsidence are expected to be reduced.

Health Running tracks, permeable turf fields, and basketball courts aim to reduce obesity.

Social With 90% of the students served by the project from low-income families, Space to Grow fosters social connections and builds cohesion within communities by providing new and alternative meeting points.

About Chicago

Chicago is the third-most populous city in the United States. With over 2.7 million residents, it is also the most populous city in both the state of Illinois and the Midwestern United States. The Chicago metropolitan area, often referred to as Chicagoland, has nearly 10 million people and is the third-largest in the U.S. The city is an international hub for finance, commerce, industry, technology, telecommunications, transportation and the O’Hare International Airport is the second-busiest airport in the world when measured by aircraft traffic.

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