Creating an Equitable Water Future with Space to Grow

July 21, 2017

It’s no secret that water is essential to life. It’s also true that water challenges disproportionately affect the most vulnerable in America. “An Equitable Water Future,” a new report from the US Water Alliance lays out a future in which everyone has access to safe, clean, affordable water and benefits from water infrastructure investment.

The Space to Grow team was honored to be among the initiatives featured in the report. The Space to Grow case study was part of the report’s focus on neighborhood revitalization: creating synergistic benefits between multiple infrastructure investments, channeling green infrastructure to disinvested neighborhoods and cultivating resident and community stewardship of water projects.

Space to Grow checks all of those boxes. Co-managed by Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands, Space to Grow brings together capital funding and expertise from Chicago Public Schools (CPS), 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. Space to Grow schoolyards are located in primarily low-income areas of the city where flooding risks are very high. Space to Grow involves the community in every step, from planning the schoolyard features to planting to garden upkeep.

The report points out that CPS is estimated to own over 750 acres of blacktop, making them one of the largest public landowners of impermeable surfaces in the city. Working with CPS is a “previously untapped opportunity for changing the way stormwater is managed on public property.”

Of course, the great thing about Space to Grow is that it also has tremendous benefits for the students and the community in addition to reducing flooding. Research has found that schoolyards are highly used by students, teachers and community members. A study found fewer injuries, less teasing and bullying and less gang activity on the new schoolyards. The study also found that schoolyards promote a more positive relationship between the schools and community. Just looking at nature can improve test scores, too. One study showed that classrooms with larger windows and more views of trees also had students with higher standardized test scores, higher graduation rates and a greater percentage of students planning to attend college.

We’re honored to be featured in this report alongside so many great organizations. We look forward to building more schoolyards and continuing the important conversation about water access and infrastructure.