Space to Grow Schoolyards – an Important Catalyst for Community-Driven Investment

June 29, 2021

Everyone benefits from being outdoors, connecting with nature and having opportunities to be active, play and explore. The importance of health-promoting, safe and sustainable outdoor spaces for children and adults alike has been a major headline throughout the pandemic.

In many of Chicago’s Black and Latinx communities, such as West Garfield Park, there is a dearth of safe, restorative, nature-focused outdoor spaces. Community-designed public spaces — like Space to Grow schoolyards — are a driving force to change that.

On Saturday, June 5, dignitaries including Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Alderman Jason Irvin, Dr. Andrea Cheng, Chicago’s Acting Commissioner of Water, and MWRD Commissioner Kimberly du Blucet, joined members of the Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative, architects from Studio Gang and Space to Grow partners to celebrate an amazing set of community resources that included the new Space to Grow schoolyard at Melody STEM elementary school in West Garfield Park.

In addition to the Space to Grow schoolyard, which will host a Chicago Park District camp this summer, the community broke ground on a new Community Plaza and Roller Rink in a former vacant lot at the corner of Madison and Pulaski that will ultimately be replaced by a permanent outdoor activity space with a stage, lighting and furniture.

Space to Grow is Chicago’s green schoolyards program, a partnership led by Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands with public capital investment from Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Department of Water Management and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. Space to Grow schoolyards provide a space for active play and outdoor learning while using green infrastructure to build climate resilience and reducing local basement flooding. Not only that, but Space to Grow schoolyards are an important catalyst for additional community-focused investments.

“We are thrilled that Space to Grow has provided a launchpad for these additional community investments, “ said Rochelle Davis, Healthy Schools Campaign President + CEO. “We always imagined that the schoolyards would inspire additional projects designed by and for the community.”

So far, Space to Grow has opened 25 schoolyards across the city, with a focus on underinvested neighborhoods. Five more are under construction and will be completed this fall. “We look forward to working with our Space to Grow partners to bring more green schoolyards to communities across Chicago, “ said Gerald Adelmann, president and CEO of Openlands. “We know that there are many neighborhoods, especially in our Black and Latinx communities, that need more outdoor spaces. Space to Grow can connect communities with nature and be that important community anchor.”

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