Sharing Chicago’s Space to Grow Model

April 17, 2020

two African-American students pulling produce from a school garden in Chicago

Green schoolyards, like the ones built by the Space to Grow partners, are a significant community asset, providing many benefits for communities around the country.

Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands co-manage Space to Grow, Chicago’s green schoolyards program which transforms Chicago schoolyards into vibrant outdoor spaces that benefit students, community members and the environment. Schoolyard renovations prioritize physical activity, play, learning, exploration and community engagement. The green schoolyards also incorporate special elements and landscape features that capture a significant amount of rainfall, helping keep the city’s water clean, resulting in less neighborhood flooding and improving the city’s climate resilience.

Space to Grow’s innovative model brings together capital funds and leadership from Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Mayor’s Office, the Chicago Department of Water Management and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. Together, the partners have built 20 schoolyards that are open to their communities, with five more on the way and 34 total planned by 2022.

This dynamic model has inspired important changes in the way Chicago invests in public schools, outdoor spaces and green infrastructure, as well as sparked meaningful conversations about how to engage diverse and under-resourced communities in the development and design of public space across the United States, as well as in other countries.

We are pleased to share some of the important recommendations and lessons learned that we have drawn from the experience of managing Space to Grow. Please visit our new “Big Picture” resource page, where you will find case studies about Space to Grow’s unique approach to community engagement and cross-sector partnerships. You’ll also find a report and a policy brief that help make the case and advance the green schoolyard movement nationally.

Space to Grow shows how investments in schools, communities and green infrastructure can create dynamic co-benefits for children, communities and our environment. It is clear that Space to Grow—and green schoolyards more broadly—are a wise public investment with many positive outcomes and community benefits. We hope you will share these with your networks and colleagues and help us all highlight the benefits of green schoolyards.