How does green infrastructure happen on the ground?

July 15th, 2015 by
How does “green infrastructure” go from being just a good idea to actually being implemented in municipalities? At the recent Resilient Chicago workshop, we learned how this happens from a variety of perspectives.
Blue Island, Ill., a Chicago suburb with a growing problem with flooded basements, has become a leader in executing green infrastructure initiatives in recent years.
Jason Berry, deputy director of planning and building, described how at one point, even city engineers needed convincing that green infrastructure is not a “feel-good” project, but an effective and sustainable way to address stormwater issues.

Much of the city’s success is due to grant support from local, state, and even national sources. And, there is public involvement. As part of its Blue Island, Blue Water project, the city engaged many of its residents in installing rain barrels and planting rain gardens. The city is putting in permeable pavement, a bioswale, and numerous rain gardens.

“Green infrastructure is visible infrastructure,” explained Berry. “You can see it work.”
It also takes maintenance, which Berry described as a challenge for the city going forward.
Most communities will need to fund green infrastructure through limited municipal budgets, according to Josh Ellis, program director with the Metropolitan Planning Council. But he thinks green infrastructure has the possibly of becoming the new normal for infrastructure through “optimization.”
Optimization, as done by the City of Chicago, means maximizing investments through partnerships, leveraged funds, and multiple goals. Aaron Koch, deputy commissioner for sustainability, explained that the city has been employing green infrastructure for many years with green roofs and alleys, for instance. Now efforts are being planned more strategically.
For example, through the Space to Grow program, the city is partnering with Chicago Public Schools and nonprofits to “green” Chicago schoolyards. By planting rain gardens, and adding landscaping and playgrounds, students have a dryer, safer, greener, and more fun environment to play.

Argyle Street on Chicago’s north side is in the process of getting a facelift with porous pavement, planters, and trees that will go far to create community gathering spaces as well as enhance stormwater management. The Argyle Streetscape will be Chicago’s first “shared street” where pedestrians, cars, and bicycles will all co-exist in a curb-free world.

One way to normalize green infrastructure is to incorporate it into comprehensive planning. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) provides assistance for municipalities to do this.

According to Kate Evasic, associate planner, CMAP provides a process to collect data related to surface drainage, including historic conditions, topography, impervious cover, land use, and repetitive flood claims. And, the process provides the opportunities for shared solutions. CMAP has 50 projects underway right now.

-Irene Miles

(Photos from the Blue Island and the site design group, ltd. websites)

Stormwater management gets a major boost in Blue Island

December 1st, 2014 by

October brought good news for the residents of Blue Island, IL when the state announced a $1.1 million investment to expand and improve the city’s stormwater management efforts. The bulk of the grant money will go to green infrastructure projects along one of the city’s major roadways, which will reduce flooding, improve local water quality, and beautify the community. Remaining dollars will be used to restore an 11-acre wetland in a northeast detention pond. 


The new projects are the latest in a series of local, state, and non-profit programs tackling stormwater runoff in this suburban community. In 2012, IISG teamed up with the Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Illinois EPA, and many others to  combat local flooding with native plants, rain gardens, and rain barrels. That year, the Blue Island, Blue Water initiative helped distribute 125 rain barrels to residents and institutions in one of the city’s flood-prone neighborhoods. And roughly 1,000 native plants and trees were planted over the course of the project. 

Sea Grant educators and specialists also conducted numerous teacher and homeowner workshops to strengthen community awareness of green infrastructure practices and other strategies for managing and reducing stormwater runoff. 

It’s early success led the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to name Blue Island, Blue Water a Millennium Reserve model project in 2012. Lessons learned during the project have also helped inform the new Calumet Stormwater Collaborative, charged with coordinating the region’s stormwater and green infrastructure efforts to maximize the impact of individual city and agency projects. 

The collaborative is led by the Metropolitan Agency for Planning and brings together numerous groups interested in stormwater issues, including the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, and IISG. 

Blue Island stormwater program gets major recognition

June 7th, 2013 by

With such a rainy and flood-producing spring, one’s thoughts may just turn to something practical–rain barrels. Let’s look back on last fall’s rain barrel project in Blue Island. 

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant was one of five lead partners in the “Blue Island, Blue Water” community-based program designed to reduce stormwater overflows and flooding issues in the Chicago suburb. Over the course of the project, more than 140 volunteers installed rain barrels at 33 different residential locations and three institutional buildings. Additionally, more than 1000 plants and nearly 100 trees were planted to help improve water management and beautify neighborhoods at the same time. 

Keeping water out of sewers also reduces run-off, which in turn reduces pollution in the Cal-Sag Channel. The Cal-Sag is an increasingly popular destination for Chicagoland kayakers and nature lovers, but the channel requires a strong commitment to water quality, since it runs through densely built residential and industrial areas that are potential sources of pollution. Thus, stormwater management in Blue Island represents a key effort in which ‘local, state and county governments work together to really make an impact in our neighborhoods,’ according to (zoning administrator and director of special projects Jason) Berry.”

The “Blue Island, Blue Water” project was also chosen as a 2012 Millenium Reserve Model Project. The project’s inclusion also makes it part of the President’s “America’s Great Outdoors Initiative,” which helps align federal efforts and funds with conservation and recreation projects on the local level where they can make real and immediate impacts. You can learn more about the project at the links above and at this ABC 7 news report from earlier this year. And read more about the Millennium Reserve’s place within the initiative here

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