Openlands is a nonprofit organization founded in 1963 with the purpose of protecting the open spaces and natural areas of northeastern Illinois, in order to safeguard wildlife, air, water, other natural resources, and human health. Openlands achieves this through advocacy of smart transportation planning, campaigns to protect the Great Lakes, support for local food systems, offering grants for community greening purposes, and educational experiences for children around Chicago.
Openlands participates in a unique partnership with the Healthy Schools Campaign to bring open space and greenery to Chicago public schools. This initiative, called Space to Grow, also targets the chronic flooding that impacts certain Chicago neighborhoods. Each schoolyard is designed based on input from the whole school community – teachers, parents, staff, and children are consulted throughout the planning process to create a vision for the school that incorporates the community’s unique needs. These schoolyards provide children and parents with opportunities for play, physical education, outdoor learning and environmental literacy, relaxation, and a space to gather.
To ensure that rainwater can be better absorbed and retained by the soil, schoolyards are built with special green infrastructure elements such as permeable foundation, rain gardens, and turf grass. This keeps combined sewage overflow systems from being overtaxed during heavy rains and mitigates flooding in surrounding areas.