Space to Grow: Greening Chicago Schoolyards


In recent years, Chicago Public Schools (CPS), and the city’s education, corporate, health and philanthropic communities, have made a significant commitment to improving the health and long-term wellness of the city’s more than 400,000 public school students. Policy and practice changes at the school and district levels have led to improved nutritional standards for school a strong wellness policy, the reinstatement of daily recess and a commitment to strengthening the district’s physical education program. At the same time, playgrounds at the majority of the city’s more than 400 elementary schools are inadequate for supporting vibrant recess and PE programs, and some are in major disrepair or non-existent, having been turned into parking lots years ago when recess was phased out at most schools.

Space to Grow: Greening Chicago Schoolyards, a partnership led by Open Lands and Healthy Schools Campaign, is an innovative program to transform Chicago schoolyards into spaces that provide students, their families and the broader community with the opportunity for active play, space for physical education classes, opportunities for outdoor learning, gardening and environmental literacy, and engagement with art. The benefits of providing children with opportunities to improve their physical health and social emotional learning have been well documented. While the main objective of Space to Grow is to build schoolyards that meet the needs of students, these green schoolyards will have the added benefits of reconnecting communities with their local public schools; providing much-needed green space in otherwise heavily urbanized neighborhoods; and significantly contributing to a reduction in storm-water runoff across the city. Schoolyards will have the added benefit of bringing public art into communities and providing gathering spaces for art-related activities including theater and musical performances. Schoolyards can also serve as gathering spots for other community programs including fresh vegetable delivery, community meetings and other healthy food programs.

In the Spring of 2013 Learning Landscapes conducted a design studio for three Chicago schools in support of the Space to Grow Effort.