What We Do

Stormwater Solutions

Stormwater Solutions


The millions of inhabitants of northeastern Illinois rely upon a vast urban network of roads, sewers, and water lines. Openlands engages people in order to manage and protect our region’s water---lakes, rivers, rain and groundwater---as a vital natural asset. Through innovative partnerships, Openlands connects communities and government agencies to build and maintain innovative green infrastructure to manage stormwater in flood- prone metropolitan areas.

Green Infrastructure

Green infrastructure, such as rain gardens, trees, and permeable pavement, allows rain to soak back into the ground rather than flooding our homes and streets. That way, we enjoy cleaner waters, cooler streets, and a richer array of plants and wildlife. Green infrastructure creates refuges in neighborhoods without open space, bringing green back to where we live and work, so that we may experience it every day. Building community-based stormwater solutions gives Openlands a clearer perspective on how we can collaborate with people in our region to systematically change the way that we value and manage water.

Space to Grow

As co-leaders of Space to Grow, Openlands and Healthy Schools Campaign are partnering with government agencies to transform 34 Chicago public elementary schoolyards into innovative green space where students and neighbors can learn and play. Chicago Public Schools, the City of Chicago Department of Water Management and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago are working with leading engineering firms, such as Conservation Design Forum, to heavily integrate rain gardens, underground storage, and other green infrastructure practices into each schoolyard so that communities are more resilient to flooding and the effects of climate change. Openlands engages school staff, students, and neighboring residents to shape the design and participate in the long-term management of each schoolyard. 

Urban Forestry

Openlands is working with the City of Chicago to plant trees, which extend green infrastructure into our urban neighborhoods. Trees act as mini-reservoirs that soak up and process rain where it falls so that less runoff overwhelms our sewers and floods our homes. Openlands’ TreeKeepers educate and engage volunteers to take ownership and protect this beneficial resource. In 2014 alone, Openlands staff, TreeKeepers, and other dedicated volunteers planted over 2,500 trees on public land in Chicago. Openlands’ urban forestry program complements these traditional street tree plantings with community stormwater projects, like sloped tree beds that capture and hold runoff in neighborhood parkways and vacant lots.  

Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

Openlands maintains rain gardens in the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve to slow the erosion of its three lakefront ravines, protect its mile of bluffs, and reduce the rapid flow of runoff into Lake Michigan. Stormwater from the neighboring community sheets over the top of the ravines, tears away chunks of soil and rare plants, and flushes them into Lake Michigan. Water scours streambeds along the bottom of the ravines and leaves the Preserve more susceptible to invasive plants. To address these issues, Openlands works with neighbors to install green infrastructure, such as native gardens, on land above the ravines. Openlands also offers educational resources on the value and importance of managing water for people and our landscapes.

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