Fighting climate issues with depaving in Chicago

Workers lay asphalt. Photo: Daniel Karmann/dpa via Getty Images

The storms that damaged basements, stalled cars and blew sewer covers into the air last week reminded us that Chicago is not immune to climate-related weather issues, especially heavy storms and floods.

Why is it important: A new organization called Wreck Chicago aims to eliminate a major element of our flooding problem – asphalt.

How it works: The group wants to identify underused paved areas that could be fragmented to create green spaces such as pocket parks, gardens and playgrounds.

  • Instead of sending surface water down overloaded sewers, these spaces can absorb it while creating shade and humidity to cool urban heat islands.
  • A good example is the Waters Elementary School Educational Garden, which was a huge slab of asphalt until former ecology director Pete Leki led its transformation.

Enlarge: Part of a national network launched by Wrecked Portland, Depave Chicago employees held listening sessions this summer to understand local needs, ideas and resources.

  • According to the organization, “only 10% of Chicago is designated as parkland, while climate research suggests that 30-50% of land should be in some form of protected or conserved status.”
  • They hope to start breaking asphalt next spring and are call for proposals on where to start.

What they say : Mary Pat McGuire of the University of Illinois runs water laboratorywho works on urban flood control policy.

  • “As we work at the planning and policy level to make green infrastructure much more the norm in Chicago, we really needed a program that says, ‘Hey, we need to get some asphalt off'” she said WTTW.

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Teresa H. Sadler