Record-setting summer storms highlight the value of green infrastructure



After one of the wettest summers in Chicago’s history, the benefits of green infrastructure when it comes to flooding and stormwater management have become extremely clear this summer, especially for citizens who regularly suffer from flooding.

As a lifelong resident of Logan Square, I’ve experienced my fair share of flooded backyards and clogged storm drains. With all of its densely developed land, Logan Square has the least amount of open space per capita in the city, (save for South Lawndale) which may be a contributing factor to the unfortunate flooding that my neighbors and I occasionally deal with.

Fortunately, with the Illinois Green Infrastructure Grants that the Metropolitan Planning Council made available to Logan Square residents through the Milwaukee Avenue Green Development Corridor initiative two years ago, there are now several green infrastructure projects that are working to efficiently manage stormwater along Milwaukee Avenue.

This permeable pavement allows water to seep into the ground, diminishing runoff and the risk of flooding.

This permeable pavement allows water to seep into the ground, diminishing runoff and the risk of flooding.

Rain barrels like these prevent storm drains from overflowing, and provide homeowners with water for gardening.

Rain barrels like these ones prevent storm drains from overflowing, and provide homeowners with water for gardening.


The projects work against flooding through a variety of features, including native plant gardens, green roofs, rain barrels, and permeable paving. The following table shows the amount of rainwater captured per one inch of rainfall at each site, as well as the cost of each project and some photos. For each project, the Illinois Green Infrastructure Grant covered about 75% of the cost.


This backyard, located at 2473 N. Albany Ave, is complete with a rain garden, permeable pavement, and native plants.

This backyard, located at 2473 N. Albany Ave, is complete with a rain garden, permeable pavement, and native plants.

A map of each project site along the Milwaukee Avenue Corridor can be accessed here.

Address Volume captured [gal] per 1″ rainfall  Project Cost
2907 N. Central Park 165 $3,086.21
2520 N. Fairfield 564.44 $24,616.00
3548 W. Diversey 163.12 $5,269.00
2915 N. Allen 702.63 $15,654.90
3050 N. Gresham 346.8 $14,400.01
2630 N. Washentaw 925.73 $15,306.70
2473 N. Albany 2041.02 $46,468.70
Woodard Plaza 1298.87 $48,034.41
2334 N. Lawndale 143.31 $8,180.83
3006 N. Christiana 641.21 $30,411.00
2918 W. Lyndale 73.5 $4,422.60
2426 N. Francisco 623.59 $8,350.00

Several years after the conclusion of the grant application process for the Milwaukee Avenue Green Development Corridor, it seems as though these backyard stormwater management projects are being put to the test with an onslaught of summer storms. In the month of June alone, Chicago got 8.97 inches of rainfall, which means that the volume of water captured at these sites was approximately 70,000 gallons! From our data so far, it appears that the projects are serving the community’s needs in a big way.

Liatris spicata, or dense blazing star, is a native flower that grows particularly well in damp soils- making it perfect for rain gardens.

Liatris spicata, or dense blazing star, is a native flower that grows particularly well in damp soils- making it perfect for rain gardens.



Lots to see along the Milwaukee Avenue Green Development Corridor

As many installations on the Milwaukee Avenue Green Development Corridor reach successful completion, Metropolitan Planning Council’s (MPC) work is drawing to a close. An advocate of tackling stormwater with green infrastructure when possible, MPC was keen to take a lead role in this project and see it succeed. After nearly two years, all the $200,000 Ill. Green Infrastructure Grant funding has been allocated and MPC is now looking at what can be learned from the project. Followers of this blog will be familiar with many of the plans and perhaps also interested in the outcomes. So far, five projects have been completed, ranging in size and scope and demonstrating a number of best management practices:

Project Cost ($) State Funding (%) Gal/1” Storm $/Gal/1”Storm
2907 N. Central Park 3,085 75 165 18.7
2630 N. Washtenaw 15,306 75 925 16.5
2473 N. Albany Avenue 46,469 75 2041 22.8
3548 W. Diversey 4,413 75 162 27.2
2915 Allen 15654.9 75 702.63 22.3

2907 N. Central Park Avenue was a relatively straightforward project involving the installation of two rain barrels to capture runoff from the garage roof, alongside porous paving for the gangway. It was the first project to be completed, highlighting the benefit of simple designs being “quick and easy to implement.” Green infrastructure doesn’t have to be complex; simple designs on a small scale can be very effective. 

2907 N. Central Park Avenue Plan

A simple but effective way to capture stormwater

2907 N. Central Park Avenue After

Permeable paving allows parking while capturing stormwater


2630 N. Washtenaw Avenue implemented rain gardens, permeable paving and rain barrels. The rain gardens were installed on land in front of the building, while permeable paving wraps around the building with rain barrels placed in the side alley. A drip watering system was installed on one rain barrel and hoses on the others.  This medium-sized project also managed to return a good ratio of dollar per gallon captured, primarily due to the extensive use of rain barrels.

2630 N. Washtenaw Avenue Rain Garden

Once developed the rain garden will be a better sponge than the Barron land before

2630 N. Washtenaw Avenue Rain Barrel

Using multiple rain barrels allows scalability needed for this large building

2630 N. Washtenaw Avenue Plan

2473 N. Albany Avenue involved a large amount of native plant landscaping on the land surrounding a house blocked out into apartments, as well as permeable paving on driveways and walkways. An important focus in this project was enhancing the garden for residents. The central space was redesigned for relaxation and socializing, with permeable pavers creating a patio in the middle of a large lawn area.

2473 N. Albany Visualization

A social space that encourages use

2473 N. Albany After

The native grasses (being protected by straw) cope better in the local climate

2915 Allen also incorporates a range of best management practices, including permeable paving, rain gardens and rain barrels. Costing around $16,000, funded 75 percent through the Ill. Green Infrastructure Grant, this led to an expected 702-gallon runoff capture during a 1” storm. The garden’s improved stormwater capture mechanisms also served as landscaping techniques, with attractive pavers, grasses and native plants bolstering the aesthetics of the space. In other words, stormwater management and landscaping can often work together to reduce impermeable areas, a major selling point for property owners.

Permeable pavers and native plants help filter rainwater into the ground.

Permeable pavers and native plants help filter rainwater into the ground.

2915 Allen Before2915 Allen Plan

3548 W. Diversey Avenue aimed to improve the landscaping and stormwater capture of select areas of the garden. Tying in well with the previous garden, the design shows how small areas can be landscaped to act as a feature while capturing greater volumes of stormwater. After a number of relatively large storms the installation seemed to be performing as designed and coping with the heavy rainfall. While a successful rain capture area should drain within 24 hours, this plot only took 40 minutes.

3548 W. Diversity After

Aesthetic appeal is a key part of this garden

3548 W. Diversity Plan

With the completion of all the projects, 12,217 gallons of water will now be captured in a 1” storm. A further $66,000 has been leveraged from the initial funding, suggesting projects such as these could be a good way for agencies to encourage private investment toward green infrastructure.

However, this may not be a cost effective way of tackling stormwater. With property owners given free rein to design what they like, landscaping was often a priority, which greatly increased the cost of projects. And while making a contribution to tackling stormwater is undoubtedly helpful, problems remain; even if an entire street had rain gardens, those houses’ basements would still flood. This makes green infrastructure difficult to market to landowners without the costly landscaping benefit.

Lessons have been learned regarding the implementation of this project and the overall strategy of encouraging private landowners to install green infrastructure to tackle stormwater. For future implementation of a project like this, having a menu of green infrastructure options from which landowners choose would reduce cost and simplify administration. At a strategic level, it is evident that there are more cost effective ways of tackling stormwater than with individual landowner projects.

Overall, the Milwaukee Avenue Green Development Corridor project has produced benefits in terms of the physical infrastructure installed, but also a wider contribution to the green infrastructure movement through outreach and lessons learned.

Grant awarded for a Tiptoe through the Rain Garden

By Marcella Bondie, LEED AP

Alarcon image

This home at 3548 W. Diversey has been awarded Illinois Green Infrastructure Grant funding, through the Milwaukee Avenue Green Development Corridor Program.  The backyard will integrate a rain garden, rain barrel and permeable pavers in a connected system to detain stormwater onsite. A downspout will be disconnected from the sewer system, so the rain can be routed through the rain barrel into the rain garden. Permeable pavers will be used to create a lovely path through the rain garden, connecting the house and garage.

How are rain gardens different from regular gardens? A rain garden is designed to be bowl-shaped, so that rain flows into it from the surrounding area. When a rain garden is connected to a downspout system, it can also store the rain that drains from an adjacent roof. Rain gardens are planted with deep-rooted plants that can withstand a range of watering conditions. Native Midwestern plants are ideal, because they are adapted to our wet-to-dry climate. Besides reducing the amount of stormwater in Chicago’s overloaded sewer system, rain gardens also filter out pollution, provide habitat and require less maintenance than a traditional lawn. There are lots of free resources available to help you design and finance your own rain garden, like this City of Chicago brochure on rain gardens and the Sustainable Backyards rebate program.

Approval for lounge-worthy green infrastructure in Logan Square

By Marcella Bondie, LEED AP

Thanks to the Illinois Green Infrastructure Grant’s Milwaukee Avenue Green Development Corridor Program, another Logan Square home will be retrofitted with permeable pavement, rain gardens and rain barrels! At 2427 North Albany, the homeowners have a green infrastructure plan that makes the most of the front and back yards. Check out the backyard drawing—every bit of useable space will be converted to efficiently manage stormwater.

Park image

Currently, not much stormwater is detained onsite, but with the downspout connection to rain barrels, precipitation can be captured to feed two new rain gardens. In the front, a gravel parkway will replace concrete and compacted soil, and allow even more rain to naturally infiltrate into the ground. In the back, a relaxing patio built from permeable pavers does double-duty as green infrastructure. The patio will provide a place for residents to gather and soak up the outdoors, while also soaking up rainwater to ease flooding.

How do permeable pavers work, exactly? Permeable pavers are paving stones  specifically designed to allow water to flow into spaces between them. These spaces are filled with porous material (usually sand), over a bed of gravel (the sub-base) that helps retain stormwater.

Permeable paversPermeable pavers allow stormwater to infiltrate through the porous material that lies between and under the stones. Image Source: Center for Neighborhood Technology, some rights reserved.

Sometimes the permeable paver system is also designed with an underdrain and an impermeable fabric (geotextile layer) to help direct the stormwater to another part of the site. Permeable pavers with wider openings and a deeper sub-base are better at capturing stormwater. In Chicago, permeable pavers will be most effective at locations closer to Lake Michigan, where the soil is naturally sandier and drains more quickly. At 2427 North Albany, the pavers will be used to create a patio, but permeable pavers are also used to build parking lots and driveways. You can learn more about permeable paving from the City of Chicago website.

Program updates and related projects

You know it’s summer in Chicago when the festivals begin, the bike lanes are filled with cyclists, the beaches are packed and plants are in bloom. Chicagoans come out of the woodwork when warm weather finally arrives. This year, the warmth of summer has also meant that the much-anticipated construction has finally begun for grant recipients of the Milwaukee Avenue Green Development Corridor!

The pilot project started in early 2012 to push property owners in the Logan Square neighborhood toward green infrastructure investment on their property. It took a little bit of time to build momentum and started with a very modest installation of permeable pavers and a few rain barrels. But since last year, applications have blossomed into robust green infrastructure systems where property owners are thinking about how they can capture rain from their roof to use later for watering and improve the permeability of their yards.  In many of the proposals, water flows into multiple rain barrels and eventually overflows into rain gardens. These types of efforts help to keep rain out of the sewers during high-volume rainfall events, thus reducing the load on Chicago’s combined sewer system.

To date, nine property owners have received approval for construction, totaling approximately $147,000 of the original $200,000 green infrastructure commitment from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, not to mention the private investment made by each property owner. Applications are currently being evaluated to determine which projects will receive the remaining $53,000.

A concrete patio has been removed and will be replaced with permeable materials.

New site for a rain garden.

The project has led to the development of other partnerships in Logan Square. Earlier this spring, the Metropolitan Planning Council worked with Bike Walk Logan Square to conduct place audits at the plaza above the Logan Square Blue Line station. The purpose of the audit was to prompt anyone interested in participating to identify strategies that could make the plaza more active and engaging. The group came up with great short-, mid- and long-term ideas, including a number of pop-up scenarios that could be implemented immediately: picnics, chalk “bombings” and performances by local musicians. We look forward to seeing these activities bring new life to the plaza!

Additionally, the Chicago Rarities Orchard Project (CROP), a complementary project to the Milwaukee Avenue Green Development Corridor, is progressing slowly but surely! CROP’s first orchard will be located at the intersection of Logan Boulevard and Milwaukee Avenue and is a partnership between the City of Chicago, Altamanu and NeighborSpace. The details for the orchard are currently being finalized and we are hopeful that work will begin this fall. In the meantime, CROP has established a temporary orchard at the former Chicago Honey Co-op site adjacent to the Garfield Park Conservatory.

These projects embody a broader vision of the future of Logan Square. The combined investments in green infrastructure help to improve stormwater management while investing time and energy in placemaking will continue to make this community thrive.

Rain Barrels are Key for this Grant Award

By Marcella Bondie, LEED AP

Another home has been approved for Illinois Green Infrastructure Grant funding through the Milwaukee Avenue Green Development Corridor Program! At 2520 N. Fairfield, the front and back yards will be retrofitted with rain gardens; permeable pavers and gravel; and rain barrels. The garage gutter will feed into the rain barrels, which will overflow into a rain garden and gravel basin in the backyard. The drainage diagram below shows how stormwater will flow through the site.

Dalesandro image

Rain barrels—a rainwater harvesting method—can be very affordable and easy to install. By preventing rain from entering our sewer system (which carries rain AND sewage), you can help avoid basement backups for yourself and your neighbor. The City of Chicago provides detailed instructions on how to disconnect your downspout. Rain barrels can be purchased from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District at a discounted price—and you can reduce the cost even more with a rebate from the Chicago Sustainable Backyards program. It’s important to remember, though, that downspouts and rain barrels should be allowed to overflow into a lawn or rain garden, away from building foundations. You will get the best results from a rain barrel if you empty it between storms, clean out debris and drain it before winter.  Read more about MPC’s rain barrel work for another flood prone neighborhood, as a partner in the Blue Island Rain Barrel Initiative.

Serving up a green two-flat in Logan Square

By Shannon Madden

New construction provides a perfect opportunity for integrating green infrastructure in building design, and that’s exactly what’s happening at a new two-flat at Gresham and Barry avenues in Logan Square. The comprehensive design will manage stormwater well from the beginning, reducing runoff by roughly 1,060 gallons per 1” storm and preventing about 38 pounds of suspended solids from entering the combined sewer system each year.

An extensive green roof and rooftop lounge illustrate how stormwater management and functional space go hand in hand. Thanks to LiveRoof trays, a modular system of light-weight, vegetated units, precipitation will nourish plants instead of running directly off the roof. Gravel on the rest of the roof provides additional stormwater storage capacity and creates a usable lounge area for residents. In addition to capturing much of the building’s runoff, rooftop gardens and green roofs like this can reduce the costs of heating and cooling buildings – an added benefit of rooftop green infrastructure.

Multiple areas of rooftop vegetation and gravel will maximize the stormwater capture and usability of a new Logan Square building. (Photo courtesy of Environments Studio)

The property will have ground-level green infrastructure, too. Four rain barrels will collect additional runoff from the roof. The downspouts on the south side of the building will convey water to rain barrels, where it can be used to irrigate native plants and rain gardens in front of and behind the home. Deep-rooted native plants and soils enriched with mulch and compost will infiltrate and store excess precipitation, again reducing runoff.

Once the building is fully constructed this summer, Environments Studio and its contractors will begin installing the green infrastructure. By fall, residents of the brand new home will be able to lounge on the rooftop and see beautiful native plants outside their windows – all while providing the Logan Square community with a little respite from stormwater woes.

Approval for Front and Back Yards Full of Green Infrastructure

By Shannon Madden

Kristen and Bill have been excited about the environmental, aesthetic and community benefits of the Milwaukee Avenue Green Development Corridor, and we’re thrilled to announce that we’ve approved their Illinois Green Infrastructure Grant proposal!

The Logan Square residents worked with Environments Studio to plan rain gardens, native plants and permeable paving throughout their front and back yards. Here’s how the front yard will look:

In this excerpt of the front yard design, we see a rain garden, native plants, several trees and porous paving that will help infiltrate precipitation where it falls. (Image courtesy of Environments Studio)

The house’s two disconnected downspouts, one each in the front and back of the house, will first convey stormwater through a gravel channel, where solids and particulates will settle. Water then will flow into a rain garden to nourish native plants and infiltrate into the ground. An additional 380 square feet of permeable paving will capture and slow the majority of water that falls on its surface.

Kristen and Bill also will plant buffalo grass in the back yard to capture additional stormwater. Buffalo grass is native to the Midwest, which means that it’s evolved to thrive with the amount of precipitation we typically receive in this region and it can store water in deep root systems to withstand drought. For homeowners, the benefit of native plants like buffalo grass, Brown-eyed Susans and Purple Prairie Clover is that they are both attractive and they don’t require watering once they are fully grown.

In addition to stormwater runoff from the house, Kristen and Bill will collect water from the carport roof. There, a downspout will collect runoff in a rain barrel, which will be used to water plants until they are stable enough to survive by retaining enough water in their own roots.

Landscaping in the back yard will create a functional, aesthetically pleasing place that helps reduce stormwater runoff into the local sewer system. (Image courtesy of Environments Studio)

All told, the green infrastructure in this project will reduce stormwater runoff by about 700 gallons per 1” of precipitation.

These smart applicants also plan to use the Chicago Sustainable Backyards Program, which provides rebates for trees, native plants and rain barrels. Leveraging funds in this way makes the project more affordable for the homeowners and their partners.

After about a week of construction, this project will be ready in June. Educational signage in front of the property will help showcase this green infrastructure project to pedestrians traveling along Allen Street. Let us know what you think as you walk by!

Washtenaw Condos Receive IGIG Funding for Stormwater Management

By Shannon Madden

Upcoming best management practices at a condo building on north Washtenaw Avenue will help infiltrate stormwater through rain gardens, native plants, permeable paving and an engineered slope to capture and slow runoff. Approved for Illinois Green Infrastructure Grant funding in March, this project will significantly slow stormwater from reaching the combined sewer system. With all green infrastructure elements combined, this property will capture around 450 gallons of water during a 1” storm and will prevent more than 40 pounds of suspended solids from entering the sewer each year!

Let’s break down those volume estimates a bit. By disconnecting four downspouts and collecting water in four 55-gallon rain barrels, this property can collect 220 gallons for watering potted plants. Then when the rain barrels are full, a hose will allow the overflow to go toward rain gardens and native plants. Replacing impervious pavement with porous pavers will collect an additional 250 gallons per 1” of rainfall.

The biggest impact will come from converting the existing lawn to a rain garden, native plantings and a grass strip. This will create storage capacity for over 450 gallons of water per 1” storm. Working with designers at Environments Studio, the applicant chose species with deep roots that are known to hold a lot of water. Native sedges and forbs can thrive in wet environments, and, at the same time, they tend to resist drought because of their ability to store water in their roots for dry periods.

Bioswales, like the one shown here, are engineered slopes with amended soils and native plants that infiltrate water as it moves downhill. They typically have a drain near the bottom of the slope to convey excess water to the sewer system. (Image courtesy of Environments Studio)

By connecting two small rain gardens with a trench and using plenty of deep-rooted plants to soak up excess precipitation, this project shows how you can link several areas to maximize stormwater infiltration. The extensive use of green infrastructure throughout the property means that little water is expected to run off – a great benefit to Logan Square’s residents who have dealt with their share of flooding.

Native plants, rain gardens and porous pavement will capture rainwater on this property. (Image courtesy of Environments Studio)

With a tentative start date of June 19, the condo association hopes to put the finishing touches on the project by the end of June. Then residents will be rewarded with a new common area that is functional, aesthetically pleasing and (bonus!) eases the burden on neighborhood sewers. We can’t wait to see how it turns out!

Proposal for a Circular Rain Garden, Rain Barrels and Filter Strips Approved for Funding!

By Shannon Madden

We’ve approved another grant that will make a big difference in how one Logan Square resident manages stormwater.

Currently, all rainwater and snow that lands on Keith’s 3,400 sq. ft. roof goes to three downspouts – each of which directs water to small landscaped areas or concrete surfaces. In a storm that dumps 1″ of rain on Chicago, more than 2,000 gallons of water fall on a roof that size, in most cases on the fast track to the city sewer.

Now, thanks to the Milwaukee Avenue Green Development Corridor program, Keith will use Illinois Green Infrastructure Grant funding to redirect all of that roof water toward bioswales (shallow ditches, often with rocks or native plants, that direct and filter water) and a rain garden in the front yard.

One of the most unique elements of Keith’s home improvement project is the garden area in the middle of the yard. A permeable gravel area with a few chairs will create a nice space for friends to gather, surrounded by a new semicircular rain garden and the yard’s existing plants.

Keith patio with native plants

Keith’s home improvement plan includes a patio surrounded by native plants. Image courtesy of Environments Studio.

The designers at Environments Studio, which helped Keith design his new yard, also considered water quality in this project. Because parking areas tend to have a lot of oil, grease, hydrocarbons and metals from our cars and trucks, Keith decided to change the grade of the gravel parking area to direct excess runoff toward 2′ filter strips, which will help keep gravel in the parking area and improve water quality by filtering water.

Rain barrels, a gravel infiltration trench and additional native gardens on both sides of the house complete the project. You can see in the illustration below how Keith and the landscape architects and will creatively use space on this uniquely shaped property.

property map, highlighting improvements

A rendering of Watson’s property. Image courtesy of Envrionments Studio.

Altogether, green infrastructure on this property will capture up to 925 gallons of water in a 1” storm. Construction will begin in mid-May, and we look forward to seeing the finished project in early June. Stay tuned for photos and updates!