GARFIELD PARK — A Garfield Park urban farm is developing a new rain garden and functional public art installation to show how landscaping and garden design techniques can reduce stormwater and flooding damage on the West Side.
The rain garden is part of the Climate and Cultural Resilience Project, an effort by the Center for Neighborhood Technology to create community-driven strategies to enhance green infrastructure, public art and transit solutions in targeted areas of the city.
The Garfield Park site for the project is the Heartland Alliance’s Chicago FarmWorks, 407 N. Kedzie Ave.
“[These] types of investments, when done at a larger and more distributed scale, can really benefit a broader block, neighborhood, community area,” said Anna Wolf, a project manager for the Center for Neighborhood Technology working on the garden.
Stormwater is a huge and costly issue in the city, and Wolf said the areas most impacted by flash flooding and overburdened sewer systems are on the South and West Sides.
The garden will feature sustainable landscaping to help soak up stormwater when the rain is too much for the streets to handle. An area at the western edge of the farm that is currently unmanaged and covered in weeds will be transformed into an edible perennial shrub garden, producing food while also diverting a small amount of water runoff from the adjacent sidewalk.
The east end of the farm will feature more significant green infrastructure in the form of bioswales that will capture contaminated water that flows off the asphalt of the parking lot of Dodge Elementary School next door. The bioswales are landscaped trenches designed to absorb excess water while also filtering out debris and pollution, which is critical since the plants at Chicago FarmWorks are crops used to supply the city’s food pantries with fresh, healthy produce.
The art installation at the farm is being designed by local artist Andrea Jablonski, and the sculpture is being fabricated with engineering support from Site Design.
“The piece is in essence a shade shelter,” Jablonski said about the steel installation that she intends to rust as it is exposed to the elements. “There is beauty in this decay. The structure will also have colored and reflective acrylic that will cast cool shadows and reflect the sky and surrounding landscape showing different views based on time of day and where you stand.”
The installation will also be a gathering place for groups, volunteers, and program participants visiting the garden to learn about water usage, climate resilience and urban agriculture.
“The demonstration site will have an educational component,” said Laura Wetter of the Garfield Park Community Council. “The art piece is designed to direct water. The way that it’s angled will direct water into the rain garden and bioswales. So I think the visual element of the project is going to be fairly captivating to people and will provoke some questions.”
Welter said the stormwater project is also engaging residents during the design process. At a September open house at the farm, community members were invited to get an inside look at the development of the project, and neighbors were asked to vote on a selection of different plants that they would want to go into the garden.
The rain garden won’t absorb enough water to reduce neighborhood-wide flooding or prevent basement backups, and will only have a localized effect at the site of the farm. But the team behind the Climate and Culture Resilience Project said involving neighbors in the garden will help to demonstrate replicable strategies like bioswales and permeable soil additions.
Projects like the rain garden can be modeled elsewhere in the neighborhood through the use of native plants that can absorb runoff at private residences.
The rain garden is being developed in collaboration with the Elevated Chicago and Enterprise Community Partners, organizations that support equitable transit-oriented development and the Garfield Park Community Council.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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