Jan 18, 2011

Urban Utopia

The new Mary Bartelme Park is right at home in Chicago, a city that exemplifies the importance of using green infrastructure to manage urban storm water. Located in the growing West Loop neighborhood, the 2.23-acre park offers the community rare green space and various amenities. It also serves as an example of how a public recreation area can achieve a balance of storm water functionality and aesthetics.

The park abounds with permeable pavers and vegetation.

From Concept to Reality

The ball got rolling on the Mary Bartelme Park project in the mid-1990s, when the city of Chicago acquired the site now occupied by the park. The land, home to a municipal storage building and a public university-owned ear and eye infirmary, was turned over to the Chicago Park District and in need of environmental remediation. After intermittent years of teardown work and overcoming permitting hurdles, the district and the West Loop Community Organization retained landscape architecture firm Site Design Group to create a plan for transforming the space into a neighborhood park.

“Our goal was to go above and beyond Cook County’s strict requirements,” said Brad McCauley, Associate ASLA, associate landscape designer with Site Design Group. “We wanted to retain all storm water on site for at least a given amount of time.”

In order to make this level of management a reality, designers incorporated permeable pavers and native and adapted plant species throughout the park for a total storage capacity of 325,851 gal. The finished area’s rolling topography—a remarkable sight in a mostly flat metropolis—serves to keep all soil on site as well.

Pavement & Plants

Unilock Eco-Priora permeable pavers with Essroc TX Active cement make up the park’s paths and main plaza area. Rainwater flows through the durable pavers, travels through underground pipe networks to an onsite leach field and infiltrates back into the ground. The pavers’ work continues on drier days, as exposure to sunlight triggers an accelerated oxidation process that destroys atmospheric pollutants and reduces staining.

“Pavement was once incorporated in development and redevelopment projects as a decorative aspect,” said Brad Swanson, CDT, LEED AP, of Unilock. “Now it is about functionality too.”

In terms of vegetation, the park boasts large lawns, a maturing rain garden and planter walls filled with native perennials and forbs. None of these elements, once established, requires irrigation.

Regulations required the park design to include overflow capabilities, but to date all rainfall has been managed on site using the best management practices outlined here.

Managing Editor Caitlin Cunningham in front of a planter wall.

Community Amenity

Beyond being a model storm water site, Mary Bartelme Park offers residents an almost completely handicap-accessible playground, an interactive water—and water-conscious—feature, benches decorated with materials salvaged from the site’s former building, and a dog play area.

In Summer 2010, city leaders hosted a park dedication ceremony. Since the opening, project team members have seen their extensive efforts to gather public input—via aldermen meetings, surveys, etc.—pay off.

“People took to the park as if it had been here for 20 years,” McCauley said. “It’s great to see.”

Editor’s note: Other highly visible and practical permeable pavement schemes can be found throughout the city of Chicago: at Buckingham Fountain, U.S. Cellular Field and Shedd Aquarium, for example.

About the author

<strong><em>Caitlin Cunningham is managing editor of </em>Storm Water Solutions<em>. Cunningham can be reached at <a href="mailto:[email protected]">[email protected]</a&gt; or 847.391.1025.</em></strong>