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Demonstrating the viability of sustainable concepts and practices in urban environments through research, education, and hands-on projects.

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Northside College Preparatory High School | Joy Garden

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Northside College Preparatory High School | Joy Garden

Taken at WNBA Volunteering Event, June 2011

Project summary
Restorative landscape approaches
Materials reuse and repurposing
Project team and partners
Press and media

Download the presentation from our our December lecture on the Joy Garden:
The Joy Garden (6.4 MB, PDF format)

See photos from the Chicago 2175: Creating the Change event at Northside College Prep High School, August 13-15.

Project summary

The Joy Garden at Northside College Preparatory High School In Chicago, IL is a 10,000 sf sustainable retrofit of an underutilized portion of a site which serves to reconnect students to their immediate environment in meaningful ways.

Working in conjunction with Northside College Preparatory High School, Urban
Habitat Chicago is proud to announce construction efforts are now complete and the Joy Garden is currently growing vegetables and managing stormwater on the grounds of this venerable public institution. Via student grant-writing efforts and generous in-kind donations from local businesses, resources were secured to develop the 10,000+ SF plot situated directly adjacent to the eastern front of the building between the natatorium and cafeteria plaza.


The objective was to furnish the exterior of the school with a microenvironment both ecologically functional and educationally stimulating, with particular emphasis upon providing for the requirements of special needs students. The plan expands and improves upon existing agricultural uses via enhanced accessibility features and a design strategy that sates the sensory proclivities of individuals all too often excluded from the joys of immersion within a traditional garden environment. In this regard, the Joy Garden represents an important step in continuing the ideal educational setting envisioned upon the founding of the school in 1999.

Through the interplay of the myriad textures, colors, sights, and smells indigenous to the Northern Illinois landscape, the Joy Garden allows for an improved degree of hands-on interaction between students and the natural world that surrounds them daily. The inclusion of innovative, ecologically-focused approaches such as pervious pavements, building material reuse, and stormwater management techniques provide valuable examples of responsible design for students who may choose to pursue or advocate the sustainable goals of the 21st Century. Furthermore, the enhanced integration of vegetation within an urban site otherwise devoid of acceptable habitat provides refuge for local wildlife (beyond the ubiquitous gaggles which currently loiter about the campus daily) and affords a template for future development on the property.

Spring will be arriving soon and with it, a flurry of new activity. Without question, the success of this project relies upon the efforts of many parties - volunteers, students, faculty, and staff - all of whom possess a vested interest in the future of Northside College Preparatory High School and the environment at large. To find out how you can help or to pose a general question, please contact Nick Petty from Urban Habitat Chicago.

Plan of the Joy Garden, by Nicholas Petty

Restorative landscape approaches

This project demonstrates the applicability of various restorative landscape technologies for schools, institutions, and other projects of similar size and type by using the following approaches:

  • Soils amendment using organic matter for health and “waste” products such as drywall scraps for better soil structure (drainage)
  • Biophilic design through the used of curving, natural landforms
  • Subtle level changes on an otherwise flat site
  • Vistas to guide the eye outward from the building
  • Permeable paved pathways for groundwater recharge and handicapped accessibility
  • Introduction of places of repose for small gatherings
  • Symbiotic edible and flowering plant combinations for food production, habitat creation, and beauty.

Materials reuse and repurposing

Some examples are shown in the image above of creative materials reuse and repurposing.


Nicholas Petty and Michael Repkin of UHC collaborated on the design and selection of plants.

A UHC team led student volunteers in site preparation and planting. Volunteers and students continue to participate in regular garden maintenance. Read more about volunteer opportunities here.

Project team and partners

UHC Personnel:

Michael Repkin, Project Director
Nicholas Petty, Design and Project Management
Jim Williams, Soil Restoration Specialist

Student personnel:

Brianna Birman, Student Liaison and Project Facilitator

DA Beasts, project implementation and maintenance


Northside College Preparatory High School
Barry P. Rodgers, Principal
Michael McCoy, Instructor

Urban Wildlife Coalition,
Bathsheba Birman, President

More info soon…

Press and media

Joy Garden wins Mayor Daley’s Gardener of the Year award, November 6, 2010

School garden brings Joy to community, ABC7 News

What once was mud and salt will soon be a garden of joy, Medill Reports, January 26, 2010

Joy Garden project summary (772 KB, PDF format)

The Joy Garden at Northside Prep: Reconnecting a School to its Environment through a Meaningful Landscape, lecture by Michael Repkin and Nicholas Petty (downloadable presentation)

Local Environmental Groups Create Garden Showcasing Green Initiatives and Outdoor Classroom for Special Education Students, Street Level, November 6, 2009 (892 KB, PDF format)

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