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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 | Master Plan & Teaching Farm

Northside College Preparatory High School | Master Plan & Teaching Farm

Aerial perspective rendering by Nick Petty

The Joy Garden
Malcolm Wells Vegetable Garden, the Greenhouse, Bio-swales and Wetland
Community Agricultural Areas
Handicapped Accessible Pervious Pathways through the Gardens
The Frisbee Field
Food Donations
Teaching Environmental Stwewardship

After creating the Joy Garden on an ex-brownfield site at Northside College Prep High School in 2009, UHC’s Nick Petty and Michael Repkin designed a sustainable master plan for the entire school property, which adjoins the north branch of the Chicago River, and will weave educational, sustainable, accessible, and aesthetic spaces into a beautiful and unified whole.

Called the “hundred year plan”, we’re way ahead of schedule as we near completion of several generations already, thanks to the hard work of UHC volunteers and student “Dirt Actualizers”. Visit their Facebook page here.

Although Urban Habitat Chicago has a continual stream of accomplishments, there is a particular element of our work that deserves special recognition. 2011 marked the beginning of a partnership with Neighborhood Nutrition Centers (NNC) which provides fresh locally grown produce to people in need. NNC has partnered with Ravenswood Community Services (RCS) as a distribution point for receiving neighbor-fresh produce. RCS offers a weekly food pantry and a hot meal every Tuesday evening.
This opportunity to serve has provided UHC and students with a vehicle by which the food we produce can be shared. Since the beginning of our participation in late August, we have contributed more than 280 pounds of produce. Of this produce, a great deal of the material was fresh greens in the form of kale, swiss chard, turnips, collards and lettuce. It is this type of produce that is often absent from most diets and it is especially scarce for people in need. Our upcoming year will likely double or quadruple our contribution with expansion of growing beds and an increased number of experienced growers and harvesters. We hope to see more people take advantage of this opportunity to serve in the upcoming year and our invitation is always open for members of the Urban Habitat Chicago community.

Key plan by Nick Petty and Michael Repkin (click image to enlarge)

Phase I: The Joy Garden

The first outpost of a regenerative landscape was the quarter-acre Joy Garden, (shown in red) which after many hours of volunteer labor, has transformed a former barren area for the storage of deicing salts into an urban oasis of curving vegetated berms and bioswales joined by accessible paths and raised gardens. Read more about it here.

Phase 2: Malcolm Wells Vegetable Garden, the Greenhouse, Bio-swales and Wetland

This phase involved developing keyhole gardens, which are circular knee high raised beds with a path to the center - designed so specifically for easy access. These are built entirely with reused and recycled materials, wherein the raised beds are created with recovered landscaping fill and surrounded by recycled concrete chunk and rock walls.

In addition to the keyhole gardens, there are raised beds built for the Northside staff. Together they grow a huge variety of foods and herbs - kale, broccoli, tomatoes, basil, mint, swiss chard, fennel, eggplant, zucchini, carrots and many more. The vegetables produced are rotated every season so the same plot is planted with different plants in different season, thus replenishing the soil and maintaining soil fertility levels.

In 2011 a wetland was created by a summer intern - read more about her experience here on her blog. After a great deal of hard, muddy work, turtles, frogs and other creatures have made it their home, adding to the growing biodiversity on site.

Rain water flow from this area into sewers, through an existing drainage system, has also been mitigated through the construction of attractive bioswales built here. Bioswales are landscape elements designed to reduce the quantity of and remove silt and pollution from surface runoff, absorbing most of the water into plant matter and soils. They filter and manage storm water using water-loving plants and gravel placed around the drain.

A very productive solar green house was also constructed here in 2011 by students and volunteers, on one of our many public volunteer days. The green house was built using recycled sheet metal and other found materials, to enable the project team to start seedlings in any weather - late into fall or early spring, stock and get them out on the field later when required. Transparent to the south only, heat is kept from escaping through the cooler north side. We have a new project happening there now - we will use water in drums to store collected solar heat and maintain the interior temperature - much like an architectural Trombe wall system in a building.

Greenhouse at Northside

Phase 3: Community Agricultural Areas

Raised garden beds built from reclaimed lumber and other reused materials are under continuous development, north of the Malcolm Wells garden. The agriculture area beds are distributed among local community and school members to maintain them and grow food. Urban Habitat Chicago provides guidance to these farmers on sustainable and practical techniques how to grow food organically and economically. The agriculture areas are divided into 15 different 100 sq ft plots. It is considered that a single 100 sq ft plot can feed one person for a year.

Corn growing in the new agricultural areas in 2011

Phase 4: Handicapped Accessible Pervious Pathways through the Gardens

Ozinga Concrete has provided materials and services, as well as job training, to make pathways for students in wheelcahirs wheelchairs to experience the outdoors, through the Joy Garden, out to overlook the Chicago River and around the student-designed Celestial Garden.

Materials delivered to Northside Prep:

28 Cubic yards of pervious concrete or about 2300 square feet of ADA Compliant pervious concrete walkways.

This pavement is filtering in excess of 53000 gallons of stormwater each year, will absorb more greenhouse gasses from the air. Pervious concrete systems allow 50% of the stormwater to evaporate back into the air, cooling local area, while allowing the other 50% of the stormwater to infiltrate into the local aquifer, after being filtered and cleaned by the pervious concrete and the biological flora and fauna that live within the pervious concrete. These biological colonies help remove over 90% of the pollutants from the stormwater, breaking them down or binding them permanently to the concrete so that they can no longer damage the environment.

Number of folks trained to install pervious concrete at Northside Prep:

In four classes, we have trained over 15 NRMCA Certified Pervious Concrete Installation Contractors and over 100 students, design professionals, municipal officials, and interested local citizens. Numerous other individuals have been educated about pervious concrete and other stormwater mitigation practices by the students at Northside Prep, and specifically by the DA Beasts.

Over 130 tons of recycled concrete aggregates have been delivered to Northside Prep for the Joy garden project. This material replaces the use of virgin material that otherwise would have been mined and transported to the project. This material was diverted from local landfill and will continue to absorb Greenhouse gasses as long as it is in contact with air.

Some videos to watch on YouTube re: pervious concrete:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gRd4Jv6aZY 2000 gals of water dumped from concrete truck onto (and through) pervious concrete. This lot is at 850 E 112th St. in Chicago, IL

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPxPgLgdWws Informational video on Filtercrete Pervious Concrete

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4akB5vr8P4 Pervious Concrete is Cool.
Photo courtsey of Johan Tabora

September 23, 2011 was the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Celestial Garden at Northside College Prep High School. To see more photos, go here

Phase 5: The Frisbee Field

Between the raised beds and the Malcolm Wells there is a large area where the effort is on to improve the soil quality to grow grass to develop an area for outdoor recreation. So the aim is to renew the soil and improve it enough to grow grass for students to play Frisbee and other games. This is brought about by planting grass and other plants like Artichokes that are hardy enough to survive the harsh weather along with woodchips and other materials.

Food Donations

Where does it all go? Produce grown at Northside feeds participating students and staff families, UHC volunteers and Interns, and community members. BUT is also goes to anti-hunger organizations, and programs, including Neighborhood Nutrition Centers, the Ravenswood Community Center, and Cooking Matters. In addition, seedlings and plants grown at Northside are distributed to other school and community garden sites across Chicago.

Teaching Environmental Stwewardship

That’s what it’s all about! Teaching not only Norhtside Students but Chicagoans of all sorts - to grow their own food and make their city greener - and perhaps more importantly, empowering them to lead others to do the same.

h2. Resources:

1. Pervious Concrete delivered to Northside. Click here

2. Why use Filtercrete Concrete? Click here

3. Stormwater Management with Pervious Concrete Pavement. Click here

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