Chicago: Flooding Solutions & Alternatives

The Architect's Newspaper | Zachary Edelson

The Architect's Newspaper featured article.

Images courtesy of Mary Pat McGuire.

Chicago digs deep to fight flooding, but the city’s geology may provide another solution.

Landscape architect Mary Pat McGuire is working to tap a hidden asset in Chicago’s fight against flooding: Forgotten sand deposits that could absorb rainwater. Coastal dunes were paved over as the city grew, but still exist underground. McGuire drew this map in collaboration with geoscientists from the USGS and ISGS to reveal the buried sand dunes.

When it rains, Chicago faces challenges from above and below: With 25 percent of the city paved-over, rain can’t reach the soil and absorb the onslaught of water. An aging and under-capacity sewer system causes regular flooding and even sewage discharge into nearby water bodies. The challenge is immense—for Chicago, one inch of rainfall equals four billion gallons. Until recently Chicago’s answer to the problem has been an infrastructure project no less than epic—read costly—in scale. But one landscape architect is leading an effort to change how the city can unlock its hidden potential for storm water management.

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This article is part of a series—originally appearing in our Oct. 12 issue—that focuses on how water is shaping today’s landscape architecture and urbanism. Communities face deluges and droughts—for some, the stakes can be survival itself, but others see opportunities for decadence. Here’s where this project stands—click here to see the rest! (AN)