Besides providing recreational opportunities, it plays a crucial role in storing flood waters, promoting public health, and enhancing property values. It can protect water supplies and provide stormwater filtration, as well as directly preserve wildlife habitat. Parks are a popular neighborhood amenity that leads to increased physical activity among children and adults. And signature open spaces make the region more attractive to people and businesses considering whether to locate here.
Many residents of our region lack access to adequate parks within a short distance of their homes. Just over half the population currently enjoys adequate access, as defined by the standard of ten park acres per 1,000 people. Even by a lower standard of four acres per 1,000, over 30 percent of residents have inadequate access. FUND 2040 can help communities increase park access by helping to fund land acquisition and development of recreational amenities that encourage physical activity and enjoyment of outdoor spaces.
Offering recreational and environmental benefits in Chicago's West Loop neighborhood, Mary Bartelme Park opened in 2010 on the 1.4-acre site of a former infirmary. In a rapidly growing, formerly industrial area of Chicago, the park offers a fountain plaza, an Americans with Disability Act (ADA)-accessible children's play area, a dog park, a seating area, and an open lawn.
Funded primarily through Tax Increment Financing (TIF), the park includes native vegetation and permeable pavers to facilitate stormwater infiltration. In Lake County, green stormwater infrastructure is featutred in the Waukegan Community Sports Park, a 2011 project that converted an underutilized golf course into popular, award-winning soccer fields, softball fields, walking trails, and support facilities. The site was laid out to direct runoff to stormwater management features along parking areas, including bioswales, a rain garden, native vegetation, and an irrigation pond.
Conservation Open Space
Conservation land contributes to social benefits similar to neighborhood parks, while also adding significant environmental benefits by protecting water supplies, filtering stormwater runoff, and preserving wildlife habitat. Open space helps to ensure that water for replenishing aquifers is uncontaminated and to preserve floodplains and wetlands; these irreplaceable natural areas offer ecosystem services that have considerable economic value.
FUND 2040 would take a strategic approach to conservation land by drawing on research into the benefits of well-connected regional networks of open space. Priorities for the fund would include targeted conservation that helps complete open space corridors or contribute to a major regional conservation goal. Regional trails and greenways offer social benefits as part of this strategic approach, complementing open space and parks networks and supporting safe, active transportation across the region.
Agricultural land contributes similar aesthetic benefits and represents a major element of the region's economy, but farmland in the region has been rapidly converted to other land uses. FUND 2040 can help maintain such land's many benefits through agricultural easements or inclusion of agriculture in forest preserves.
The Forest Preserve District of Will County has preserved a network of trails, wetlands, streams, and open space to form the Spring Creek Greenway. The project preserves more than 1,900 acres of land, provides habitat, and protects a key aquifer for community water supplies. Numerous state and local partners have devoted approximately $12 million to the project for land acquisition, restoration, and construction.
Designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2012, the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge is the only national refuge within 100 miles of Chicago. It will eventually protect 11,200 acres of wildlife habitat, prairies, forest, and waterways in McHenry County and southeastern Wisconsin. FUND 2040 could support the project by funding anticipated land acquisitions and easements that are consistent with the Hackmatack proposal and local plans.