State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Contemplating Green Infrastructure in Blue Island, Illinois

Students on Site - Picture by Scott OsickaIn early October, students from Columbia University’s Sustainability Management Masters Program embarked on a three-day field trip with architecture professor Lynnette Widder to Chicago and Blue Island, Illinois, for an interdisciplinary workshop on urban resiliency.

Students from the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) Master of Landscape Architecture Program, which hosted the workshop, and Urban Planning and Policy students from the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC) joined the Columbia group. Alongside Professor Widder, Moira Zellner (UIC) and Ron Henderson (IIT) led the workshop, focusing on resiliency issues in Blue Island.

Workshop 2 - Picture by Michael Jorisch


Blue Island’s name derives from the early European settlers who thought the six-mile ridge protruding from the marshes resembled an island. Due to the area’s high water table and the city’s aging connections to Chicago’s combined storm and sewage system, this low area is greatly impacted by surface flooding. The proximity to the local riverine system presents additional water infrastructure challenges. The frequent floods damage basements and homes, streets and other infrastructure.

The students met with city officials, sustainability experts, municipal water experts, and Blue Island town aldermen to understand the interplay of the community’s economic, civic, sustainability and resilience strategies. This research will inform the students’ fall term projects in Professor Widder’s course, “Responsiveness and Resilience in the Built Environment.”

Blue Island - Hema Sandeep NaravaThe student projects focus on a site and neighborhood running along the lower stretches of the ridge. Student research and projects will consider ecological challenges, existing uses of the site, stakeholder inclusiveness, the city’s development goals, and long-term resiliency.

Rain Garden - Picture by Michael JorischDuring the field-trip, students toured newly implemented bioswales, a green infrastructure project to reduce some of the surface floodings. The successes of such projects demonstrate the potential for the student project site to contribute to Blue Island’s green infrastructure planning. Throughout the fall semester, students in Widder’s course will continue to build upon the work begun with the landscape architecture and urban planning students.

The M.S. in Sustainability Management, co-sponsored by the Earth Institute and Columbia’s School of Professional Studies, trains students to tackle complex and pressing environmental and managerial challenges. Visit our website to learn more.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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