To the Editor:
Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act — and with it, approved billions of dollars to build flood resilience in cities like Chicago.
This infusion of federal money is a once‐in‐a‐generation opportunity. It allows us to rethink how we build our infrastructure, especially in the face of increased floods. And just as importantly, it lets us jumpstart projects that work for and protect all communities.
Now comes the hard part: finding projects that reduce flooding, while ensuring they serve the communities they’re intended to protect. With a smart and strategic approach, however, we can build federally funded projects that protect against flooding, boost the economy, and benefit all communities.
First, we need to invest in infrastructure projects that reduce flooding — and are built to last. Already, Chicago is facing the impacts of extreme weather. A new study by First Street Foundation found that 30% of Chicago’s residential and commercial properties — nearly a quarter of a million residential properties — are at risk of flooding. And that risk is expected to increase over time.
But the right flood‐resilient infrastructure can start reversing this trend. We’ve already put in place several such projects that reduce flood risk. In Pilsen, for example, we’ve installed permeable pavement, decreasing storm-water runoff by up to 80% on one two‐mile stretch of road.
We must remember, though, that different solutions work well in different places. The same permeable pavements that work so well in Pilsen may not work in other parts of the city. By looking at risk data and incorporating local needs, communities can find dozens of flood solutions that work best for them.
At the same time, Chicago should strive for projects that have multiple benefits. One such option is investing in natural solutions, such as preserving or restoring riverside parks and creating more open areas for activities, wildlife, and plants. For example, Chicago’s Space to Grow schoolyards program provides grassy areas for recreation and learning, as well as infrastructure to reduce flooding.
Space to Grow also provides safe, outdoor spaces to lower‐income neighborhoods and communities of color, which are disproportionately affected by flooding: In Englewood, where almost 95% of residents are Black, 38% of properties have a chance of being severely affected by flooding over the next 30 years. That’s compared to an average of 14% of properties across the entire city.
When exploring these new flood projects, we must rely on community voices to ensure that these projects address existing inequalities.
We must seize this opportunity to weave flood resilience into the fabric of our city. And in doing so, invest in projects that provide multiple benefits and protect all communities. With the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and a city‐led focus on flood resilience, we can build a stronger, safer Chicago for all.
Kim Du Buclet
Commissioner, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago
Executive Director and Founder of American Flood Coalition