STORY 11: An Opportunity for Water in Cities

In this episode of Inside, Out & About we are joined by Mary Pat McGuire, associate professor of landscape architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and director of Water Lab. McGuire talks about the relationship between water and pavement, and the vital need to rethink our overreliance on impervious paved surfaces. She details how we can undo the harmful environmental effects of paved surfaces by reducing their area, which creates positive impacts for human and ecological health, aesthetics, and resilience instead.


As a partner of the Chicago-Calumet River Watershed Council, McGuire’s expertise and leadership brings science, engineering, and design together to examine how we should live differently with water in urban areas like Chicago and create strategies to retrofit cities with nature-based green infrastructure and all of the benefits it brings with it.  

In 2015, the Water Lab launched an ongoing design research project called Depave Chicago to transform the ground surfaces of the city into more ecologically and socially just environments. McGuire says Chicago has percentages of impervious ground that are among the highest in the country. Her research shows that “one third of the ground on the South Side of Chicago is paved and asphalted.” McGuire says it’s important to think of cities as “headwaters” to address the issues of flooding through nature-based solutions.