Peek into a SITES project: Arthington Mall Plaza

Published on
02 Mar 2023
Mykhailo Bogdanov
Students walk in a campus courtyard.

Feature image credit: Joshua Clark/University of Illinois Chicago.

Located in the heart of the city, the SITES-certified University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), is a vital part of the educational, technological and cultural fabric of the region. UIC’s Arthington Mall Plaza serves as an open common area for students, faculty, staff and visitors of the west side of campus.

The Arthington Mall Plaza renovation supports the UIC Climate Commitments, which include goals to become a campus that is biodiverse, climate-neutral, and net zero waste and water. A part of the UIC Master Plan, this project revives dilapidated hardscape and space that was formerly prone to flooding with green infrastructure and safety improvements that will reduce stormwater runoff and improve the flow of pedestrian access.

UIC sought the help of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Chi-Cal Rivers Fund to redesign the site to address existing stormwater management challenges. UIC also entered into an intergovernmental agreement with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago shortly after the foundation's award to further improve the stormwater reduction capabilities of Arthington Mall, as well as the renovation of a parking lot with permeable pavers.

Rain gardens

One of the main goals of the renovation of Arthington Mall was to retain stormwater on-site by incorporating green infrastructure components such as rain gardens with native plantings. This area features over 11,000 square feet of rain gardens.

The project is able to check the efficacy of the stormwater retention abilities of the rain gardens through a two-year monitoring and model development program. This program quantifies the water balance for the site that will support the development of a hydrologic model to assess stormwater reductions and changes to the water balance generated by the infrastructure implemented.

An area of lush greenery.

Image credit: Joshua Clark/University of Illinois Chicago.

Permeable pavement

Another effective aspect of green infrastructure is permeable pavement. Unlike traditional concrete, the spaces between these pavers allow water to infiltrate the soil, diverting rainwater from storm drains while also reducing flooding.

The renovation of Arthington Mall included an installation of 10,350 square feet of permeable pavement while also reducing the square footage of impervious paving on-site by 19,000 square feet. This is predicted to increase the retention of 653,060 gallons of runoff water annually, or 188,709 per rain event.

Trees and pollinator habitats

The most visible stars of Arthington Mall Plaza may be its trees, which include a variety of young flowering ornamentals growing under a broad canopy formed by 24 mature, healthy honey locust trees. Although honey locusts are abundant on the UIC campus, these individual trees are highly valued residents for the near west side community in general, prized for their aesthetic benefits, for the cooling shade they provide, and for their contributions to controlling water runoff, stabilizing the soil and sequestering atmospheric carbon.

In Arthington Mall, there are nearly 14,500 square feet of soft landscaping comprising native plantings like the eastern redbud, common milkweed, Canada anemone and red columbine. These plants are visited by urban pollinators, including the common eastern bumblebee, green sweat bee, calligrapher fly and the star of the show, the monarch butterfly.

A student walks on a tree-lined campus.

Image credit: Joshua Clark/University of Illinois Chicago.

The future of sustainable landscapes at UIC

Arthington Mall enhances UIC’s identity by creating a welcoming setting that safely connects people across UIC’s west campus and encourages them to linger. Because of this project’s success, UIC has committed for all other landscape projects over $2.5 million to also obtain SITES certification while adhering to UIC's Climate Action Implementation Plan–specific SITES checklist for projects. This will ensure that the campus's sustainability goals and the goals of SITES are integrated into every major landscape project.

Learn more about UIC’s Arthington Mall Plaza