A new database and map of “green infrastructure” in the Chicago region might help planners link trails and parks and yield new information about flooding, cooling and pollution. With urban sprawl reaching out in all directions, environmentalists said the map will help them keep tabs on growth and save critical wildlife areas from destruction.
The map covers 14 counties in northern Illinois, southeast Wisconsin and northwest Indiana — an area rich with forest preserves, parks and wetlands.
“The whole purpose is to preserve the natural function of the land, so we’re not paying millions for flooding, or trying to re-create wetlands that are long gone, or reintroduce species that have disappeared,” said Nancy Williamson, an ecosystem administrator for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Until recently, agencies in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin didn’t have a map that showed wetlands, forest preserves, grasslands, agricultural land and protected property together in all three states. At a conference three years ago, environmental groups remarked there was no easy way to get information from neighboring states.
With a $200,000 grant from the Joyce Foundation, the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago was hired to develop a database of property and development the map — both of which are available at www.greenmapping.org.
Someone with global information system computer software can manipulate the data and focus on a specific type of land, such as wetlands or forest preserves.
It’s expected that government agencies will use the map to better understand how the region’s topography affects temperatures and air quality. The IDNR plans to use the map to study how groundwater is replenished — an especially important issue in a region under immense development pressure, Williamson said.