Transformational Peoria Stormwater Farm Demonstrates Power of Connecting Design Thinking and Public Health Outcomes
Groundbreaking ceremony taking place October 26
On October 26, the city of Peoria breaks ground on a pilot project transforming vacant land on the city's south side into a "stormwater farm" that will help manage chronic sewer overflows impacting low-income neighborhoods while simultaneously significantly enhancing community health and vibrancy.
The effort is the culmination of more than a year of engagement and dialogue-building across a broad and diverse set of stakeholders that was supported by a group of students and faculty from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Initiated and facilitated by the Cooperative Extension office in Peoria, the School of Architecture, the Departments of Landscape Architecture and Urban and Regional Planning, and the School of Art and Design worked with the city of Peoria's Innovation Team.
Representing a cross-section of disciplines, students worked closely with the city to meet with groups of community members and diverse stakeholders to think through solutions to Peoria's stormwater infrastructure issues starting from the question, "How do we use design solutions to improve public health?"
Students then took what they heard and designed concepts for different ways to solve the challenges, which went through further community input and refinement. The outcome was a set of solutions that were derived from the community and built around consensus on priorities—in the case of the south side stormwater farm, this meant creating a project that went beyond solving sewer overflows to include features like urban agriculture and job training programs.
The Peoria project is an example of a growing national movement to connect design solutions to public health outcomes. The U of I is a member of the Design and Health Research Consortium, a collaboration of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) to advance university-led research in the area of design and health. The connection between the city and the university, facilitated by the U of I's Cooperative Extension office in Peoria, also demonstrates the benefits for both students and community members when they engage in complex issues together.