Return to Case Study Briefs

Mary Bartelme Park

Landscape Performance Benefits


  • Captures and infiltrates all runoff from up to a 100-yr, 24-hr rain event.
  • Reduces water use by 1.13 million gallons per year with a low-flow misting fountain compared to a traditional interactive water feature. This saves over $4,200 annually in water usage fees.
  • Reduced surface temperatures by over 25°F through the conversion of 48,460 sf of dark colored hardscape and rooftop area into turf and perennial plantings.


  • Attracts over 2,000 people per year for 10 major programmed events that include holiday celebrations and movie nights. The park also offers free yoga classes in summer.
  • Supports alternative modes of transportation. Of 44 parks users surveyed, only 10% of weekday and 18% of weekend users arrived at the park via automobiles. 82% of weekday and 68% of weekend park users traveled less than 10 minutes to get to the park.


  • Generates $5,660 per year in event permit fees.
  • Provides a setting for numerous small businesses to operate, including: fitness classes that generate over $7,500 per year, food vendors, and professional photographers.
  • Would motivate 82% of park users surveyed to consider relocating to the area.
  • Contributes to property values, with average prices for homes recently sold within a 2-block radius of the park being 50% higher than the average for the park’s zip code.

At a Glance

  • Designer

    site design group

  • Project Type

    Park/Open space

  • Former Land Use


  • Location

    115 S Sangamon St
    Chicago, Illinois 60607
    Map it

  • Climate Zone

    Humid continental

  • Size

    2.3 acres

  • Budget

    $3.1 million (does not include land acquisition)

  • Completion Date


Mary Bartelme Park is a 2.3-acre city park located on a brownfield site in the heart of a revitalized warehouse district. The surrounding neighborhood has transitioned from blocks of dilapidated buildings to a thriving area full of high-tech industries, upscale residences, and trendy restaurants. Park features that attract visitors include a sculptural misting fountain, accessible playground, dog park, grassy berms, beautiful city views and quiet contemplative areas. Hidden beneath the park surface are areas of on-site storage and containment of contaminated soils and an underground storage and leach field for the site’s stormwater runoff. The visually striking park has appeared in numerous advertisements, is often utilized as a backdrop for wedding and fashion photo shoots, and has been featured in a popular video game. It has become a popular destination for neighbors and visitors, quickly evolving into a local icon in the Chicago area.


The Chicago Parks Department (CPD) has long been interested in moving toward a native plant aesthetic, particularly since the installation of the Lurie Garden at Millennium Park and its signature planting style that Piet Oudolf introduced to Chicago residents and visitors alike. To this end, CPD tried installing prairie-style plantings in several other parks, but this raised troublesome maintenance issues. Due to the large number of plant species mixed together into one planting mass, maintaining prairie-style plantings requires the ability to discern which plants are desired and which are invasive species. Maintenance staff also need to understand specific water requirements and pruning schedules for each plant in the mix, as well as learn proper prescribed burning techniques. As a result of past experiences and mistakes, CPD had become hesitant to incorporate prairie plantings into its smaller parks.


The designers were able to use the project at Mary Bartelme Park to pilot a hybrid approach. By utilizing a reduced prairie plant pallette of only 9 plant species, the design incorporates prairie planting aesthetics but with simplified maintenance requirements. This signature plant pallette from CPD doesn’t require extensive plant knowledge to recognize which plants should be kept/cared for, thereby making it easier for seasonal workers to maintain the prairie plantings with good results.

  • A 64,500-gallon underground stone aggregate infiltration bed is designed to handle stormwater from a 100-year storm event.
  • The pedestrain walkways incorporate 10,826 sf of permeable pavers, which allow stormwater to flow between the pavers and infiltrate into the soil below.
  • 4,785 sf of smog and carbon-reducing photocatalytic pavers were installed around the misting fountain. The photocatalytic element in the pavers also helps to maintain a clean white paver color.
  • 154 sf of reused terracotta architectural elements from the infirmary building were incorporated into the cast in place concrete seat walls.
  • The low-flow interactive stainless steel fountain uses misting nozzles to reduce water usage.
  • The park integrates play features for children in the 2-5 and 5-12 age groups into one 10,270-sf play area. The playground also features varying topography, which turns the rubber play surface into an additional play element.
  • The native plant palette includes 1,253 Sporobolus heterolepis ‘Tara,’ 638 Coreopsis grandiflora ‘Jethro Tull,’ and 1,253 Echinacea ‘CBG Cone 2.’ These perennials were installed as 1 gallon plants.

Instead of installing an extensive irrigation system for the 52,370 sf of turf, Mary Bartelme Park includes only 2 quick connects for hoses to be used during plant establishment and periods of extended drought. The decision to exclude an irrigation system saved an estimated $44,500 in installation costs and $4,900 per year in water fees and system maintenance costs.

  • The decision to use a reduced prairie plant pallette to make maintenance easier for seasonal workers seems to be successful. A field visit showed that the native plant beds continue to be relatively “weed” free.

  • Some of the plants in the prairie planting areas, including the Allum aflatunenese ‘Purple Sensation’ and Veronica spicata ‘Royal Candles,’ have been damaged and/or killed along a 6-ft swath adjacent to the sidewalks. Although the cause was initially a mystery, the designers quickly figured out that the 6-ft distance was the length of a typical dog leash, and that the plants were being damaged by dog urine. This damage is something that should be considered when designing any plantings along sidewalks, especially those adjacent to a dog park or other areas where a larger volume of pet traffic would be anticipated. The damage potential could be limited by careful plant selection in the leash zone or by the incorporation of fencing, raised beds, or other structural barriers that restrict dog access to the landscape beds.

  • Another animal-related issue has had the park in the news: an ongoing battle about dogs and their feces. City signs attached to light poles state that dogs are only allowed in the dog park area, however many pet owners ignore those signs. And many dog owners let their dogs run off-leash, which is a violation of the city leash law. Some pet owners are not cleaning up after their pets, especially during the winter months. In January 2015, there were unfortunate instances where parents and kids sledding down the snow-covered slopes of the grassy mounds ended up with dog waste on their clothes and boots. This prompted the addition of more signs that were subsequently removed by angry pet owners. At a community meeting in July 2015, it was finally decided to ask the city to start ticketing dog owners when their pets are off-leash and for not cleaning up after their animals.

  • The issue of pet pet waste is exacerbated by the fact that there are not any trash cans within the park itself. Park users must walk to the far corners of the perimeter sidewalk to use the large garbage cans located there. It appears that these cans were located to make garbage collection easier for maintenance workers, but the location makes it much more difficult for park users to throw away their trash. Providing trash receptacles in the interior of the park would encourage visitors to properly dispose of their trash and pet waste.
  • While conflicts over pets and waste are not isolated to this park, the sheer volume of users and pet owners at Mary Bartelme Park, combined with the park’s relatively small size, has made them a big issue. One possible solution would be to increase the size of the dog-friendly area and include a grassy mound similar to those outside of the dog area. That way pet owners could enjoy the grassy mound experience with their dog off-leash, while still being contained within the dog area.

Plants: Midwest Growers
Unit Pavers: Unilock TX Active, Unilock Eco-Priora, Unilock Umbriano
Rubber Surfacing: Total Surfaces Rubber Surfacing
Crushed Stone: Kafka Granite Midnight Blue stabilized
Artificial Turf: Forever Lawn K9 artificial turf and Select LX playground turf
Lighting: Bega, Traditional Concrete base, Hadco luminaire
Furniture: Landscape Forms, Wausau Tile custom pre-cast
Drainage/Erosion: Custom drainage system consisting of underdrain, permeable pavers, CA-7, and geotextile in leach field
Fences/Gates: Omega II
Playground/Recreation Equipment: Berliner, Seilfabrik, Kompan, Landscape Structures
Water Features/Amenities: Most Dependable Fountains

Project Team

Landscape Architect and Project Management: site design group ltd.
Civil Engineering: Terra Engineering, Ltd.
Environmental Engineering: GSG Consultants, Inc.
Electrical Engineering: Hinkle Engineering, Inc.
Structural Engineering: Gagarin Farruggia Gibisch Reis, Inc.
Fountain Design: Fountain Technologies, Ltd.
General Contractor: The Lombard Company

Role of the Landscape Architect

The landscape architects were the leaders of the project team. Their involvement began with the creation of three conceptual plans, which incorporated elements that were most highly rated in a survey completed by area residents. Those 3 concepts were refined into a final conceptual plan, upon which the final design was based. The landscape architects prepared the construction document set and were on-site during construction. Several construction details that were established by the landscape architect for this project are now being used as design standards for future parks by the City of Chicago parks department.


Stormwater management, Water conservation, Temperature & urban heat island, Recreational & social value, Property values, Visitor spending, Other economic, Play equipment, Permeable paving, Native plants, High-albedo materials, Placemaking, Play, Revitalization

The LPS Case Study Briefs are produced by the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF), working in conjunction with designers and/or academic research teams to assess performance and document each project. LAF has no involvement in the design, construction, operation, or maintenance of the projects. See the Project Team tab for details. If you have questions or comments on the case study itself, contact us at email hidden; JavaScript is required.

Help build the LPS: Find out how to submit a case study and other ways to contribute.