Teachers Explore Environmental Justice through Watershed Mapping

Friends' Amy Heldman (standing) shows teachers how to use the Natural Solutions Tool with students.

On Ocotber 13, 2023, Friends hosted teachers from the city of Chicago and the suburbs to learn how to integrate our innovative Natural Solutions Tool into classroom lessons with a priority placed on understanding environmental injustices and how we can repair them by harnessing the power of nature.

Friends’ Planning and GIS Specialist, Amy Heldman, demonstrated how teachers can use the tool with students to explore the entire watershed, specific communities, or focus on a school's neighborhood, local river access, parks, and more. The publicly available mapping website visually shows where opportunities exist to create healthy, equitable, biodiverse, protected, and connected communities. The free workshop was organized by our Chicago River Schools Network program and held at Friends’ office. It also served as a first step for Friends in developing a high school curriculum to introduce students to the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping tools that are used in many professional settings.

The Natural Solutions Tool contains 84 data sets to identify where nature-based green infrastructure projects are needed and can have the most impact. In addition to land use and nature-focused layers, the tool incorporates many data layers surrounding equity and public health, with the goal of helping to direct project funding to disinvested communities. The innovative portal emerged from a collaboration with the Greater Chicago Watershed Alliance, which Friends initiated in 2020 to promote expanded our region’s investments in nature-based solutions.

Friends and The Trust for Public Land led the Natural Solutions Tool’s development with input from dozens of stakeholders and data experts. Since 1996, the CRSN has helped thousands of teachers and more than 475,000 students explore the Chicago-Calumet River system.