Feature Article - March 2009
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Save Some Green

Smart Cost-Cutting Strategies

By Dawn Klingensmith


Creative Cutbacks

In a practice called "grasscycling," the Chicago Park District mows its 4,000 acres of turf so that the grass is no shorter than 3 inches. That, and the fact the clippings are left in place, slows growth by shading the roots. Meanwhile, grass clippings decompose and return valuable nutrients to the soil, thereby reducing or eliminating the need for fertilizer.

Grasscycling reduces labor costs and fossil fuel usage because lawns are mown less often and clippings aren't gathered and transported.

The Chicago Park District also came out with a campaign in defense of dandelions. In springtime, their presence in parks and on athletic fields caused people to complain that the lawns weren't being properly maintained.

"We're getting the word out that dandelions mean it's a healthy park because we're not spraying pesticides on the grass. We don't use pesticides on 90 percent of our property," Sargent said. "It's a lot healthier for a child to slide into third base on grass that hasn't been sprayed. We're also not spending money to purchase pesticides or using man hours to apply it."

Chicago's Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum took a number of creative and thrifty measures to shape up its budget before resorting to layoffs. The museum solicits donations of overripe bananas, mangoes and oranges from local produce markets to feed its butterflies.

As reported in the Chicago Tribune, museum officials also removed individual trash cans from employee work spaces for an annual savings of $2,500 in trash bags. Employees now use communal bins, which brought about the added benefit of making everyone more conscientious about recycling.

Whether it's buying fewer trash bags or learning to live with dandelions, parks and recreation managers are cutting costs wherever they can. Ideally, cuts should not be felt by our pal Joe or any other person who looks to parks and recreation programming and facilities as a means of maintaining a balanced and healthy lifestyle.


Water-Conserving Retrofits
  • Weather-based irrigation controllers
  • Ultra-light-flow toilets (ULFTs), high-efficiency toilets (HETs) or dual-flush toilets
  • Low-volume or waterless urinals
  • Sink faucet aerators
  • Low-flow showerheads
  • Conductivity controllers for cooling towers
  • Air-cooled ice machines