Practitioner Survey Responses

Click for PDF

Introduction: Context of Green Cities, Clean Water Exchange

In September 2015, 185 green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) practitioners from the U.S. and Canada gathered in Philadelphia for a first-of-its-kind technical and policy exchange. Forty-five municipalities were represented, along with twelve foundations, the USEPA and members of a very small number of key NGOs, industry partners and universities.

Two surveys were distributed during the last day of the three-day event: a participant experience survey (64 respondents) and a survey assessing challenges and opportunities within the GSI field (72 respondents).

Survey responses and follow-up correspondence were strikingly positive and consistent, citing the opportunity to openly and “safely” share information with fellow practitioners and expressing a clear desire to build upon the momentum of the Exchange and open new channels for developing and sharing resources, data, practices, education efforts and industry guidance.

Participant Experience Survey Summary (64 respondents)

The great majority of participants responded positively to the event as a whole and its component sessions, activities and attendees. Survey respondents noted that:

  1. Meeting with utility and city manager practitioners to share knowledge, experiences, and challenges was a highlight.
  2. Smaller, more intimate panel discussions were generally more useful than keynotes.
  3. The less-structured, networking time — including dinners and happy hours — was just as valuable as the structured sessions.
  4. There is great interest in follow up that digs deeper, connects more widely and advances the concerns of the field. All respondents noted that they would like to collaborate with event attendees in some way in the future.

Approximately how many colleagues did you meet for the first time?

  • Avg: 22
  • Range: 3 – 50+

How many colleagues do you plan to follow up with for deeper exchange and collaboration?

  • Avg: 8
  • Range: 2 – “dozens”

How many ideas/practices are you taking back to your City?

  • Avg: 6
  • Range: 1 – 20+

Having trouble seeing the above graph? Click here.

Having trouble seeing the above graph? Click here.

Having trouble seeing the above graph? Click here.

Having trouble seeing the above graph? Click here.

Having trouble seeing the above graph? Click here.

Having trouble seeing the above table? Click here.

Sample Attendee General Comments

  • Great meeting. It’s apparent that we want/need to continue conversation and find new areas to collaborate.
  • I really enjoyed the breakouts and loved the Thursday night dinner.
  • Meeting colleagues and getting details on a variety of programs/issues was the highlight.
  • So many women — and women of color. Proof that GSI is much bigger than typical engineering.
  • Thank you for everything — one of the best conferences I’ve attended and very well organized.
  • Helped me to realize GI is reaching critical mass; the vision of GI as a common practice is achievable.
  • Had a wonderful time, met great people, and recharged and ready to bring new ideas back to implement.
  • My favorite part: meeting people from different cities and hearing what they care about — seeing how similar or different each topic was to what our region is experiencing.
  • Awesome — hope we continue to share and have these types of events!
  • Biggest takeaway — we are not alone.
  • Of all the conferences, this information exchange has been outstanding. Getting so many professionals from around the country has really given me the opportunity to network and take new ideas back to my office. The team that organized this should be commended.
  • The highlight was the interaction at breakouts, dinners, and lunches.
  • The happy hour was loud, but a great networking opportunity.
  • Excellent idea, excellent meeting! Perfect size, not too small, but not too big.
  • Keynotes were not the most useful; the sharing on panels was more impactful and fascinating.
  • Need more cocktail/informal networking time.
  • Happy hour was too loud.
  • Temperature in conference room was too cold — that was only low point.
  • Needed to be a bit more “me” time to attend to other work between sessions.
  • I’m inspired with so many great ideas from other cities.
  • Meeting was extremely organized and well planned. Food selection was excellent.

Sample Attendee Comments on Next Steps:

  • We need more detailed “how-to” sessions; a lot of excitement, need more nuts and bolts.
  • I’d like to spend more time focusing on climate change and GSI.
  • I’d really like to see a website/safe space and organization to carry the work forward.
  • Ideas for next steps: annual meeting, webinars, and maintenance manuals.
  • Can this in person exchange be a consistent thing?
  • Peer to peer network and data sharing are desperately needed.
  • Develop national research agenda to share with ASCE, ASLA, APA. Share this at conferences.
  • Bring similar convening to regional level to address regional issues.

Participant Assessment of Challenges and Opportunities Survey

Participants were asked to assess the primary challenges, opportunities, gaps, areas for collaboration and priorities facing the field of green infrastructure. The core of industry concerns were led by funding and financing and followed by lack of political, inter-agency and public support; lack of data collection and sharing; the need for innovation; and the need for green/complete streets to become standard practice to demonstrate performance, cost sharing, collaboration and enhanced quality of life.

In response to those challenges, respondents cited opportunities to build physical and virtual forums for sharing data, practices and lessons learned – along with the need to standardize the format of data and its collection; to re-brand and re-position GSI with effective, collaborative communications efforts; to support innovation and integrative design; to normalize and develop standards, guidance, policies and regulations; to cultivate effective partnerships and champions at the local and national level; to advance and stabilize the economic viability of GSI implementation and maintenance; and to increase access to high level education and training for practitioners and the private sector.

Sample comment themes: greatest challenges?

  • Convincing leaders to help grow programs requires education, communications, successes to point to, reduction of risks around maintenance and other factors.
  • Gathering and sharing data as well as dissemination of data that supports investments.
  • Advancing public education and acceptance on GSI.
  • Funding and financing of GSI, including funding, financing and legal opinion for development of GSI on private property.
  • Competing spending priorities with silo-ed agencies with divided missions. But due the innate complexity of a GSI program, its success calls for the involvement of City stakeholders. There is a need for integrated infrastructure and funding. Also there is a need to convince Mayoral staffs and other agencies that GSI is economic development.
  • Training and education for staff at all levels (leadership, staff engineers) as well as the private sector (private developers). Also educating the next wave of entry-level workers to make sure there are no gaps in knowledge.
  • Funding falls short of matching the scale of the challenge of implementing high-cost GSI.
  • Building internal capacity of GSI programs.
  • Measuring the impact of GSI and long-term data will tell us the life-cycle limitations of systems:  how do they grow and how do we respond?
  • Building understanding on how GSI is a community development tool and not just a stormwater management.
  • Funding for and knowledge about maintenance, esp. long-term. Sometimes maintenance is a barrier to getting projects started; a department may not want to pursue GSI until maintenance is figured out. If maintenance is not a success right away, it may lead to the downfall of GSI.
  • Designing and planning GSI to address climate change impacts.
  • Restructuring systems to address the existing segmentation within the water sector, regulators, City administrators.

Sample comment themes: greatest opportunities?

  • Funding and financing strategies at all levels of planning, design, construction, maintenance and monitoring at are a shortage. In the future we need to explore the next generation of financing.
  • Triple-bottom-line outcomes beyond just stormwater management for the community including quality of life, job growth. GSI maintenance can serve as a workforce development tool for a new workforce, veterans, work release prisoners and volunteers. Because GSI is so visible we can use it for public education and involvement to create acceptance; non-environmental benefits can be used to sell the idea (health, crime, educational outcome).  GSI can even be pitched as an economic development tool for the City or educational tool for students. Showcase projects and their positive impact on communities and job development.
  • Peer-to-peer exchanges are great opportunities for networking and sharing info. By sharing lessons learned about our programs, policies and implementation, we can learn from others’ mistakes.
  • Development of a ‘safe space’ – online and in gatherings – for open dialogue and sharing of resources, failures, practices.
  • Development and re-development opportunities on private property. Moreover, developers can internalize and normalize stormwater practices to lessen the pressure on the success of tools.
  • National leadership cities can provide the proof of concept needed to justify GSI as a legitimate strategy.
  • Standardization of GSI as “business-as-usual” by including it in national standards such as road design manuals
  • Incorporation of GSI into asset management.
  • Leverage of existing municipal programs such as livable cities and sustainability efforts or projects such as transportation improvements by connecting GSI other City improvements, to encourage bundled, on-the-ground TBL benefits and cost-sharing.
  • Innovative technology such as biotech and re-use of materials.  We should be flexible and adapt as new technology arises.
  • Visible land types such as schools, vacant lands, neighborhood institutions and parks make people care about greening, even if they don’t realize GSI is at work.

Sample comment themes: what critical gaps exist and how can they best be filled?

  • Different, sometimes conflicting, objectives and audiences exist. Misalignment leads to untapped opportunity.
  • Public awareness that leads to acceptance and cooperation. We can frame GSI as a social equity tool and help make others’ opinions shift to see stormwater management as community development.
  • Alignment of public sources to gain more funding – for example, complete streets with green streets. Integrating into existing resources such as adding stormwater into FHWS and DOT manuals and combining grant funding, when legal, to create one project.
  • Virtual and physical forums for vetted data sharing so “lessons” are not repeated numerous times. Data gaps exist with monitoring, manuals, designs, soils, modeling, funding, geotech, case studies, climate data. The success of projects hinges on the cities’ ability to know how to bid, oversee design and construction.
  • All members of the field should be brought together for streamline education; labor unions, landscape architects, maintenance crews should be in the same room to be part of the conversation. Specifically, there needs to be better communication between practitioners and academics in the field of GSI.
  • Maintenance training, job and program development as well as job classifications should be a focus. We should treat them as assets in developing the green collar economy. Also, maintenance funding is a major concern.
  • Regulatory agencies’ roles as active members of the GSI community can be improved. We can assist the EPA to disburse the wealth of information online. Also national regulatory funding disconnects exist between HUD, EPA and DOE.

Sample comment themes: what are actions we can work on together to advance the field?

  • Convincing the EPA to not be skeptical and to support GSI.
  • Because policy needs top-down support, soliciting a high-level champion such as a mayor or governor to push the issue is important. The mayor or governor can hold GSI sessions with staff or hold GSI summits with other City/state leaders.
  • Collection and sharing of data and metrics on monitoring/performance, design specifications, contract specifications, manuals, etc. Additionally, sharing policies, regulations and MOUs that have gotten over the hurdle of GSI components falling off the table. These can eventually turn into draft guidelines and standards that municipalities can customize and use. Practitioners need the data to prove GSI works and is worth the money.
  • Expansion of collaboration and conversation internally between departments and externally within professional groups and unions. Three types of internal platforms are proposed: 1) National practitioners’ exchange once a year with note-takers to disseminate notes to wide audience.  2) Facilitated online sharing of data and practices and protocols, e.g. design specifications, lessons learned and contract documents. 3) Technical expert call center for design and construction questions.
  • Involving construction industry as leaders and partners rather than coercing them as followers in the field of GSI. They are knowledgeable about materials, reducing costs as well as specification and standard details. For example the UK CIRIA website highlights their construction industry as leaders in greening.

Sample comment themes: what do you believe should be the top priority we work together to address?

  • Working on the branding of GSI.  How can we re-frame the message that “clean water” is the equivalent of “increased quality of life.”
  • Normalizing the practice of GSI by advancing policies that require GSI or at least result in GSI not being the first component to go.
  • Practitioners need to expand the conversation and involve others not in our “choir.”  This includes fostering better interagency dialogue. Another approach is crafting similar exchange sessions for our leaders to get their attention and get them excited. Another strategy is to get the EPA to support municipalities to take risks.
  • Bringing in the public as a “partner” on programs and projects. We must realize the public must be a witness to achieve community buy-in. This includes crafting effective and uniform awareness campaigns.
  • Broadening the sources of funding to include stewardship incentives for homeowners, federal money for GSI, NRDC fellowships, finding money for integrated public works programs (vs. single projects).
  • Can we make GSI as economical as other types of infrastructure? By integrating across sectors to maximize efficiency, effectiveness and opportunity, perhaps we can.
  • Design standards should be adaptable as lessons are learned. This way projects are easier to implement and municipalities will be more willing to adopt. This strategy can give GSI more legitimacy.