/**/

Parks and other public spaces have played an essential role throughout the pandemic. Recently, the Knight Foundation released a report that highlights how harnessing community involvement in design and programming at neighborhood parks, city-wide destinations and nature oases can help propel community development and foster equitable outcomes. This makes public spaces a key component of recovering from Covid-19. These findings make a compelling case for policymakers, funders, and practitioners to prioritize public spaces in seeking to drive more equitable outcomes nationwide – during and beyond the pandemic.

For the report, the Knight Foundation commissioned Gehl — a global urban planning, design and strategy firm — to conduct an impact assessment of seven public space projects in 4 cities that have received $5 million in direct Knight investments plus an additional $50 million in co-funding. Because the spaces range widely – from neighborhood parks to nature spaces to citywide destinations that offer art studios, beachscapes, and more – the study did not aim to compare the spaces against one another but rather to assess their impacts according to four key themes, and overall to life during the pandemic.

The findings revealed that emphasizing community engagement at every stage increased usage, attachment and trust, especially for people of color, with ripple effects that strengthened and improved communities beyond the sites. This could have nationwide implications for our post-pandemic recovery. For details, check out the full report here.

In April, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) invited Exchange members to participate in their upcoming website update by contributing relevant projects to their What is Green Infrastructure webpage that exemplify the various major GSI practice areas. Members were offered the opportunity to share regional projects that reflect already existing practice areas on the site as well as suggest new potential categories of GSI practices that may help paint a fuller picture of GSI on the page.

The existing page has short descriptions of major practices with examples from state and local programs. It is among the top three most frequently viewed pages on the EPS site, offering Exchange members the opportunity to significantly increase the visibility of their local programs. 

Heartfelt thanks to the eight Exchange members who contributed multiple relevant project examples from their jurisdiction for consideration! The contributing agencies will be notified if/when their examples are featured on the new EPA page.

The Exchange has selected the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati as the 1st place winner in our recently launched GSI Trailblazers Campaign, for their case study submission showcasing their trailblazing Lick Run Greenway project, which centers equity and inclusion. The case study follows below. Read more about the 2nd and 3rd place winners of the campaign here.

 

CASE STUDY: Using Large-Scale Green Solutions to Reduce Overflows and Reinvigorate a Neighborhood

Cost: 100 Million USD

Project Status: Operational since 2021

Challenges Addressed: Stormwater Management

Motivation: Sustainable city, Equitable City

Funding / Financing: General Fund/Existing Public Funds

Project Type: Project

Links:
– Project: http://www.projectgroundwork.org/lickrun/
– Drone Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLyxNlQzlDU

 

At a Glance

The Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSD) introduced a grey / green stormwater management and combined sewer overflow (CSO) project that eliminates nearly 400 million gallons of CSO in South Fairmont, an underserved and low-income neighborhood in the watershed.

 

Problem Addressed

Prior to the late 1800s, the Lick Run stream flowed naturally through the Lick Run valley to the Mill Creek, a tributary of the Ohio River. The area that drained to Lick Run — approximately 2,900 acres situated between Harrison Avenue, Ferguson Road, Glenway Avenue, and the Mill Creek — became known as the Lick Run watershed. While flowing to the stream, much of the rainwater soaked into the ground or was absorbed by plants.

Over time, more people moved into the watershed, pervious surfaces were paved, and the community underwent industrialization. In 1893, the Lick Run stream was enclosed and buried within a brick storm sewer that carried water and wastes out of the community and into the Mill Creek. With the introduction of toilets and indoor plumbing, sewage was discharged into the same sewer and the combined sewer system was born, ultimately polluting waterways like the Mill Creek all over the U.S. By the 1970s, wastewater treatment had addressed much of this problem, but a new challenge emerged – combined sewers, including the Lick Run sewer, began overflowing into waterways during heavy rains, unable to convey the large volumes of water to treatment plants. Known as a combined sewer overflow (CSO), this type of pollution adversely impacts people, recreation, fish, vegetation and anything downstream. By the early 21st century, millions of gallons of sewage and rainwater from the Lick Run watershed were overflowing into the Mill Creek each year.

The project initially emerged as a purely grey solution under a federal consent decree to reduce CSOs. In 2009, The Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSD) convinced the EPA that a combined grey/green solution could meet all compliance goals and do so at a lower cost, about $200 million less than the initially proposed grey approach. The new approach was approved by the EPA in 2013, and MSD initiated project design, and construction soon after.

Keeping stormwater out of the combined sewer system results in a significant reduction of CSOs into the Mill Creek and also in the amount of wastewater treated at the Mill Creek treatment plant. The stormwater collected from the watershed is conveyed to the Lick Run Greenway, a bioengineered urban waterway that replaces the original Lick Run stream. The Greenway includes a headwaters, mile-long stream, and pond in the socio-economically vulnerable South Fairmount neighborhood. MSD hopes the project is a catalyst for boosting the community’s economy and revitalizing the neighborhood, while also managing the largest volume overflow in MSD’s service are and improving water quality in the Mill Creek.

City of Cincinnati used/is using green stormwater management and CSO reduction to address this/these challenge(s).

 

Solution(s) Used

In 2006, MSD began working on a Wet Weather plan that laid out the specific projects planned for phase 1 of the consent decree. The original solution for the lower portion of the Mill Creek watershed, which includes the Lick Run watershed, was a purely gray concept: a deep, underground storage tunnel that would intercept combined overflows before they reached the creek, provide some treatment, and then discharge the flows back into the Mill Creek. MSD introduced and proposed the idea of a green alternative that would not only meet the compliance goals at a reduced cost but also help revitalize a socio-economically disadvantaged community.

MSD deliberately selected and brought the project to the Fairmount neighborhood – a low-income, troubled area in Cincinnati that was once a thriving neighborhood. Beginning in 2009, MSD studied green infrastructure at length, partnering with a multitude of different local community organizations and entities. After the three-year study was complete, a new vision emerged: what if a sewer project could be more than just a sewer project. Could it fix an environmental problem while also reinvigorating a neighborhood, helping boost its economy, and providing opportunities for beautification and recreation? Prioritizing this project in South Fairmount was an excellent opportunity to make a difference while implementing a stormwater management solution.

Many studies examined the transient nature of the neighborhood, and the Lick Run Master Plan included a study of the neighborhood’s evolving demographics alongside a massive amount of community outreach and inclusion. Many workshops, heavily attended by community members, were conducted and substantial community input was provided on the project before the EPA approved it. Community participation in this project was greater than on any prior project to date.

The EPA approved the project in 2013 and construction ultimately commenced on 12 projects in the Lick Run watershed: four green infrastructure installations and 8 dedicated storm sewer projects.

Now that the project is almost completed, MSD is starting to roll out an Ambassador program, which provides further opportunities for community participation and inclusion. It sets goals for what the community collectively envision the area could and should be: safe, clean, welcoming, and a resource for outdoor and environment education for all. To that end, the MSD is recruiting volunteers and paid interns directly from the Fairmount community and beyond to help build the connection with the neighborhood and draw families to the park.

.  . .

Outcomes

  1. MSD combined a grey/green solution to meet all compliance goals and do so at a lower cost, about $200 million less than the initially proposed grey approach.
  2. Community participation in this project was greater than on any prior project to date due to a study of the neighborhood’s evolving demographics and a massive amount of community outreach
  3. The sewer project is an environmental solution that is also reinvigorating a neighborhood, helping boost its economy, and providing opportunities for beautification and recreation
  4. Ambassador program sets goals for what the community collectively envisions the area could and should be: safe, clean, welcoming, & a resource for outdoor and environment education for all.
  5. Reduces combined sewer overflows.

 

  

Something Unique

This project is the first nationally to daylight a stream to combat sewer overflows rather than flooding. Limestone rock foundations from some area homes were used in the new Lick Run Greenway stream, thus retaining the history and heritage of the old neighborhood. This rock originally came from the historical Lick Run stream that flowed through the valley. Finally, a 2nd generation moon tree was cloned, and several baby moon trees were planted around the pond close to its original location.

 

Who Should Consider

This project is widely applicable to any city/municipality dealing with CSOs, particularly for those implementing green infrastructure while prioritizing low-income communities and promoting inclusion.

The Exchange has selected the City / County Association of Governments of San Mateo County as the 2nd place winner in our recently launched GSI Trailblazers Campaign, for their case study submission showcasing their trailblazing Sustainable Streets Master Plan. The case study follows below. Read more about the 1st and 3rd place winners of the campaign here.

 

CASE STUDY: Integrating Complete and Green Streets for Climate-Resilient Sustainable Streets

Cost: Initial – 1.1 Million USD

Project Status: Operational since 2021

Challenges Addressed:  Flooding, Stormwater Management, Economic Inequality, Transportation, Greenhouse Gas Reduction, Heatwaves, Pedestrian & Bicycle Safety, Mobility & Access, Complete Streets

Motivation: Resilient city, Sustainable city

Funding / Financing: State and local grants

Project Type: Tool

More Reading: Sustainable Streets Master Plan 

 

At a Glance 

C/CAG prioritized planned Complete Streets projects to incorporate Green Streets elements, creating a countywide Sustainable Streets Master Plan to help equitably adapt the roadway network to climate change and clean stormwater runoff to meet municipal stormwater regulatory requirements. 

Problem Addressed 

C/CAG’s climate change modeling indicates an increase in frequency and intensity of storm events in the future. Roadways, which serve as the primary surface conveyance for stormwater runoff, are likely to experience more frequent flooding due to storm drain systems, which are designed for certain size storm events based on historical rainfall records, being overwhelmed and unable to convey increased runoff volumes. These impacts may disproportionately affect downstream, vulnerable communities. 

At the same time, Bay Area municipalities are required to implement green stormwater infrastructure to help reduce discharge of priority pollutants to San Francisco Bay under a regional municipal stormwater discharge permit. C/CAG, with significant grant funding from the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), developed a countywide Sustainable Streets Master Plan. It prioritized already identified and planned active transportation and Complete Street investments for incorporation of green stormwater infrastructure to reduce runoff volumes and peak flow to help adapt to changing climate conditions, while simultaneously filtering out pollutants to help meet regulatory mandates.

Development of the Master Plan included an interwoven focus on equity, with prioritization criteria supporting projects in areas where 1) vehicle ownership is low and residents are more likely dependent upon active transportation or transit, 2) runoff volume is likely to increase the most due to climate change and lead to potential roadway flooding, 3) heat impacts are expected to worsen due to climate change, 4) multiple environmental or social vulnerable or disadvantaged community indicators overlap, and 5) there is lower tree canopy coverage that could benefit from increased urban greening. Outreach efforts, including in-person and online events, were specifically targeted to reach disadvantaged communities. In addition to prioritizing Sustainable Street opportunities using already-planned or identified active transportation needs from the 21 jurisdictions, “new” opportunities at intersections within a 1/2 mile of schools or major transit stops on roadways with failing pavement were also identified and prioritized, further supporting communities dependent on active transportation or transit to get to school on roadways that have had historic under-investment in maintaining pavement conditions.

C/CAG used/is using Sustainable Streets to address this/these challenge(s). 

Solution(s) Used 

The Master Plan includes prioritized Sustainable Street projects throughout the county, climate modeling results showing how precipitation patterns are expected to change in the future, as well as how much Sustainable Streets can help mitigate these impacts. 

The plan also outlines twelve project concepts showing different Sustainable Street typologies for locations throughout the county, model Sustainable Street policy documents for local agencies to consider to advance Sustainable Street implementation, and a web-based Green Infrastructure tracking tool that enables monitoring of progress over time on building climate resilience and meeting water quality improvement goals.

Outcomes

  1. Equity-focused prioritization of Sustainable Street project opportunities that integrate active transportation/Complete Street improvements with green stormwater infrastructure. 
  2. Modeling of precipitation-based climate change impacts and quantification of the potential benefit of Sustainable Streets in adapting the roadway network to prevent flooding. 
  3. Twelve project concepts of varying Sustainable Street typologies, from curb extension/intersection improvements to linear connectivity projects to complete streetscape reconstruction. 
  4. Model Sustainable Street policy documents to enable municipalities to go beyond Complete Streets, including model Conditions of Approval for requiring Sustainable Streets of developers. 
  5. Web-based green infrastructure tracking tool that allows documentation over time of progress toward climate resilience and water quality improvement goals. 

Lessons Learned 

  1. Sustainable Streets are an important way to cost-effectively and equitably build climate resilience and improve water quality while supporting active transportation and transit options. 

Something Unique 

This project was funded with a Caltrans Climate Adaptation Planning grant and shows the importance of integrating stormwater with transportation. Retrofitting the urban environment is too expensive to do multiple times for multiple purposes – all projects should be multi-benefit, and this marries active transportation, climate resilience, and water quality improvement in one project, with a focus on equity when prioritizing project opportunities and developing concepts.

Who Should Consider? 

Local municipalities, stormwater utilities, transportation agencies, federal, state, regional, and local transportation and resource grant agencies

 

The Exchange has selected the City of Vancouver as the 3rd place winner in our recently launched GSI Trailblazers Campaign, for their case study submission showcasing their trailblazing 63rd and Yukon GI Plaza project. The case study follows below. Read more about the 1st and 2nd place winners of the campaign here.

 

CASE STUDY: 63rd and Yukon GI Plaza: Using GI as a Bridge to Indigenous Reconciliation

In collaboration with:  Museum of Vancouver

File upload:  Reconciled futures fact sheet

Government Champion:  Green Infrastructure Implementation 

Cost: $500,000

Project Status:  Completed 2018

Funding:  Development Impact Fees

Challenges addressed:  Stormwater management, water quality, citizen engagement

Motivation: Equitable city, resilient city, sustainable city

Project Type:  Project

 

At a Glance: Summarize the project in 315 characters or less 

This green infrastructure public space plaza provides amenities and rainwater management  in a lower income Vancouver neighborhood. With support from Museum of Vancouver, 9 indigenous youth designed public art sculptures for the plaza that support reconciliation and bring awareness to indigenous culture.  

 

Problem Addressed

Ensuring that people have access to clean and safe drinking water provision, wastewater treatment services, rainwater management services and flood protection, regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, call for a paradigm shift to plan for and manage our water resources more wisely and equitably. Inequities more specifically related to urban rainwater management can relate to disproportionate impacts from structural vulnerabilities associated with environmental degradation, food harvesting potential, access to culturally significant elements of water and natural systems and climate change impacts.

The community of Marpole, located in South Vancouver, is a predominantly residential community comprised of 24,000 people and a major commuter corridor.  In 2014, the City of Vancouver approved the Marpole Community Plan, which aims to ensure quality of life for residents continues to flourish while addressing ongoing challenges around housing affordability, aging community facilities, changing climate, transportation infrastructure, and water utility infrastructure.  

There are 82 km of sewer mains in Marpole, and 37 of those kilometers are combined sewer pipes.  Although current sewer capacity is adequate to handle existing growth, any significant growth in the area will require upgrades to the capacity.  Climate change is also increasing the frequency and duration of intense storms, putting increased stress on stormwater systems.  The Marpole community has a higher number of residents that will be vulnerable to health-related climate change impacts.  The neighborhood has a lower median income and a large amount of seniors, all of whom are more susceptible to health effects brought on by climate change, including heat stress and associated illness. 

Vancouver has made a commitment to be a City of Reconciliation and to connect with the values and interests of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations and urban Indigenous Peoples. Meaningful reconciliation, however, is an ongoing process that requires cultivating relationships and a shared understanding of histories, cultures and shared values. Urban water management represents a unique opportunity to explore Indigenous reconciliation in the urban context through water.

 

Solutions Used

Green infrastructure can help address climate change adaptation and densification by capturing, cleaning, cooling and infiltrating rainwater using natural storage capacities of soils and the transpiration capabilities of trees and plants.  Green infrastructure plays a vital role in reducing the risks related to flooding while also providing water quality benefits and recharging groundwater resources.  In addition, the “green” elements of green infrastructure, including trees and plants, provide valuable ecosystem services such as urban cooling, enhanced habitat quality, benefits to biodiversity, improved air quality, and carbon capture.   

The plaza contains two bioretention features that capture runoff from 1,170m2 of adjacent sidewalks and roadways and collects 2,200m3 of rainwater runoff per year, filter it, and allow it to infiltrate into the subsoils. The gardens bring many well-established benefits of green space as well, including enhancements to biodiversity, pollinator habitat, and human and environmental health. Removing this water from the drainage system helps prevent combined sewer overflows, and protects the health of the Fraser River. 

The plaza also provides seating, drinking fountains, bicycle amenities, and space for softscapes that express the local identity. It is a new and unique public space for community members to use as meeting space, interact with nature, or for reprieve from the crowded and concrete urban environment. City staff from many departments, including landscape architects, planners, and engineers from Engineering Services, Street Operations and the Park Board worked on the project design. Each element of the plaza provides multiple functions to meet the goals of providing quality public space and using nature-based solutions to solve drainage and water quality problems.  

To address the goal of using water management as an avenue to explore reconciliation with indigenous peoples, the Museum of Vancouver and the City of Vancouver’s Green Infrastructure Implementation Branch partnered on Reconciled Futures.  This reconciliation initiative offered a Spring Break opportunity for a one-week art mentorship camp for Indigenous youth. Core objectives of the program were capacity building and exploring art and culture. As part of the camp activities, the youth worked together to produce designs for a public art installation to accompany the green rainwater infrastructure (GRI) asset at 63rd Ave. and Yukon St. Nine youth, age 12-17, participated in the camp. Two Musqueam and two Squamish youth participated, while the Tsleil-Waututh Nation waived their spots due to other commitments within their community. This allowed for Tsawwassen youth to participate in their place. The camp also hosted youth with Haida and Nlaka’pamux ancestry. Host Nation artists Aaron Nelson Moody, Ocean Hyland, Kelsey Sparrow, and Atheana Picha delivered workshops on copper arrowhead pendants, Coast Salish formline painting on wooden pendants, and cedar bark basketry. Haida artist Marcel Russ also spent a day supporting the students as they created their public art designs. Youth met with City of Vancouver staff to learn about the function and design of GRI and careers related to GRI. The group also visited MOV Collections Storage twice during the week providing a unique opportunity to see and learn about the extensive collection of Coast Salish art and cultural artifacts at the museum. They also took the Care and Handling Workshop in the Conservation Lab; went on a tour of the Haida Now exhibition with Haida educator, Lia Hart; and had a presentation from the YVR Art Foundation about upcoming opportunities for youth. Each student in the program received an honorarium for the use of their design in the public art piece. They were also all provided with art supplies, transit day passes and lunches. 

Five art pieces were designed by the youth: A raven; a hummingbird; two sets of salmon; and a heron. In 2020, the public art sculptures were installed at 63rd and Yukon, dispersed throughout the 2 bioretention elements.  Signage will be installed in 2021 to help educate community members on the project, as well as the symbolism behind the sculptures.  This knowledge sharing will impart, and in turn help preserve, indigenous cultural knowledge to the local community.

Outcomes

  1. The neighborhood around 63rd and Yukon in Vancouver has increased its climate resiliency though the addition of trees, plants, and green infrastructure that manages rainfall.  
  2. 2,200m3 of rainwater runoff is captured, cleaned and infiltrated and/or evapotranspirated each year
  3. 5 sculptures designed by indigenous youth installed at the 63rd and Yukon GI plaza

 

Lessons Learned

Partnerships are a great way to incorporate value added components that benefit the community. The fruitful partnership with the Museum of Vancouver allowed us to explore reconciliation with indigenous peoples through public art and water management.  

Some of the youth found the process of creating a piece of public artwork in under a week to be stressful.  Older students or more support for the youth could have created more ease amongst the participants. 

 

Something Unique

The Landscape design of the GRI Plaza was informed by the history of the site.  Prior to colonization, Vancouver was home to over 50 salmon barring streams and creeks. These streams and creeks naturally managed their rainfall within the watershed. Vancouver’s streams have long been buried and managed through major pipe infrastructure and culverts. Today, the memory of these lost streams inspire engineers and landscape architects to learn from and work with natural systems to provide community members with infrastructure that not only meets a high level of service, but also provides the benefits and beauty of the natural environment. The design of the green infrastructure plaza at 63rd Ave and Yukon St is inspired by a lost stream that used to flow through the area, buried during the development of the city. The paved seating areas jut out into the gardens like fallen logs across the lost stream. The blue flowers of native camas planted along the beds of the swales evoke the path of the water, creating a visual connection to the function of the project. Even the water fountain offers a dual service, as its supply line provides water for establishment irrigation. 

 

Who should consider

Municipalities of any size who are looking to incorporate equity and reconciliation into their green infrastructure planning and design.  

Our heartfelt gratitude to our funders for their support of our mission, which makes our work possible.