Let it never be said that we are not intrepid. In spite of a cross-country snow storm that canceled and delayed planes, trains, and automobiles, eight Exchange members and staff found their way to the Pocantico Center in Tarrytown, NY on January 16-18 for a convening of 30 GSI and related professionals organized by the Exchange, the Trust for Public Land, and the Center for Regenerative Solutions.  Participating Exchange members included Blue Baldwin (City of Tucson), Kristina Hausmanis (City of Toronto), Aaron Kirkland (PWD, Philadelphia), Claire Mullhardt (CRW, Harrisburg), Irene Ogata (City of Tucson),  Andy Szatko (City of Omaha), and Alfred Walfall (PWD, Philadelphia). Here, I’ll briefly describe the setting, the outcomes, and the next steps.

1. The Setting

Pocantico, among the estates once owned by the Rockefeller family, was willed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation by its most recent owners, Nelson Rockefeller and his brothers Laurance and David. Under an arrangement with the Trust, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund manages the property, which now includes a conference center. According to the fund’s materials, the center “provides a secluded retreat for organizations and artists from around the globe to explore the most pressing questions facing our society and develop creative and innovative approaches to address them.”  We were lucky to be included in such elevated company.

2. Outcomes

Sponsored by the Rockefeller Brothers fund and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the convening’s ostensible purpose was to inform the development of a training for members of the Urban Sustainability Directors Network and their community partners who are beginning their GSI journeys. Several other challenges were discussed, among them, the need for a new narrative that elevates GSI as one of many tools for improving the livability of disadvantaged communities across the U.S. and Canada.

The challenge, in a nutshell, is this: given the huge regulatory focus on managing stormwater, GSI’s co-benefits that can aid in improving the economic, environmental, and social aspects of a community’s livability are often overlooked. A new narrative is needed that elevates both compelling community stories from places where GSI has been implemented successfully and data on the value of co-benefits, so that GSI is seen as a tool for improving livability and resilience to climate change by policymakers, funders, community leaders, and others. Among the solutions discussed were (1) the collection and compilation of (a) community-based stories and images about the impact of successful GSI projects and (b) data on the value of co-benefits and use of GSI as a tool for making communities more resilient to climate change; and (2) use of the collected and compiled information to develop targeted messaging to segmented audiences.  Thanks are owed to Kristina Hausmanis (City of Toronto) and Brendan McShane (Trust for Public Land) for leading the sessions that produced these insights.

3. Next Steps

The Exchange will likely host a session at the Annual Meeting (May 6-9) on this topic, helping to frame a request for philanthropic support around the collection of stories and images and development of targeted messaging. The Annual Meeting may also include, as part of this session or as a separate session, an overview of the soon-to-be-released compendium of tools/reports for evaluating co-benefits associated with job creation and economic development, urban heat stress mitigation, flood risk reduction, ecosystem and habitat improvement, and transportation, a project on which the Exchange has partnered with The Nature Conservancy and One Water Econ.  You can keep abreast of all developments related to the Annual Meeting on the Exchange website.

GSI is a tool for addressing both the management of stormwater and certain impacts of climate change, like extreme heat, flooding and drought. Existing standards for using GSI to manage stormwater are largely silent, however, on its use in ameliorating the impacts of climate change, leaving local governments – those charged by the federal government with managing stormwater – scratching their heads.

This is an especially challenging problem given climate change projections. As shown in the diagram below, “[i]n general, the northern, central, and eastern regions of North America are expected to have hotter and wetter extremes and, in some regions, more overall precipitation. In western North America, future changes are generally expected to be hotter and drier, with wetter extremes.” (Climate Resilience Resources Guide, p. 16).

A new guide explores potential changes to current GSI policy, planning, operations, and maintenance practices that could ameliorate the current lack of standards and enhance the climate resilience benefits provided by GSI. It stems from a collaboration through the Exchange’s Re-grant Program between Exchange members City/County Association of Governments of San Mateo County (Reid Bogert), City of Portland (Adrienne Aiona), Philadelphia Water Department (Tsega Anbessie & Stephanie Chiorean), City of Baltimore (Kimberly Grove), San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (Willis Logsdon), Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (Ryan Quinn) and Waterfront Toronto (Sonja Vangjeli). We are indebted to Reid Bogert of the City/County Association of Governments of San Mateo County for his leadership of the project. The Guide targets municipal staff, decision-makers, regulatory entities, and community stakeholders and can be accessed on the Exchange’s Publications Page.

Parks and GSI Partners Meet at the One Water Summit in November 2023

As we embark on the New Year, I want to highlight three projects where the expertise of our fabulous member practitioners has been tapped by partner organizations to advance the GSI field.  They include one project that has been in existence for several years, a partnership with The Nature Conservancy and One Water Econ known as the GSI Co-Benefits Project.  Two newer projects include the Parks and GSI initiative, a partnership with the City Parks Alliance and the U.S. Water Alliance, and the Urban Nature-Based Solutions Accelerator Initiative, a partnership with the Center for Regenerative Solutions and The Trust for Public Land. I’ll review each, in turn.

1. The GSI Co-Benefits Project

This initiative is producing a compendium of tools/reports for understanding and quantifying GSI co-benefits associated with job creation and economic development, urban heat stress mitigation, flood risk reduction, ecosystem and habitat improvement, and transportation. Exchange members who have lent their expertise to this project include Sarah Bloom (SFPUC, San Francisco), Stephanie Chiorean (PWD, Philadelphia), Dana de Leon (City of Tacoma), Chris Hartman (NEORSD, Cleveland), Matt Johnson (DOEE, Washington, DC), Irene Ogata (City of Tucson), Beatrice Ohene-Okae (DOEE, Washington, DC),  Kerry Rubin (City of Portland), Holly Sauter (MWRD, Chicago), Elizabeth Svekla (PWD, Philadelphia), and Tracy Tackett (City of Seattle). We are hopeful that the evaluation tool and guides will be published and available to the public by early spring.

 

2. Parks and GSI Initiative

Working with a cohort of parks and water agency leaders over the next 2 years, this project will be identifying and addressing the barriers to closer collaboration between these two sectors on implementing and maintaining green stormwater infrastructure on park lands that can increase green space, enhance climate resilience through stormwater management, and provide a host of other community benefits, as well as highlighting successful examples.  A series of kick-off activities took place at the One Water Summit during which Exchange members from Milwaukee (Lisa Sasso), Tucson (Blue Baldwin), and Raleigh (Wayne Miles) spoke to their respective efforts in siting GSI in parks, with Tucson and Raleigh giving great presentations in tandem with their parks department counterparts.  Other Exchange members include the City of Atlanta (Amanda Hallauer), City of Boston (Kate England), Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (Beth Dutton), and the City of Seattle (Shanti Colwell). The group will meet next at the Greater & Greener conference on June 22-25, 2024 in Seattle. (Yes, some of us will be spending a lot of time in Seattle in the coming months).

3. Urban Nature-Based Solutions Accelerator Initiative

 

This project seeks to design an accelerator training to help more frontline communities get up to speed on GSI. An initial step is a two-day retreat slated for January 16-18 at Pocantico, the Rockefeller Brothers’ Estate in Tarreytown, NY.

 

The retreat will bring together a diverse group of leaders from organizations and places that are leading efforts to develop and expand green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) initiatives to frontline communities facing the greatest potential impacts from climate change. Exchange members who are involved include Blue Baldwin (City of Tucson), Kim Grove (City of Baltimore), Kristina Hausmanis (City of Toronto), Claire Mullhardt (CRW, Harrisburg), Irene Ogata (City of Tucson),  Andy Szatko (City of Omaha), and Alfred Walfall (PWD, Philadelphia).

 

While there will be much more to say about outcomes from each of these partnerships in coming months, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the members listed here for their efforts to support these partnerships and, in so doing, advance the field of green stormwater infrastructure and the mission of the Green Infrastructure Leadership Exchange.

Contributing Authors:  Robb Lukes (City of Vancouver, BC), Brandy Siedlaczek (City of Southfield, MI), Andy Szatko (City of Omaha, NE), Alfred Walfall (Philadelphia Water Dept.), and Nathan Williams (City of Grand Rapids, MI)

POSTCARD #1

Dear friends:

No one can say we were not an active delegation. We led tours, participated in the activities of many other delegations, attended sessions, went on tours, offered commitments to action, ate together, drank together, and explored the Sonoran Desert, which surrounds the hotel. (At least one of us even found time to play a round of free golf, a perk of staying at the resort). Now it is time to go swimming, before we have to go back home to winter! More later.

XOXO!

 

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POSTCARD #2

Dear friend:

Through participating in the Kresge CREWS, Spring Point Delta, and other sessions, we learned a lot about equitable approaches to advancing GSI. If we want the sector to start to look more like the communities it serves, we need to remove barriers, like, e.g., requiring a driver’s license, that keep people out of entry-level jobs. Providing public transit passes, van rides, and assistance with applying for a driver’s license to trainees are helpful accommodations. You’ve probably heard about hydroponics but what about “indigeponics” (how the tomato on the front was grown)? The term, coined by a member of the Navajo nation, describes growing plants that are indigenous to the community and important to its culture. Finally, we all know how challenging it can be to center community and do effective outreach. A speaker from Jackson, MS noted that community’s continuing struggle in this area. Another speaker from New York suggested that one solution is partnering with artists who are often better at reaching community members when conventional solutions fail.

Off to the evening Tequila toast at Salud!

XOXO!

 

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POSTCARD #3

Dear friend:

Most of our delegation is from places like Vancouver, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Omaha, Southfield, & Grand Rapids, where GSI is typically a solution for too much water. Not so here. In 2019, a 13 cents/cubic ft drinking water fee was added to the water bill for Tucson. The funding provides $3M/yr for capital & maintenance for the Storm to Shade Program. As a result, the Dunbar-Springs Neighborhood, shown on the front, now has a lot of GSI to curb its urban heat island challenges. The City is also discharging its water re-use effluent into the once dried up Santa Cruz River. Some sections of the river are experiencing regrowth of native plant and tree species and aquatic life.  You really have to see it to believe it! Very cool – well, it’s actually still pretty warm for November, in my book!

Off for a hike to see the Saguaros!

XOXO!

 

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POSTCARD #4

Dear friend:

You may know that the Exchange is engaged in a partnership with the City Parks Alliance & the U.S. Water Alliance to get more GSI into parks. Exchange member Raleigh, NC, noted in its presentation, that GSI and parks go together like “peanut butter and jelly.” There are lots of challenges, including getting municipal leaders on board, which requires communicating the financial benefits of GSI over other measures and recruiting the community in both fundraising and volunteering to make the resulting places a focus of community pride.  In addition, maintenance cannot be an afterthought, something mentioned by Exchange member, City of Tucson, AZ, in its presentation. Maintenance staff should be involved in design and a database of life cycle maintenance costs should be developed, along with maintenance standards appropriate to local conditions – Tucson got a grant to fund the University of Arizona to develop its standards.

Off to bed. This time change is rough!

XOXO!

 

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POSTCARD #5

Dear friend:

It’s been a lot of work, but also a lot fun to come together as a delegation. As you can see from the photo, we picked up a few old friends along the way. We’re a little tired, which triggers some thoughts on what we learned about GSI and health. Someone from Tucson was asked about how the City addresses public complaints around the idea that planting trees to address the unrelenting heat may attract the unhoused. The panelist (an Exchange member – YEA!) did not hesitate to say, unequivocally, that everyone deserves shade and that is what drives City policy. Another presenter noted that an investment in green stormwater infrastructure is an investment in public health, a connection that can be seen in the support of the GSI in parks initiative by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Thank you RWJF, Kresge Foundation, and Spring Point Partners for your support of our  work and our attendance at the Summit – we could not do this without you!

Now for the jet lag!

XOXO!

  1. Background

In a 2021 strategic planning meeting, Exchange members cited communications as an internal weakness. In response to this finding, Rogue Water, a communications consultant, was hired to conduct a communications audit in 2022. Among many other conclusions, it found that, in a very crowded field of water organizations vying for attention, the Exchange’s logo did not help to differentiate the organization from competitors. The firm then worked to design a new logo. Following consideration of alternatives and discussion with members, Exchange leaders approved the new logo in the summer of 2023.

  1. What Does It Represent?

The Exchange is the only social innovation network and community of practice focused solely on helping stormwater management organizations across North America bring the equitable implementation of green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) to scale. At the Exchange, innovation happens primarily through member involvement in monthly peer learning circles. The new logo attempts to convey this, with a set of overlapping circles arranged around a spiral, an ancient and powerful symbol of evolution and growth.

  1. Learn More About Peer Learning

You can learn more about the Exchange’s Peer Learning Circles here. Exchange Education Manager, Dr. Veronica Hotton, writes a monthly blog article on what the circles are learning, which is available in our e-newsletter and on the News Page of our website.

 

CONTACT

P.O. Box 6783

Towson, MD 21285

410-657-2657

barbara@giexchange.org

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