The Collaborative participated in a briefing for Bob Perciasepe, U. S. EPA Deputy Administrator, hosted by EPA's Mid-Atlantic Region on January 21. Our stop on the briefing tour featured presentations by the three winners of the Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up! design competition and the Collaborative’s successful design advocacy around greening schoolyards.
Representatives from the Collaborative, Philadelphia Water Department, and EPA swapped stories, shared expertise, and brainstormed about putting green stormwater infrastructure into play in Philadelphia and similar cities.
Both Big Plans and Small Changes
Perciasepe is no stranger to cities, having lived in Baltimore, Brooklyn, and now Washington DC’s Capitol Hill. He quickly noted that “existing urban neighborhoods represent the biggest challenge.” Perciasepe also displayed his love for the nuts and bolts, admitting, “I love any presentation where you use the word ‘evapotranspiration’.”
Our presentations launched a conversation about how to get buy-in from citizens and give them incentives to invest. Large-scale planning and improvements are part of the equation, and the new embrace of urban living has created a receptive audience, Perciasepe said. “There’s a force in play… that might encourage cities to participate in supporting green stormwater infrastructure,” And there’s a chance to connect it all together, he continued. “When we make big capital investments, we must think about how to get citizens involved.”
Perciasepe also pointed out the potential in routine maintenance. “When you look at a broader area, look at the things like that will happen regardless of planning and ask, What can we do differently?” he said. Increasing green stormwater management a little bit every time something changes—whether it’s a road repair, roof replacement, or even a new faucet—will require a nimble strategy that gets both the public sector and private property owners into the act. “There’s a foundation of stuff that can get done differently."
Shawn Garvin, Administrator of EPA's Mid-Atlantic Region, observed,"A big selling point of green stormwater infrastructure comes out of quality of life. There's the water quality piece, but there's also how neighborhoods will look." he said. "The beauty of this partnership is getting people thinking this way... making people demand this."
What’s Ahead? The session wrapped up with a broader conversation about green stormwater infrastructure. Here are a few of the ideas that Perciasepe got to hear from Philly:
- Do more research on the impact of green stormwater infrastructure on distressed neighborhoods. How can we see life through the eyes of low- and moderate-income residents? How can we tie green tools to concerns like safety and wellness?
- Talk to the maintenance people! They can tell us where the tripping points will be in our designs. And they are often found to be unsung innovators.
- Think differently about green tools. Consider them as specialists rather than generalists. We tend to expect one tool to do everything. But instead of one mediocre tool that does everything, concentrate on building one tool or a series of individual tools that each do their job well.
- Green stormwater infrastructure investment can be leveraged broadly. Funding can come from many pots of money (parks, street repairs, etc.) instead of a single funding source.
Our input will inform EPA’s work ahead, including getting mayors attuned to green stormwater infrastructure through the National Conference of Mayors and building a broader national platform.