Green Infrastructure Summit Inspires Us to Tackle Stormwater Together

By Hannah Kett, Cities Program Manager

Last Friday, more than 200 people from around Puget Sound gathered to talk about stormwater, green infrastructure and the people behind this work at the third annual Green Infrastructure Summit at Cascadia College in Bothell.

Throughout the day at the event, convened by City Habitats and Stewardship Partners, attendees enjoyed inspirational stories of the boots on the ground projects, engaged in deep discussions of innovative projects pushing the boundaries of green infrastructure and connected with partners, new and old, in conversations about the future.

Opening the day was Duwamish Tribal member and descendent of Chief Seattle, Ken Workman, welcoming attendees to tribal land and grounding us for the day. 

Duwamish Tribal member and descendent of Chief Sealth, Ken Workman. Photo © Courtney Baxter / TNC

Mayor Andy Rheume of Bothell came up next, challenging the crowd to engage their elected officials in the conversation around stormwater to build their understanding of the true costs of the stormwater challenged.

Diversifying the Green Infrastructure Workforce

Setting the stage for an inspiring and thought-provoking day was the opening keynote featuring those working to build the diversity of the green-infrastructure workforce as well as a video featuring youth of color discussing job and pathways to these jobs. Watch a replay of the the panel discussion in the videos below.

The focus of the keynote reflects tthe significant disparities within the conservation and green infrastructure workforce.  For example, people of color make up no more than 16 percent of the staff of environmental organizations across the U.S. 

The panel featured those investing in diversifying the green-infrastructure workforce — including those who work with youth leadership development, workforce development for people of color and veterans and more.

While the panelists provided a unique story of their programs, there were themes that ran throughout. For one, this work is personal as each panelist shared his or her inspiration and connection to the work, leading to emotional moments for the panelists and audience members alike. At the end of the day, while making progress on the environmental health of our region, this is about people thriving.

That highlights a second theme: the intersectionality of the work. It is never about one single challenge or solution; it is always about multiple and how they impact one another. These programs, in how they were developed and implemented, reflect that reality.

Finally, these programs were all place-based — both in the physical location of the work as well as the ways the programs reflect the priorities and needs of the communities they serve. These success stories exist because the programs are built around the people they are designed to engage.

Highlighting the value of engaging diverse youth, the planning committee presented an award to Paulina Lopez, left, of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition. Photo © Courtney Baxter / TNC

Inspired by and flowing from this panel, attendees turned to each other to discuss the benefits and challenges of mentorship — another theme represented throughout the opening panel. It was evident that for each person in attendance, there was a person or organization that opened the door to the possibility of a career in conservation.

A summit attendee uses a stormwater mapping tool. Photo © Courtney Baxter / TNC

Transforming Our Streets and Roadways

With paved urban surfaces as the source of the most polluted sources, one solution is to remove it wherever possible. However, there are some paved surfaces that serve a purpose. The afternoon at the summit kicked off with a panel looking at how to make even those surfaces (such as roads and bridges) more stormwater friendly. 

Jessie Israel of The Nature Conservancy kicked off the session by highlighting the challenge we face as a region. “We are reimagining our community at a significant scale. … We are trying to tackle the problem at scale,” she said.

Following her introduction, panelists shared examples of projects and jurisdictions that were doing just that – thinking of ways that streets can continue to function at a high level while reducing their negative impact on the water quality of Puget Sound. These include reducing lane width to make space for green and installing green infrastructure below bridges, such as the Aurora Bridge.

New rain garden in Fremont under the Aurora Bridge. Photo by Hannah Letinich.

In addition to sharing examples from around the region, the panelists zeroed in on the essential piece of this work: sharing best practices and lessons learned. This is how this work is going to progress.

Inspiration from Around the Sound

Throughout the rest of the day, attendees enjoyed projects featured through case studies and engaging discussions.  Here are just a couple of highlights:

  • Tahmina Martelly of World Relief Seattle shared the story of Hillside Paradise Parking Plots that started with the goal of providing a space to grow food for the refugees and immigrants of Kent and turned into something much more. The garden is going to feature diverse crops that, as Tahmina shares, “Is good for people and good for soil.”
  • George Blomberg of the Port of Seattle described the importance of environmental restoration within the context of the economic engine of the Port as well as engaging the community as part of this effort. Paulina Lopez and Nancy Zugschwert of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition complemented this by sharing the importance of investing in community capacity to participate in this programs.
  • The Nature Conservancy, Stewardship Partners and The Trust for Public Lands walked people through the use of decision-making and tracking tools, discussing how they overlap and inviting feedback.
  • A breakout session emphasized the ties between stormwater and trees — including research under way in the City of Tacoma to evaluate the stormwater mitigation value of different types of trees as well as an effort by the King Conservation District to ensure the iTree Hydro tool can be used by jurisdictions in the Pacific Northwest to value its tree canopy as part of stormwater efforts.

This annual summit, more than anything, is about providing inspirational — and practical — examples of how we can continue to tackle the challenge of stormwater in the Puget Sound region. Each person in attendance walked away with new connections and new drive to dive back into this hard work.

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