NatureWORKS and Boston-based Jobs for the Future, is in the process of characterizing the green the infrastructure workforce–jobs, wages and sector employment. They’re using a broad brush definition of GI looking beyond stormwater management and mitigation to include other aspects of the functional landscape in urban spaces to quantify the market.
In an early December webinar, project leader Kevin Doyle, and representatives from four of the six municipalities where the study is taking place provided insights into early results. Maintenance consistently emerged as the wicked problem to be solved. Following are highlights of presentations.
Jennifer Lawson, City of Ann Arbor, Michigan
Protecting the Huron River that runs through Ann Arbor and preventing floods from the river are main drivers of green infrastructure implementation in the city. The initiative cuts across multiple municipal and private partners including Public Services, Engineering, Parks Maintenance, private Contractors, Conservation and the County Water Resources Commissioner. “We are good at putting in rain gardens.” Maintaining them is a separate issue, that’s unfortunately not budgeted.
The city has implemented a green streets policy for road projects that requires managing the first 1” of rain off of the roadway (higher if underlying soils are good). “It’s been great, but we didn’t think about maintenance,” she said. The city has 33% tree canopy from 1.45 million urban street trees that provide an estimated $4.6 million in annual benefits. That doesn’t include trees on private property. Ann Arbor is working to develop “an army of rain garden experts” who can help maintain the features. (Washtenhaw County Rain Garden Assistance and Training).
The city has seen a 38% increase in extreme storm events. Using modeling software that identifies the location of current stormwater infrastructure, the city is making plans for where to incorporate green infrastrucgture in the future.
The biggest challenges are lack of funding and that green infrastructure is not programmed into their typical operations and management. “We are good at maintaining pipes, but they don’t know how to deadhead a rain garden.” Green infrastructure needs champions and experts, she said. And most importantly, people who are able to cross departments to accomplish results.
Jennifer doesn’t believe certification is required, but training is definitely needed and should include disciplines like Horticulture, Landscape maintenance, Urban Forestry, Plant identification and Burning.
Her recommendation for the future is develop an asset management plan: Document what’s there and the plan for maintaining it.
Michael Bouchard, Denver Parks and Recreation, Denver, Colorado
Michael is the South Platte River Vision Project Manager. He’s trained as a landscape architect. As a landlocked city, Denver is surrounded on all sides by suburbs and the Denver Airport. In terms of development, the city is undergoing “significant densification.” His challenge is maintaining the ecosystems services that Denver’s Parks System provides while still incorporating recreational opportunities.
Fortunately, the design and landscape architecture community in the area is one of the most diverse and robust in the country and there’s lots of thinking about green infrastructure. The area averages about 16” of rainfall a year he said. “We need to add irrigation to rain gardens to get them to function.” Adding western water law would complicate the picture enough, but the Platte River’s flow is controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Platte River flows through the city center. Systematically, the river corridor is being improved for water infiltration, recreation and subsequent economic development. “It’s city building as much as restoration and ecology.” More than 20 funding sources have been patched together, public and private to accomplish the green infrastructure renovation.
Like others on the call, he said, Denver is also implementing green infrastructure plans that require cross-department communication and collaboration with inadequate funding and a lack of trained staff.
The idea has been to translate rural ecological restoration into an urban condition, he said. While those skills and experience are important, ecological restoration is not the same as installing green infrastructure in an urban environment where the landscape has to meet multiple requirements, from stormwater and flood management, to other ecosystems services to recreation. “We are figuring it out as we go. We document. We do post-construction monitoring and we use that to inform the next project.”
Developing a plant palette and community for the river project has been challenging. “A lot of the species that would have been there have challenges. We have to bring in different seed mixes and plant communities to see what will work.”
Denver’s new green infrastructure laboratory is set to be the North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative NDCC, where green infrastructure will be implemented for the next ten to twenty years, Michael said. The initiative just received major financial support from recent November elections. NDCC is a 23-mile corridor through several of the city’s heritage neighborhoods billed by the mayor’s office as “one of the most compelling commercial investment opportunities in the world, with thousands of developable acres.”
Marc Rectenwald, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Stormwater Services, Charlotte, North Carolina
As the country’s 8th fastest growing city, Charlotte has emerged as a leader and the geographic mid-point in the Piedmont Region of the Eastern US. The city’s proactive stance on quality of life has prioritized actions like redevelopment/revitalization, walkable communities, mass transit and open space. The City Council has laid out a number of green infrastructure initiatives including 50% tree canopy by 2050; in-lieu fee programs for storm water, tree save and natural areas; open space preservation and greenways. In addition, regulatory drivers such as National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) requirements, Endangered Species Act and other regulatory drivers are promoting green infrastructure. In reviewing a case study redevelopment plan, Marc commended that developing qualified staff who are involved in all aspects of planning, design, construction and maintenance is key for the future. Design projects for maintenance ease. As the economy picks up, he said, getting qualified staff is harder.
Ben Higgins, Lincoln, Nebraska
One of the center country’s best rated locations, Lincoln covers 90 sq. mi. with a population of just 270,000. Bisected by the Salt Creek, stormwater management was an afterthought until just recently when the city received their stormwater permit in 2003.
As with other cities, the interdisciplinary nature and need to involve multiple departments helps to foster lack of ownership. “Really maintenance is the problem. We get the bond money, cost shares and funds, but we cannot spend any of the money on maintenance. And someone has to maintain it”
Lincoln has installed more than 300 rain garden demonstration projects working with public and private partners. The city has also developed voluntary programs to encourage homeowners to “depave” (remove pavement), add soil amendments to increase infiltration, and install rain gardens and native grasses.
One of the demonstration projects is in downtown Lincoln for the downtown drainage area, Antelope Creek Watershed Basin. The city has installed permeable pavement, bioretention, restored streams, added native grasses and instigated stormwater education programs.
Ben highlighted lessons the city has learned from their green infrastructure trek to date. Simpler planting plans are at the top of the list. In the beginning they tried to develop planting plans with three season flowering interest, but there was no staff to take care of it. “We are going more toward sedges, they are easier and you can tell them from weeds easily.”
In reflecting on their soil mixes, they have settled on 50/50 sand and compost. The region has a lot of deep soils and some areas with lots of clay.
“We’ve learned our lessons the hard way.” Now they have separate contracts for plantings with two years of maintenance. “When a contractor subcontracts it out, some projects have turned out really badly and we’ve had to take them back and contract it out to someone else.” In the future, they plan to have training for construction and maintenance of green infrastructure features.
This coming winter there redevelopment projects will have water quality requirements with mandatory maintenance plan requirements.
As Kevin summarized, NatureWORKS is learning that many cities have a workforce capable of expanding into green infrastructure. They have already learned there’s a “healthy market niche for specialty green infrastructure contractors.” For example, tree care, eco landscaping, and arboriculture.
Existing companies and employees seeking to enter the green infrastructure field require training to ensure that when green infrastructure is used for stormwater and/or watershed management it is designed, installed and maintained correctly.
At this point, it’s unclear whether the growth that’s being seen in stormwater management green infrastructure jobs will be “accompanied by job growth in traditional green infrastructure such as urban forestry, parks management, etc.
Access the Presentations here: http://cts.vresp.com/c/?JobsfortheFuture/826b67b5b6/4aecfd26b5/f44de3f8a9
Stay tuned, the NatureWORKS project team has two more cities to interview, Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas. You can keep up with progress by signing up for their updates at Jobs for the Future: http://www.jff.org/initiatives/natureworks.