I recently completed a training tour bringing a greater awareness and deeper understanding of green infrastructure in my home state of Alabama (seminar description). Anthony Kendrick of Construction EcoServices shared the main stage with me. I focused on the why and big picture elements associated with planning, design, and implementation. Anthony tapped into his broad experience and base of knowledge covering the details of construction and maintenance, sharing interesting case studies and many lessons learned. We also had two local experts/practitioners/leaders at each seminar location to speak to the overused response, “that stuff doesn’t work here.” We also had an Alabama engineer/innovator discuss his new device (Flood-Con) that releases detained runoff while replicating predevelopment hydrology almost exactly. These folks were a highlight of the seminar for the attendees (and for me). I have provided a list of these experts at the bottom of the post.
We started each day with an acknowledgment that green infrastructure, in broad terms, is simply infrastructure with a natural flavor. Infrastructure represents those things we need for the operation of our society; Green just means that those things utilize natural materials or processes to serve those needs.
The definition doesn’t change over time, but the face of infrastructure changes with nearly every generation. Like the more generic term, infrastructure, Green Infrastructure is big and means different things to different people. After the first break, we moved quickly to the subcategory of Green Infrastructure called Green Stormwater Infrastructure, which is really why most of the attendees showed up in the first place.
I’ve shared share some of the treasure found in the seminar evaluations below.
First, green infrastructure implementation is “gaining momentum” in Alabama according to 70% of the evaluation respondents. Unfortunately, only 9% thought that the acceptance of GI was “progressing nicely” and 16% thought it was “going nowhere fast.” We clearly have some work to do as professionals and as community leaders.
Of the comments listing local barriers to GI, 45% mentioned actual or perceived increased costs above that of traditional infrastructure. Others listed a lack of awareness, education, regulatory push, and political will as being barriers. A quarter of the respondents mentioned benefits, including economic benefits, in a positive light as they shared there “most significant takeaways” from the day. Many stated that the seminar had changed their opinion of the usefulness of green infrastructure as an infrastructure asset and solution.
Only 4 of the comments pointed to actual physical or technical barriers such as unsuitable soils, heavy rainfall, and lack of available space. The responses reflect an awareness that green solutions are possible, but also reveal a short-term outlook and incomplete cost-benefit analysis in the decision-making processes of today. I am hopeful that the responses are showing that we are closer to the tipping point than we think.
An acknowledgment of the need for the planning and implementation of proper maintenance was highlighted in the evaluation responses. I was thrilled to see that over 80 percent of the attendees were in the planning and design world, and that they were able to hear Anthony’s messages related to how design affects construction, maintenance, and performance.
Attendees were reminded that infrastructure professionals (that’s us) have an obligation to nudge municipal leaders and regulators along, and not the other way around. This thought was echoed as we went along, and driven home nicely at one location by a senior city planner.
We also talked at length about livable, sustainable, resilient infrastructure as if that kind of infrastructure was special. Along the way, I realized that the term, infrastructure, should suffice. Why would we ever want to provide or accept an infrastructure, be it green, gray, or purple, that was anything other than livable, sustainable, and resilient?
Those who attended engaged with the content and with each other. I appreciate that. The seminar would not have been as valuable without their contribution. My co-presenter, Anthony, and Jon Rasmussen of Flood-Con, and the ten other local experts helped to share a realistic vision of Alabama green infrastructure to each class. Also, be on the lookout for more green infrastructure in Alabama. We’re on a roll.
Some Alabama Green Infrastructure foot soldiers are listed below. Tell them thanks if you get the chance.
Dennis Madsen, Manager of Urban and Long Range Planning, City of Huntsville, AL
Thomas Miller, Stormwater Administrator, City of Birmingham, AL
Mary Halley, Water Resources Engineer, AMEC Foster Wheeler, Knoxville, TN
Josh Yates, Watershed Manager, Infrastructure and Public Services, City of Tuscaloosa, AL
Tim Leopard, Associate Vice President for Construction Administration, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL
Patrick Dunson, City Engineer, City of Montgomery, AL
Daniel Ballard, Watershed Division Manager, City of Auburn, AL
Denise Brown, Engineering Manager, City of Mobile, AL
Rosemary Sawyer, Assistant City Engineer, City of Mobile, AL