From a “visionary leader” who gets the ball rolling, to the small “green team” on the ground that is perpetually seeking opportunities to add on and piece together projects, the advancement of green infrastructure in the United States is almost entirely tied to the individual prerogatives of a few rather than the daily operations of everyone. The shift from a linear, siloed approach toward a non-linear, collaborative, integrated capital planning process will require extensive stakeholder engagement and team-building alongside the development of robust, replicable systems. The shift from champions to systems requires the adoption and implementation of best practices that endure well beyond individual tenure. In order for this process to become mainstream, it must be integrated into the work of many and built on clearly defined and catalogued procedures that are informed by robust and well-maintained data.
• Identify + engage stakeholders. The design and delivery of a largescale, integrated infrastructure program will require the buy-in, support, resources, expertise, and ongoing management of a wide variety of people, departments, firms, and organizations. Identifying who those people are and what their roles will be from the outset is key. From colleagues in other departments (transportation drainage engineers), to city council members and other electeds, local business owners, community members and leaders (especially the underrepresented and underserved), private developers, and NGOs, integrated programming must be a highly collaborative and interdisciplinary effort.
• Map processes and identify gaps. Updating and mapping new processes to roles and data is a critical step to managing roadblocks and to ensuring replicability of project delivery. Even though many steps and needs will be identified along the way, starting with a general process map that you can build out over time will result in a valuable tool for developing the systems that move this work into the mainstream. Identify who gets looped in when and to what extent, what data is needed at which decision junctions, which codes and regulations direct the process at which points, and what is needed to redirect the status quo that perpetuates the default to grey solutions.
• Adopt a data-based approach, beginning with a data audit and gap analysis. From asset inventory to stormwater management (SWMM) models to geospatial data to performance and cost projections, determine what you have, what you need, how to get it, and how to manage it. Consider partnering with private sector consultants, academia, and NGOs to fill data gaps and develop and manage your data library. There are numerous public sources for green infrastructure cost, implementation, and performance data.
• Reset the default. In current capital planning conversations, the burden of proof consistently lies on proponents of nature and nature-based solutions. This perpetuates a default to built solutions by assuming they are the benchmark by which all alternatives are evaluated. We are surrounded by and benefitting from natural infrastructure all the time, and there is significant data that shows mimicking these natural systems provides effective solutions to basic public challenges. It’s time to stop debating this, make nature the default in infrastructure planning at all levels, and put the burden of proof on costly, grey alternatives.
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