Rather than pet projects or add-ons to grey assets, green infrastructure installations need to be understood and presented as valuable, service-delivery assets that effectively address the same urban challenges as grey infrastructure. Green infrastructure is real infrastructure, and this point needs to be made more effectively to both practitioners and communities. The fact that community engagement and public support are paramount to success was reiterated throughout our research, and this work of identifying individual and shared priorities needs to happen with internal stakeholders, as well. Building a strong foundation of social capital based on shared values and definitions will return significant pay offs as this complex process accelerates and new roadblocks arise.
• Adopt a portfolio standard for your green assets. While much of the change occurring in the energy landscape is being driven by market factors, renewable portfolio standards have, at the very least, been an important part of identifying shared goals around sustainable service delivery and moving collectively toward scale. While “top-down” approaches are allegedly unpopular, both our empirical analysis and our interview research demonstrate that they are highly effective. Regulatory drivers like water quality standards and discharge violations will likely continue to drive action on the stormwater side, but a comprehensive target for green infrastructure assets as a required proportion of a city’s entire infrastructure portfolio is critical for defining scale and accelerating the process of getting there. When a city recognizes the value of its natural assets, safeguarding their place within a diverse, economic portfolio is just good business.
• Establish shared language + meaning. A common goal cannot be defined without a shared understanding of it. One of the primary barriers to widespread adoption of green infrastructure as a critical component of capital planning is the ideological and political (i.e. divisive) language used to describe it and the fact that it is rarely defined as real infrastructure. Define it as such immediately, and get everyone on the same page with inclusive terms like improved service delivery, cost-effective, community amenity, and multi-purpose. Present green assets first and foremost as cost-effective solutions to the same service delivery problems as the costly grey alternatives that people are more familiar with. Depending on the values and perceptions of your stakeholder network, doing this might require that you stop calling it green altogether.
• Identify shared values + goals. Effective collaboration requires a shared goal. Determine what motivates those in your program network, and speak to those objectives. Values like community improvement, fiscal responsibility, and city pride are powerful consensus builders for gaining broad, long-term buy in. And departmental goals like regulatory compliance, service-delivery targets, and public safety are powerful incentives for individual staff support. A drainage engineer in the transportation department might not care about heat island mitigation, but s/he is definitely incentivized to find ways to move water off of streets faster. Everyone should be able to commit to the goal of delivering the best possible services and products for their community.
• Use values-based messaging. The importance of community support cannot be overstated, particularly for programs that will run on ratepayer dollars. So, it’s critical that the public understands how integrated infrastructure directly addresses what’s important to them. Use the many community benefits of green infrastructure to tell a story about values versus dollars. Describe initiatives in terms that resonate immediately, like “safe neighborhoods” rather than “hazard mitigation.” Most people have never been directly affected by a hazard (though more and more are at risk), but no one prefers to live in an unsafe neighborhood. Broadly shared values like community identity, pride of ownership, and personal accountability can be incredibly powerful unifiers in diverse socioeconomic and political climates. And again, you might just have to stop calling it green if that’s not what’s important to your community.
• Highlight getting the most value for public dollars. With ever-increasing demands on shrinking budgets, cities simply cannot afford single-purpose projects. Every public investment must maximize public benefits, so whenever there is an opportunity to increase the return on public dollars by developing a multi-purpose community amenity that delivers critical services, it is imperative that we do. Ask the public: This is your infrastructure that you pay for…shouldn’t it do more? And explain how it can, using clear, inclusive terms like public safety, community improvement, and economic value.
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