As we mentioned above, the scale of the solution is defined by the scale of the problem, but it is simultaneously constrained by the scale of the processes and decisions that drive it. While many existing systems and mechanisms are sufficient to support some city-scale implementation, a truly comprehensive, integrated infrastructure plan extends beyond jurisdictional borders to ecological boundaries. As we scale our solutions, we will need to scale our consideration of physical boundaries and our procedures around governance and service delivery, as well.
• Take stock of your natural capital assets. Strategic investing and effective financial planning require a comprehensive understanding of your assets. While many municipalities have a working knowledge of their built and financial assets, few have taken inventory of their natural capital wealth, despite the fact that it comprises not only enormous value but also extensive long-term gains. In contrast to built capital, natural assets appreciate in value over time, in perpetuity, so taking stock now enables us to make investment decisions that we will maximize benefits now and for generations to come. The natural infrastructure that serves a community frequently resides at least partially outside its official borders.
• Rethink procurement. The process by which a city solicits and purchases goods and services from the private sector needs to be updated to reflect modern business realities like the design-build model, incorporate priorities like environmental and social health into the RFP process, and incentive efficiency and innovation in order to deliver the best services to communities. While the process differs among states and municipalities, the general consensus is that it is currently insufficient to best address modern challenges but could be re-envisioned as an incredible opportunity to access the best the market has to offer. Cities across the country have begun piloting an RFI (request for information) process to precede or replace the existing, RFP (request for proposal) process that is notoriously bureaucratic and opaque. The RFI process allows cities to conduct a broader market analysis of what contractors have to offer in emerging markets like green infrastructure, and it increases transparency. Others have used competitions to attract new partners, incentivize innovation, and increase efficiency in project delivery. And more and more are looking into how to incorporate community benefit agreements and pay-for-success measures into the contracting process. Models like these offer cities critical opportunities to build much-needed accountability into the process.
• Redistribute decision-making capacity. One of the primary barriers to getting green infrastructure (or any climate adaptation plan) to scale is decision-making authority. Currently, there are no clear authorities that fully encompass the natural systems that extend far beyond jurisdictional boundaries but deliver critical services and benefits to communities. Thus, existing public hierarchies and jurisdictional authority do not fully accommodate action at the level required to have significant impacts. Convening a cross-jurisdictional, interdisciplinary “task force” can provide a forum for determining how decisions are currently made, how they need to be made, and how to get from the former to the latter.
• Integrate agency mandates. The concept of organizational siloing features prominently in conversations about GI implementation, primarily in relation to how agencies do or do not work well together to achieve broadly defined community outcomes. Much of this is due to the fact that agency and utility mandates are typically exclusive to specific service delivery targets (e.g. gallons of stormwater treated) rather than considered as part of a comprehensive approach to broader community outcomes of economic, social, and environmental well-being. This is perpetuated by the organizational structure of most cities which isolates utilities by singularly goal-oriented strategies, often in a top-down hierarchy. Such a narrow focus reinforces siloing and often generates narrowly defined solutions by creating everyday hurdles to collaboration and innovation.
In order to achieve the level of collaboration required for integrated infrastructure planning, cities need to integrate mandates and create incentives for new, more flexible structures that allow experts to come together for deep, multi-disciplinary problem solving to identify and test new solutions to old problems. These teams should also depend heavily on early and regular community input to ensure that the process and solutions meet the broadest needs of the community. Done well, a spot on such a collaborative team that delivers the best possible services to communities should be a sought-after role for program managers, engineers, and budget officers alike. Rather than represent the interests and targets of a single division, team members share (and are rewarded for) their individual expertise about water, transportation, parks, etc. as well as their larger vision for a healthy and robust community.
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