Urban Regeneration

Published on June 12th, 2014 | by GrowWNY Intern


CNU 22: Green Infrastructure & Rainwater


This year’s Congress on New Urbanism, a revolutionary urban revival conference entitled CNU 22:  The Resilient Community, came to Buffalo, NY. Bright and early on Thursday morning, June 4, I attended my first presentation entitled Rainwater & Green Infrastructure:  Best Practice. This presentation was a collaboration of speeches by several different people with unique backgrounds from all over the country.

First up was Jonathan Ford, who introduced the audience to the overarching theme of low impact development. Basically, low impact development (LID) is an approach to controlling storm water runoff through the use of effective land planning and innovative engineering design. LID utilizes the principles of green infrastructure by introducing various natural features along roadways that help purify the water. The goal is to introduce more green space throughout urban areas while also having the functionality to clean the rain water that would otherwise be contaminated and sent into sewage systems. Some ways this can be accomplished is through adding more grassy areas with foliage around as well as through the middle of roadways. In the end, the benefits of LID are the ability to clean storm water, take some of the load off our sewage systems, and improve the usually low aesthetic quality of heavily urbanized areas. After describing how LID can benefit cities such as Buffalo, Ford urged the importance of communicating this message to politicians and providing them with solutions.

The second panelist was Kent Schwendy, a former urban designer who later turned into a developer in order to have greater control over turning his visions into reality. Humorously, he started with a simple question:  how do you eat an elephant? Simply put, just one bite at a time. Schwendy then proceeded to compare this process to how we should approach urban planning. Rather than looking at the picture as a whole and becoming overwhelmed, it is necessary to focus on the small steps to slowly move towards a more utopian city. Nothing great happens overnight so this analogy is very fitting. Schwendy exclaimed that if we would stop trying to jump into the future and focus on moving in the right direction first, our desire for a utopian city would follow.

Throughout the duration of this presentation, all of the speakers carried along the theme of promoting green infrastructure and low impact development. However, each of them gave their own unique twist and offered stories of their own success. Lyssa Hall from Phoenix, Arizona discussed her inspiring experiences with helping local neighborhoods improve “one tree at a time.” Through the conversion of vacant lots to fields of sunflowers and other projects, she took advantage of the opportunity to start fixing a lot of the problems in Phoenix. Scott Bernstein took a similar neighborhood approach through his organization Center for Neighborhood Technology (www.cnt.org). Bernstein’s home of Chicago, Illinois is losing its permeability for rainwater due to more modern development, so these natural spaces are critical. According to him, “natural systems are like sponges with their ability to remove and clean rain water; whereas human built systems serve only to cover them.”

Sessions such as this one are extremely influential for how we tackle storm water management right here in Buffalo. There is already a lot of momentum toward implementing green infrastructure in and around the city, but there is still a lot that can be learned from other cities and national examples.

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