The Clean Water Blog

Making Urban Neighborhoods Greener

I was thrilled to be able to attend the final presentation of the Brown TRI-Lab (Teaching, Research, Impact) students on their successful project to bring green infrastructure to the West End neighborhood of Providence, R.I.

Kai Salem, Grace Molino and Janice Gan chose the West End because of its dense population, lack of green space, high volume of impervious surfaces and intense heat island effects.

They walked the streets after rain events to see where flooding occurred and talked with neighborhood associations and residents to determine community support for projects that would use natural plants and landscaping to help infiltrate storm water runoff.

Clean Water Action’s Providence staff worked with the students, offering advice on canvassing and connecting them to municipal resources, technical experts and non-profit organizations that work on storm water issues.

Using Geographic Information System data, the students built a map of the West End that had overlays showing the amount of impervious surface, the hottest  surface temperatures and poorest tree cover. By putting the layers together, they identified three areas that had the strongest negative factors as likely targets for green infrastructure.

After assessing community support and costing out potential remedies, the students selected a busy intersection where Dexter and Buckland Streets meet for a depaving project that would plant local grasses and trees in place of asphalt. The installation would infiltrate stormwater to alleviate flooding, slow the traffic pattern at a dangerous crossing for pedestrians and reduce the heat island effect.

They found an engineering firm to design their project, got Groundworks Providence to agree to install it and have raised enough money to make it a reality.

By documenting their methods, Grace, Kai and Janice have established a blueprint that others can follow to bring the environmental and aesthetic benefits of green infrastructure to urban neighborhoods.

It was inspiring to watch the project develop over the course of six months and to play a small role in seeing it come to fruition. I can hardly wait for the day I’ll be able to drive down Buckland and see that island of green amid all the asphalt.