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Using Public Art to Bring Visibility to Water Infrastructure

There is no doubt that our nation’s infrastructure systems need to be upgraded and water infrastructure is no exception. Water and wastewater infrastructures are aging and in need of replacement and rehabilitation; in fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructures a grade of ‘D’ in 2013. Furthermore, climate change, increasing populations, and insufficient funds are likely to exacerbate these challenges and without strong public support, water infrastructure improvements may not be given the priority they deserve.

Throughout my time as a water engineer, I have concluded that most people generally understand the importance of strong and reliable water infrastructure systems, yet they are not familiar with the processes required to treat and manage water, wastewater, and stormwater, as well as the issues currently faced by these types of infrastructure systems. Unless there is a pipe burst, a water shortage, a sewer overflow, or a tragedy like Flint, water systems and their current condition are not usually part of everyday conversations.

So why do most people take water infrastructure for granted? In my consideration, the main reason is that water systems are set up to make us forget about them. Compared to other infrastructures, like roads and bridges, these systems are buried, hidden, or placed far away from communities. How many times do we think about the water we use when we open the water faucet or flush the toilet?

While pursuing my master’s in urban and regional planning, I became interested in public art and placemaking. However, while browsing an issue of Public Art Review, I realized that my new interests could be the way to make water infrastructure systems more visible. When properly integrated, public art not only makes water infrastructure systems noticeable, but makes them of the urban fabric.

A great example of the integration of public art in water infrastructure is the Brightwater Treatment Plant, a wastewater facility in King County, Washington, which I visited in August 2016.  The plant successfully integrates public art throughout the treatment process. The public art not only has made the plant visible, but part of the neighborhood’s urban fabric. The community continuously comes to walk around the beautiful gardens and check out the public art. In fact, it has become so popular that community center is used for wedding receptions!

But the public art has also been a way to educate the community about the treatment of wastewater. This is the case of Buster Simpson’s BioBoulevard, a (shown here), a public art piece that is also a reclaimed water pipeline. Working closely with engineers, this purple pipe tells the story of the marine outfall discharging to Puget Sound. The portholes on top of the pipe expose the water to the sun and allow the chlorine to off-gas, while representing the oxygen diffusers in the actual outfall. “Do not drink” is written in all languages represented in King County throughout the pipeline.

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Although procuring, creating, installing, and maintaining public art requires money, time, and experience, bringing public artists into the development of infrastructure can be rewarding and beneficial. So, as I continue my professional career, I challenge my fellow engineers and planners concerned with water infrastructure: why not use public art to bring visibility and engage the public to address some of the concerns?


Jimena Larson is an environmental engineer and urban planner from Bogota, Colombia interested in water, infrastructure, and urban design challenges.


Some Thoughts After Traveling to Iceland (Climate Change and Geothermal Energy)

In the past few years, Iceland has become one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. So last Thanksgiving, I went to Iceland to see what the big fuss was all about. One of the many tourists draws of Iceland in winter is the promise of venturing off-the-beaten-path to remote, wild, snowy fields. The landscape was filled with wild horses and sheep. You can also find glacial lagoons and geysers erupting as you trek across the country.  After traveling there, my advice is to do yourself a favor by soaking in the Blue Lagoon and enjoy a facial mask. And make sure you view the Northern Lights in the dark!


Some of the scenes in Game of Thrones (GOT) were filmed in Iceland. One of the scenes of John Snow walking on a glacier, shown in the following pictures, was filmed in Vatnajökull National Park. Another fun fact is that Iceland’s water smells like sulfur almost everywhere on this Island.



It is Iceland’s natural beauty that attracts the tourists, but that natural beauty is now threatened by climate change. According to our tour guide, this Vatnajökull  glacier (the biggest glacier in the country) is melting approximately 100 meters (320 ft.) per year, causing sea levels near Iceland to rise. Reports from the Icelandic Government’s Committee on Climate Change (IGCCC) claim that if we don’t do anything to help reduce climate change, Iceland’s glaciers will no longer exist by the next century. During an ice cave tour, the guide told us it is harder and harder to find good ice caves to even see, because melting ice makes the water flowing beneath them very unstable.


I would say Iceland is a place on earth that doesn’t look like earth. There are about 130 volcanoes on the island–30 of them.  Even though we call it Iceland, it actually more like Fireland or Hotland. Iceland lies in the crack in the Earth’s crust where the North American tectonic plate and Eurasian tectonic plate meet, so while the Earth’s crust slowly tears apart, energy releases—giving Iceland its vast geothermal energy resources. Once scientists discovered this in 1970s, Iceland started capitalizing on this energy resource. According to Ásgeir Margeirsson, CEO of Geysir Green Energy, Iceland citizen save four times cost for heating.



Iceland is a pioneer in using geothermal energy all over the world. The country’s geothermal resources come from the dynamic volcano, and several major geothermal power plants produce around 30% of the country’s electricity. One of the most popular places in Iceland is the Blue Lagoon. This is the world biggest man-made lagoon, which is fed by nearby geothermal power, and renew every two days. Superheated water is vented from the ground near a lava flow, and used to run turbines that generate electricity.


There is a lot to learn from Iceland when it comes to adopting clean and alternative energy. Companies such as Tesla . There are many solar energy companies that are taking the lead in powering our homes and automobiles using a cleaner form of energy. Once alternative energy options, such as home solar panels, can be mass-produced cheaply, more people will be inclined to adopt these new technologies. Until then, we can help to fight climate change by eliminating our carbon footprint and choose using green energy.

Mei Fang, is an urban planner with a strong passion for urban and landscape design, she also enjoys looking for the variety culture inside of the city.

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Why you should have a mentor

Previously, I wrote posts on finding a mentor and cultivating a relationship with a mentor. I promised a follow up post on why it is important to have a mentor. In this post, I give my 5 reasons to have a mentor. There are many more reasons, but I mentioned in a previous post that I like numbers divisible by five.

  1. Mentors provide experience: Situations like deciding whether to take the new job, apply for a higher position, move across the country, or work with a difficult boss are not new. Your mentor has likely experienced these same challenges and he or she can provide insight on how to navigate whatever challenge you are facing.
  2. Mentors have networks: People who have been in a profession for several years usually have large networks of contacts within the industry. If your mentor is unable to provide the correct guidance to you for a particular challenge or opportunity, they have access to someone in their network that can help you. A quick introduction from your mentor will grant you access to another mentor.
  3. Mentors can talk you out of a funk: There have been times in my career, especially now as a leader, when I face moments of self-doubt: I don’t know which way to go and/or I feel like I failed. During those times, I speak with my mentors who listened with a non-judgmental ear, asked the right questions, and usually end the conversation by telling me to what I needed to hear to get back on track.
  4. Mentors can help you grow as a person: Mentors are an unbiased third party that can with a unique perspective that can reveal your weaknesses and opportunities for growth. All my mentors have identified weaknesses in my skillset or leadership style and worked with me to strengthen those skills. My mentors challenge me, hold me accountable for my actions, and provide me just the right amount of encouragement to keep me moving forward. I would not be where I am today without my mentors putting me through this process several times.
  5. Mentors can be champions: There’s an old adage in networking, “It’s all about who you know”. There’s an update version that counters that by saying. “It’s not about who you know. It’s about who knows you”. If you cultivate a relationship with your mentor, he or she will be an effective champion for you and provide you with access to opportunities that you may or may not know about. For some of my mentees, I’ve sent their resumes with a glowing recommendation. I know the same has been done for me.

As we are still in the first month of the new year, I hope you make it your goal to find a mentor or two this year.

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.






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