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Interstate highway 45 is submerged from the effects of Hurricane Harvey seen during widespread flooding in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Richard Carson - RTX3DKUO

The Impacts of Heavy Rainfall on the Environment

The recent rain events this past week caused extreme flash flooding throughout the Northeast region. Parkways, streets, and metro or subway stations in New York, Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and Massachusetts flooded leaving motorists, pedestrians, and commuters stranded and exposed to horrid conditions. I have become worrisome, not particularly of the increase in the intensity and frequency of torrential downpours, but of our current incapacity and mismanagement to handle all of this water. Every time we face intense rain, I have to think to myself: What towns or streets will face flooding? Who would want to walk through a transit system with murky water past their ankles with absolutely no knowledge of what bacteria or toxins lurk in that water? How much more can our water systems take from the toxic materials and untreated wastewater due to outdated infrastructures and sewer systems? Are we really placing public and environmental health, safety, and the quality of life for all as a top priority? Climate change has brought an increase of rain intensity and frequency. Rainfall intensity is the measure of the amount of rain that falls during a period of time while rainfall frequency is the amount of times it rains during a specified period of years. An increase in air and water temperature brings an increase of precipitation.  But we cannot isolate climate change, we must also pay close attention to the factors that it engages with. I can certainly name a few: presence of impervious surfaces, lack of greenspaces, outdated infrastructures and sewer systems. All of these factors exacerbate flooding and can be detrimental to our water systems.

Impervious Surfaces…

The large surface area of impervious surfaces like roads, parking lots, and roofs, that have replaced our natural landscape, do not allow water to infiltrate into the ground and speeds up the process of rainwater runoff entering the drainage systems. The runoff and the pollutants collected from impervious surfaces are either turning into floods or entering our water systems at a faster rate than it can be managed.

Lack of Greenspaces…

This kind of ties in with impervious surfaces. I think it’s safe to say that the more impervious surfaces we create, the less access to greenspace we have. Greenspace is extremely crucial. It provides benefits such as reducing and filtering polluted stormwater runoff, reducing soil erosion, and improving air quality. When we lack greenspace, we have to deal with a lot of preventable challenges. With a lack of soil and vegetation to absorb and filter the rainfall, we experience flooding and overloaded sewers. With a lack of vegetation, we experience an increase in air temperature (Note what I stated earlier about the effects of an increase in air temperature).

Outdated Infrastructures and Sewer Systems…

The outdated infrastructures and the combined sewer systems were built only to hold a certain capacity of rainfall. In addition, transit systems and roadways aren’t effectively updated or repaired. Poor management leads our infrastructures to dilapidate and become swamps. In the recent floods, water leaked through the concrete vaulted ceilings of the WMATA Capitol South metro station. In a few of New York’s subway stations, water entered through the ceiling and stairways flooding the stations. Combined sewer systems are typically found in older cities. When the capacity of the system is surpassed, the untreated wastewater and stormwater runoff flows into our waterways or can back up into buildings through the pipes or overflow from the storm drains onto the streets.

 

GW Parkway

Flooding on the George Washington Memorial Parkway

GW Parkway at DCA

Flooding on the George Washington Memorial Parkway

Martha Custis Drive in Parkfairfax

Flooded street on Martha Custis Drive in Parkfairfax, Virginia

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Water leaking through concrete vaulted ceiling in Capitol South Metro Station, WMATA

Capitol South Metro

Flooding conditions in Capitol South Metro Station, WMATA

Flooded NYC Subway Station_03

Flooding conditions in NYC Subway Station, MTA

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Flooding conditions in NYC Subway Station, MTA

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Flooding conditions in NYC Subway Station, MTA

Now What…

With climate change there will be an increase of storm intensity and frequency, but how do we plan and design for worsening conditions? As the climate changes we must adapt our habits, the way we design, and our management of infrastructure. Stormwater management practices are used to reduce stormwater runoff, control flooding, reduce erosion, and improve water quality. These practices include green stormwater infrastructure (GSI), flood control reservoirs, and tunnels (SMART Tunnel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and the Deep Tunnel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin addresses flash flooding and stores millions of gallons of overflow and sewage). Green infrastructure can be used to not only address our stormwater issues but to beautify our communities by creating healthy environments. Just imagine walking, driving, or riding your bike down a green street filled with a canopy of trees, native vegetation, GSI interventions, enhanced sidewalks, public art, and other street design features. A green street utilizes green infrastructure, improves public health and safety, and can even yield economic benefits.

We also have to contemplate all of the paved vacant lots or unused parking lots. For an example, malls all over the United States have an immense amount of parking.  What can we do with these spaces? These are opportunities to implement green infrastructure and green spaces for public spaces that can incorporate activities, pop-up spaces, farmers markets, etc.

In addition to the stormwater management practices, the timely repair and maintenance of infrastructure needs to be a requirement or else it will not function properly. Also, funding should be appropriately allocated to ensure that the proper solutions are identified and instated.

The strategies will not be the same in every location because the approach should be acclimated to the specific needs of that region based on in-depth analysis, research, and community engagement. However, with careful and purposeful consideration and action we can move in the right direction. I leave you with this: How can you be a part of the movement to create safe, equitable, and sustainable infrastructures and communities?

 

Jazmin Kimble is a Geo-Designer, Urban Designer, and Architectural Designer from Long Island, NY. She has a passion for empowering and planning adequate, equitable communities through the lens of Geodesign, Urban Design, Community Development, Sustainability, Environmental Solutions, and Community Engagement. Jazmin believes the culture and the history of a community is what makes it unique. This approach allows her to design with communities from a holistic viewpoint.

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Life In the City: The Daycare Hustle!

I’m just a country girl with big city dreams. At least that’s what I tell myself every time I’m confronted with something that seems out of the ordinary. City life isn’t for the faint of heart or for those of us who like to carefully watch our pennies. There is a price (usually a steep one) associated with everything. On a trip back to my native state, Alabama, I scrunched my face and squinted my eyes when I realized I could buy milk and eggs for what seems to be half of what they cost in the District of Columbia. As I’ve gotten married and more recently, had a child, I have soon found out the grocery store isn’t the only place with prices exceeding my expectation… and my pocketbook.

Fortunately, for the first year of my son’s life, we had willing family members who came for extended visits and helped fill our childcare gaps.  For us, this worked out great because his initial medical issues would have made it hard to comfortably place him in a traditional daycare; however, that wasn’t a permanent solution. A few months ago, once all the family had gone home, we started the daycare search. Of course, my husband entirely entrusted me with the process, and so I trudged around the city going on site visit after site visit.  We had already heard all the horror stories. You need to be on the list before you’re even pregnant.  Your boss needs to write you a letter of recommendation. You need to cough up three goats, two cows and one chicken every month. It was all true!

Our initial search started near our home in southeast DC. Prices weren’t as cheap as Alabama but were reasonable compared to the area – about $700-$1200 a month. However, I hung up each call more frantic and anxious than the one before. There were literally no openings at ANY of the daycare centers within my geographic boundaries. Everything near my house was entirely full until basically 2027.

Time was starting to run out, and I entered into full on panic mode. By this point, I was working from home or trying to bring my kid into the office.  We were still on several waitlists, but nobody was calling me back.  We decided to try a home daycare in our neighborhood—one of the few that had space—at first it was a relief, but after a few short weeks, we realized it wasn’t a good fit.  And so, we were back to the daycare hustle.  I decided to expand my search closer to my office and voila!  I lucked out and nabbed what had to be the only open toddler space in all of DC. It was more than double the cost of what we were paying the home daycare, but we realized that at this point, peace of mind was everything. But still.  When my friends in Alabama discuss their $80/week daycare center, I cringe wondering how people—myself included—afford to live and raise a family in this city when daycare costs are comparable to mortgage and rent.

Finding suitable, reliable, affordable childcare in the District shouldn’t be this difficult. I’ve watched this panicked scene unfold several times in our office as babies make their debut. Families have to make really hard life choices because of child care, like deciding if it’s really worth it for both parents to work. When calculating the costs, some families decide it’s better for one parent to stay home. Let’s keep it real. The majority of the time this falls on the woman’s career taking a back seat. No matter who has to stay at home, the impact is negative because it takes valuable people away from the workforce. It sets them back in their career in terms of upward mobility and keeping their skills sharpened, and financially their future social security takes a hit. Emotionally this is draining because these are parents who want to work but have to choose not to. Unfortunately, our institutions are just not set up to accommodate two working parents, especially in major cities. Not only is the cost challenging but think about our institutions and how they are not designed to fit homes with working parents.  (yes, this is a tangent but it’s my blog) The post office and schools close before most parents get off work. Schools open from 8-3 or 7-3 but “typical” work hours are 9-5 leaving parents scrambling to identify before and after school care, juggle schedules or rely on family for support. In a place like DC, where many people live far from family the latter is usually not an option.

Reform is necessary in the childcare space so that it is affordable and accommodates two working class parents. Beyond childcare, we have to rethink the way our institutions are designed and if they support the way we work or maybe the way we work needs to change. These issues aren’t mutually exclusive. There is much “talk” about it but working parents need action. It shouldn’t be a hustle to find quality, affordable, reliable daycare that allows both parents to work. We have put a man on the moon and even developed driverless cars. Certainly, our childcare can be better than this.

Chanceé Lundy Russell is the Co-Founder of Nspiregreen LLC an environmental consulting, urban planning and public engagement firm based in Washington, DC. The Selma, Alabama native received her BS in Environmental Science from Alabama A&M University and her MS in Civil Engineering from Florida State University. She is passionate about environmental justice issues and works to create healthy, livable communities for all.

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Reflecting on the Past, Ready for the Future!

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The new year is a time to reflect on the past and set goals for the future. The past year brought us satisfaction and challenges that allowed us to grow as individuals and as a team. We hope 2018 comes with opportunities to help communities become more sustainable.  

Over the past year, we have continued to grow in the region leading projects such as Vision Zero in Alexandria, VA, providing technical research on innovative beneficial reuse of dredged materials in Maryland while expanding our reach to our not-so-distant neighbor Philadelphia, PA to lead the University City District Just Spaces project.

At home in DC, we are continuing our work on projects such as the Southeast Boulevard and Barney Circle Environmental Assessment as well as the GreenWrench Automotive Pollution Prevention Program.

While these projects represent a snippet of the contributions we are making in the planning and environmental realm, we anticipate continued growth in this new year. Our main goal for 2018 is to continue developing and implementing creative solutions that will help communities achieve their social, cultural, economic, and environmental goals. As such, we look forward to working with new and existing clients; meeting other communities and leaders; and learning and implementing other methods and practices into our projects, such as public art.

We pride ourselves on being forward-thinkers; therefore, we believe that creative solutions are the most effective way to tackle the challenges facing communities today. Later this month, we will tell you a little bit more about our “refresh” for 2018. We look forward to an exciting and fulfilling 2018.

On behalf of the entire Nspiregreen team, we wish you a Happy New Year!

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