Friday, February 4, 2011

WMG’s Neighborhood Leaders Program Provides Training, Funding for Projects in Tucson Neighborhoods

Tucson-based non-profit Watershed Management Group (WMG), with support from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the US Environmental Protection Agency, has selected six Tucson neighborhoods to participate in its Neighborhood Leaders program. The program trains neighborhood residents in the design and implementation of street-side stormwater harvesting strategies (also referred to as green infrastructure) tailored to Tucson’s arid environment. Each neighborhood will also be awarded funding for the installation of resident-designed green infrastructure projects.

Small groups of residents from Barrio Hollywood, Coronado Heights, Elvira, Glenn Heights, Palo Verde, and Sunnyside neighborhoods were selected from among twice as many applicants to participate in the program. A series of trainings in the assessment, design, and implementation of neighborhood green infrastructure projects is ongoing through May. The program will
culminate with each group of Neighborhood Leaders organizing and constructing one or more projects in their own neighborhoods. These projects will be implemented through a grassroots model in which neighborhood volunteers install green infrastructure through hands-on workshops. WMG will provide logistical support, design expertise, and guidance to Neighborhood Leaders as they embark on the first of what could become many such projects in their neighborhoods.

Green infrastructure refers to practices that utilize natural features to deal with stormwater, such as water harvesting basins along right-of-ways or in curb bump-outs and traffic circles. Benefits of such projects include increased vegetation and habitat, traffic calming, enhanced neighborhood livability for pedestrians and bicyclists, and mitigation of urban heat island effect, flooding, and water quality issues.

Alex Kouvel, a Neighborhood Leader from Barrio Hollywood, observes that “WMG has the tools and expertise to implement sustainable, positive, on-the-ground environmental augmentation throughout our community. Working with neighborhood after neighborhood, WMG disseminates up-to-date information in a user-friendly, hands-on method that [works].” The goal of the program is to empower neighborhood groups with the knowledge and experience to implement projects independently. James MacAdam, program manager of WMG’s Green Streets-Green Neighborhoods program, says that WMG identified the need for such training through work with neighborhood groups who had the desire for projects, but lacked the knowledge and skills to effectively navigate the design, permitting, and implementation processes. “The beauty of the program is that it combines training for residents with funds and support for hands-on installation of green infrastructure practices in each of their neighborhoods,” says MacAdam.

Community partners in the program include PRO Neighborhoods, which will lead a community organizing session for participants, and Tucson Clean and Beautiful, which will assist with maintenance components. The Neighborhood Leaders program would not be possible without support from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the US Environmental Protection Agency. Of particular importance is funding from both agencies for project implementation, in which Neighborhood Leaders will put their newly gained skills to work and share knowledge with fellow residents. Using this model, green infrastructure projects not only enhance the built and natural environment, but also bring community members together around positive solutions.