The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) hosted the first statewide Green Infrastructure Conference (GI) on Thursday and Friday, May 8-9th that featured over 340 attendees eager to learn from past successes and how to overcome barriers to implementing green infrastructure projects. The conference featured keynotes, breakout sessions, networking opportunities and an exhibit area with companies and organizations featuring green infrastructure designs, technology, projects, services and products. The two day program was successful at addressing the key issues hampering Green Infrastructure from becoming the standard for both natural systems and the built environment.
The Growth of Green Infrastructure Dependent on Those With Passion To Make It Mainstream
DEQ Director Dan Wyant challenged the audience on finding the best methods for moving Green Infrastructure forward in the state. With Governor Snyder calling for increased focus on water and water quality, attendees were charged to lead the movement with DEQ as a partner. Deputy Legal Counsel and Senior Policy Advisor to Gov. Snyder, Valerie Brader, who admitted she was preaching to the choir, nonetheless urged the audience to collaborate in a spirit of partnership and unity to break down barriers in order to increase green infrastructure projects. Ms. Brader asked how we can get to the point where green infrastructure becomes a central part of how we design, implement and maintain our natural and built systems.
Jon Allan, Director of the Office of the Great Lakes, elaborated how our streams, rivers, ponds and lakes are all part of a larger natural system (The Great Lakes) which is a part of an even larger natural system that actually stretches from Minnesota through the St. Lawrence Seaway (Gaspe’). This realization makes all of us begin to think how our actions with these natural systems affect our downstream neighbors. Mr. Allan questioned the mindset of those who still treat water as a commodity that can be ignored and thrown out as sending the wrong message to the rest of the world. Collectively our state and its citizens need to be leading in water conservation, technologies, innovation and strategies to set the example upon which the rest of the world will follow.
Building on Present Partnerships, Collaboration, Innovation and Past Successes
While there have been a number of successes of Green Infrastructure projects in our state, much additional work needs to be done with data collection, strong leadership capacity, continuity of leadership long after construction projects are completed, along with consistent and adequate levels of funding. In fact, more than one speaker called “funding the elephant in the green infrastructure room”. Without dedicated funds to emphasize the importance of this work, green infrastructure will continue to face strong headwinds in becoming the standard on how we design, build and maintain both our natural and built environments. Discussions were common about stormwater utility fees becoming a viable funding option in Michigan. Many attendees believed that they are possible and necessary, while many others believed that the legal hurdles would continue to prevent their own communities from enacting local stormwater utilities.
City of Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero spoke at an afterglow about the city’s change in mindset since coming to office with regard to planning and implementing green infrastructure projects. He related a story of how Lansing actually pulled up bike lanes following complaints from a business owner several years ago. Now, the city is planning on implementing bike lanes and bike trails at unprecedented levels. Mayor Bernero remarked that GI projects would not be happening without the advocacy and leadership of the professionals and leaders interested in moving the community in this direction. He congratulated those involved for their efforts and urged them to continue on this path and provide the necessary leadership to make green infrastructure the standard for the future.
The conference continued on for a second day with over 35 speakers. The day featured an excellent keynote from Dr. William Hunt, P.E. and Professor from North Carolina State University, additional breakout sessions, case studies and more opportunities for networking and exhibit hall conversations. The first Michigan Green Infrastructure Conference was successful on many levels and those in attendance had positive comments on the future impact this conference will have on moving green infrastructure forward in the state. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality should be lauded for their efforts in hosting this conference along with all those sponsors and exhibitors who supported the DEQ on what is hoped will be an annual conference. Many are looking forward to an even bigger and better Green Infrastructure Conference in 2015.
ROBERT E. MATTLER, Associate Broker, Attorney and LEED AP BD+C, is Director of Green Brokerage at Armada Real Estate Services in West Bloomfield, Michigan. He speaks and writes about emerging green real estate issues and economic development in Michigan and elsewhere. Mr. Mattler is also senior correspondent for www.greeningdetroit.com For more information, contact Bob at Armada Real Estate (248) 855-1221; or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org