- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Winning Partnership Works to Prevent City Flooding

| Fall/Winter 2018-2019

New Haven, Connecticut is a city of about130,000 people—a typical American city in terms of size and challenges. One of the major and growing challenges facing New Haven and other cities is flooding. Increasingly extreme rainstorms and rising sea levels, both caused by climate change, are taxing local drainage systems and destroying vulnerable neighborhoods.

An innovative partnership in New Haven is responding by building bioswales, landscaped areas adjacent to the roadway designed to capture and infiltrate stormwater runoff from the street before it can enter a piped sewer system. Bioswales are a cost-effective green infrastructure that reduces pollution and urban flooding in a major rainstorm.

The Advancing Green Infrastructure Program is the winner of the 2018 Roy Family Award for Environmental Partnership, presented every two years to an exceptional public-private partnership that benefits the environment. Representatives of the partners—the Urban Resources Initiative at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, EMERGE Connecticut, Inc., the City of New Haven Department of Engineering, the Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority, and Common Ground High School—gathered at Harvard Kennedy School on November 5 for a Roy Family Award ceremony and dinner.

Prior to the ceremony, the Belfer Center’s Environment and Natural Resources Program (ENRP), which administers the award under the leadership of Amanda Sardonis, organized a panel discussion inspired by the winning project’s commitment to simultaneously addressing the environmental and social justice issues in New Haven through a community-driven approach that delivers the benefits of climate adaptation to the city’s most vulnerable residents.

ENRP Director Henry Lee moderated the panel discussion, titled “Cities on the Edge,” with two of the winning partners from New Haven and climate mitigation experts from Boston.

Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy emphasized the importance of grassroots initiatives in terms of climate change action: “Good things always start at the bottom and work their way up,” said McCarthy, who is leading a major climate-related initiative at Harvard’s School of Public Health. A robust climate change program, she said, is about “climate, health and equity.”

Boston’s Chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Space Chris Cook showed a map of Boston in 2070, displaying much of the city under water if nothing is done regarding severe storms and sea-level rise.

New Haven City Engineer Giovanni Zinn described the bioswales project as a green infrastructure engagement tool that enables people to see where the stormwater goes and feel the positive impact in their communities. Colleen Murphy-Dunning, Director of the Urban Resources Initiative, said the partnership also brings diverse parts of the the population together to work on a common problem.

Roy Award winners—partners in the Advancing Green Infrastructure Program—gather following the awards ceremony at Harvard Kennedy School in November.

Roy Award winners—partners in the Advancing Green Infrastructure Program—gather following the awards ceremony at Harvard Kennedy School in November. Photo by Belfer Center.

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For Academic Citation:

"Winning Partnership Works to Prevent City Flooding." Belfer Center Newsletter. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School (Fall/Winter 2018-2019).