Categories: Uncategorized

Oct 27, 2016  at   University Square 1 Apartments Rain Garden

We had great turnout at University Square 1 Apartments for the GI Communication Workshop 1 around monitoring ideas beyond commercial data-loggers.  Green Infrastructure is designed largely to capture storm water, but there is also value in collecting information about its impact on the Urban Heat Island effect, how it is working to create buy-in from neighbors, as well as how it is functioning as a habitat or a habitat trap (for instance, if there is a temporary pond, dragonflies may come to lay eggs, but those eggs will die once the pond drains.)  Check out this monitoring-info-graphic for some more ideas about changes to look for and different tools that might make those changes measureable.

crop-unspecified-4Using the new rain garden at University Square 1 as a test site, we explored ideas for collecting information about a few of these areas: storm water capture and retention, as well as the impact of the rain garden on the Urban Heat Island effect.  Residents of the apartments, hydrologists, landscape engineers, project teams for new green infrastructure implementations, and artists worked together with simple materials to develop ideas that would capture the attention of the public while also communicating the success of the project itself.

  A floating bobber inside the r-tank attached to a gauge could indicate how much water was being held in the tank.  A stick wrapped with Velcro and placed in the garden would catch sediment and indicate the highest level of water rise over time.crop-unspecified-2

Similar to the Velcro idea, several sticks placed around the area of the garden that tends to pond could measure how long the ponding was lasting in what area.  This would indicate gwi well water was moving through the Green Infrastructure.  An idea emerged that would use dye be released from a sculpture that eroded under certain weather conditions (made out of compost, clay or sand) and stain the sticks around the pond, leaving different colored markings for different types of rain events, and different intensities of color based on the amount of time the water had been sitting.  Another measure of how water was moving through the garden would use a water wheel at a pipe or outflow area.crop-unspecified-3 This rain garden has a dry well that outflows into the parking lot. This water wheel could be attached to a motor with a RGB LED light bulb that changed color based on how quickly the wheel was being spun (how intense the water flow was).  This wheel could also be attached to a gear system that would move a flag up a gauge to communicate in words or numbers the amount of rainfall and the impact of the rain garden for public passersby or apartment residents to understand.


Temperature monitoring at a site could: 1. demonstrate green infrastructure mitigation of the heat island effect caused by hard, dark-colored surfaces like concrete and asphalt; 2. show how wet subsurface soil is and where water might be staying; and 3. show how heat affects evaporation rates in rain gardens.  We discussed the difference between documenting performance & effectiveness versus monitoring to educate the public, and that the tools for each might sometimes overlap but could at other times be very different.  People often say there’s a cooling effect from GI but no one knows where to find the data to back that up. Tools and visuals to communicate these effects could be: thermographic paper (liquid crystals) as a visual symbol that any given location is over a certain threshold temperature; using infrared thermometer guns or FLIR infrared still or timelapse cameras to determine the hot and cool spots in any installation, compared to points outside the installation; building our own thermometers from kits with really big, colorful, and visual signs to put in different locations; and using data loggers that transmit information via wireless or radio signals – if these were connected to an LCD panel, people could watch how the GI installation is working in real-time under different conditions. One could also develop temperature/monitoring-based scavenger hunts for classes or public events – eg, using an infrared thermometer, can groups find: the hottest spot in an area?  The coolest spot?  The biggest temperature difference within the shortest distance?  Evidence of water cooling the ground?  Evidence of plants cooling the air?  Etc.

Some favorite takeaways: that public art could also be serving a monitoring, signage, and/or educational function at a GI installation; that making monitoring fun, interactive, and public-involving could and should be an additional goal to collecting data; and youth and communities could be involved in the codevelopment of monitoring and display tools, rather than them being designed and built by a firm or organization without any public input. 

Stay tuned for information about Green Infrastructure Workshop Part 2: Community Engagement – where we work on techniques for understanding what stakeholders and neighbors are concerned about so as to make tailored communication strategies that fit those needs.

This workshop series is possible with funding by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.