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Green Infrastructure Communication Workshop Part 3

Engaging the Public in a Project’s Goals and Benefits by Using Hands-on Activities and Signage.

Building on Workshop 1: Monitoring, and Workshop 2: What do People Think, this workshop focused on designing public facing communications that inspire passersby and other neighborhood stakeholders to understand and interact with green infrastructure in meaningful ways.

Attendees came from groups including 9 Mile Run Watershed Association, Homewood Children’s Village, Evolve EA and PWSA creating a diverse pool of green infrastructure, community engagement and design knowledge.

The workshop began with some design challenges and an assortment of materials.

 Without divulging their goal, teams made environments that were supposed to inspire an audience to imagine, to crawl, to observe the room.  Reflections on the effectiveness of these environments included having familiar materials and references for people to understand, creating mystery with small fonts or arrows, having all the materials needed to support an activity (like seats for people to pretend to have tea at a table), and simple enough scenarios that people understand what they are supposed to do.  

We heard from Erin Foster, a graphic designer on the Carnegie Museum of Natural History exhibits team, whose presentation on interpretive signs emphasized simplicity and using visual cues like font, color and size to communicate information without words.  See her quick list here: Designs for Interpretation

In the halls of Carnegie Museums of Natural History and Art we examined and critiqued effective audience engagement strategies, audience feedback stations for imagining and sharing short stories about artwork, the dots that passively turn the floors of the PNC Center for Education into a hopscotch game, or a Rainworks installation which creates designs on sidewalk only when wet.

Tim Nuttle presented the permeable pavement demonstration he was involved in building on Sampsonia way, noting the goal of transforming the way a space is used through inviting passersby to do something unexpected.  See the Sampsonia Way project and the interpretive signs they used here:Sampsonia Way Project;  SampsoniaWay_Poster_Vert; SampsoniaWay_Poster Horiz.

Finally, participants worked together on designs for activities, signage, and other elements for their specific Green Infrastructure communication challenges.

This workshop was made possible by a grant from Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.

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Engaging community members in understanding projects, decision making, and problem solving using group deliberation.

Wednesday January 18, 2017     4 – 7:00 pm

Carnegie Museum of Natural History: Center for Museum Education.  Ford Mateer Classroom Room.

Green Infrastructure takes support, stewardship and buy-in to be effective long term.

This active workshop demonstrated strategies for surfacing what people know and how people are feeling about local green infrastructure.  Using these tools, and insight shared by community groups and communication experts, GI groups can develop long term community investment in new projects, or solutions for problematic implementations.

img_3365Participants were asked to bring images that represent successes or challenges they have had with community engagement, and we began with a technique derived from the Photovoice method to talk with others about their experiences.

More information about photovoice can be found img_3393here: Photovoice



Photovoice uses photographs as boundary objects,  tools that act as a link between people with different or opposing viewpoints.  We often talk about CUSP kits as boundary objects, something that is able to start a productive conversation and be used by multiple perspectives to communicate ideas.











Joining the CUSP team to facilitate were Tom Hoffman, Conservation Program Coordinator Clean Rivers Campaign at Sierra Club, who talked about the challenges Environmentalists have in letting go of the environmental agenda, when another approach or talking point would gain more traction for their project, and Lizzie Anderson, community organizer and therapist whose work focuses on communication and “encourages engagement, curiosity, resiliency, empathy + equity.”  Lizzie led several activities focused on the challenges of listening.  She facilitated participants in generating a list of specific img_1667obstacles to communicating, which included maintaining focus when someone is long-winded, letting go of differences in values, avoiding jargon, having limited time to hear all of someone’s points, or having lack of empathy or understanding of others’ views.   One important concept Lizzie introduced is “trust emergence” which asks that listeners devote themselves to listening while a speaker is talking, and “trust” that when it is time to respond, information that needs to be shared will “emerge” naturally.  Successes to communication shared by participants included scheduling time in an outreach plan to build relationships, keeping a note card for each person to help remember important ideas they shared, seeking people out in their own environments, asking for elaboration, using a feedback loop to share back what you understood someone said, and approaching an interaction with a service mind – what can I do for you.

Timg_1677he last community deliberation model we practiced was Forum Theater, one exercise from Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed. Participants acted out scenarios related to failed communication around green infrastructure projects and worked together to determine better methods.  Most scenarios involved a community member who felt left out of decision making and was not happy with the green infrastructure implementation. Solutions that emerged were to acknowledge and address concerns, regardless img_1680of their applicability to the project, and also use these concerns as points of connection to project.  The resident who was concerned about Zika in a rain garden’s standing water, felt more at ease when the rain garden advocate agreed to monitoring the threat of Zika in the area and the amount of time water was standing in the rain garden.  The resident who wanted resources to be spent on affordable housing instead of fancy gardens, was put at ease, at least temporarily when another community member acknowledged the concern as valid and then acted as a liaison for the city officials installing the project. img_1686 Another solution  to this situation was to look into possible collaborative efforts between city agencies to combine resources for storm-water management and housing in one application.  This type of thing takes a long time, but part of doing good community engagement is involving community members from the beginning, and being patient with a slow process that will inevitably result in the longer term success of the project.  Sometimes the most challenging stakeholders become the biggest advocates if they are given opportunities to feel in control of part of a project.  More information about Forum Theater can be found here and the process we used is in the power point presentation attached to this website.

The tools and ideas we used in this workshop were derived from a great deal of resources available on the web.  We recommend in particular the Community Toolbox from University of Kansas and Why do Community Engagement? from FRESC.

This workshop is the second of three workshops designed to give Green Infrastructure project teams tools to engage stakeholders in the communities where projects are being implemented.  Information gathered through techniques used in this workshop will be useful in planning and creating permanent signage and outreach activities. The final workshop to be held later this winter will focus on creating signs and informational outreach materials. 


GI Communication Workshop 2: Resource Packet On Community Engagement

A List of Additional Resources for Community Engagement and Climate Communication

Who What Where When and Why do Community Engagement

GI Communication Workshop 2: Presentation With Activities, Instructions and Context

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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.


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Tuesday night CUSP attended the Phase II meeting of the 9 Mile Run Rosedale Runoff Reduction Project where community members came together to begin adding their knowledge to the plans for stormwater maintenance projects in the Rosedale area.  We used the CUSP Map Wet Weather story to describe the problems with combined and separate sewer systems in the area and the connection between these systems and increased precipitation predicted for our are.  In the last 50 years, the amount of rain falling in an extreme rain event has increased 70%, and a rainstorm on Sunday that caused flash flooding and basement backups reminded people that we are in fact experiencing weather like never before.  After the CUSP presentation, Nine Mile Run described the focus of their project and the engineer working on modeling the area then explained the specific challenges of the storm sewer layout in that area.  Starting the meeting with the CUSP presentation was a salient way to frame the importance of management infrastructure and climate change was brought up repeatedly throughout the rest of the activities.

We intended to use the CUSP Kit Choices in Your Neighborhood to further collect and visualize information from residents, but found that it wasn’t a precise enough tool to gather the comments generated throughout the meeting.  It seems to have a more valuable role as a tone-setting tool – beginning a meeting in a casual way that collects enough data to start conversations among participants, and in a way that demonstrates outright the value of participant voices in the activities that follow.

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Climate projections for Pittsburgh include an increase in frequency of extreme weather events. To reduce the stress this will bring to our already overwhelmed sewer system, one of the citywide solutions to manage stormwater in extreme events is the installation of green infrastructure.

Nine Mile Run Watershed Association is studying the Rosedale Runoff Reduction Project area (RRRP) for Phase II stormwater management projects.  This includes both an engineering analysis of surfaces with large amounts of runoff, and information from residents and stakeholders experiencing water issues after it rains (flooding, basement backups, etc.). Community input will guide the next phase of projects and the CUSP map is a collection tool for posting and sharing this information.

Climate projections for Pittsburgh include increased numbers of extreme weather events and one of the citywide solutions to manage stormwater in extreme events is the installation of green infrastructure to reduce the stress on our already overwhelmed sewer system.

This outreach effort will launch at a community meeting Aug 30, at which residents of the Rosedale area will use our Neighborhood Map activity to produce a 3D graph of issues in their neighborhood, and begin to share ideas for stormwater management improvements.  A door to door effort will continue the collection of information and use the mobile CUSP map as an easy way to plot points for decision makers in the community to see.

Stay tuned for updates and images.