Submitted by Dr. Kirsten Schwarz, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences and Director of the NKU Ecological Stewardship Institute
Strategic Depaving in an ongoing research project that brings together NKU students, faculty, and staff with area stakeholders and community members to transform vacant lots in Newport, KY into public greenspace. The main environmental outcome of Strategic Depaving is improved water quality through collaborative and active participation in the conservation of regional water resources.
Pavement intensifies stormwater runoff which negatively impacts water quality. This is especially problematic in areas with combined sewer systems, where stormwater and wastewater are combined. Large storm events can strain pipes and result in discharges of raw sewage into waterways. In the Cincinnati metropolitan area alone, an estimated 11.5 billion gallons of mixed stormwater and raw sewage are released into rivers and streams annually. Replacing pavement with vegetation promotes infiltration and storage of stormwater. For this reason, as well as additional benefits of vegetation, increasing greenspace is a focus of both urban stormwater management and urban sustainability planning.
“Strategic Depaving is working towards sustainability on two fronts. Urban surfaces such as sidewalks, streets and buildings impact water quality by allowing pollutants to flow directly into waterways. This issue is prevalent across cities, including Newport’s west side. By planning and executing new green spaces, pollutants are prevented from flowing unimpeded into the Licking River, said Matthew Winkler, an NKU student and ESI Scholar.
“The necessity of green space affords us the opportunity to effect change on a social level. Parks are an essential facet of urban life. They are places for communities to gather, children to play, and can serve as a cultural hub. Relying on community input is essential. To better design parks for the community we must first understand the community.”
There are two central themes to Strategic Depaving – community engagement and transdisciplinarity. Community engagement has been a of focus of this project from its development stage, as its beginnings sprang from a community survey we conducted that identified water quality and access to greenspace as high priority concerns of the neighborhood.
Community engagement will continue throughout the project, including the use of a popular urban planning tool, community design charrettes (i.e. community workshops focused on planning), to solicit feedback on the placement, design, and use of the new public greenspace.
NKU participants represent a diverse group of disciplines including biology, electronic media and broadcasting, english, environmental science, fine arts, geology, history and geography, journalism, nursing, and visual communication and design. NKU’s CINSAM and the Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement are also involved in the project. Community partners include area non-profits, local government, neighborhood associations, local businesses, and individual community members. Our work is centered in the Buena Vista neighborhood, an underserved neighborhood in the Licking River Watershed.
We anticipate important community outcomes from this project. Specifically, through engaging the Newport, KY community in decision making and design we aim to advance environmental education regarding the contributions that greenspace makes to improved water quality.
The community design charrettes are not only an opportunity for stakeholders to learn about, design, and build greenspace – they are also an opportunity to evaluate whether sustained community engagement in environmental decision making promotes a community’s sense of agency and stewardship. In this vein, Strategic Depaving is as much about the process of community-engaged research as it is about the anticipated products.
Strategic Depaving contributes to the field of environmental science by addressing a critical gap regarding the long-term sustainability of urban watershed management – the role of community engagement in shaping and creating solutions to protecting urban water resources. By addressing this gap at the neighborhood scale, Strategic Depaving contributes to regional water quality and greenspace efforts. In addition, Strategic Depaving aims to establish a model for how to navigate community-engaged transdisciplinary research at NKU, including mentoring NKU students in use-inspired, community-engaged environmental research.
SPECIAL NOTE: Dr. Schwarz received the first NKU SOL Award at the 2018 Spotlight on Scholarship event for her work on the Strategic Depaving project.