Toledo, Ohio, has travelled a typical Rust Belt trajectory of booming industrial economy followed by environmental and economic decline. As they write their next chapter, the city must address problems with water quality and recurring flooding. Their commitment to addressing these and other issues in a sustainable way has led to the city to consider green infrastructure approaches. A study of green infrastructure and its benefits helped Toledo explore the role of these practices and build support for a comprehensive approach.
- Find a champion. A local champion can make all the difference. Toledo‘s leadership, notably Michael Bell during his term as mayor, really believed in the value of applying a sustainability lens to Toledo’s rebuilding efforts and served as a catalyst; Tim Murphy, former Commissioner of Environmental Services, also was a key driving force.
- Engage citizens. The Greater Toledo: Going Beyond Green Regional Sustainability Plan was based on input from community members; water was a high priority and they focused on it as a core strategy. The Green Infrastructure Task Force was developed as a primary means to address this strategy and provides a forum to continue to advance implementation. The model of creating a task force to identify, seek resources for, and implement on-the-ground green infrastructure projects is already being replicated in the Great Lakes region by Duluth, Minnesota.
- Start small, go big. One of the task force’s first undertakings was to work on a green infrastructure portfolio standard. A portfolio standard is a planning process that guides efforts to ramp up implementation over the coming years and, in their own words, “expand the use of more natural ways to manage water that runs off our streets and other paved areas.” Using initial projects to build momentum and public acceptance, the community can begin to implement a green infrastructure network at the scale necessary to address its flooding and water quality goals.
- Understand community problems and solutions. The community worked with the Digital Coast Partnership, including NOAA and the Association of State Floodplain Managers, to study flooding issues and the role green infrastructure might play; this process created context for the community’s understanding of flood problem areas and impacts, a critical component for placing the right solution in the right place. Poorly designed implementation can in some cases exacerbate underlying issues and worsen flooding impacts. At the same time, communities should choose an analytical approach that is realistic given their capacity and available data sources.
- Position the community to respond to crises. In 2014, a harmful algal bloom produced a cytotoxin that made the city’s water source undrinkable for several days. Thanks to the city’s early work and readiness, officials were able to capitalize on this crisis to build further momentum for plans to address water quality and quantity through green infrastructure improvements.