On a recent Thursday afternoon, Hannah Kett, a program manager with The Nature Conservancy in Washington’s Puget Sound Cities team, pinned satellite photos to a conference room wall in ZGF’s Seattle office.
Each photo showed a different Seattle intersection. While unremarkable on their own, the streets share qualities with those across an increasingly-urban Puget Sound region: lots of pavement and little else.
In recent decades, rapid development has resulted in the loss of permeable soil to impervious roadways and roofs, putting the health of local waterways and marine life in peril. Each time it rains, toxins like heavy metals and motor oil are swept directly into local receiving waters.
Kett and colleagues Iris Redwood-Sawyerr and Chris Hilton visited with ZGF as part of The Nature Conservancy’s outreach to developers and design firms to foster dialogue and further cross-sector collaboration.
The hope is that cities can function more like forests. With green stormwater solutions – including rain gardens, green roofs, swales, urban tree cover, parks and porous pavement – cities can be “re-natured” to counteract pollution and bring other benefits.
These extend beyond sustainability and into the realms of community safety, physical and mental health, education and social equity – all issues that cities across the country are grappling with, said Hilton, The Nature Conservancy’s local urban partnership director.
“It’s not just wilderness we encounter in the woods or on hikes that bring benefits,” she said. “It’s the tree-lined streets, small parks and even rain gardens.”
Building occupants exposed to nature throughout the day also experience positive outcomes.
Yet, there remain barriers preventing some project owners and developers from buying in; namely, a lack of incentives. The Nature Conservancy is using a combination of science, research, technology and policy to demonstrate the value in doing so.
“We think we have a real opportunity here, with our growth, to completely re-think what our built environment looks like in a way that’s healthier for us,” Hilton said, “And in a way that will help us build stronger communities.”