Following a wonderful gathering hosted on Thursday night in Pittsburgh by the Green Building Alliance as part of their Inspire Speaker Series, a group of water professionals, advocates and enthusiasts (all self proclaimed “water lovers”) gathered at Marty’s Market for a “morning after” debrief, conversation, and brainstorm over coffee and egg sandwiches. The morning debrief following a good night out with friends and colleagues is a bonafide ritual and should be considered among “best practices” for all occasions in order to explore the potential for new connections and collaborations*. This iteration proved no different.
Ideas were shared with an eye to moving from inspiration (the goal of the evening lecture) to action (big and small ideas for improving Pittsburgh’s blue space).
My impressions follow the direct words of many of those who joined us, listed below.
Overall, main themes of the conversation revolved around access to Pittsburgh’s waterways, better understanding stormwater management and appreciation for the capillaries that feed the three rivers.
I greatly enjoyed the discussion of submergence, which I carried on to a meeting with fifty educators working on green schools initiatives in Pittsburgh.
Submergence in the literal, emotional, and metaphorical sense.
My hope is that a true movement to get near, in, on and under the water in Pittsburgh can be initiated. Perhaps a gathering on the first Saturday of each month: a plunge and paddle event at the point, perhaps? In some months it will be downright frigid and poorly attended, for die hard water lovers. But in warmer month it could grow into t a well loved ritual.
Residents could be encouraged to make their way to the river each month on foot or bicycle (snowshoes?) along the paths of now submerged urban waterways (capillaries).
Touching the water does lead to connection, appreciation, more awe and wonder, and a willingness to stand up for water when needed. Repetition and ritual can help deepen our connections.
Submerge: Pittsburgh Plunge and Paddle Club. Coffee, hot chocolate and egg sandwiches will be served. I’d sign up for that!
Just knowing that there’s a possibility for such a thing makes me very happy.
Here’s what you said and wrote, in no particular order in response to the question:
What does Pittsburgh need to focus on re: water?
*read all the way to the end for a sweet bit of unimaginable “small world” serendipity.
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> Pittsburgh has such a unique and abundant resource with the amount of water we have at our disposal, especially in contrast to the water crisis in the southwest and elsewhere globally.
We need to reorganize and appreciate our water system as an asset, invest in it and be a better steward of it, before a watershed is viewed as an asset to be better used by other regions!
Sean C. Luther, Green Building Alliance, Pittsburgh 2030 District @TooLuther
My notes: I agree with Sean and would encourage the description of “water as asset” to explore and include the cognitive, emotional, psychological and social values/benefits/services as well as the more typical valuations.
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Pittsburgh is water rich and will only get richer. We need to celebrate our watering related ecosystems. Also, we need to connect water networks and recreate ecological connections to reduce excess flows, improve water quality, create healthier environments for people and other species.
Need to change approach, change conversation and change perception among our multi-level policy and community landscape.
Community-based, playful learning about our landscapes and influences on our waterways.
Use of art and play to share science and landscape changes, to change perceptions and behaviors.
Molly Mehling, Assistant Professor of Ecology & Sustainability, Chatham University firstname.lastname@example.org
My notes: Widespread recognition of the good fortune Pittsburgh has due to its multiple waterways. And more play at all age levels! Approaching this work with the tired old guilt, fear and information is inadequate.
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This is a city of 30 rivers, not just three rivers, and our greatest benefit would be the restoration of our tributary waterways and the functions they used to provide with respect to water detention/infiltration/convergence; habitat connectivity; public access and place-making.
Ian Lipsley, eDesign Dynamics, Living Waters of Larimer email@example.com
My notes: A “A 300 > 30 > 3” theme could be developed, taking advantage of the simplicity, history and ubiquity of the Three Rivers theme, but broadening the community’s perspective on the “capillaries” concept shared by Molly.
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> We need more access for more people of different backgrounds to be able to experience our water in Pittsburgh.
Fun facts that came to mind during the conversation:
1. When Ian was talking about his project, Hegley Run Was Here, I remembered a City Lab article I saw: “San Francisco is painting the streets with historical creeks” showing people historical waterways.
2. My favorite point from Thursday’s lecture was that you said “we luxuriate in water” because it’s so true. I equate being in water with holiday, relaxation, treating myself…luxuriate is the perfect word!
Leslie Montgomery, Green Building Alliance firstname.lastname@example.org
My notes: YES! I look forward to the day we can luxuriating near/in/on/under Pittsburgh’s historically significant waterways. I sense that it’s not far off.
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I worked for 20 years with the Port of Pittsburgh Commission, promoting the commercial uses of our waterway, such as convincing people (and public officials) of the need to maintain and reinvest in the watery infrastructure (e.g. locks and dams)and found that people who experienced being on water could understand our issues in ways that those who did not, cannot understand.
The Port of Pittsburgh has initiated a project to bring broadband to low lying waterways which will greatly reduce the cost of data collection to monitor air and water pollution, sewer flows, water consumption, etc., in addition to aiding navigation.
Jim McCarville, McCarville Consulting
My notes: Here’s to more time spend by more people near, in, on and under the water and to the understanding that leads to. Monitoring technology that puts real-time environmental data into the hands of everyone is a healthy and realistic goal. Imagine a three rivers dashboard based on an array of water/air quality monitoring sensors. People could decide how much they’ll submerge on any given day (or whether or not to open their eyes and mouths underwater ; )
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Problem to address: Sewage in our waterways, also…flooding, access to rivers, recreation, rivers separating/dividing rather than joining neighborhoods.
Solutions: Using our multibillion dollar sewer investment to address community needs while meeting water compliance. Making sure citizens are involved and advocating.
My notes: Waters can divide people (in many ways) and bring people together (in many more ways). I agree, it’s important to break down those barriers where possible. A regular cross river swim? Perhaps students could participate in some safe, but hands on way, in the work being done to upgrade the sewers? In high school I was once assigned community service at our wastewater treatment plant. I’ll never forget it.
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Pittsburgh needs more access to our rivers. Surprisingly, in the last 15 years, despite more great development along our riverfront, there are no more kayak/canoe put-ins, no more soft landings, no more places to walk down and touch the water. Too many high concrete seawalls.
We need a regional water policy as well as a regional energy policy. Without a RWP we risk damaging the Ohio River watershed and thus our future quality of life in the region.
Mike Schiller, CEO, Green Building Alliance email@example.com
My notes: the theme of access keeps coming up. The riverfront has indeed improved, but a physical distance from the water remains. What’s the best and safest way to remedy this? Diving boards and rope ladders come to mind ; )
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Change Pittsburgh’s perception of going to the water and taking advantage of the waterfront access that is developing.
Katherine Chamberlain, GTech Strategies firstname.lastname@example.org
My notes: Yes, access again. I’m sensing a dominant theme…
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Create more access > physical and emotional > to the rivers.
By identifying the three rivers as Pittsburgh’s Central Park, all neighborhoods can take ownership / stewardship of this unifying shared asset.
Addy Smith-Remfan, Riverlife email@example.com
My notes: the concept of “emotional access” is powerful and back by emerging neuropsychological research.
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The public conversation around water, particularly stormwater needs to be expanded to include the benefits to our quality of life that water can provide. Too often the conversation is limited to threats, dangers and increasing costs. The narrative has to be expended to include quality of life, life style, health, educational benefits and opportunities that water provides.
Jamil Bey, PhD firstname.lastname@example.org
My notes: precisely the goal of growing a Blue Mind movement! It’s important to remember that this expanded narrative is based on best available science, although it’s science many environmental professionals are unfamiliar with.
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Access to opportunities for education in support of cultural change and change in perception
Mikana Maeda email@example.com
My notes: the submersion theme, both physically and emotionally, seems to be the key to this conversation. When was the last time you were submerged in wild water (not a pool or tub)? For many the answer may be never, despite the abundance of river water.
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Need people to understand stormwater and what it means for water quality.
Watersheds ~ capillaries ~ Saw Mill Run ~uplands/lowlands ~ tributaries
Macro systems that work to address multiple pollutants _ integrated watershed planning
Micro systems ~ healing impact of nature in general ~ green plus blue ~ health care systems
Katherine Camp, Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority, Green Infrastructure Program Manager firstname.lastname@example.org
My notes: the capillaries analogy is powerful and useful, help people connect to the smallest of waterways and understand their importance to the whole.
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Need multi-sector involvement and engagement in dialog.
Opportunities to open up upper watershed capillaries.
Keywords to culture change: small, tangible, incremental, gratitude.
Andrew Butcher, GTech Strategies www.gtechstrategies.org
My notes: Andrew convened this breakfast meeting and effectively facilitated the conversation. We sat next to each other and learned that we shared a family connection to Cape Rosier, Maine. In fact a painting by my sister Jill Hoy hangs in his mother’s home in Boulder, CO and depicts Andrew mid-air leaping into the bay. It’s one of his families favorite possessions. Jill and her late husband Jon’s painting along the Maine coast is described in Blue Mind. Yes, we live on a small blue marble!
Blue Mind p 196:
"My sister Jill Hoy and her husband, Harvard art professor Jon Imber, spend half of the year by the sea on Deer Isle, Maine. They have painted together by the water for a long time, side by side for countless thousands of hours. They met on the island more than twenty years ago. Jill grew up visiting Deer Isle and painting the colors of the sea (our father owned a ship captain’s house in the village), and Jon visited the island in summer to paint. Jill and Jon see water through different eyes. They see lines and colors, shapes and patterns, on its surface and in its depths that we didn’t know were there until they opened our eyes.
People fall in love with the light, the coast, and the ocean in the same way Jon and Jill do each time they paint. People sometimes want to remember that feeling. Sometimes they buy a painting so they can take some of that feeling back with them to put on a wall, to look again and again at the colors and the light held by the paint Jon or Jill placed on the canvas at the sea. Somehow, each deliberate stroke of a brush loosely held by a hand at the end of an arm, wired to a brain responding to the light reflecting off the water and passing through two eyes, is able to hold within it the magic of the ocean and the passion of the painter, and touch the heart of a viewer many miles away and many years from now."
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