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Greenscapes.  You'll find them here this summer.

Forman Park flowers this week by beautification volunteer Carol Utter
It’s green as we approach mid-summer in Syracuse.  Trees, shrubs, grasses and native vegetation are lush, along with the many weeds that proliferate this time of year.  It’s not something we should take for granted – even as we’re pulling those pesky weeds.  In fact, we should be thankful.  

Areas of the Pacific Northwest have become “fire-season tinderboxes” with wildfires burning hundreds of thousands of acres and forcing thousands of residents from their homes, according to the New York Times.  “Less than a week into the typical three-month fire season in Washington and Oregon, the total area of scorched ground is already higher than in any full year in at least a decade,” reports the Times.  The fires are “stunning,” with a “vast plume of smoke drifting east … spewing ash particulates across much of the United States, according to satellite imagery.”

Drought and fire are the new normal for the American West and Southwest, says National Geographic.  “Skies have been ashen gray, and fire agencies have responded to nearly 1,400 fires this year—twice the typical number.”  The fire season out West is 75 days longer each year than it was a decade ago.  “At the root of the problem is the deep, three-year drought that continues to plague California, and warmer winter weather that shrinks the snowpack in the Cascade and Sierra Mountains—a recipe that increases likelihood of wildfires.  Studies indicate that the number and size of Western fires is up, and scientists say this drought may be the start of a long-term trend.”

National Geographic notes that “California's water supplies are short, many rivers are low, and forests are dry. Operators of the state's network of dams, reservoirs, and canals have cut back water deliveries to 5 percent of normal.” The California Farm Water Coalition estimates that nearly 800,000 acres of farmland will be left fallow this year because of the lack of water.

Drought Monitor, which analyzes national trends, reports that, “Half the area of the lower 48 United States is in drought.”  Texas's state climatologist told a gathering in San Antonio that the state's four-year drought is among the five worst in 500 years.  “The Panhandle region of Oklahoma and Texas is seeing a return of massive dust storms” -- a “New Dust Bowl” – in a reference to the 1930s.

Syracuse offers a green vista this summer.  It’s partly the fortune of good geography.  Our region is noted for abundant freshwater resources, with a significant water-to-land ratio that has been recognized by Rand McNally Places Rated Almanac.  Business Facilities Magazine named Syracuse one of the top seven regions nationally for water assets, as well as many other green resources noted in a recent CNYRPDB Regional Sustainability Plan.   

But good geography is not the only reason we enjoy greenscapes here.  It’s both nature and nurture.  Syracuse has had a long-term focus on the built environment.  This newsletter issue looks at that vision, with some interesting material on complete green streetscapes and green infrastructure (GI). 

The forward-thinking of Onondaga County and the Save the Rain program is at work along the Corridor, with more GI being installed right now as part of this phase of construction.  These GI projects are helping address sewer overflows into Onondaga Lake and its tributaries.  They are also creating a new community teaching model – as folks from other communities around the country come to Syracuse to learn about complex urban GI projects across a complete streetscape network.  The Connective Corridor’s unique deployment of GI technology was made possible through the financial support of Onondaga County and Save the Rain, with technical assistance from the Syracuse Center of Excellence and the City of Syracuse.  Providing engineering leadership for the project is CH2M HILL (profiled later in this newsletter). 

Syracuse University, the City of Syracuse and Onondaga County were recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council with its 2012 Global Leadership Award for our collaborative model, and this past fall, Onondaga County, the City of Syracuse and Syracuse University had the opportunity to jointly present the Connective Corridor project at the 2013 U.S. Green Building Council’s “Greenbuild:  International Conference and Expo.”  Read a SU news story about that here and download the Connective Corridor green infrastructure presentation at the 2013 U.S. Green Building Council’s “Greenbuild:  International Conference and Expo here.

And keep reading to learn about one of the most unique community approaches to GI and green streets in the country.

The amount of water to be captured annually by the Connective Corridor’s green infrastructure network when it's complete.

What’s our green streets approach?

“Many elements of street design, construction, and operation can work in favor of achieving both complete streets that work for all travelers and ‘green’ streets that serve environmental sustainability. Of particular concern are drainage and stormwater runoff issues too common in traditional streets. Optimal stormwater management looks beyond simply removing rainfall as quickly as possible, which risks negative environmental impacts associated with both stormwater quality and quantity, like polluted runoff, sedimentation, and bank erosion. Instead it focuses on efforts to retain and treat – or even eliminate – runoff at the source through cost-effective green infrastructure, improving water quality and complementing complete streets efforts.” – Smart Growth America
The Connective Corridor is a great example of a green streets project within a larger sustainability context.  It’s a complete streetscape that includes pedestrian and bike pathways, along with traffic-calming measures to encourage multi-modal use – integrated with a complex GI network.  Elements of our CC approach include:
  • Innovative green infrastructure design (using tools such as rain gardens, geogrids, bioswales, silva cells, porous concrete, permeable pavers, tree trenches, and native plant species that don’t require pesticides and fertilizers) within the context of complete street reconstruction;
  • Innovative lighting districts featuring energy-efficient lighting, sensors and other advanced controls developed by local entrepreneurs;
  • Development of green spaces based on sustainable, context-sensitive, landscape architecture design;
  • Focus on LEED projects along the Corridor and Near West Side, with five LEED Platinum commercial buildings (Syracuse CoE, Hotel Skyler, King+King, Lincoln Supply, Synapse Erie Canal), two LEED Platinum residential buildings (From the Ground Up homes), along with the Near West Side’s designation as the first LEED ND (neighborhood) in the country – working with partners at the Syracuse Center of Excellence and U.S. Green Building Council;
  • Syracuse University’s commitment to the mission of green building on campus through numerous LEED building projects and a school-wide goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040, along with innovative new SU initiatives like ride-sharing and sustainable transportation alternatives;
  • Free Connective Corridor public transit with integrated bus stops and smart transportation technologies to enhance usage (which increased from 6,000 to 200,000+ riders per year);
  • Partnership with city and county economic development on urban in-fill, fostering principles of smart growth.

Benefits of Green Streets

The making of a rain garden along the Connective Corridor
Green Streets are a natural complement to sustainability efforts, enhancing mobility, community connections and the environment, according to Smart Growth America.  Specifically, they provide:
  • Solutions to drainage and stormwater management issues that occur in traditional streets, minimizing negative environmental impacts such as polluted runoff, sedimentation and bank erosion;
  • Cost-effective solutions that retain and treat – or even eliminate – runoff at the source, especially for wide streets which are problematic for both mobility and the environment because of large swaths of impervious pavement that typically necessitate expensive drainage and treatment systems;
  • Better drainage systems that benefit pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transportation users – minimizing puddles that splash pedestrians and create hazards for bicyclists;
  • Enhanced landscaping elements that help curb stormwater runoff – helping deter crashes and injuries, while providing a more visually interesting environment;
  • Decreased pavement albedo (reflectivity), which helps reduce the urban heat island effect, improve air quality, increase pavement durability, and improve nighttime illumination;
  • Increased tree plantings that reduce the heat island effect, improve air quality and offset CO2, and widened sidewalks that make the streets friendlier to pedestrians.

How 4,000 plants are saving 120,000 gallons of water annually in Forman Park

Forman Park perennials this week by beautification volunteer Carol Utter

GI and green landscaping are integral to urban redesign projects along the Corridor.  For example, Forman Park’s GI elements include more than 4,000 shrubs and perennials which capture about 120,000 gallons of storm water each year.  GI recently installed along the East Genesee Street portion of the Corridor is capturing 1.8 million gallons of runoff reduction. It is a daunting volunteer effort to maintain the plantings associated with this green infrastructure, but we are thankful to volunteers who are helping us tackle it each summer.

Phases II and III will see more than 175 new trees planted along the Corridor from Forman Park through downtown to the Warehouse.  Those green bags you see at the bases of the new trees are part of a GI water management system to ensure they stay hydrated and healthy.  For a newly planted street tree, adequate watering during establishment means life or death.  A new tree can require 15 to 20 gallons per week for the first few years after planting.  Water must be applied slowly to prevent runoff and adequately penetrate the soil, so those tree bags help with slow watering, which takes time.

All this GI has been a great teaching tool for students, and student engagement has been an important aspect of this project.  Students and faculty from Syracuse University and SUNY ESF have been involved in many aspects – from research to design, implementation and analysis.  The project makes for a living laboratory on sustainability, and a vehicle for putting research and ideas into action.  We’ve looked at design vs. outcomes together.  We’ve problem-solved together.  We’ve scratched our heads on how to deal with all these blooming weeds together.  And, we’re looking forward to doing some innovative work this coming fall semester with a class of students in a course taught by Susan Dieterlen, MLA, RLA, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture SUNY ESF.  We salute SU and ESF students who have been actively engaged with green infrastructure projects along the Corridor – largely led by our fantastic colleagues at the Syracuse Center of Excellence.

Learn more at:

See the Save the Rain presentation from Greenbuild 2013 by Matthew Millea, Deputy County Executive for Physical Services, Onondaga County, NY; Matthew Marko, CH2M Hill; Aimee Clinkhammer, NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation; and Khristopher Dodson, SU Environmental Finance Center:

Connective Corridor Profile:  Meet the green infrastructure team at CH2M HILL

Left to right:  Aaron George, Zach Monge, Bj Adigun, Matt Marko by Connective Corridor green street work under construction alongside Fayette Park, in front of Save the Rain green infrastructure projects at the CNY Philanthropy Center / Central New York Community Foundation, 431 East Fayette Street
CH2M HILL, Syracuse, is the GI program manager for Onondaga County’s award-winning Save the Rain program. Since 2008, the Save the Rain program has focused on capturing and managing stormwater to eliminate and reduce combined sewer overflows to local receiving waters thereby improving  water environment.

As program manager, the CH2M HILL team typically oversees pre-design activities on all Save the Rain GI projects, including analysis of impervious surface cover throughout the City to identify potential GI technology strategies; comprehensive planning for potential GI opportunities in the form of green streets, urban forests, parks/open spaces, rooftops, and public facilities; project management of joint County-City public projects; collaboration with Onondaga County in the development of the nation’s first widely used public-private partnership grant program (Green Improvement Fund); oversight of Onondaga County’s “Project 50” campaign to implement 50 distinct GI projects in 2011 and continuing that momentum forward.

CH2M HILL has also been responsible for numerous GI designs and provides coordination for designs developed by other consultants and private property owners. Since the inception of the Save the Rain program, CH2M HILL has provided services during construction for more than 140 GI projects. The CH2M HILL team also coordinates and supports public and community engagement activities related to Save the Rain GI projects.

CH2M HILL has worked in partnership with Syracuse University, The City of Syracuse, and Barton & Loguidice Engineers on all three phases of the Connective Corridor project. Onondaga County is investing nearly $1 million in this environmentally sustainable project. Phase-I implementation incorporated numerous GI technologies along the Connective Corridor including subsurface storage and infiltration, bio-retention, porous pavement, and landscaping features including enhanced tree systems. Phases II and III, currently underway, includes an additional 76,000 square feet of GI technology. A “green” sewer separation project was completed prior to the start of Phase III work that disconnects stormwater run-off from the sanitary wastewater system, and treats the water prior to discharge to Onondaga Creek. The separation project has a drainage collection area of approximately 45,000 square feet and provides extensive relief to the sewer system.

In total, the GI features installed as part of the Connective Corridor project will capture an estimated 26 million gallons of stormwater annually.

“We have been very fortunate to work on such a successful, nationally recognized program”, says Matthew Marko, P.E. VP of CH2M HILL, Syracuse. “We’d like to personally thank Onondaga County Executive Joanne Mahoney for her vision and leadership which has made partnerships like the ones we have on the Connective Corridor possible.”
About the team:

Matthew Marko is a New York State licensed Professional Engineer, an American Academy of Environmental Engineers Board Certified Environmental Engineer, and a Vice President with CH2M HILL’s Water Business Group managing their Syracuse, NY office. He’s a graduate of the University at Buffalo, and studied abroad at the University of North London. He is a Program Manager for Onondaga County’s CSO Abatement Program, a national model for Green Infrastructure implementation.  Matthew resides in the City of Syracuse with his incredibly patient and supportive wife Carrie, and two active young boys Jackson and Cooper.

Zach Monge is a Project Engineer for CH2M HILL. He has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Engineering from UMass – Amherst and Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Engineering from the University of Connecticut. Zach is the lead engineer for the green infrastructure elements being installed along the Connective Corridor and works closely with Barton & Loguidice field and office staff on a regular basis. In addition, Zach is the lead designer for the Connective Corridor, Civic Strip work which includes wayfinding signage and interactive kiosks throughout the Strip with exterior improvements planned at the Onondaga Historical Association and Erie Canal Museum, some of which will be constructed in 2014.

Bj Adigun is the Program Coordinator for Public Outreach and Community Affairs for CH2M HILL’s Syracuse office. In this capacity, Bj works closely with residents and community groups on the implementation of green infrastructure projects. Bj has been an active supporter of the public outreach program for the Connective Corridor project and responds to public inquiries on the GI elements of the project. 

Aaron George is a junior engineer supporting CH2M HILL’s oversight of green infrastructure being constructed throughout the Connective Corridor project.  His primary involvement has been fieldwork during and after construction to inspect green infrastructure technologies and coordinate maintenance.

Congratulations and best wishes to Matt Millea – our green partner

This issue wouldn’t be complete without sending our best wishes and thanks to Deputy Onondaga County Executive Matthew Millea who is starting a new chapter as NYS Deputy Secretary of State for Planning and Development.  The announcement came yesterday, July 22, and Matt starts his new position July 28.  He’s been a great colleague and collaborator during his tenure with Onondaga County, working on the Save the Rain project and Onondaga Lake cleanup , and is a huge advocate for the Connective Corridor as well as so many other major infrastructure projects around the county and city, along with Onondaga County Executive Joanne Mahoney. 

Matt’s work with County Executive Mahoney is one reason that Onondaga County was one of three national winners of the U.S. Water Prize in 2013, presented in an Earth Day ceremony at National Geographic Headquarters, in Washington D.C. The U.S. Water Alliance presents the annual award to foster action and public support for water sustainability.

Matt is one of those rare people who is a consummate planner and creative problem solver, and he will bring tremendous vision and leadership to his new role with the NYS Department of State.

Good luck in your new role, Matt.  We will miss you in Onondaga County, but look forward to working with you in your new capacity!

Construction notes

Forman Park flowers this week by beautification volunteer Carol Utter

After all this talk about green, get out and take a closer look.  You’ll see 4,000 plants in bloom at Forman Park (and yes, pesky weeds that love the green infrastructure too!), elements of GI going in around Fayette Park, along with new drainage systems going in on the south side of Forman Park east-bound (along the SyracUSE decorative fence next to the large parking lot).  See how many GI examples you can find.  Look for rain gardens and tree pits being installed, along with the permeable paver system.  It’s all part of a grand design to save 26 million gallons of water annually in Syracuse.  And that’s a lot of green.
Enjoy the upcoming weekend full of festivals in Downtown Syracuse!
The Connective Corridor is a collaboration of Syracuse University, the City of Syracuse and Onondaga County
Syracuse University Office of Community Engagement and Economic Development
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