Improving Climate Equity

Exploring Flooding in Newport's North End

Our communities must become more just and equitable, democracy must flourish, and science must be allowed to truly inform the public discussion and actions.  
Example of Stormwater Flooding. Credit: Post & Courier
Newport Rhode Island has some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Rhode Island, and some that have been marginalized for hundreds of years. And to no one’s astonishment, the poorer Black and Brown neighborhoods of Newport have out of date infrastructure and flooding issues. In this age of climate justice it is therefore incumbent upon us to tackle the flooding in partnership with the community, and that is what is going on in the North End of Newport Rhode Island.
Example of Stormwater Flooding. Credit: NBC10 Philadelphia
The Eastern Rhode Island Conservation District, the Newport Health Equity Zone, and the City of Newport have set up a partnership funded by a Partners for Places grant with matching grants from the RI Foundation, the vanBueren Charitable Trust and the Prince Foundation. The focus is to facilitate the active participation of the residents of Newport’s North End in exploring the nature of the flooding in the community and finding ways to mitigate or eliminate the problem with green infrastructure and stay involved in the long-term process of community evolution.  
Click to Read Press Release Announcement
The Eastern RI Conservation District is part of the tradition of organizations serving farmers, and brings expertise in land management and water management to the table. Health Equity Zones are newer and The Newport Health Equity Zone is a city-wide coalition mobilizing residents and resources of the Broadway and North End neighborhoods to make Newport a place where everyone can thrive. The on the ground community organizing and outreach is being conducted by staff from the Newport Health Equity Zone and is being done by Staff who are fluent in both English and Spanish and has begun with a survey (available in both languages) asking residents about their experiences with high water, where the floods are located under what conditions, and whether the residents are interested in learning more and participating in the process to determine what projects to remedy flooding should move forward in the neighborhood.
For Climate Justice to prevail it requires that all parts of the community, and especially those members of the community that have been excluded in past discussions, have seats at the table when what to do is discussed, and when the plans about how to go about it are made.
Stormwater is not a new problem. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RI DEM) have worked for decades to address stormwater pollution, the leading cause of water quality impairments in the RI. However, the reality of climate change exacerbates the problems of stormwater management, and our evolution as a community leads us to conclude that Green Infrastructure is the approach most likely to be useful in the neighborhood.

Green infrastructure encompasses a variety of water management practices, such as vegetated rooftops, roadside plantings, absorbent gardens, and other measures that capture, filter, and reduce stormwater. In doing so, it cuts down on the amount of flooding and reduces the polluted runoff that reaches sewers, streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans. Green infrastructure captures the rain where it falls. It uses natural elements such as soil and plants to turn rainfall into a resource instead of a waste. It also increases the quality and quantity of local water supplies and provides myriad other environmental, economic, and health benefits—often in nature-starved urban areas.
Example of Stormwater Flooding. Credit: University of Maryland Dept. of Civil & Environmental Engineering
Climate change, the rolling semi slow climate catastrophe that is engulfing our communities, especially our coastal communities like Newport and it requires an all hands on deck approach if the rolling catastrophe is not to become worse. It is not just that we have to decarbonize electricity, heating, and transportation, our communities must become more just and equitable, democracy must flourish, and science must be allowed to truly inform the public discussion and actions.  

It is early in this exciting project and the community survey and outreach was only recently completed, but it is clear the neighbors want action and are willing to help. The Health Equity Zone is starting to organize trainings for residents, and will eventually move to detailed mapping of the community and the development of projects to deal with the floods, while greening the community.  
The Rhode Island Green Infrastructure Coalition provides communication resources, trainings on maintenance of green infrastructure installations, and shared knowledge on successful sites and green infrastructure installations around the state.
Nature At Work is a newsletter designed and distributed by the Rhode Island Green Infrastructure Coalition to bring more green space news to our cities and encourage the use of nature to clean, protect, and cool our neighborhoods.  Because of climate change, we are seeing increased heat impacts in our city, especially where there are fewer trees, as well as issues with flooding and polluted runoff in our neighborhoods.

The Green Infrastructure Coalition is a collaborative of more than 40 non-profit organizations, businesses, and government agencies focused on using nature to reduce stormwater pollution. We develop projects to demonstrate the powerful role nature can play to create healthier urban environments. We promote policies to create sustainable funding for stormwater management and green infrastructure solutions. And we connect a wide range of partners to share lessons learned in the Providence Metro area and Aquidneck Island.

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