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One Block at a Time: Community Driven Planning and Equitable Adaptation through Multi-Benefit Green Infrastructure

Great Lakes communities are facing multiple water-related climate challenges. Frontline communities, marginalized due to income insecurities and historic effects of redlining, are experiencing these challenges most acutely, yet have the fewest means to respond. In Michigan City and Hammond, Indiana, neighborhoods with high social vulnerability index scores are challenged with managing complexities of flooding, extreme heat, and drought, which are coupled with social issues, including food insecurity. In long-running partnership with the two Indiana sites, Purdue Extension assisted in development of small community gardens to increase access to fresh vegetables for residents. However, each site experiences challenges with sustainable water irrigation for their gardens. One garden has no access to freshwater onsite, and as a result, volunteers carry buckets of water from nearby buildings, leaving managers in need of more sustainable forms of watering.

In the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Duluth, Minnesota, residents are still recovering from a historic two-day mega-rain event in 2012 and face water challenges due to steep topography, high levels of impervious surfaces, and an increase in urban flooding events. In Erie, Pennsylvania, residents experienced multiple extreme weather events and are struggling to adjust to climate variability and uncertainty.

Purdue Extension and Sea Grant partners from Illinois Indiana, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania formed a multi community work team to address climate-hazards in Michigan City and Hammond, Indiana; Duluth, Minnesota; and Erie, Pennsylvania. The team developed mirrored community engagement processes tailored to the neighborhoods, leading toward implementation of Ready for Rain One Block. Minnesota Sea Grant developed Ready for Rain One Block to engage local government and residents to address challenges of flooding ( community-resilience-program/one-block-time). The focus is on developing community-planned public and private green and gray infrastructure projects within one city block which could be duplicated across nearby city blocks. To implement across the four communities, three project phases were developed: 1) background assessment of climate hazards and vulnerabilities, 2) community visioning, and, 3) implementation of a multi benefit green infrastructure project.

In Indiana, the team collaborated with a community center with a garden program in Michigan City and a faith-based group that owns a neighborhood farm in Hammond. The team worked with garden managers, neighbors, and site users to conduct focus groups, interviews, and site visits to collaboratively design rainwater irrigation and harvesting structures and rain garden overflow. Undergraduate student interns and Purdue landscape architecture undergraduate students assisted in designing and installing these garden sites. In Duluth, the team conducted surveys and focus groups for neighborhood urban flooding needs, and developed sites for community-led green infrastructure projects.

In Erie, the team focused on building relationships with local communities through focus groups and interviews, developed 3D models of vulnerable locations, and is currently identifying a green infrastructure demonstration site. Community center and neighborhood farm managers and volunteers, and municipal and community leaders were engaged in the activities. The team shared processes, findings, and results identifying neighborhood vulnerabilities and associated climate challenges, hosted focus group sessions with municipal and community leaders, and led community engagement activities. As a result, the team enhanced neighborhood resilience to climate-related water challenges through site specific discussions and design that guided installation of rainwater harvesting practices and rain gardens. Volunteers contributed 100 hours of time on these community garden projects for an estimated value of $2,995.

“Before we started this garden, there was no public park or true green space in this neighborhood,” an organizer of the neighborhood farm said. “It was a lower-income neighborhood that had been unfairly labeled as crime ridden, and if kids wanted to get to a community park to play, they had to cross several busy streets to get there. It felt good that Purdue Extension could see the value in this garden space, too” (https://ag.purdue. edu/news/2022/11/national-sea-grant-partnershipsaddress-water-equity-in-marginalized-neighborhoods. html). The Purdue Extension and Sea Grant team engaged marginalized neighborhoods, provided technical assistance and leadership, and contributed to community resilience to climate-related water challenges with the design and installation of rainwater harvesting practices and rain gardens.

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