Norwalk Recognized for Sustainability Initiatives
The City of Norwalk recently achieved a bronze certification from the group Sustainable CT in recognition of the community’s sustainability accomplishments. Sustainable CT is a statewide initiative that encourages and supports communities in becoming more resilient, inclusive and efficient. In the fall of 2020, seventeen municipalities qualified for certification, meeting the high standards in a broad range of sustainability accomplishments.
I love the Norwalk coastline and the water. What is being done to protect and improve the water quality Long Island Sound?
There are a huge number of people and organizations working on policy and action to protect the Sound. Over 9 million people live in the 16,800 +/- square mile watershed that contributes to the Sound, so it is a colossal and complex effort. One big concern is water quality. If you live anywhere within Norwalk, when it rains...that rainwater eventually makes its way to Long Island Sound. That rainwater unfortunately carries pollutants, trash, and excess nutrients down to the Sound. As a coastal community, Norwalk has an outsized impact on the water quality of the Sound. Environmental planners approach water quality issues with watershed-based plans. These plans look at how rain and stormwater runoff travel across the land before getting to Long Island Sound. Policies and action items that reduce or retain pollution are spelled on in these watershed-based plans and these plans are referenced in Norwalk’s Plan of Conservation & Development. Except for those living closest to the coast – your runoff has a direct line to the Sound! – all other portions of Norwalk are part of either the Norwalk River watershed, the File Mile River watershed or the Saugatuck River watershed. Each of these plans can be found at the Norwalk Conservation Commission’s webpage. Some watershed areas have active groups working on getting protective action items done, others are looking for community leaders to advocate on behalf of the watershed.
What can I do to increase my sustainable practices and decrease environmental impact?
Sustainability is about approaching our daily activities in a way that provides the best for people and the environment - both now and in the future. There are many small steps every homeowner or business owner can do. You may feel your space is small and inconsequential, but cumulatively there are over 22,000 individual parcels in Norwalk and those small actions can really add up to make significant positive change! Consider:
- Think about being sustainable before you act. Many times it is easy to make a sustainable choice – you just have to remind yourself of your choices!
- Eat locally and seasonally! Support local farmer’s markets and local restaurants. Plant your own vegetable or herb garden.
- Re-sell or donate items for others to use. By extending the life of any product, you help reduce trash generation and you help provide needed products at a reduced cost.
- Get your water from the tap. Water bottles contribute more than a million tons of plastic waste yearly; find your perfect reusable water bottle.
- Recycle…and purchase recycled products. Help support the market for the items you recycle and look for the ‘post-consumer’ label when you purchase new products.
- Reduce your energy use. Choose ‘Energy Star’ products; unplug electronics not in use; use a programmable thermostat; set your thermostat to be comfortable, but not excessively cool or warm.
How can I be engaged in local environmental efforts?
Norwalk has ample opportunities to connect you with other local people who share your concern and passion. From stewardship of open space to supporting vegetable gardens at our schools, from joining the ‘Osprey Nation’ to ensuring ‘pollinator pathways’, from getting pedestrian trails connected to monitoring water quality, or reducing waste to planting trees – Norwalk has a place for you to be involved! Contact the Conservation Office for help finding a group that shares your cause.
As predictions of sea level rise prevail, what is Norwalk doing to counter these effects to its coast?
Within the last 5 years there has been an interest in researching and implementing vegetation buffers to the coast of Norwalk. Since the coast of Norwalk is a vital community asset, protecting it is imperative to the city’s future. Some pros to implementing a vegetation buffer are, it can lower erosion and control sedimentation, protect the coastline, and prevent more built structures within the coast. However, there are many hurdles to overcome in order to efficiently enact this regulation. The following concerns for this project:
- Large portions of preexisting harden shorefronts.
- Effects of a vegetation buffer the use of each parcel on the coast (commercial vs. residential)
- The potential of creating non-conforming structures.
- Increased cost to homeowner who would be held responsible to create a buffer.
How Cities Are Incorporating Green Infrastructure To Help With Storm Surges
As storms have become more frequent and more severe due to climate change, many cities have begun making changes to how they manage these types of incidences with green infrastructure initiatives. These initiatives are to reduce and handle the excess water that storms bring in to urban environments, and even use it to help the environment and economy.
Why We Need Green InfrastructureStorm runoff is a greater problem in urban areas where pavement and other non-porous surfaces prevent much of it from soaking into the ground. When rains are particularly heavy erosion and flooding can occur causing damage to property and other infrastructure. Stormwater is also a major cause of pollution. The runoff can carry trash, bacteria and other pollutants with it. Traditionally, the infrastructure to move stormwater safely in cities includes pipes for drainage and water treatment systems.
What Is Green Infrastructure?Green infrastructure includes a variety of tactics to better soak up and/or store water. These could include adding more open space and vegetation such as gardens, planter boxes, green roofs, or swales (a shallow sunken channel) with plants and grasses to help absorb water. Cities can also change existing drainage to better trap and reuse water. For example, rerouting rooftop pipes from draining rainwater into the sewer to rain barrels or cisterns. Other more costly actions include adding permeable pavement that can soak up rainwater and perhaps evene store it. This pavement can be made of pervious concrete, porous asphalt, or permeable interlocking pavers. This practice could be particularly cost effective in areas where land values are high and flooding or icing is a major problem.
Green Infrastructure in NorwalkThe recently completed Citywide Plan (POCD) recognizes the potential impacts and challenges that climate change poses. The City is beginning to discuss how to address these major challenges. The City is a registered member of Sustainable CT and will be seeking certification. In addition, the City has been considering green infrastructure incentives and requirements into its land use codes. While we are planning for our future, we are also implementing green infrastructure. In South Norwalk, the Webster Parking Lot will be installing green infrastructure after recent torrential rainfalls flooded nearby buildings several times, including the Bow Tie Cinema. The project envisions adding planters and other types of vegetation, including more trees, to help soak up the water in the lot before it goes into the drainage system. The city received an Environmental Protection Agency grant of $250,000 through the Long Island Sound Futures Fund to help finance the initiative. The project is being run by the office of Transportation, Mobility and Parking and the Department of Public Works. The green infrastructure will not only help ease flooding of the Webster Lot and make it more pleasant to look at, it will also help to keep Long Island Sound clean. Given the close proximity of the lot to the Sound, adding areas to absorb the water in the lot, means fewer pollutants will run into the Sound. Adding green infrastructure to the lot will prevent more than 6 million gallons of stormwater and 12 pounds of nitrogen from flowing into the Sound annually.
Promenades in Cities: Unique Public Spaces
Promenades are public spaces designed for a leisurely walk. They are popular in seaside cities or those with waterfronts, think historic promenades in Nice and the Côte d'Azur in France, or in Brighton, England, as well as those closer to home in the U.S., Coney Island in Brooklyn or the Riverwalk in San Antonio. But even when they aren’t situated near the water, promenades in urban areas have a lot of positive features and are popular with residents and tourists alike.
Promenades as Vibrant Public SpacesPromenades are prime public resources, providing a path for exercise and recreation as well as social interaction. They are most often conveniently located near a main street of a city, a park, or by a waterfront. Usually flat and of a certain length, promenades are ideal for walking, running, or biking. Located in picturesque areas, they are also places for social gatherings. The best promenades are welcoming and accessible to many kinds of users.
Promenades Fuel Urban RenewalPromenades can revitalize urban spaces. By creating public access walkways and open spaces, adding attractive landscaping and design, and encouraging mixed private uses alongside, a city can enliven an area with a new public space that offers a mix of commercial, cultural, and leisure activities. This new lively urban promenade will attract city residents and tourists.
Promenades and the EnvironmentBecause many promenades are situated adjacent to waterfronts or in green spaces, they cause people to think about and appreciate nature. Likewise, as important resources for cities, promenades factor into city planning, encouraging them to put in place environmental management systems to protect and preserve the natural spaces around them.
Considering Promenades for NorwalkIn Norwalk, under consideration for the Transit-Oriented Development Plan for East Norwalk is a promenade along Seaview Avenue adjacent to Veteran’s Park and leading into East Norwalk along the Norwalk River. This promenade would have a number of functions; allowing a safe path for pedestrians and bicyclists, and providing sitting and other areas for recreational uses. Promenades in cities are an important part of the fabric of public life, providing a place for people to congregate, exercise and enjoy the outdoors away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Their connection to nature, as well as the opportunities for other commercial uses around them make them unique. Perhaps Norwalk too, will soon have a promenade that residents and visitors can enjoy.
Ways That Cities Can Prepare For Climate Change
We are already experiencing extreme weather events from climate change. In the coming years, scientists predict that we can expect more heat waves, flooding from sea-level rise, water shortages and other effects. This weather can affect roads, bridges and other city infrastructure, along with important facilities such as water treatment plants and power grids. With more extreme weather conditions ahead, cities will need to take action. Along with plans to mitigate the causes of climate change, there are some important steps cities can take to combat its effects.
Storm ManagementDuring intense rain and other storms, cities need to look for ways to handle more water than they’ve been used to in order to reduce flooding. Some ways to do this could be using roadway tunnels as storm drainage systems, replacing concrete sidewalks with permeable pavements and adding green roofs. In addition, increasing and creating stormwater retention ponds, constructed wetlands and swales will be important to capture runoff. Other flood control systems such as seawalls and dykes can also be constructed, and pumps at wastewater treatment plants can be elevated. For cities that are directly on the water, they can increase open space along the waterfront as buffers for rising water levels as well as storm surges by designating coastal hazard zones, establishing erosion setback requirements, and limiting development. Similarly in low-lying areas prone to flooding, cities can develop green zones by restoring natural meadows, wetlands and open spaces to areas and lots that are no longer being used.
Conservation and EfficiencyEnergy conservation and efficiency programs will be necessary to combat extreme heat and cold. To reduce electricity loads and limit risk of blackouts, especially in the summer, cities and building owners can put smart micro-grid technologies into effect and increase the use of energy efficient and renewable technologies. Examples of these are rooftop solar power, geothermal technologies, biodiesel-fueled generators, and technologies that respond to demand such as smart meters. To reduce the impact of rising temperatures, buildings can invest in green spaces, green roofs and more trees on the streets. Another interesting initiative cities can take is to change zoning laws to accommodate urban agriculture, and encourage the development of vertical, indoor farms. These farms can be located in cities and are able to grow food with much less energy and water than outdoor crops, and without the vast amounts of pesticides.
Power Grid/EnergyPower grids can be vulnerable to extreme weather events, as well as higher and lower than normal temperatures. As mentioned above, cities can put into place smart grid technologies for smart metering to help with energy and water conservation. In the future, cities and energy companies will also have to emphasize building redundancy. This is developing networks and spare capacity as well as energy storage into a city’s power system to deal with disruptions and surges in demand.
Emergency ResponseDuring emergencies, it’s important for the public to be well informed. With more potential for emergencies with climate change, cities will have to improve and coordinate their emergency planning and response for such things as large storms, heat waves, flooding, high winds, water shortages, among others. Alternative transportation routes and systems will also need to be developed and publicized in cases where evacuations are necessary. Not only will residents and workers need to be made aware of how to react when climate change impacts a city, but the city can use that engagement to identify problems and come up with solutions. Developing plans and concrete steps will help cities prepare for climate change, making them better places to live and do business. Norwalk’s Citywide Plan envisions enhanced stormwater management, promoting smart growth development, energy-efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction and the preservation and restoration of open space.
The Importance of Open Spaces in a City
Many of us like the great outdoors - fresh air, sunshine, a place to walk or a quiet place to relax. But people who live in cities may not always be able to get outdoors as often as they would like. However, there are outdoor spaces in cities that can give us the same feelings of being out in nature such as parks, playing fields, small public spaces, even green roofs. That’s a good thing for many reasons, as we take a look below.
Environmental BenefitsIt’s been proven that trees improve air quality by adding oxygen and removing pollutants. In addition, green spaces with less pavement have a cooling effect, reducing city temperatures in the summer. Not only does this cool down humid summers, but saves energy costs to cool buildings. A 2013 study found that rooftops with grass and plants beats asphalt and gravel roofs as they help cool the building while providing a more aesthetically pleasing place for tenants to visit. Another environmental benefit to open space, particularly green space, is help with stormwater runoff. Unpaved ground absorbs water, aiding in water collection during storms and helping to prevent flooding.
ExerciseOpen space such as parks, walking trails, playgrounds and fields are great areas for recreation. These spaces encourage people to walk and exercise by providing places for physical activities - whether organized or spontaneous. This is especially important for city residents who cannot afford gym memberships or exercise classes.
Mental HealthExercise has great mental and physical health benefits. Open spaces also boost a sense of well being by providing calm places to stop and think without the city noise and hustle, bustle. This helps reduce stress by providing a respite from the city.
Community BenefitsOpen spaces are areas for recreation, but they can also be social spaces for people to gather, meet, play, and talk. Open space can be used for cultural purposes, for social events or to engage in recreational activities with one another. These places cause people to interact with others in the community, whether via an organized event or activity or just because they are places where people gather. This benefits adults and children by providing a sense of community as people get to know others in their neighborhood. Urban green spaces are good for the environment, facilitate physical exercise and better mental health for city residents, and help create a sense of community in a city. The Norwalk Citywide Plan (Plan of Conservation and Development) notes that the City has a network of parks, natural open spaces, and waterfront offering residents many opportunities for recreational and nature experiences. The plan envisions the creation of an Open Space Committee to develop a Parks, Open Space, Trails, and Recreation System Plan, giving direction for and priority to the City’s open spaces, such as, completing the Norwalk River Valley Trail. This new plan would also identify opportunities in areas of Norwalk where this is little open space to ensure that all residents can walk or bike to a park or green space. Read More of the Citywide Plan
Greening Your Community: Factors For A Sustainable City
Of great important to residents of a city is how that city prepares for the future. As Norwalk develops its 10-year plan, discussion has included how to make Norwalk more sustainable; making it cleaner, quieter, safer, and healthier. Residents want a city that is livable for themselves and their children both now and in the future by lessening their environmental impacts. Below are key factors to focus on in order to help make a city sustainable.