Launch Slideshow

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Wake-Up Call

Wake-Up Call

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    Stephen Coyle

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    Consultant Peg Staeheli addresses low-impact development.

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    Lousiana State University Professor Craig Colten covers flood control policies.

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    Latham Stack worked with Keene, H.H., to analyze how climate change may affect stormwater drainage.

Global warming. “Green” building. Sustainability. Climate change. Dwindling resources. Say what you will, but they're not just buzz words. Not any more. Your choices are few: Prepare for change or deal with the consequences.

It's not so much about a grim outlook as it is an optimistic plan, a set of strategies to prepare for the inevitable while ensuring that our communities maintain a high quality of life.

Heady stuff, but the American Public Works Association (APWA) will be challenging participants during its 2008 Congress & Exposition to address the issue directly. The sustainability movement now encompasses nearly all areas of infrastructure, and it plays a prominent role in this year's convention next month.

“In terms of planning, sustainability needs to be a fundamental part of public works,” argues Louisiana State University Professor Craig Colten. “As cities grow, are we able to sustain sprawling suburbs with streets, sewers, and water supplies? And it's not just global warming. We have to think about population growth, about the carrying capacity of these urban areas.”

Stephen Coyle says that any such plans need to include community input. The director of Town Green—land-use consultants who advise public agencies on sustainability methods—performs climate change plans for cities and counties. The public, he adds, is a key element in that process: “At some level you'll need their support to adopt the plan, so the public needs to understand the economic costs and benefits of certain strategies. It will ultimately fall on taxpayers to share the cost burden of deploying the plan.”

Coyle presents “Sustainability by Design” Wed., Aug. 20, at 1:30 p.m. The Thought Leader workshop introduces time-tested strategies to meet current building and infrastructure demands without compromising the ability of future public works managers to meet the societal and economic needs to maintain a high quality of life in their communities.

“There are three major influencers that are related to the need for sustainability: the concern over peak oil, the acknowledgement by scientists that there is global climate change and that it affects the weather, and problems in maintaining our middle-class lifestyles in the face of limited resources such as rising oil prices and food prices,” Coyle says.

Public works managers likely will argue that they simply cannot afford these practices because they typically cost more than traditional construction and design methods, and Coyle recognizes that. He suggests that communities make incremental changes over time.

“Show how your city can't afford not to implement these processes over the long term,” he says. “Show what the costs and benefits are, and allow the public to weigh in with preferences for certain strategies, especially to help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from the city's cars.”

That's what the 1:30 p.m. session to take place Tues., Aug. 19, “Global Warming and Transportation: Traveling Greener,” is all about.