By Mark Maloney
Editor's note:The “20 questions about sustainability” editorial on page 7 of our October 2010 issue prompted quite a few comments. The following comes from a reader whose team planned and built North America's largest pervious concrete street — 8,500 square yards — in 2009. To author Mark Maloney's surprise, the project's made him extremely popular on the speaking circuit.
Sustainability may feel like a revelation for some industries and professions, but it's the direction in which we were heading long before the term was coined.
Sustainable (and I'm becoming reluctant to even use the term anymore) infrastructure is best thought of as a logical outcome of solving challenges with the resources that are likely to be available in the future. In the age of ever-increasing environmental mandates and continually decreasing resources, sustainability — defined by the American Public Works Association (APWA) as seeking a balanced approach for a vibrant community today and tomorrow by delivering services and infrastructure in an environmentally and socially responsible way that ensures the best economic choice in the long term — has been our reality for quite some time. It's why we push for things that make sense in perpetuity, or at least through their entire life cycle — from concept, programming, design, and construction through future maintenance.
Our pervious pavement project was the best solution to a particular set of challenges, not an attempt at sustainability per se. It was not a demonstration project, research exercise, or experiment; nor did it directly benefit from federal, state, or local grant funds.
Rather, we conceived, designed, and managed the installation as a public project. While we leveraged strong industry relationships for technical support, the $1.5 million undertaking was built entirely with local taxpayer dollars.
This is an important distinction. Most high-profile “sustainable” projects are seen as some sort of special initiative to satisfy academic or regulatory agendas with someone else's money and at someone else's risk. Too many “cool” ideas and administration-heavy visioning exercises get a stamp of approval without a reality check on the political will or public resources to keep them sustainable going forward.
My peers and I don't think in terms of “sustainability” because it's become a perceived political agenda or part of someone's successful business plan or mission statement. And even though I'm talking about my team's project all the time, I don't see myself as a sustainability spokesperson.
As a local government engineer, I've benefited from what I've learned through atypical exposure to research and implementation efforts that leverage federal and state expertise as well as major academic and private sector/industry resources. My experience with the Minnesota Local Road Research Board (www.lrrb.org), the APWA (www.apwa.net), Transportation Engineering and Road Research Alliance (www.terraroadalliance.org), and the Transportation Research Board (www.trb.org) gives me access to new ideas that are being kicked around and the potential relationships that can help local government get its job done. And I'm blessed to be working in a progressive community.
All of that added up to solving a public infrastructure problem in a way that's referred to as sustainable.
There's a wealth of information on our project online. Search the Internet for “Shoreview Pervious Concrete” or read the article on page 33 of this magazine's August 2010 issue: “Designing pervious — A Minnesota city eschews storm drains for pervious streets.”
— Mark Maloney (firstname.lastname@example.org), PE, is public works director/city engineer for the City of Shore-view, Minn.
For more information on Shoreview, Minn.'s pervious pavement, click here.