The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Blog

Advancing a new sustainable infrastructure paradigm and practice in the Northwest and beyond

The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Blog

BIG Solutions for Small Cities

May 5th, 2017 · No Comments · --Integrated Systems--, Water


By Shalini Vajjhala — Founder & CEO of re:focus partners

With Earth Day just behind us and Infrastructure Week fast approaching, it seems especially timely and important to celebrate local leadership and innovation in sustainable infrastructure.

Our most recent initiative—Build it Green (BIG)—was created with the aim of helping small and medium sized cities tackle seemingly insurmountable challenges with legacy infrastructure systems, like combined sewer systems. Over the past year, re:focus partners in collaboration with New Jersey Future and SCAPE—with generous support of The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s New Jersey Health Initiatives—worked with three cities in New Jersey to design, finance, and implement integrated stormwater infrastructure solutions. The innovations in each city and lessons for other smaller cities across the US and around the world are captured in the materials and resources below:

There are very real barriers that exist for all cities looking to upgrade major infrastructure, including the gap in predevelopment capacity and resources, challenges in public procurement, and of course, lack of construction funding. However, smaller cities have an added barrier to this already onerous list: simply because of their size, these cities are often stuck with ill-fitting legacy infrastructure from an industrial past that is poorly suited to their current needs. After decades of incremental fixes and ad hoc investments in aging and failing systems, the integrated approach demonstrated through Build It Green offers a new pathway for cities of all sizes to tackle high-priority projects while simultaneously leveraging funds for city-wide improvements.

In their own ways, both Earth Day and Infrastructure Week each offer opportunities to connect big picture reflections with on-the-ground action. This year, we find ourselves taking heart in the words of Margaret Mead: “’Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

For more on our work visit and get in touch on Twitter @refocuspartners to join our network of thoughtful citizens committed to building more resilient communities around the world.



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