Using Infrastructure for Public Education
By Ashley DeForest
When most people imagine a wastewater treatment plant, they think of large conveyance pipes and ponds of brown sludge that are neatly tucked away behind chain link fences on dead-end streets. Instead of building facilities that need to be hidden, what if we designed these critical parts of our urban infrastructure with a second purpose: to engage and educate community members?
The King County Brightwater Project has done exactly that. By turning their new state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant into an educational hub, they provide an opportunity for hands-on community learning on a range of environmental topics, including low-impact stormwater management, reclaimed water, habitat restoration and alternative energy production.
Community engagement has been a cornerstone of the project’s design process from day one. Throughout the many steps of the process, the Brightwater design team consulted with community advisory groups to collect feedback on the project’s design and functionality. This close interaction with stakeholders resulted in active community spaces and high-quality landscape design like the project’s Environmental Education and Community Center and 75 acres of natural habitat interspersed with pedestrian trails.
As the official design process comes to an end, the Brightwater project hopes to continue engaging community members in the importance of resource conservation through activities in the Community Center and research labs. Even now, although construction of the Community Center building hasn't yet even begun, individuals can learn about wildlife habitats by attending one of the regularly scheduled natural habitat tours.
The Brightwater project is already making waves around the world: King County has hosted delegations from Korea, Uganda and Canada who wanted to learn more about the facility’s pioneering endeavors to utilize 100 percent of the byproducts of the wastewater treatment process. It is this kind of information sharing and global thinking that ensures the healthy exchange of ideas and more responsible resource consumption.
Why it's Worldchanging:
The Brightwater project is a living example of a new way of thinking about infrastructure projects: as multi-functional facilities that act as centers for community engagement. By removing the literal barriers between citizens and the public utilities that serve them, Brightwater has seized a unique opportunity to educate people on the connection between the water in our homes, and the water in the natural environment. As other U.S. cities upgrade and expand their urban infrastructures, the Brightwater design model will be a valuable learning tool. Similarly, as cities in developing nations design and construct critical infrastructure projects, they should endeavor to integrate these facilities into their communities and utilize them for environmental education and research purposes. As our global resources become increasingly scarce, public education and awareness will become more valuable than ever to the success of our cities.
Ashley DeForest is a Community Developer who lives in Seattle, but is involved in urban and regional planning projects throughout the Northwest. Feel free to email her at ashleyd [at] zenbe [dot] com … she's always excited to hear about an innovation in community engagement or urban development!
Photo credit: flickr/Joseph Robertson, Creative Commons license.
This post is part of the series, "Seattle to the World: 100 Best Innovations from the Emerald City."