Spreading The Green Word

October 6, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Katherine Kahl, project manager of the Green Infrastructure component of the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, is hoping to help West Michigan communities become more sustainable with better planning for the region’s natural resources and green infrastructure.

As the economy changes and quality of life becomes more important, Kahl said, more focus will be put on the green infrastructure of a community: its parks, green spaces, waterways and other natural resources. To help communities use these resources in a sustainable way, Kahl will work with local municipalities to discover their goals and help them work with one another to preserve the green infrastructure.

Kahl, a doctoral candidate at Michigan State University, said she has always been interested in the way that land use has changed over the years, and the way that change affects the environment and ecosystems.

“I really felt like that’s where I could make a difference,” she said.

The new position as project manager for the Green Infrastructure component of the West Michigan Strategic Alliance is a good fit for her strengths, Kahl said, because it incorporates her interest in research as well as her knowledge of land use and ecosystems.

Since starting the position in July, she has been learning the areas of concentration as determined by the project’s task force.

Land use has different meanings to those in different industries and roles, Kahl said. Where an ecologist may look at the ecosystem, a developer may look at the land’s worth as a building site and municipal officials may look at it for its tax value.

“It’s a critical component of our community that needs to be invested in,” she said of the natural infrastructure.

Kahl said the green infrastructure is just as important as the roads, sewers and other infrastructure that municipalities govern so closely.

While she will be meeting with the leaders of the various municipalities in the seven counties included in the project, Kahl said she is not looking to come into a city or township and change the way it governs its municipality. Instead, she hopes to act as a facilitator to improve collaboration between municipalities to determine how to best use the resources that may fall on adjoining land.

Spanning a range of seven counties, Kahl is planning to meet with each municipality throughout seven counties to determine what its needs are for the land use and the natural resources in its space.

“It’s such a large area to cover,” she said.

One way to become more informed about green infrastructure is to attend the American Institute of Architects-Grand Valley Chapter and the West Michigan Strategic Alliance Natural Connections Summit on Oct. 17. More than 300 architects, nonprofit officials, business executives, neighborhood organization representatives, city and urban planners and municipal and community leaders will be attending the event to find ways to incorporate green infrastructure into their communities.

The event will take place from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Van Andel Arena and feature experts on sustainable communities, including Lester Brown, director of the Earth Policy Institute; Alexis Karolides, an architect with the Rocky Mountain Institute; and Gina Baker, director of sustainable design with Burt Hill.

“I think those three individuals are really going to encompass the three areas of sustainability and how we can develop a workable community better,” Kahl said.

The 2005 West Michigan Regional Urban Design Charettes will be on display, and information about applying for grants for the 2006 design charettes will be available.

“They’re going to set a real tone for what can be,” Kahl said.

The charettes include about $35,000 worth of free planning and architectural services, as well as $15,000 from the West Michigan Strategic Alliance to offset cost of materials and staff time.

Kahl said there will also be a presentation of collaboration that has taken place throughout the region.

“We just want to take the opportunity to show everyone the good work that’s being done,” she said.

Information on the summit is available on the West Michigan Strategic Alliance Web site, www.wm-alliance.org.     

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