This is a South Jersey story about reciprocity, about relationships, about community.
It’s a story about green stormwater infrastructure in a gritty town, Bridgeton, where times are tough and have been for a long time, since industry left town in the 1980s. Bridgeton is a place where many conservation organizations might make the mistake of thinking that residents don’t care about the environment. And they’d be wrong.
It goes like this: one hot day August we were working with our youth program, Restoration Corps, building rain barrels and stormwater planting boxes right downtown at the main light. On that very day, Derrick Macchia, the principal of Buckshutem Elementary, got stuck at that very light. He was struggling to maintain new landscaping that was installed at his school and he thought these rain barrels could solve his problem.
Derrick was right; rain barrels are amazing for landscaping, so we got him some. Through Derrick I met Chuck Carter, the School Board facilities director, who mentioned the school’s flooding issues and asked if we could troubleshoot. We walked out the door and spotted the perfect location for a rain garden.
Now the school solved their flooding problem while adding an alternative play space for the students.
Now that these town leaders trust us and know we are committed to finding solutions that work for them and the community, they get really jazzed about green infrastructure. So now we’re talking about another rain garden and cistern to solve more flooding problems at a nearby school, and a water reuse project to feed a school garden right. That led us to more partnerships and more cool projects like the edible riparian buffer we installed with NJ Audubon.
And all that work led to us being included in a community visioning session, for Southeast Gateway, the poorest part of Bridgeton, which is the poorest city in the poorest County in New Jersey. And in preparing for that, I ask myself how can create a project that serves the needs of this community? Instead of pitching a rain garden in the middle of this lot, our partners and we pitch a passive recreation park, that integrates green infrastructure into it while providing community open space.
We are learning that starting and ending with meeting community needs – whether you’re in a posh suburb or a gritty post-industrial town like Bridgeton – is a golden key that helps people and the planet, one project, one watershed, at a time.
–by Emma Melvin, American Littoral Society
Cover photo credit: American Littoral Society