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Boston’s first director of green infrastructure is a Northeast graduate

A graduate of Northeastern University, Kate England made environmental history as the city of Boston’s first Director of Green Infrastructure.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s recently announced appointment will give England a leading role in building and sustaining green and sustainable approaches to stormwater diversion and eradicating ‘heat islands’ which are more prevalent in low-income neighborhoods.

“Green infrastructure goes hand in hand with climate resilience,” says England, who graduated from Northeastern in 2008 with a double major in political science and international affairs.

The creation of a director of green infrastructure for the city of Boston is part of Wu’s commitment to a Green New Deal, according to a press release from the mayor’s office.

“It shows that (green infrastructure) is not just a small part of what we do,” but an integral part of Boston’s approach to building and maintaining stormwater systems, roads, sidewalks, parks and other urban spaces, says England.

It’s increasingly common for cities to embed green infrastructure staff into their water and sewer departments, but appointing a green infrastructure manager to a key city role “is really unique and special.” , she says.

Wu says she is enthusiastic about England’s “vision and leadership”, saying in a press release that those qualities are particularly important as Boston grapples with rising sea levels and rising temperatures.

England says her interest in environmental policy was piqued when she took a course on the science behind climate change at Northeastern.

“I loved this course,” she says.

The woman who insists she didn’t hear the word ‘stormwater’ before going to college has found herself in the desert exploring the spread of food as part of an exchange Dialogues of Civilization in Egypt.

England also took part in a Civilization Dialogues exchange in Geneva, Switzerland, where it worked with the United Nations Environment Program and learned what other countries were doing to mitigate the impact of climate change.

She says it was a time when many in the United States called climate change a myth.

“I had a lot of really good opportunities at Northeastern,” says England, who arrived at the Boston campus from a small college in her sophomore year.

After graduation, an internship at the Emerald Necklace Conservancy turned into a full-time job.

England says she loved working on drainage and ecology issues at the reserve, but it seemed that every time she offered a solution to a problem someone pointed out that she had no expertise. technique in the field.

“I said, ‘Fine, I’ll go back and get my tech stuff,'” she said.

After earning her master’s degree in environmental studies and working as a consultant for a few years, England went to work for the Boston Water and Sewer Commission (BWSC). Most recently, she was employed as a statewide planner for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.

In his new role at City Hall, England will reactivate a green infrastructure task force he participated in at BWSC and assess the needs of residents of Chinatown, East Boston, Mattapan and Roxbury to improve flood control. , air quality and tree canopy.

“Boston is no different from other big cities,” says England, who lives in Hyde Park. She says low-income urban areas have fewer trees and more hardscape—structures made of concrete, asphalt, and metal.

“The historic approach to stormwater is to put it in a sump and put it in a pipe. It’s called gray infrastructure,” says England. Then the water is discharged into a body of water such as the Charles River or Boston Harbor.

But the gray infrastructure is no match for the erosive force of nature. As storms intensify and sea levels rise, flooding is increasingly hitting low-lying areas in Boston and other major cities.

Green infrastructure takes another approach, England says. Stormwater is redirected to artificial wetlands and rain gardens, low areas planted with native vegetation and soil mixed with sand, or to bioswales which are a larger version of rain gardens.

Rain gardens are easy to plant along sidewalks and city streets, says England, who also supports new tree planting methods that maximize the use of rain and stormwater through the roots.

England is already passing these lessons on to the younger generation, having worked with Charles River Watershed and Boston State Schools to develop a green education program that meets the state’s curriculum guidelines for pupils of fifth and seventh year of the city.

Older students are asked to rate the condition of their schoolyard, which often resembles a parking lot, England says.

They are divided into four groups and asked to suggest paved, vegetated, compound or free-form solutions to problems such as pavement cracks and erosion.

“It’s a really fun unit. I wish I had it when I was at school,” says England. “Nature is better than us at stormwater management.”

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