Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Youth Design "Water-friendly" Tree Pits

We all know that trees need water to survive. So why does the City continue to design tree pits that purposely prevent water from entering them?!

This summer, while most teenagers relaxed and recharged for another school year, young people at Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice (YMPJ) participated in a design competition aimed at combating the issue of Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO). A CSO event occurs during rain events when the sewers cannot convey the sewage and all the stormwater runoff to the wastewater treatment plant, resulting in the discharge of raw sewage into our waterbodies. A method of preventing CSO occurrences would be to keep stormwater runoff from entering the sewers during rain events, either by infiltrating the water through green, open spaces or storing it for other beneficial uses such as watering gardens or toilet flushing. The 1st Annual Street Tree Pit Design Competition, sponsored by Home Depot, challenged youth to not only beautify but redesign street tree pits in order to enhance their stormwater capture capabilities.

The youth within the CSO Community Builiding and Organizing Program (CBOP) had performed street tree stewardship around the Bronx River neighborhood all season long. Stewardship activities include removing garbage and debris from tree pits, loosening soil for greater infiltration, adding compost for nutrients, planting small plants if available, and applying a thick layer of mulch to retain moisture. The design competition took these activities one step further by requiring an enhancement that would allow the street tree pit to capture stormwater runoff from the streets, preventing it from entering the sewers and contributing to a CSO event.

The CSO CBOP was split into two groups of 5-6 youth and each group was assigned a street tree pit with a broken curb. Both designs included the use of french drains, or buried pipes that would convey the water from the street into the pit. The groups were judged based on four categories; Physical Appearance, Design Concept, Explanation of Design, and Design Functionality of the final pit retrofits. Esteemed judges included Teresa Crimmens, Anne-Marie Runfola, and Damian Griffen of the Bronx River Alliance, and Henry LaJara of YMPJ, advised by the omnipotent Paul “Keep it on the Land” Mankiewicz of the Gaia Institute. Poised with a tough decision, the judges determined Group 1 to be stronger in Physical Appearance and Design Functionality whereas Group 2 excelled in Explanation of Design and Design Concept.

Congratulations CSO CBOP!!