REPORT: Newark (NJ) “GreenStreets” green infrastructure initiative

The following is the Executive Summary from a new report titled “Newark Greenstreets Initiative: Planning & Implementing Green Stormwater Infrastructure“.

Under the auspices of a Local Government Capacity Building grant provided by Together North Jersey (TNJ) and the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA), CDM Smith worked with staff from the City of Newark, New Jersey to enhance their ability to identify and act upon opportunities to deploy Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) in the streetscape and on City‐owned land to advance Newark’s Greenstreets Initiative.

This report summarizes research findings, presents best practices and recommendations, and includes a number of technical appendices to support City staff as they continue to build their skills from site identification, to design, to construction documents, to implementation, maintenance and monitoring of GSI projects. Specifically, the City of Newark asked CDM Smith for technical assistance in the following tasks, in addition to overall project management:

  1. Research and discovery in selecting several potential pilot locations for GSI interventions;
  2. Preparation of concept‐level designs, including  an analysis of the stormwater diversion potential and cost estimates of such interventions as well as recommendations for the process and contracting tools to be used in future projects;
  3. Analysis of the City’s existing Greenstreets specifications; and
  4. Preparation a horticultural manual with species specifically chosen to do well in an
    urban GSI context.

The technical deliverables prepared for this project are attached to this report as appendices. The report itself was prepared to assist Newark staff and its partners in interpreting and using the technical appendices by “telling the story” of the project in an accessible format.

As important context for this project, the City of Newark is currently working with several jurisdictions ‐‐neighboring municipalities and the regional wastewater treatment plant, which is located in Newark ‐‐on a new Long Term Control Plan to reduce the instances of Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) into the Passaic River. This is desirable as a matter of public policy, but it is also a regulatory imperative as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency works with localities to ensure compliance with the federal Clean Water Act.

Newark’s extensive pavement and relatively old infrastructure for sewage and wastewater treatment combine to lead to CSOs in most heavy rain events, generally after 15 minutes of continuous rain. Reducing CSOs is an imperative that gives the conversation about stormwater management, using both green and gray infrastructure, urgent relevance at the municipal and regional levels.

The urgency is also being felt at the level of community stakeholders. In Newark, over thirty community‐based organizations and advocacy groups have come together to form Newark DIG (Doing Infrastructure Green!). This group meets monthly with support from the City of Newark, Rutgers University, NJ Department of Environmental Protection, and Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC) to develop ES‐2 and implement community pilot projects such as rain gardens and rain harvesting systems, to conduct outreach and education in the neighborhoods about the role of GSI in managing stormwater and improving quality of life, and to advocate with City and State policy‐makers for a front‐line role for GSI in addressing Newark’s stormwater challenges.

Using this project for technical capacity development, the City of Newark launched a Greenstreets Initiative that identifies pilot projects for greening the urban landscape along City rights‐of‐way based upon community interest, environmental benefits, and potential to advance goals related to neighborhood revitalization, circulation and connectivity.

In collaboration with Newark Office of Sustainability and City Planning staff, the project has led to the preparation of engineering concept plans and technical design materials needed to advance GSI design.  This has included the identification of designs and landscaping best suited to manage stormwater, survive an urban environment, and absorb pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.   The Initiative has also led to a robust dialogue among City department staff and neighborhood stakeholders regarding GSI design and implementation in the context of pilot and stewardship projects.

Major findings during the course of the project were as follows:

  • Newark streetscapes and City‐owned lots present a wide range of opportunities for the deployment of GSI in all neighborhoods.
  • Selection of pilot sites, several of which are suggested in this report, should be driven by considerations such as:
  • Overlap with community‐driven public space priorities and public visibility;
    o Feasibility of location (i.e. physical suitability for collecting run‐off);
    o Location in an area where reducing volume of stormwater entering the sewer system has the potential to reduce the incidences of CSOs at a particular outflow pipe;  and
    o Cost feasibility of appropriate intervention.
  • Newark should establish a cross‐departmental team tasked by the Mayor to identify, design, and implement at least five GSI pilot projects in the next several years. This team should be led by the Water/Sewer Department, as the entity with regulatory responsibility for compliance with the State Long Term Control Plan.
  • The team should also include staff from Planning, Sustainability, Engineering, and Neighborhood and Recreational Services
  • GSI pilot projects should be developed in coordination with the efforts of the City of Newark to contribute to the combined Long Term Control Plan being developed by other municipalities that send waste to the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (Paterson, Guttenberg, Harrison, Kearny, East Newark, Jersey City, Bayonne, and the North Bergen and North Hudson Sewerage Authorities)
  • In addition to pursuing pilot GSI projects based on the concept designs and recommendations in this report, Newark should begin a more comprehensive, city‐wide assessment of GSI interventions that includes streetscape and vacant City‐owned lots in every Ward as well as strategies for encouraging ES‐3 participation of private landowners in adopting GSI systems, including creative financing mechanisms.
  • Newark is joining a growing number of municipalities turning to GSI as a major component of a comprehensive, multi‐pronged stormwater management strategy. Cities such as Philadelphia, New York City, and Syracuse have accumulated sufficient experience to demonstrate that GSI can be a cost‐effective stormwater management tool with a range of important co‐benefits for the community. These include beautification, amelioration of urban heat island effect, limited mitigation of flooding (first inch or two of rainfall only), and absorption of pollutants from both the air and water.

In light of its benefits and the regulatory impetus to consider GSI when planning for stormwater management, knowledge of GSI strategies and their effectiveness is critical for municipal staff.  This is true not only for the staff traditionally tasked with managing the stormwater system. The creation of a cross‐departmental team that commits to a process of collective learning and project implementation is one of the most important recommendations of this report.  

The selected technical assistance consultant, CDM Smith, held several trainings with City of Newark staff as part of its scope and found a high level of interest and commitment among those in attendance.  The best practices, recommendations, and technical appendices in this report are designed to serve as a reference manual for the cross‐departmental team as it continues to identify, design, and implement GSI projects over the coming years.

Download full report (PDF).

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