Upping the visual game for green infrastructure

June 25, 2018

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Green Infrastructure (definition): An approach to water management that protects, restores or mimics the natural water cycle. Solutions may include rain gardens, water cisterns and permeable pavement, which work to hold and/or filter stormwater pollution before it runs off into waterways.

Last year we wanted to know: how do people visualize a sustainable city? And is everyone included in that vision, with the values that they care about? To find out, we implemented an image testing survey with Washington Environmental Council (WEC), specifically looking at how green infrastructure is perceived in King County communities.

We discovered a whole host of things, including the fact that most people don’t really know what a rain garden is (a landscape feature that captures and filters pollution before it reaches waterways). And, people value parks, transit and neighborhood cleanup over new development.

As we were putting the limited photos that we had available into “the field” via targeted Facebook ads and survey links, there was something that bothered us. Where were the people in these photos? Green infrastructure doesn’t exist in a vacuum—rain gardens, permeable pavement and cisterns are valuable pieces of our neighborhoods and communities. Whether it’s a beautiful garden with native plants next to a sidewalk café, or a newly added sidewalk that makes walking commutes possible, green infrastructure adds more than just plants and drainage points—it adds vibrancy and livability.

After we completed our image tests, we conducted four community-based photo shoots with WEC, using what we just learned from surveying over 600 people in King County. The vision was to create an open-source photo bank of high-quality, well-researched green infrastructure photos that could be used by any number of public agencies or community nonprofits across the region to improve their creative materials. (But first we waited for spring weather to hit. Torrential downpours in November aren’t ideal for photo shoots!)

Here are some of the things we thought about, which helped us plan and execute this project: location, people and shareability.

Our research found that people place more value in green infrastructure when it’s paired with a community amenity—like sidewalks, parks and neighborhood commercial districts. While rain gardens themselves got high marks for “functionality” and “effectiveness,” when was the last time you glowingly described your neighborhood to a friend as functional and effective? Those aren’t what we call at Resource Media “core values.”

We wanted to focus on South Seattle (Beacon Hill, South Park, as well as West Seattle) because we had an existing knowledge base of the projects in the area, connections to local groups and we knew that these locations represented diverse neighborhoods.

The project managers at WEC and Resource Media were closely connected to these neighborhoods, so it was easy for us to post calls for models on community blogs, Facebook groups and listservs, which garnered a lot of interest from local neighbors, as well as community groups like ECOSS (Environmental Coalition of South Seattle), who were doing cistern installs nearby. We asked people to fill out an intake form prior to being selected, and offered compensation for people’s time, by paying them $50 for the shoot, as well as giving them a WEC gift swag bag.

Here’s the end result! If you’re more business-oriented, you may ask why we would offer images for free download rather than continuing to contract out our services. Well, Resource Media is not a typical communications consultant. As a mission-driven nonprofit, we’d rather create an open-source resource for anyone seeking to promote green infrastructure, community development and sustainability, including small, community-based organizations who may have no budget to pursue high-quality professional photography on their own.

We hope this image bank helps improve creative, educational content going forward as we all work hard to cut through the noise, represent diverse communities and advocate for programs and projects that make our world more sustainable for all.

Aaaaand the fine print: This is an open-source image bank. WEC and Resource Media hold the releases for the photo subjects for these photos. As long as photos are used for non-commercial purposes, and within the missions and issue areas of Resource Media and WEC (green stormwater infrastructure, environmental education, water quality, environmental protection, etc.), groups, entities and agencies such as yourself are free to use them. Commercial purposes (including ads promoting your goods and/or services) are prohibited.

When citing credit for these photos, please use “Marcela Gara, Resource Media.” If your piece has any room for more acknowledgements, it would be great to acknowledge WEC, Resource Media and Bullitt Foundation for their contributions in making this image bank possible.

Do you have a success story after using images from this image bank? We’d love to hear from you! Please feel free to drop us a line at sian@resource-media.org. Thanks so much!

Sian Wu

Photo credit: Marcela Gara, Resource Media

“We’ve been advocating for green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) for decades, from regulations to capital funding. Public awareness and support is critical for this work. However, to help build that awareness and support, we were using imagery based on a lot of assumptions – assuming the public could recognize a rain garden, assuming specific values were intrinsic in standalone images.
The research led by Resource Media was tremendously helpful in challenging those assumptions, determining more effective visuals, and giving us a chance to really listen to diverse communities so we can better serve their needs.”
– DANIELLE SHAW, Puget Sound Program Associate, Washington Environmental Council