FYI, The Front Yard Initiative For Better Water Management

Mar 12, 2015

Professor John Renne of UNO Planning and Urban Studies has more on the Front Yard Initiative, a pilot program to help homeowners turn concrete into green space. The idea, he says, has social, environmental and property value impact.

DANA ENESS: One of the reasons we named our program Front Yard Initiative is FYI, because so much of this has to do with getting information out to folks. It’s a real huge community education piece. We keep pointing to three big problems with the front yard paving. There are the aesthetic problems that actually result in reduced housing values, after a time when an entire street becomes a concrete jungle. There is the public safety issues, having to walk, sometimes with your baby stroller or your wheelchair around, out into the street, because the sidewalk has become a parking space for a car instead of for people. And there’s the huge issue of stormwater management.

RENNE: Landscape architects are trying to take advantage of the water plan as a way to beautify the streetscape.

MARK DEJARNETTE: I’m Mark DeJarnette, and I work in landscape architecture. Okay, we’re standing on the neutral ground, which is the center of the street, and it’s about a foot higher than the road, which is crowned. If you look along the side of the road – paved over all the way out to the street. There’s no longer a curb. There’s no longer a storm drain. That water really doesn’t have any place to go.

RENNE: One of the residents participating in the program was very excited to see it get off the ground.

RACHEL DEPAUW: So my name is Rachel DePauw and I’m a homeowner on the block.

RENNE: Right now, your front yard has two parking spaces, you are considering turning it into green space?

DEPAUW: Yeah, that’d be great. I think the idea is to have two strips.

RENNE: So, have you designed the landscaping that you are going to install yet?

DEPAUW: We haven’t. I mean, we have some guesses as to what might happen, but, I mean, we’ll let the professionals do that.

RENNE: Do you have a sense of what it’s going to cost you?

DEPAUW: I think the buy in for homeowners is going to be anywhere between $200 and $300.

RENNE: Are you doing this purely for aesthetic reasons? Or, are you doing this for environmental reasons? Or other reasons?

DEPAUW: Oh, I mean, all of those things. It’s definitely a multifaceted project. We have a terrible drainage issue on this street, so, we call it Lake Valmont. More green space for our kids to play in, and our front yard is wonderful. And just being able to use the sidewalks, I mean, instead of having them be parking spots.

TRAVIS MARTIN: My name is Travis Martin, I’m a graduate student at UNO, and I work for the Urban Conservancy. The initial pilot is just here on Valmont. We have five homeowners, or, four homeowners and one business that have expressed interest to remove the pavement in favor of green space. The drastic flooding problems is one of the main impetuses for the homeowners willingness to participate. The homeowner right here, for example, is willing to give up her parking space in the front yard, as you mentioned earlier, because the flooding is so bad – it’s just a big pool of water.

RENNE: Dana Eness tells us that by removing 1,400 square feet of paving, it will take 20,000 gallons of rain out of the stormwater system. But it’s not just the volume that matters – removing the first inch of rainfall makes a big difference.

ENESS: So, the first inch is when, it’s really critical because that is when the pumping systems are just getting going, and so that’s where you’re going to have the backup situation. And the other part of it is that’s when you’re getting the most pollutants and runoff, so it’s not just a quantity issue, it’s a quality issue, too.

DEJARNETTE: There are a lot of designers in town that are looking at bioswales and things like that. A bioswale is just a depression of a planted area that collects water, detains it for a certain period of time, some of the water percolates out, some water is used by the plants that are grown in it. And then, a lot of them are designed so that there’s an overflow, so that it does go to sewer, or the storm drain, if it’s a heavy rain.

ENESS: So, what we would like to do is to put together a partnership between city, volunteer organizations that can help with the landscaping and advising, and the homeowners themselves. And what would make sense would be that the homeowner would have decision making over the materials that were used, so they would be presented with a menu of different costs, and say, you know, any of these would work, to a greater or lesser extent, which one fits your budget?

RENNE: What do you expect the time frame to be for this to happen?

DEPAUW: Oh, I’m sure it will be twice as long and three times as expensive, right? So, I’m not sure, spring hopefully? Cross our fingers. In 2018?