Infrastructure Week 2020 Goes Online This Week to Bring Together Voices for a Transformative Change

by Jack Russillo

At a time when the majority of the workforce that’s been deemed essential is part of some infrastructure sector, Robert Hanlon thinks it’s the ideal time to bring people together to talk about how to do an infrastructural overhaul in Seattle.

“Now’s the perfect time in human history to make a transformative change,” Hanlon said. “We’re at perhaps the most divisive time in the past hundred years and we talk about needing a common enemy for people to come together, and I think that the state of our infrastructure could be that common enemy. We’ve had the same energy infrastructure for over a hundred years and we need to come together to start to move forward in creating infrastructure that is symbiotic with its community, with its various structures and policies, and is regenerative and not extractive.”

In pushing that movement forward, Hanlon, the founder of Utility2, has helped organize Seattle’s second-annual Infrastructure Week to bring together some of the movers and shakers from across the city and its surrounding areas to present their perspectives on development and what they’re doing to make the region more equitable and sustainable.

Starting at 3 p.m. Monday and happening for about two hours each day this week, the free online event will allow speakers to give presentations and facilitate conversations with the audience.

Each day of the event will have a theme that addresses topics of sustainable development, ranging from “Trash Talk Tuesday”’ to “Wastewater Wednesday,” and each day will have a representative from nonprofit and for-profit organizations, as well as from both the private and public sectors. For example, Monday will begin the week with speakers from Seattle City Light, the Port of Seattle, Earth Economics, KiteRocket, and Introducing Youth to American Infrastructure+ (IYAI+) who will all present their perspectives and experiences for a crash course in infrastructure. Friday will conclude the event with representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Front and Centered, Olympians for People-Oriented Places (O-POP) and the Duwamish Tribe will speak on the history and future of sustainable development in Seattle. 

“The focal point of Infrastructure Week is that if there’s no collaboration, we’re all just doing our own thing,” Hanlon said. “So as long as we choose this competition approach versus a collaboration approach for our cities at large, we’re going to have a small number of winners and a large amount of people missing out. Ultimately, Seattle and its residents are going to inherit and use all large-scale projects, and if we don’t have a voice at least to some degree at its inception, then we’re going to be left with a final product that doesn’t match its community’s needs and doesn’t provide for an equitable future where everybody’s needs are met. We should be meeting the needs of the future and not the needs of the developer.”

“The goal is to make an engaged community and to get people aware of projects in their community,” Hanlon added. “Instead of a room of a few aging people and investors, we should have a whole community of voices to help control their destiny and have a say in their development. We need to think about who we’re excluding at any decision-making or idea-generating stage.”

It’s more tangible than just talking about sustainable ideas of how to build the city, though, Hanlon notes. 

“It’s more than an event, it’s about creating a movement that’s getting people aware and engaged through its development process” Hanlon said. “It’s also recognizing the fact that there is tremendous job creation potential in infrastructure.”

Research from organizations like Front and Centered and BlueGreen Alliance has found that investing an estimated $2.2 trillion in key sectors of America’s infrastructure to improve them has the potential to support or create an additional 14.5 million job-years across the U.S. economy, add a cumulative $1.66 trillion to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over 10 years, and reduce greenhouse gas pollution and boost climate resilience—versus a business-as-usual approach.

Sameer Ranade, the Civic Engagement and Policy Manager for Front and Centered, has revolved his work around that kind of infrastructure overhaul. When he speaks on Friday, the final day of Infrastructure Week 2020, Ranade is hopeful about combining his experiences as a lifelong environmental and social justice advocate with those from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Duwamish Tribe, two of the most influential voices from the Puget Sound region who will be in attendance. Hearing different angles on development, sharing ideas of environmental justice and utilizing various stakeholders is part of why Ranade is encouraged by the involvement of those participating in Infrastructure Week.

“Having the perspective of the Duwamish is really important because of their awareness of the natural environment and what it was once like,” Ranade said. “And then on the other side is the Army Corps and the government, which is a powerful stakeholder as well. I’m looking forward to it. This is precisely the kind of collaboration of key voices that we need to make effective, lasting change happen.”

Jack Russillo is a Seattle-based journalist living in Beacon Hill.

Featured image by 5chw4r7z.

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