Investing in People through Workforce Development: Living Infrastructure for a Regenerative Economy

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Project Team

Authors: Amelia Jensen, Graham Prentice, Debra Guenther, Kasia Keeley, Shannon Lee, Chuck McDowell, Caitlin Squier-Roper, Dorothy Faris, Tim Mollette-Parks, Mariel Steiner, Isabela Noriega

Firm: Mithun

Partners/Collaborators: DirtCorps (Roseann Barnhill and Andrew Schiffer); The Watershed Project (Juliana Gonzalez); Sean M Watts Consulting (Sean Watts); The Nature Conservancy in Washington (Hannah Kett); Urban Systems Design (Cari Simson); NHuizar Consulting (Nancy Huizar); Matt Remle

Project Description

Equitable Workforce Development can direct the benefits of green infrastructure projects towards community generational wealth and sustainable livelihoods. Investing in people through workforce development can increase equitable outcomes of green infrastructure projects, particularly those in under-served communities. As outlined by Heather McGhee in “The Sum of Us”, life is not a zero-sum game. When we expand access to jobs we all do better and everyone benefits. Through multiple conversations with six community partners to understand goals, barriers, and needs for generating green career paths in workforce development, this proposal strives to reflect their vision for a more just future. This project promotes a community-centered paradigm of Living Infrastructure, and explores a visual methodology for lifting up community-based organizations doing the important work of engaging, educating, and inspiring communities around green infrastructure projects and career path jobs.

Two example green infrastructure projects represent different scales and types - a streetscape retrofit and a coastal adaptation to rising sea levels. Each catalyzes the multiple benefits of job creation, decarbonization, social justice, and meets local needs as defined by local communities.

  • Expanding access to career path jobs: Intentional design processes that shift resources and power to communities can expand the benefits of green infrastructure, leading to sustainable career-path jobs in the green economy.

  • Re-imagining project-driven models as community-driven models account for HOW something is built and WHO benefits - framing WHAT is built in a context of justice.

  • Illustrating the value of a design process that includes access to career path jobs: As global finance markets adapt rapidly to decarbonization, design practice must also adapt to incorporate workforce development consequences of decarbonization.

This new paradigm positions historically marginalized people as beneficiaries in a decarbonized economy. With on-the-ground knowledge from the conversations with community partners we explored questions such as: How might the next generation of infrastructure projects generate more equitable economic opportunities? How can designers illustrate and spatialize the value of this equitable approach so that policy-makers, regulators, developers, and other clients recognize workforce development as fundamental to the success of design? How can green career paths be graphically elevated to encourage local job-seekers to see themselves contributing value to their communities in those roles?

  • Amplifying community-based organizations through the design process: Designers can purposely highlight workforce development components of living infrastructure projects and in doing so, elevate the work of those community-based organizations that make it possible.

Dirt Corps and The Watershed Project are two local partners visioning, advocating, installing, operating and maintaining living infrastructure in the Puget Sound and San Francisco Bay regions. Both organizations run youth development programs, education and outreach, and successfully nurture welcoming and inclusive environments that attract adults who may not otherwise find employment easily. These adults are engaging in their communities and finding career paths in green professions that will benefit from their lived experiences.


Additional Links

Project on JSTOR