This year’s River Rally conference may have been virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the change in format did not preclude strong participation from Groundwork Trusts—a network of community-based organizations supported by the national non-profit Groundwork USA. Originally scheduled to take place in San Antonio, TX from May 14-17, River Rally was shifted online over three weeks from May 18-June 4, with a mix of live Zoom sessions (which were recorded and posted to the virtual conference portal) and pre-recorded “on-demand” content that remained available online through August. Participating Groundwork Trust staff included representatives from Denver, CO; Hudson Valley, NY; Indianapolis, IN; Milwaukee, WI; Mobile County, AL; Richmond, CA; Richmond, VA; and Somerville, MA.
Groundwork Trusts work at the intersection of the environment, equity, and civic engagement by making tangible improvements to the natural and built environments, mainly in underserved and environmental justice communities. River Rally provides Trusts with a powerful opportunity to convene and learn from each other, take advantage of professional development opportunities, and develop contacts with a wide variety of other organizations.
Groundwork’s Presence at Rally
Groundwork USA and River Network usually collaborate at Rally to host the Urban Waters Learning Forum, a day-long in-person gathering for members of the Urban Waters Learning Network (UWLN) to share resources and knowledge. The virtual format this year led the partners to instead organize A UWLN Peer Call: How are We Engaging Community Members and Building Leadership for Climate Resilience (May 21).
Facilitated by Heather Passchier (Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance, National Park Service), this live panel discussion and peer networking session explored how to engage community members in climate resilience initiatives. The panel highlighted five voices from across the UWLN: Cate Mingoya (Groundwork USA), Jonathan Phillips and John Evangelista (Groundwork Elizabeth), Maria Gabriela Huertas (Estuario), and Andrew Kricun (U.S. Water Alliance). Following the panel, session participants joined online breakout groups to learn and share from one another about how we can engage and activate various sectors of our community to build greater climate resilience.
The theme of resilience resonated throughout River Rally as participants grappled with the converging crises of coronavirus, climate change, and racial injustice. Staff from Groundwork Trusts spoke to resiliency issues in the following live and on-demand workshops:
A Tale of Two Richmonds: Equity, Climate, & History (May 20, live session): In Richmond, VA, and Richmond, CA, we’re examining the impact of climate change on our communities through the lens of historic policies of discrimination. Learn how data and community-based conversations are shaping climate resilience strategies. Rob Jones, Groundwork RVA; Matt Holmes, Groundwork Richmond
Daylighting the Saw Mill River (on-demand session): Learn how architects, artists, community groups, city officials, and more came together to daylight Yonkers, NY’s forgotten underground Saw Mill River, leading to ecological, economic, and cultural revitalization. Discover ideas and proven methods for how to daylight your own hidden waterways. Brigitte Griswold, Groundwork Hudson Valley
The Urban Waters Learning Network Awards Panel, Celebration, & Happy Hour (May 27) created another space to celebrate the great work being done on resilience and environmental justice issues. UWLN staff honored four fantastic leaders, including two from Groundwork Trusts:
- Alicia Lehrer, Woonsquatucket River Watershed Council (Signature Award)
- Phyllis Boyd, Groundwork Indianapolis (Environmental Justice & Equity Expert Award)
- Alicia Smith, Junction Coalition (Environmental Justice & Equity Expert Award)
- Andrea Savage, formerly of Groundwork Denver (Youth Leadership Expert Award)
Finally, the two-part workshop Leading with Equity for Flooding Resilience and Investments in Water Infrastructure (May 26 and June 2) enabled UWLN members (including staff from several Groundwork Trusts) to take a deep dive on addressing racial equity in our organizational work. With the recent police killing of George Floyd weighing heavily on participants’ minds and hearts, facilitators Darryl Haddock (West Atlanta Watershed Alliance) and Jennifer Lawrence (Reciprocity Consulting) powerfully connected our present moment to the need to address a centuries-long legacy of injustice.
This year’s River Rally conference was a case study in resilience in and of itself, as River Network had to rapidly adapt a massive in-person conference to an online format with little guidance or precedent. This experiment turned out to be a great success, with participants consistently engaging in important conversations and making connections to further their work. Groundwork USA is grateful to River Network for blazing this path and looks forward to applying lessons learned in planning its own virtual events this fall, in partnership with Groundwork Trusts.
Groundwork USA and River Network also look forward to continuing the dialogues from Rally though four new Urban Waters Issue Collaboratives: (1) Equitable Water Infrastructure, (2) Water Equity and Resilience, (3) Addressing Displacement Through Fair and Equitable Development, and (4) Environmental Justice Learning, Literacy, and Leadership. The Collaboratives offer a chance for UWLN members, Groundwork Trusts, and other practitioners to take a deeper dive into urban waters issues and equity. They are designed to promote not only learning but also action. If you are interested in getting more involved in this work, please sign up to join or learn more about one of the new UWLN Collaboratives HERE.