Lessons in Water Cycling (and Animating!): Green Infrastructure in Providence, RI

Today I’m happy to share a new animation I’ve made! It’s about stormwater management in my home city: Providence, Rhode Island. This video is the first of a series of videos about stormwater in Rhode Island. The next two will feature case studies in green infrastructure—first in the Woonasquatucket River Watershed, and then in the seaside city of Newport (of mansion fame).


Currently the City of Providence is unable to manage all of the rain it receives. Every year, stormwater carries an unhealthy amount of pollution into our waterways and causes flooding in our streets and basements. Much of Providence’s system of storm drains, catch basins and underground pipes hails back to the 19th century, when the city had far fewer buildings and much less pavement. Today, Providence has developed into a thriving city with around 180,000 inhabitants. As the city continues to grow, we need to search for new solutions that allow us to manage our stormwater while protecting our communities and environment.

This animation was a pleasure to make.  At the end of January, after seeing some of the science stop-motion animations I had made in the past, Meg Kerr from the Rhode Island Land and Water Partnership approached me about making a video that envisioned an urban landscape transformed by green stormwater practices. I spent a couple weeks researching stormwater impacts like pollution and flooding, as well as the solutions offered through green infrastructure.

I learned that cities like New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Detroit, Portland (OR), and Kansas City (MO) are already investing large sums of money into green, proactive ways to manage their stormwater. But I also realized that Providence is making noteworthy progress. Individual pioneers throughout Providence are reforming the way they manage stormwater, including organizations like The Steel Yard, The Box Office and Save the Bay. This year, the City of Providence received a $75,000 grant from the EPA to create a green infrastructure demonstration site near J.T. Owens Park by Mashapaug Pond, in large part because of many years of work and attention generated by a dedicated community organization called the Urban Pond Procession, which uses arts education to foster environmental awareness and sense of place around urban ponds in Rhode Island.

At the state level, Rhode Island’s stormwater manual sets an example for other states in the country by setting high standards for development that minimizes stormwater impacts. The Narrangansett Bay Commission is working on a large-scale project to abate the amount of contaminated sewage that enters our water through the outdated combined sewer overflows in Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls. And multiple municipalities and cities across the state are actively discussing the possibility of financing responsible stormwater management through user fees that would incentivize green infrastructure development.

All of these solutions of course come with costs. Restructuring our antiquated ways of stormwater management will be inevitably expensive, but it is necessary as our urban areas become more developed and stormwater becomes an increasing problem. It will be politically messy, and different stakeholders will voice different opinions. Still, I found that there was a  lot to feel optimistic about—as I hopefully conveyed in this video.

We did a screening of this animation and the one on the Woonsquatucket River Watershed at the 2014 Rhode Island Land and Water Conservation Summit, an inspiring event at which Alvaro Sanchez Sanchez, a Senior Associate at Green For All, gave the keynote address. Green For All is a national organization working to build an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty. Though it is a large, successful organization, I never felt that it overshadowed the many inspiring organizations, ranging from the community grassroots to municipal to state level in Rhode Island, who shared their work at the summit. I met so many individuals who do much more work than anyone ever asked them to—because they truly care about their cause, whether it’s the protection of a local watershed, the health of a vulnerable community, the sense of place that a neighborhood feels, or the creation of a local bike path. I left the summit feeling rejuvenated and connected to a community of dedicated, thoughtful and energized changemakers.

To make this video, I started out with stills of handmade paper cut-outs and illustrations, then added in some Flash animation. Here are some behind-the-scenes photos from the process!

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This video was sponsored by the Rhode Island Land & Water Partnership (landandwaterpartnership.org/). Special thanks to Meg Kerr, Amie Parris, Holly Ewald and the Urban Pond Procession, the Rhode Island Foundation, Elizabeth Scott and the Division of Water Resources at Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management, Sheila Dormody and the City of Providence’s Office of Sustainability, Lorraine Joubert and the University of RI’s Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials Program, Casey Dunn and the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts at Brown University.

Animation by: Stephanie Yin

Music: “Brokenwater” by Melectric

For questions about the RI Land and Water Partnership, contact megkerr@cox.net.
For questions about the animation, contact stephanie.f.yin@gmail.com.

And make sure to check out ristormwatersolutions.org/ for more information on green infrastructure solutions to stormwater problems!


One thought on “Lessons in Water Cycling (and Animating!): Green Infrastructure in Providence, RI

  1. Pingback: In Progress: Animating Aquidneck | Ink Chromatography

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