Better communication between researchers and those implementing public policy is key to a more sustainable St. Louis, according to presentations and discussions at a recent conference that included a “Report to the Region 2015” about the progress of OneSTL.
The day-long conference, “Linking Research and Practice: Equitable Economic Growth and Sustainable Water Infrastructure” was held Jan. 23 at Saint Louis University. The conference was a partnership of the St. Louis Metropolitan Research Exchange, OneSTL, and the Center for Sustainability at Saint Louis University.
John Wagner, president of the St. Louis Metropolitan Research Exchange, described the conference as an effort to describe the regional sustainability plan known as OneSTL. The plan, which was funded by a federal grant, outlines how to make the region a more sustainable place by better coordination of spending and policies related to transportation, housing and environmental concerns.
“We wanted to bring academics and practitioners together to learn from each other, in the hopes that some of the ideas could inform the research agenda of people who study the area,” Wagner said. “We strongly wanted a forum where people would listen to each other and respond, bringing diverse perspectives together in a real dialogue. We want to create a space where everyone interested in these issues could contribute their ideas.”
A survey of local government officials and employees revealed the two topics of most interest were equitable economic development and issues related to water infrastructure.
Jeanette Mott Oxford, former state legislator and current executive director of Empower Missouri, was part of the discussion about equitable economic development. Empower Missouri was formerly known as the Missouri Association for Social Welfare.
“My main concern is that public policy match reality,” Oxford said. “We have set up safety net programs where getting a raise punishes a family instead of improving life conditions. Tremendous harm is being done, and the blind spots mean little attention goes into reducing barriers to economic independence, let alone having adequate basic human needs met. I am less interested in theory than what is happening to real people right now – and what legislation would do to make it worse.”
William Rogers, associate professor of economics at the University of Missouri – St. Louis, spoke of the complexity of gauging the effects of public policy as it relates to equitable economic development.
“There are no solutions to the problems of equitable development, there are only trade-offs,” Rogers said. “Even gaining a simplistic understanding of the trade-offs in a complicated and dynamic world requires ongoing feedback. Thus, any current or proposed policy that does not include a serious feedback mechanism should not be taken seriously.”
The workshop on water infrastructure had 20 panelists and was moderated by Karla Wilson, the manager of the Deer Creek Watershed Alliance. The discussion centered on how water infrastructure improvements can be achieved by better collaboration and stronger links between governments and research and data providers.
A strategy outlined in OneSTL addresses water quality with Blue, Gray, or Green Infrastructure initiatives that address water quality by linking projects that address sewers, drinking water, and green space.
During a lunch presentation Aaron Young, sustainability manager at East-West Gateway, and Medora Kealy, policy analyst at East-West Gateway, provided an update on OneSTL – highlighting projects taking place across the St. Louis region that are helping the region meet the goals of OneSTL and how the region is performing on broad measures of sustainability. The presentation drew from two reports – the Report to the Region 2015 and the Where We Stand Update on Sustainability.