An Interview with Diane Brossart, President of Valley Forward

BY CHRISTINA LUND

What is Valley Forward Association?

Valley Forward is a business-based public interest organization that began advocating for the environment 42 years ago. Ours is the first and only organization in this region to focus exclusively on the balance between economic growth and environmental quality. The basic agenda encompasses land use planning, transportation and air quality, water management and energy – all issues facing growing population centers.

What intrigues you about non-profit?

They say you have three careers in life and that’s true for me. I started as journalist, then moved into public relations and actually managed Valley Forward’s PR pro bono for a number of years through an agency. It was a great opportunity to interface with Valley Forward’s leadership, learn the issues and have an impact–I was hooked early on.

What is Valley Forward doing to make Arizona sustainable?

Our organization helps ensure that decisions about how residents will live tomorrow are made with foresight and imagination today. We advocate for desert preservation and open space, more compact and walkable communities, a balanced multi-modal transportation system including rail and transit-oriented design, air quality and water conservation initiatives, as well as clean energy and green technology. We’ve recently launched a coalition to take our mission statewide through Arizona Forward to promote a holistic sustainability agenda in the Grand Canyon State.

What are your current projects?

Last month, we launched an in-depth resource guide titled, “Why Parks and Open Space Matter – The Economics of Arizona’s Natural Assets.” It’s designed to facilitate public education on the economic impact and importance of parks and open space in Arizona.

Additionally, we are now the lead organization promoting Canalscape. With more than 180 miles of canals, our metroplex has more waterways than Venice and Amsterdam combined. But we still treat a lot of the canal system like hidden alleys. Canalscape embraces this vast network by facing our community towards them to create gathering spaces and recreational corridors.

What are some of the most interesting sustainable projects you’ve seen come through Phoenix?

I’ve always been intrigued by what our region has done in terms of river restoration. The revitalization of the Salt River in Tempe and Phoenix is inspiring– two very different projects but both models of sustainability that bring life back to the river and with its economic vitality. There’s now a master plan underway for the development of over 18 miles of Salt River restoration through the City of Mesa and the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community. This multimillion-dollar project will encompass almost 2,000 acres of river corridor including wetland ponds, extensive multi-use trails, and the rehabilitation and revegetation of a neglected and abused landscape.

And, of course, we are seeing more Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) as a result of our light rail system. TOD provides an alternative to traditional suburban housing and community development – it includes a mix of housing choices in urban environments that are connected to employment centers, essential services and transportation options.

What is your vision for a sustainable Arizona?

My vision is for Arizona to be among the best places in America to live and work, leading the nation in sustainable growth and attracting visitors to our world-renowned natural amenities and recreational opportunities.

What advice would you could give someone interested in entering a career in sustainability?

My advice to someone starting out in any profession is to be proactive, get experience (even if it means offering yourself for free as an intern) and follow your heart. Find something you like to do and it will never be work — it will become a passion and give you immense gratification.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?

Spending time with my two teenage sons and visiting new places around the Valley and state.

How could one connect with Valley Forward?

Come out to one of our events, attend an issue committee meeting and/or connect with us via social media (@ValleyForward, @AZForward, facebook.com/ArizonaForward and facebook.com/ValleyForwardAssociation).

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