Isabella Randle: The Politics of Green Infrastructure
Isabella Randle is a sophomore from Tomball, Texas double majoring in political science and philosophy. She is involved in a variety of activities on campus that include working with Alternative Spring Break, the Vanderbilt Political Review, and Vanderbilt College Democrats. Isabella cares deeply about environmental issues. During the summer of 2019, she returned to Texas as a full-time intern with Environment Texas in Austin. Environment Texas is a citizen-based environmental advocacy project of Environment America, which is nation-wide. Her primary role: advocate for clean water in Texas.
As a Vanderbilt student, Isabella does political science research. When she started her internship, she learned that the City of Austin was undergoing a rewrite of their outdated Land Development Code. At the same time, they were starting to implement Water Forward, the city’s 100-year integrated water resource plan.
“I attended Water Forward Task Force meetings, Water Forward stakeholder engagement workshops, and meetings with the development community,” said Isabella. “At these events, I would listen to the opinions of others, and voice my support of green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) and beneficial reuse requirements. I wrote a letter to the city manager, and tabled at a town hall meeting to educate the public about Water Forward.”
Isabella also worked on the second edition of the Texas Stormwater Scorecard, used to evaluate cities and counties on their green stormwater policies. Isabella described reaching out to more than 90 county and municipal stormwater managers across the state, “I sent follow-up after follow-up, and finally got two counties and four cities to agree to complete my checklist and be part of the report.”
There were a variety of challenges that Isabella had to overcome to be successful, from the technical jargon at meetings, to feeling acutely aware that oftentimes she was the youngest person and one of the few women in the room. Isabella was also quick to realize how slow government works, and was surprised that, in a relatively progressive city like Austin, not everyone supported GSI.
“The general development community did not support GSI requirements because of the already long and often conflicting lists of requirements they had to comply with,” she explained. “Additionally, the affordable housing community was extremely concerned that requiring GSI would increase their building expenses, and they would not be able to house as many people.”
Despite the obstacles and delays, Isabella found great value in the experience and the skills she developed. She helped create a GSI educational video, attended symposiums and conferences, wrote a letter to the mayor of Houston to release an EPA consent decree, testified at a Houston City Council meeting, and she even suited up and went into a beehive for the Save the Bees campaign. Back at Vanderbilt, Isabella’s focus returns to research, like the Latin American Public Opinion Project. Ultimately, the internship will be a building block for Immersion Vanderbilt. Isabella plans to study abroad in Latin America, and look for opportunities in comparative politics and international diplomacy.
“Understanding smart solutions by being fully immersed in one topic [clean water] taught me so much about balancing multiple interests, and the importance of coalition building,” she said. “If I could do it all again, I would continue to ask for and accept any and all tasks by boss could think of, to gain experience and diversify my environmental knowledge.”