Green infrastructure (GI) is an approach that communities can choose to maintain healthy waters, provide multiple environmental benefits and support more sustainable communities. Unlike our current model of single-purpose gray stormwater infrastructure, which utilizes a network of pipes and drains to dispose of rainwater, a GI uses natural and native vegetation and soil to manage the rainwater right where it falls. By weaving natural processes into the built environment, green infrastructure provides not only stormwater management, but also flood mitigation, air quality management, and many more potential benefits.
Currently our infrastructure has reached it’s useful limits, and is reaching the end of it’s structural lifetime which leaves us currently facing the issues of much of our major infrastructure is in need of replacement or repair. With the plunge of the economy in 2008-09, it left most major communities in poor financial condition, not to mention a steep decline in revenues, leaving them strapped for cash and looking for ways to cut spending, meaning they can’t afford the bills to repair or replace the current infrastructure woes. At this time it makes not only financial sense, but long term sense to find more resilient and affordable solutions that meet many objectives all at once, and in this case, green infrastructure is one viable, long term solution that fits the bill here.
What is Green InfrastructureGreen infrastructure consists of strategically planned and managed networks of natural lands, working landscapes and other open spaces that conserve ecosystem values and functionality and provide the associated benefits of natural and native ecosystems to human populations.
The foundation of GI networks are just as any other ecosystem, their natural elements – woodlands, wetlands, rivers, grasslands – that work together as a whole to sustain ecological values and functions, just as in any ecosystem. A healthy, fully functioning natural or restored ecological system is essential to ensure the availability of the network’s ecological services.
Additional elements and functions can then be added to the network, depending on the desires and needs of it’s designers, such as working lands, trails along with other recreational features, including cultural and historic sites. These can all be incorporated into working green infrastructure networks that contribute to the health and quality of life for not only America’s communities, but to the wildlife that also benefits from these systems. This is not limited to America however, as this is a global development strategy that can, and should be implemented worldwide.
A Strategic Approach to Land Conservation
As we developed our lands back in the day, most developers and planners did not consider the environment or it’s importance and completely disregarded it, if not just plowed over it. Just as we must address this form of irresponsible, haphazard development, we must also address haphazard conservation efforts, or conservation activities that are reactive, site-specific, narrowly focused, or not integrated with other ecofriendly efforts to restore ecosystems. We must now implement a smart growth strategy to strategically direct and influence the patterns of land development, just as we need “smart conservation” to strategically direct our nation’s and the worlds conservation practices. Green infrastructure can provide a viable solution that not only ensures environmental protection and a higher quality of life within communities, but also can serve as a regulatory platform for landowners and investors.
Green Infrastructure at Multiple Scales
While GI planning typically occurs on a broad ‘landscape scale,’ elements of the over-arching network can be found at all scales, from state-wide, to the county, city, and parcel/site scale. Critical elements of the implementation strategy, such as low-impact development practices (LID), conservation developments, green/grey interface, etc., are all necessary key components in the implementation of any successful GI plan, and are frequently found at the site/parcel scale.
- Green Roofs:
- Depending on rain intensity and greenroof soil depths, anywhere’s from 15 to 90 percent of runoff can be absorbed, which considerably reduces runoff and potential pollutants from traditional impervious roofing surfaces like shingles and tiles or wood shake.
- Overall building energy costs can be reduced due to the greenroofs’ natural thermal insulation properties which in turn leads to structures that are cooler in the warm summer months and warmer in the cold winter months.
- Greenways are either public or private corridors of open space which often follow natural land or water features and which are primarily managed to protect and enhance existing natural resources and ecosystems.
- Streambanks along trails & greenways provide more surface area for natural absorption to lessen necessary sewer capacity.
- Trees slow down and clean water before it enters a stream or sewer systems.
- Additional benefits of Greenways: Increased tourism and opportunities for physical activity as well as increased property values.
- Native Landscaping:
- Native landscaping attracts a variety of birds, butterflies and other animals, supporting biodiversity.
- Native landscaping, just like the name implies, is native to the area, thus greatly reducing, if not eliminating maintenance costs. It also garners more native wildlife to the area, giving it that extra potential for tourist attractions or even just local attractions.
- Once established, native plants and landscapes do not need fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides or watering, thus benefiting the environment and reducing maintenance costs.
- Porous Pavement:
- Reduces impervious areas
- Aids in recharging the groundwater
- Improves local water quality
- Can help to reduce stormwater drainage and demand on sewage systems
- Eliminates the need for detention basins
- A rain garden is a man-made depression in the ground that is used as a landscape tool to improve water quality and reduce local flooding. The rain garden forms a natural “bioretention area” by collecting water runoff and storing it, permitting it be filtered and slowly absorbed by the soil.
- Rain gardens recharge groundwater sources, meaning that fewer pipes need to be installed to move water around the region.
- They help protect communities from flooding and drainage overflow and provide valuable wildlife habitat.
- Additional benefit: Less maintenance costs than traditional forms of landscaping.