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Highlight: Guest Column: Green Infrastructure = Smart Infrastructure

April 2015 Newsletter


By Mia Colson, National Association of Regional Councils

As population growth continues to expand in suburban and urban areas, many neighborhoods are seeing trees and shrubs replaced by sidewalks and streets.  Increased development leaves less space available for natural landscape.  Inadequate vegetation reaps negative consequences for community livability.  Stormwater runoff, reduced air and water quality, and infrastructure costs all become major issues when plants and trees are taken out of the picture.  Green infrastructure and urban forestry projects provide cost-effective mechanisms for local governments to reduce stormwater runoff, meet environmental goals, and improve community livability. 

Although most people think about green infrastructure for its water quality benefits, green infrastructure has numerous economic benefits, including:

  • Increased Property Values: Green spaces can increase residential home values.  A study in Philadelphia found that when vacant lots were retrofitted with rain gardens and other green infrastructure, surrounding home values increased by up to thirty percent.
  • Reduced Infrastructure Costs: Public expenses for stormwater infrastructure are greatly reduced when relying on green infrastructure for stormwater management.  Green techniques typically cost less than gray infrastructure in cities with a combined sewer system. 
  • Job Creation: Developing and maintaining green infrastructure creates new job opportunities.
  • Energy Savings: The shade and insulation provided by green roofs, trees, and green spaces increases the energy efficiency of buildings and homes by reducing the need for heating and air conditioning.
  • Recreational Opportunities: Parks and other green areas present additional recreational opportunities that contribute to better quality of life.
  • Enhanced Livability: The aesthetic, health, and recreational benefits of green infrastructure improve community livability.  Green infrastructure reduces inner-city crime and dampens noise pollution.

Since natural landscapes are not confined by jurisdictional boundaries, local governments can benefit by working together on their green infrastructure programs.  As an advocate for regional cooperation, the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC) offers resources on multijurisdictional approaches to green infrastructure planning.  NARC partnered with Virginia Tech University’s Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability (VT) to develop a Roadmap to Green Infrastructure in Federal Agenciesthat helps local governments and regional councils better understand how each federal agency defines, implements, and funds green infrastructure.  NARC’s Regional Centers of Excellence Initiative promotes green infrastructure planning and projects at the regional level by supporting communication and peer-to-peer exchange among regional organizations engaged in this work. 

Launching in May 2015, NARC and VT created the Green Infrastructure & Forestry Toolkit (GIFT) website to assist both novice and expert local governments in developing a regional green infrastructure system. GIFT provides resources, case studies, and recommendations on how to plan and implement green infrastructure in communities.  In their research, NARC and VT identified five processes for using green infrastructure in your community:

  • Create Strong Partnerships: No community has made much progress without a strong, cohesive, and persistent group of allies – all committed to a common goal.
  • Gather Data About Your Community: Collect as much information as you can, including existing regional and municipal plans, watershed and wildlife plans, and census social and demographic indicators.
  • Engage Stakeholders, Make All Publics Your Partner: To accomplish green infrastructure goals, you must influence what residents, businesses, and institutions do on their own property.
  • Define Your Plan’s Strategy and Objectives: Many communities have completed successful green infrastructure and urban forestry plans.  Most follow a similar path of combining data collection, broadening and deepening community engagement, and collaborating on learning and decision-making. 
  • Integrate, Implement, Assess, and Adapt: Integrate green infrastructure into your plans, engage the implementing agencies, periodically assess the plan’s execution, and adapt the strategy as needed.

NARC and the Trust for Public Land are hosted a webinar on April 7th, focusing on how local governments can balance their communities’ conflicting demands for parks versus parking lots.

There is no one size fits all approach to green infrastructure, but the resources mentioned above will facilitate growing a robust green infrastructure program in your community.  For more information about how to create a regional green infrastructure system, visit www.narc.org/environment/-green-infrastructure-and-landcare.