Green Infrastructure: Why Do We Need It?

by McKenzi Heger | February 11, 2019

Have you ever wondered what the purpose of rooftop gardens are? How about those mid-sidewalk planter boxes? While they may be pleasing to the eye in cities, they act as more than just outdoor décor. These vegetative areas are known as a form of green infrastructure and they have an important part in maintaining the health of our environment. While the EPA defines it as “a cost-effective, resilient approach to managing wet weather impacts that provide many community benefits,” there’s more to green infrastructure than what meets the eye. Let’s take a closer look. The fact we are experiencing more extreme storms and wetter weather suggests that focus on green infrastructure projects, no matter how small, remains critically important.

urban tree canopyUnlike its grey counterpart, green infrastructure works with nature to control and treat stormwater runoff while directing it away from the built environment. Because of this, it’s known to benefit various environments including specific sites, neighborhoods, cities, and even counties. The use of vegetation, soil, and other elements allow for the flow of water to be managed and cleaned properly, leaving the environment and our planet as healthy as possible. Green infrastructure also has the ability to benefit humans and wildlife by improving air quality and habitats and promoting healthy living through the creation of more outdoor green space.

Depending on the size of land, green infrastructure can bring various benefits. At a large scale (cities and counties), certain methods are able to use nature to provide habitats for wildlife, prevent flooding, and purify air quality and water. More and more County and Municipal planning commissions are adopting green infrastructure requirements into the planning process. At a smaller scale (neighborhoods, community associations, and related specific sites), other methods are put in place to mimic nature’s natural abilities by helping soak up and store rainfall.  In several Maryland Counties, for instance, there is significant movement amongst all of the churches and religious institutions of all faith to utilize the acreage they occupy to enable restoration of streams and forested systems to meet the green infrastructure mandate. A few methods or systems include:

  • Downspout Disconnection — This practice uses rooftop drainage pipes to reroute rainwater from draining into storm sewers. Soiled/pebbled areas are used to cleanse and purify the water. This type of system is most beneficial in urban areas.
  • Rainwater Harvesting — These systems are used to collect and store rainfall for repurposing. It is designed to reduce runoff and provide an extra source of water.
  • Rain Gardens — Also known as bioretention cells, this practice involves creating vegetative basins that absorb stormwater runoff from buildings and surfaces like sidewalks and streets.
  • Planter Boxes — Just like rain gardens, planter boxes also absorb runoff from surfaces like sidewalks and streets. They’re most popular in urban areas.
  • Bioswales — Typically built streetside, bioswales are vegetated/mulched areas that collect and filter stormwater runoff.
  • Permeable Pavements — Using spaces in between the pavement, this method treats water as it lands and helps prevent flooding.
  • Green Roofs — Covered in vegetation, these roofs collect rainfall and turn to evapotranspiration for removal. You might see this method often in urban settings.
  • Urban Tree Canopy — Trees have the ability to reduce the amount of rainfall by soaking up stormwater with the use of leaves and branches as a barrier.
  • Land Conversation — Like the urban tree canopy practice, simply protecting open spaces, like riparian zones, wetlands and hillsides, help aid in controlling stormwater runoff. Land conservation ensures nature’s ability to control excess rainfall by not removing trees or vegetation.

Without these methods, rainwater (especially that of urban areas) is left untreated and unable to be soaked into the ground. Because of this, it’s left to flow downstream, collecting trash, bacteria, oil, and other harmful pollutants along the way. This contaminated water then meets sewers and eventually nearby waterways.

Ready for a challenge? Next time you’re out and about, see how many green infrastructure methods you see on your drive. We bet you’ll see quite a few! If you’d like to learn more about green infrastructure and which GreenVest projects have included its services, contact us.