NEW YORK -- One of the biggest environmental challenges faced by U.S. cities and towns is coping with the stormwater that accumulates from even routine rainfall. Urban areas are covered in roads and buildings, which prevent rainwater from being absorbed into the ground. Instead, it flows over rooftops, parking lots, streets and sidewalks, picking up pollutants along the way. The resulting stormwater can wind up flooding homes, overwhelming sewers and treatment plants and polluting surrounding waterways with contaminated run-off and untreated sewage.
In the past, many of these problems were addressed by building hard infrastructure that relied on pipes, storage tanks and bigger treatment plants. But as these measures have become more costly and difficult to implement, municipal planners increasingly are turning to green infrastructure systems, which help manage stormwater and wastewater through conservation of forests, fields and wetlands as well as engineered processes that draw inspiration from nature.
To help communities implement green infrastructure, Regional Plan Association has produced a guide outlining successful green infrastructure practice. The guide showcases nine approaches that planners and policy makers can use to successfully integrate these technologies, from securing spaces to funding construction to managing implementation.
Green infrastructure encourages infiltration and reduces peak flows to streets and storm sewers. It has been used to protect clean drinking water, provide water for irrigation and reduce flooding risk. Some of the systems being adopted or enhanced by municipalities include:
- Porous pavement, natural drainage (bioswale) areas;
- High-performance streets featuring water-absorbing landscaping;
- Green roofs, rain barrels and downspout collection;
- Land conservation and erosion control
Green infrastructure has additional benefits. Plants and soils enhance streets and sidewalks, improve air quality, reduce energy demand and expand wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities. Protecting stream corridors and other green spaces can be an important component of an overall design strategy for communities, helping create a place that people want to live, work and play.
“Green infrastructure needs to be integrated with land use, site design and architectural decisions in order to succeed,” said Robert J. Pirani, RPA’s vice president for environment and energy. “Our research found that implementing green infrastructure projects often floundered because of difficulties in incorporating them into other planning practices. We hope that this guide gives cities and towns the tools to make green infrastructure measures commonplace.”