In last week’s edition of BusinessGreen.com, “AECOM’s Robert Spencer argues green infrastructure ideas should be considered at the start of any major urban development project.”
A shift in culture and understanding is required if green infrastructure, or working with nature to achieve desired engineering outcomes, is to gain equal footing with other types of infrastructure. Furthermore, green infrastructure is not effective when implemented in isolation – it must be considered as an integral part of urban development plans. Considering green infrastructure as a network, rather than separate elements such as individual trees, swales and green roofs, is key to its wide-scale success. Piece meal measures won’t have a huge impact across an area unless they form part of a systems approach.
To overcome this challenge, green infrastructure ideas need to be brainstormed alongside traditional technical optioneering at the very start of a project. Ideally, green infrastructure will be considered whenever designs are being developed for a major piece of infrastructure or urban development.
A hybrid approach that looks at how green infrastructure can complement hard engineered infrastructure to enhance a scheme brings a number of environmental and cost benefits. Examples include using reed beds for water treatment or replacing manufactured noise barriers with grass embankments. Sea defences incorporating natural systems like oysterbeds have also achieved significant credibility, for example in New York City’s waterfront. Crucially, green infrastructure tends to exhibit multiple co-benefits such as helping alleviate flooding, sequestering carbon and improving biodiversity and water, noise and air quality.
At the simplest level, green infrastructure is just good to be around too, it improves our sense of well-being in often tense urban environments. But benefits like these are only achieved if those responsible for the ongoing operations and maintenance have an appreciation for the long-term advantages of the green infrastructure.