After years of neglect, infrastructure is again being discussed as a major priority for public investment in many jurisdictions. Ontario’s new Climate Change Strategy calls for the building of green infrastructure, among other things, to help us mitigate and adapt to climate change. In the past, public investments have largely been directed to only grey infrastructure, (roads, bridges, water treatment plants) – the same type we have been building for decades. It’s time for change.
Here are 14 really good reasons why living green infrastructure such as trees, green roofs and walls, wetlands, and rain gardens should command a much greater share of public infrastructure investment.
1. Green complements grey
The lifespan of roads, roofs and pipes can be extended when they are built in tandem with green infrastructure. Providing shade and reducing stormwater runoff extend the life span of grey infrastructure demonstrating that grey and green investments can function effectively together.
2. Fiscally prudent
Green infrastructure reduces water pollution more cost effectively than grey infrastructure alone. New York City recently concluded that a green and grey infrastructure approach offered cost savings of more than $1.5 billion over a grey infrastructure only approach.
3. Better return on investment
Green infrastructure provides multiple, rather than single purpose benefits. Green roofs can manage stormwater and save energy. Green infrastructure provides more benefits per dollar invested than single purpose grey infrastructure.
4. Food security
Community gardens and green roofs provide both recreation and better access to local, healthy food. Food grown close to home reduces costs and environmental impacts associated with long haul transportation and can create jobs and strengthen community.
5. Reduces building energy use
Green roofs, walls and neighboring trees can make individual buildings more energy efficient and climate friendly by reducing heating and cooling demands and greenhouse gases.
6. Creates jobs
Green infrastructure investment, installation and maintenance is labor intensive and thus a great local job creator – from plant nurseries to designers and contractors.
7. Reduces urban heat island
Cities are getting hotter and bigger. As we grow, buildings, roads and other grey infrastructure will continue to absorb and retain heat. To balance growth, living green infrastructure naturally cools cities.
8. Cleaner air, healthier people
Trees and vegetation directly remove air pollutants, as well as contribute to lowering stress and blood pressure. Lower air temperatures slow the formation of ground-level ozone or smog, which in turn can reduce asthma rates.
9. Cleaner water
Pollutants captured in stormwater runoff contribute to water contamination in nearby lakes and rivers. When rainwater is absorbed where it falls, plants, soils and microbes break down many common pollutants leaving our surface water cleaner.
10. Reduces flooding
Vegetation, drainage layers and soils retain water and reduce stormwater volumes. This keeps the rain out of our drains, combined sewers and sewer systems and helps reduce pollution and floods.
11. Higher property values
Many studies prove that the mere presence of living green infrastructure can improve property values – by as much as 30 percent.
12. Active transportation
Connected green spaces make cities more livable, encouraging people to hike, bike, walk, and enjoy nature more often. New York’s Highline is a great example of this.
13. Improved biodiversity
Urban forests, green roofs, walls and wetlands which embrace species diversity creating habitat for native bees, birds, butterflies, rare plants and other species.
14. Happier people
Seeing green actually makes people happier, improves their quality of life and contributes to a greater sense of community. In schools, it contributes to better academic performance and can reduce symptoms associated with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders.
Green infrastructure provides incredible value over time – and now more than ever we need to be planning our cities around the changing realities of climate, water availability, and growing global populations. We think the time to invest in these solutions is here.
Steven W. Peck, GRP, is the founder and president of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities. Michelle Sawka is the Project Coordinator for The Green Infrastructure Ontario Coalition. Register for the fourth annual Grey to Green Conference on June 1-4, 2016 at Ryerson University in Toronto to learn about living green infrastructure.