A New Definition for Green Infrastructure

green infrastructure
Green infrastructure (GI) has become an important part of urban planning and the city landscape. These developments help our communities build environmental sustainability and resilience and provide impressive cost benefits – from increased liveability to flood mitigation.

However, a recent study in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment shows that while we have embraced these philosophies – the definition of green infrastructure is often unclear.

Across 120 US cities examined in the research, it was found that approximately 40% of development plans for green infrastructure projects did not explicitly define the term, and over 50% defined the term differently.
Confusion around this impacts funding distribution, uptake, and feasibility.

The study noted many diverse types of GI present in modern cities – including natural habitat, trees, parklands, bioretention, stormwater facilities, blue-green corridors, and green roofs.

With a diverse need for environmental interventions, green infrastructure is implemented in a range of project plans. They provide social, environmental, economic, and ecological benefits – and the report shows the need for these frameworks to be reflected in our definition of GI.

GI: Engineering a New Definition

GI natural habitat

As we future proof our cities, green infrastructure is pushing sustainable thinking forward. Stormwater assets may be included in naturalized solutions, such as bioretention in parklands, or as part of engineered proprietary solutions.

Moving towards a clearer, consistent, and inclusive definition for GI helps open the door for better understanding, implementation, and planning. Rather than framing green infrastructure as an engineered or ecological solution, the report advocates for a definition that encompasses the scope of modern green infrastructure, as follows –

A system of interconnected ecosystems, ecological–technological hybrids, and built infrastructures providing contextual social, environmental, and technological functions and benefits. As a planning concept, GI brings attention to how diverse types of urban ecosystems and built infrastructures function in relation to one another to meet socially negotiated goals.

With narrow definitions, we risk these assets competing for viability in our urban landscape – when many of the best outcomes are achieved by ensuring diversity in urban planning and providing the budget, policy, and workforce to adopt varied solutions.

Moving forward, an inclusive definition of green infrastructure is needed, and this research is helping move the conversation towards common ground. Read more about Green Infrastructure in Issue 6 of The Flow.

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