Green Infrastructure Helps Communities Become “Climate Smart”

At the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in Baltimore, a panel of experts called for using green infrastructure to make communities “climate smart,” which can also boost their resilience to natural disasters.

According to Breece Robertson, the Trust for Public Land’s geographic information systems (GIS) director, climate-smart cities use green infrastructure in four ways (see a brief video above). They create “safe, interconnected opportunities to walk or bike; cool down the city by planting trees and creating parks; absorb stormwater to save energy and recharge aquifers; and protect cities through green shorelines.”

In a pilot study with New York City government, Columbia University, and Drexel University on how to use green infrastructure to protect New York City’s waterfront, the team created a GIS data tool to model priorities. According to Robertson, the models found that “green buffers really do improve resilience.”

Pete Wiley, an economist with the NOAA’s office for coastal management, spoke about a post-Hurricane Sandy assessment of the restoration of living shorelines in New York and New Jersey. According to Wiley, one of the challenges is communities and policymakers “think about restoring what was” because they only regard a “narrow range of benefits based on a specific issue.”

Instead, policymakers must “consider the full range of the benefits for all restoration options.” For instance, more resilient coastal designs that apply green infrastructure can provide a range of benefits, including “recreation, carbon sequestration, storm surge protection, and wildlife habitats.”

Hilarie Sorensen, an educator with Minnesota Sea Grant, described how Duluth, Minnesota is assessing how to use green infrastructure in the wake of a massive storm. Th city, which is located in the Great Lakes Basin, suffered from an estimated $100 million in damages after a catastrophic flash flood hit the region in 2012. The organization selected a 4,400-acre site called Chester Creek for an economic assessment of using a green infrastructure approach, because “it had sustained the most damage from the flood and discharged into Lake Superior.”

A cost-benefit analysis explored the use of green infrastructure to reach 76-acre-feet of water storage, with the goal of a 20 percent reduction in peak discharge for a 100-year storm event. The researchers walked through green infrastructure options and selected the “most viable” during meetings with the local NOAA team. They then worked with the local planning department to “preserve existing green spaces and wetlands.” They “calculated the square footage of roofs” and identified potential “green or blue roofs;” they also examined “tax-forfeited properties to preserve parcels of land.” The group received a $250,000 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant in 2014 to fund restoration projects that also support green infrastructure.