Green Infrastructure is (De)Paving a Pathway to Resilience

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America is becoming increasingly and dangerously waterlogged. And it’s not just rural areas. Cities are especially vulnerable to a phenomenon called urban flooding because they are less permeable than their rural counterparts due to concrete surfaces and inadequate infrastructure. Runoff overflow can turn streets into rivers. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, by the end of the century, floodplains could increase by as much as 45 percent, with climate change causing heavier rains and more storms. Fixing deteriorated pipes and building more infrastructure will help cities, but it’s expensive and disruptive. Fortunately, cities have another solution that’s cheaper, more sustainable, and can lift up communities and provide jobs: a back-to-nature approach called Green Infrastructure.

Green Infrastructure is, at its core, about utilizing nature to manage stormwater. Pavement is impermeable, but vegetation and soil have an innate ability to manage water before it ever reaches a city’s sewers. Through strategically planted trees, parks, and wetlands, cities can reduce strain on their sewer systems, and reduce pollution at the same time. The Democracy Collaborative recently released a report recommending the use of green infrastructure as a community-based climate adaptation strategy.

Johanna Bozuwa, who authored the report, said in an interview, “We’re seeing the power of nature, every day. Some of our man-made solutions can’t stand up to what is happening around us… nature knows how to deal with these things better than we do, and it’s been around so much longer. The biomimicry community has found that we can use what is already here for our benefit and it will have positive ramifications.”

Green Infrastructure is an appealing policy solution because it has benefits far beyond stormwater management: research has long shown that increasing vegetation and green space increases quality of life in a community. “The exciting thing about green infrastructure is obviously this stormwater management piece,” said Bozuwa. “But if we are literally ripping up concrete and putting in trees, or shrubs, or even parks, that is going to have a multiplicity of benefits.”

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