More than half of the world’s population live in urban areas. Over the course of the past few centuries we have experienced a rapid growth in the migration of populations from rural to urban areas .(Ritchie & Roser, 2018) Presently, 4.3 billion people live in urban areas and it is projected that by 2050, 7 billion people will be living in urban areas (Ritchie & Roser, 2018). The rapid increase in global population, accompanied by the massive movement of people to urban areas, gives rise to the looming question of how will city planners ensure that the infrastructures used to support society can withstand the impacts from people, climate change, and economic change throughout generations. (Ritchie & Roser, 2018).
Though this concept of green infrastructures might be unknown to many, they are actually all around us. The Green Infrastructure Ontario Coalition defines green infrastructure as “the natural vegetative systems and green technologies that collectively provide society with a multitude of economic, environmental, health, and social benefits.”(Green Infrastructure Ontario, n.d.) Examples of green infrastructures include, parks and forests, green roofs and walls, bioswales (which act as a storm water system), and many more.
“As cities have grown rapidly across the nation, many have neglected infrastructure projects and paved over green spaces that once absorbed rainwater.” — Charles Duhigg
The Environmental, Social, and Economic Impact of Green Infrastructure (Adapted from the Global Street Design Guide)
These three pillars will be used to assess how green infrastructures are environmentally sound, how they support the community through social and economic aspects (ESG Investing and Analysis, n.d.). The next part of this article will highlight how green infrastructures support and promote all three pillars..
The environmental impact of green infrastructure on nature enhances the biodiversity of native species and provides new habitats that were once destroyed by anthropogenic effects (Global Designing Cities Initiative, n.d.). This increase in biodiversity creates awareness for citizens that live in urban areas to be cautious of species’ natural habitats such as parks and forests. Citizens can learn to avoid littering and polluting the surrounding environment to improve the habitats of surrounding species. For example, green roofs, which contain areas of different kinds of vegetation, including trees, shrubs, crops, and grasses, contribute towards promoting biodiversity by acting as a food source for insects and birds (Green Infrastructure Ontario, n.d.).
Another benefit is the “cooling” effect created by green infrastructures in urban areas. Tree planting initiatives and forests create an urban cooling effect by reducing ambient temperatures between 2-8 °C (Global Designing Cities Initiative, n.d.). These trees also provide a nice shade for hot sunny days.
Green infrastructures also contribute towards climate change mitigation as plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Improved water quality is another environmental benefit of green infrastructures. Natural infrastructures within cities improve stormwater runoff by acting as a filter and reducing the level of contaminants that deposit and infect other areas within the community (Green Infrastructure Ontario, n.d.).
Green infrastructures also contribute in attenuating the impact of natural disasters such as floods. For example, bioswales allow for the recharge of groundwater aquifers, and minimize the impacts of floods to infrastructures and people in the society, consequently reducing the amount of money needed to recover from such disasters (Global Designing Cities Initiative, n.d.).
Lastly, green infrastructures improve air quality in urban areas as trees can act as natural air filters.
When natural green spaces are preserved and well maintained, it creates an aesthetic space that is inviting and inclusive for all (Global Designing Cities Initiative, n.d.). The aesthetics that come from green infrastructures provide features that improve the way urban areas look. Parks also provide a natural landscape that is enjoyable for society and promotes healthy well-being. Green Infrastructures encourage outdoor activity, including walking, swimming, and other recreational activities (Global Designing Cities Initiative, n.d.).
The implementation of programs that promote green infrastructures in urban areas such as tree planting or community gardens, can serve to educate and teach youths skills on how to care for nature, as well as make them value green infrastructures within their urban communities (Green Infrastructure Ontario, n.d.).
One of the economic benefits of green infrastructure is cost savings through lower energy consumption in homes and buildings (Global Designing Cities Initiative, n.d.). Green infrastructures reduce the energy required to cool buildings and, in turn, save money.
Using green infrastructures as drainage basins (which regulate water levels from floods) within urban areas could contribute towards improving the lifetime of gray engineered structures and avoiding costs from building new ones (Global Designing Cities Initiative, n.d.). This decreases the maintenance and dependence on continually building new infrastructures so the infrastructures are not overused or degrade too quickly. Green infrastructures highlight new and affordable options that are natural and avoid constructing new buildings that cause continued disintegration of land and difficulty in planning purposes for cities.
Green infrastructures also contribute towards increasing the value of properties in a community. Agriculture and urban activities such as farmers’ markets generate business and increase job opportunities and development (Global Designing Cities Initiative, n.d.).
A good example is the Great Lakes in Ontario which provide numerous income generation avenues such as tourism, recreation, transportation, etc. for its communities. If we miss caring for the environment, we miss out on the benefits provided (Green Infrastructure Ontario, n.d.).
Call to Action: 3 Ways to support green infrastructures within your community!
- Support trees, parks, and green spaces. Keep your spaces clean, green, and aesthetic. Consider starting your initiative that supports your neighborhood and biodiversity.
- Support governments, municipalities, and stakeholders that promote and properly manage green spaces within your urban area
- Encourage action on policies that are recommended by the city. If your city has a community garden or areas that need to be preserved and or maintained- try to promote it and use it!
Benefits of Green Infrastructure | Global Designing Cities Initiative. (n.d.). Retrieved July 5, 2022, from https://globaldesigningcities.org/publication/global-street-design-guide/utilities-and-infrastructure/green-infrastructure-stormwater-management/benefits-green-infrastructure/
ESG Investing and Analysis. (n.d.). Retrieved July 5, 2022, from https://www.cfainstitute.org/en/research/esg-investing
Natural Heritage – Green Infrastructure Ontario. (n.d.). Retrieved July 5, 2022, from https://greeninfrastructureontario.org/natural-heritage/
Ritchie, H., & Roser, M. (2018). Urbanization – Our World in Data. https://ourworldindata.org/urbanization#what-share-of-people-will-live-in-urban-areas-in-the-future
What is Green Infrastructure? | US EPA. (n.d.). Retrieved July 5, 2022, from https://www.epa.gov/green-infrastructure/what-green-infrastructure
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