Green infrastructure is a planning and development technique for urban cities, community spaces, or individual buildings utilizing sustainable materials that benefit the home or business owner and the surrounding natural ecosystem.
Green infrastructure can include anything from green roofs and living walls, bioswales and retention ponds along street curbs to renewable energy sources that increase the ecosystem’s functionality as a whole.
It may sound like a lofty idea. However, designers and planners need to be thoughtful when designing urban areas and incorporate natural environments into different aspects of life and the community’s built surroundings. Green infrastructure projects can range from building a complete living ecosystem on top of a building or as small as rethinking an existing neighbourhood parkette for its citizens to enjoy.
Green infrastructure has many benefits for the environment, helping to reduce all types of pollution. Plants and trees can absorb CO2 and other air pollutants. Succulents and mosses are perfect examples of low maintenance, resilient plant species that can improve air quality. Polluted water can be filtered and cleaned through retention ponds in gardens or along street curbs before reaching groundwater systems. Noise pollution is also significantly reduced as plants and trees can absorb and reduce street noise by almost 50%.
Green infrastructure is also crucial to human health. This type of infrastructure creates a social atmosphere that benefits mental health and overall personal well-being. Natural landscaping can also be even more visually aesthetically pleasing than other artificial types of land use. Living walls and roofs are a great alternative to small spaces that may not fit a full-sized garden as they can provide just as much fresh food.
If you live in or near a city, the temperature can be up to 5 degrees warmer than in a nearby rural area, known as the urban heat island effect. Green infrastructure and increased vegetation can significantly reduce the temperature within your area.
The City of Toronto has incorporated green infrastructure through a project called Green Streets. This project includes bioswales and improved water infiltration along sidewalks and street corners. By planting native plant species and building effective filtration systems underground, the city will see significantly less flooding on roads during heavy rainfall, making it safer for pedestrians travelling by foot or commuting by car. They are also promoting and working on smart grids and renewable energy sources throughout the city.
An example of green infrastructure being introduced globally is a solution for the excessive number of impervious surfaces in our cities. Impervious surfaces include concrete and asphalt roads or sidewalks and are surfaces that do not allow water to be absorbed or filtered through to the soil underneath. It causes significant runoff, increased flooding, and highly contaminated water. The innovative solution being introduced is called permeable promenade or concrete. This new material is much more porous than regular concrete, allowing almost all the water to infiltrate back into the ground.
Another example of green infrastructure worldwide is shown at the ACROS Fukuoka Prefectural International Hall in Japan. In the heart of the city, the 15 story building has an enormous interactive green roof accessible to the public to enjoy and significantly reduces energy usage inside the building.
These projects are an investment; however, the benefits are paramount for both you and the environment. Our built surroundings have created so much disruption and destruction to the natural environment, which is an intelligent way to reduce our footprint.