What is green infrastructure?

Green infrastructure (GI) is a term that has primarily been used to describe stormwater systems that are designed to mimic nature to provide improved water quality benefits, including increased stormwater infiltration. In this context, green infrastructure is understood as a tool to manage stormwater and is often applied in highly urbanized areas and in new developments. Many planners, developers, engineers, and stormwater professionals employ green infrastructure on a “site-specific” scale. Bioswales, rain gardens, permeable pavement, and green roofs are all forms of site-specific GI that are used to manage stormwater.

Green infrastructure also applies to the broader landscape, and can include open spaces, natural areas, and other lands targeted for conservation. This form of GI is referred to as “landscape-scale,” and has been a tool increasingly used by planners and land use professionals to address the ongoing environmental, social, and economic challenges of the 21st century. In this context, green infrastructure can be defined as a strategically planned and managed network of wilderness, parks, greenways, conservation easements, and working lands with conservation value that supports native species, maintains natural ecological process, sustains air and water resources, and contributes to the health and quality of life for America’s communities and people (Benedict and McMahon).

Landscape-scale green infrastructure aims to protect and conserve larger landscapes for their societal benefits, including streams, wetlands, forests, prairies, and other natural areas. Parks, nature preserves, and stream corridors are all examples of landscape-scale GI. Agricultural lands that are designed in ways that improve ecosystem health and provide food are also a valuable form of landscape-scale GI, providing multiple benefits to society. Landscape-scale GI is most effective when it creates a connected network of protected lands, which can encourage wildlife movement and dispersal, while also allowing for connected trail systems for walkers, hikers, bikers, and other trail users. Implementing both site-specific and landscape-scale GI has many environmental, economic, and community benefits. To learn more, read below and visit HEC’s blog to read articles related to green infrastructure.