American Planning Association: Planning Green Infrastructure for Healthy Communities

Green infrastructure is an approach to creating healthy communities that is gaining popularity as planners realize that traditional “gray” infrastructure is less effective at creating sustainable communities and more expensive to maintain.

Green infrastructure can be natural open space or green stormwater infrastructure, which mimics natural processes to infiltrate, “evapotranspirate” or reuse stormwater on the site where it is generated, according to the American Planning Association (APA). At the regional scale, green infrastructure takes the form of working farms and forests, regional parks, nature preserves, river corridors and greenways. At the city scale, green infrastructure takes the form of tree canopies, urban parks and green parkways and boulevards. At the building scale, green infrastructure includes stormwater planters, rain gardens, green roofs and living walls.

Through their Green Communities Center, APA has supported several initiatives to plan for green infrastructure in Baltimore and surrounding counties in Maryland. One such initiative APA participated in is the Greater Baltimore Wilderness Coalition (GBWC), a group of public, private, and nonprofit organizations working to conserve, restore and enhance a regional green infrastructure network that seeks to deliver multiple benefits for the people and wildlife of central Maryland.

With support from a Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and in partnership with a team led by the Conservation Fund, APA developed a regional green infrastructure network vision and implementation framework to guide local and regional policies and identify actions to increase resiliency in Greater Baltimore.

“The idea was to not only have local governments think about green infrastructure, which many of them are already doing, at the scale of their counties or municipalities or the City of Baltimore, but also (to) think about how they form part of a regional network of green infrastructure,” said David Rouse, the Managing Director of Research and Advisory Services at APA and leader of the APA team’s work on the GBWC.

APA also brought in a team of AICP planners through its Community Planning Assistance Teams (CPAT) program to help two local jurisdictions develop green infrastructure action plans.

CPAT worked with South Baltimore’s Brooklyn neighborhood, located on the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River, to create a plan to increase community resilience using green infrastructure. CPAT’s recommendations included increasing the visibility of underutilized Garrett Park, creating green streets; adding rain gardens, native plantings and pervious pavement; increasing the tree canopy; leveraging streetscape improvements to attract business investment; and connecting the community to the waterfront.

CPAT’s recommendations reflect GBWC’s four pillar approach of creating equity, discovery, biodiversity and resilience.

APA is also working nationally with the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) and the Low Impact Development Center (LIDC) on the Great Urban Parks Campaign to improve environmental and social outcomes in underserved communities through green infrastructure in local parks. This two-year project supports projects in Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver and Pittsburgh, as well as the creation of resources and training programs.

APA’s primary role is to create research-based educational resources on the connections between parks, green infrastructure and equity. Resources include webinars, conference sessions and a comprehensive resource guide.

Green infrastructure can provide benefits for the urban poor beyond stormwater management, but studies have shown that poor and underserved neighborhoods have less access to green infrastructure than wealthier communities, according to Rouse.

Creating green infrastructure in parks provides more than the environmental benefits of reduced flooding and improved water quality. It improves public health by creating access to nature and outdoor recreation, improving air and water quality, and reducing the urban heat island effect. Green infrastructure also benefits the economy by creating job opportunities for residents, attracting visitors and businesses to the community, and reducing energy, health care and gray infrastructure costs, making more funds available for other purposes.

APA is a nonprofit education and membership organization 38,000 members strong. Members include planners, commissioners, public officials, educators, students and engaged citizens who are committed to creating vital communities. APA and its professional institute, the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP), work to advance good planning practices to create healthy communities where people want to live, work and play.


More information:

Green Infrastructure: A Landscape Approach (PAS 571)