I hadn’t really given this question any thought if I’m honest. I assumed green infrastructure included things like street trees, parks, stormwater retention facilities, and probably green roofs. As it turns out, I’m a little more inclusive in my definition compared to many and I may have thought about it more than many US municipalities.
Grabowski et al (2022) examined city plans from 20 US cities and found that 40% of the plans that mentioned green infrastructure didn’t provide any explanation or definition. When they do offer a definition the majority focus on stormwater. Areas like parks are often actually excluded from the definitions that do exist. In response, the authors developed an inclusive definition to support future planning and development.
I’m not going to put the entire definition here because you can go read it in their paper, which is open access. But I do want to discuss some of the pieces. Fundamental to their definition is the idea of interconnected systems: natural and technological systems are integrated to meet “socially negotiated goals” (Discussion, para. 1). Basically, we need the systems to serve specific functions and provide social and environmental benefits.
Interconnections are something that Western culture is pretty bad at. We like analyzing and fixing problems a piece at a time. As a result, it kind of makes sense that something like green infrastructure gets simplified to a single area. But that ignores the reality of the natural systems in which we all live.
We need to look at the entire system. Stormwater facilities don’t operate in isolation. Many other features that could be included in green infrastructure from those parks and green roofs to potentially even active transportation networks have the potential to impact stormwater. But stormwater also isn’t the only concern. Heat waves and air pollution are among a list of potential environmental concerns. But green infrastructure also impacts or reflects social concerns as well. Who has access to parks and the benefit they provide is just one example of what needs to be considered during planning. But, of course, that depends that equity of access is identified as a socially negotiated goal and achieving that is a whole other conversation.