Green infrastructure helps cities with climate change. So why isn’t there more of it?
Federal agencies are beginning to hand out billions of dollars in infrastructure spending, the largest investment ever made in the country's water system. Much of it will go to improving pipes, drains and stormwater systems. But some scientists and urban planners are pushing to fund projects that are better adapted to the changing climate.
Instead of just gray infrastructure, supporters say the answer is green.
Green infrastructure, whether it's large rain gardens or plants along a street median, has the same purpose as big storm sewers: to manage large amounts of water that can build up during heavy rains. Plants and soil absorb and slow runoff from rainstorms, while a stormwater drain captures water that runs down a street gutter and diverts it underground into pipes.
On a hotter planet, storms are getting more intense, and rainfall is often heavier. Flooding is on the rise in many cities. Stormwater systems are being increasingly overwhelmed by extreme rainfall. In the Northeast, the heaviest storms produce 55% more rain today compared to 1958. Last year, dozens of people drowned there when the remnants of Hurricane Ida flooded basements, streets and cars.
Still, most cities face major backlogs in maintaining the aging gray infrastructure they already have, amounting to billions of dollars nationwide. In the rush to secure federal funding to fill that void, some worry that green infrastructure will be left by the wayside.
"What good is a pristine road that's flooded?" says Marccus Hendricks, assistant professor of urban studies and planning at the University of Maryland. "Elevating the priority of green infrastructure and stormwater systems is critical."