Water-Smart Green Infrastructure: Private Sector Steps Up

A Changing Climate Means A Changing Society. The Island Press Urban Resilience Project, Supported By The Kresge Foundation And The JPB Foundation, Is Committed To A Greener, Fairer Future.​ This Post Was Originally Published May 4, 2017 in Planetizen

Catastrophic floods. Withering droughts. Combined sewer overflows. As the planet warms, communities are coping with a range of ever-more-severe water challenges. Green infrastructure is part of the solution: many local governments are deploying natural features to manage water, while creating valuable green spaces in the bargain. And—according to a new report by the Urban Land Institute—the private sector is increasingly on board.

Green infrastructure offers a cost-effective alternative to traditional “gray” drainage systems, such as pumps and pipes. It’s a catchall term that includes rain gardens, bioswales, and green roofs that help manage stormwater and prevent sewer overflows. Also included are water-conservation strategies such as cisterns and rainwater recycling, which can mitigate the effects of drought. The benefits of this approach are manifold, from improved air and water quality to better climate resilience and good-paying jobs for low-skilled workers.

For years, local governments have embraced green infrastructure on public land, and many have used mandates and incentives to encourage its uptake on private property. Those efforts have borne fruit. Today, we see the emergence of coordinated citywide green infrastructure networks that include both public and privately owned sites. Municipalities incorporate green design into public spaces, buildings, and rights-of-way, while the private sector does the same for privately owned buildings, open spaces, and roofs. For developers, there is much to be gained: according to the ULI report, green infrastructure projects “create value for real estate projects by enhancing aesthetics, operational efficiency, and building user experience.”

The report examines several compelling examples:

  • Burbank Water and Power EcoCampus, Burbank, California—a campus for a community-owned utility site, which is the first power plant in the world to run on 100 percent recycled water;
  • Canal Park, Washington, D.C.—a neighborhood park developed by a public/private partnership and located on the site of a former D.C. waterway, with 95 percent of the park’s irrigation, fountain, toilet-flushing, and ice-rink water provided through rainwater recycling;
  • Encore!, Tampa, Florida—a 28-acre public/private, mixed-use, mixed-income development with an 8,000-square-foot stormwater retention harvesting system and a stormwater vault designed as the centerpiece of a public park;

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