WHAT IS GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE, REALLY: “Cities are increasingly incorporating ideas for ‘green infrastructure’ into their planning, but what they mean by that can be unclear and inconsistent within and across cities,” wrote Maria Rachal, editor of Smart Cities Dive, in her article about recently published findings from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies (January 2022)

Note to Reader:

Analysis of 122 plans from 20 cities across the United States found that 39% of plans — be they climate, sustainability, watershed restoration, or comprehensive or strategic plans — do not explicitly define green infrastructure, and of the ones that do, over half offer several different definitions. Released in January 2022, the study was undertaken by the New York-based Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, and led by Dr. Zbigniew Grabowski.

Cities are murky on how they define ‘green infrastructure’: analysis

“Gaining a more consistent understanding of green infrastructure matters because it’s become the main term used in urban planning for a variety of environmental interventions, and the pandemic has further spotlighted the importance of safe and healthy outdoor spaces, said socio-ecologist and lead author Zbigniew Grabowski. Researchers believe that clarity will allow cities to better learn from one another,” wrote Maria Rachal, editor of Smart Cities Dive, in her article about recently published findings from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.

“Although researchers did not originally plan to conduct the definition analysis, Grabowski said they quickly realized that to study a regionally diverse list of cities, they couldn’t move forward without more clarity. Ultimately, researchers recommended cities consider a more comprehensive definition.”

To Learn More:

To read the complete story, download a PDF copy of  Cities are murky on how they define ‘green infrastructure’: analysis, the article by Maria Rachal which was published in January 2022.


TOWARD A MORE INCLUSIVE DEFINITION OF GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE: “Green infrastructure is broadly understood to be a good thing, but many city plans lack a clear definition of what it actually is. Hydrological definitions dominate. This narrow view can cause cities to miss out on vital social and ecological services that more integrative green infrastructure can provide,” stated Dr. Zbigniew Grabowski, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, lead author of the nationwide analysis of GI plans from 20 American cities

Overall, hydrological or stormwater-related themes dominated, which tracks with how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has used the term for the past 15 years. But a narrow focus on stormwater can skew cities to favor engineered facilities over parks and urban green spaces and may restrict potential project funding.

Towards a Comprehensive View of Green Infrastructure

Taking in the breadth of concepts outlined in the 122 plans, the authors developed a synthetic definition of green infrastructure to guide future research and planning, and help cities and researchers adopt a more comprehensive view of what green infrastructure entails and the benefits it confers.

Green infrastructure (GI), they explained, refers to a system of interconnected ecosystems, ecological-technological hybrids, and built infrastructures providing contextual social, environmental, and technological functions and benefits.

As a planning concept, they emphasized that GI brings attention to how diverse types of urban ecosystems and built infrastructures function in relation to one another to meet socially negotiated goals.

To Learn More:

Download a copy of the research paper, What is green infrastructure? A study of definitions in US city planning, as published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

To read a comprehensive story posted elsewhere on this Green Infrastructure community-of-interest, click on Towards a More Inclusive Definition of Green Infrastructure.