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Green Infrastructure Probably Isn’t What You Think

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By: Carmen Weber

When most think of green infrastructure they think of expensive technology that requires city funding for services that often go unnoticed. Cities like Philadelphia have been breaking that mold and the citizens are loving the outcome!

Philadelphia, like many cities in America, have a combined sewer and stormwater infrastructure system underground. A small rainstorm that produced 1/10th of an inch of water would flood their stormwater system. This would result in overflow of the sewer and stormwater into the streets.

This health issue was the catalyst for Philadelphia to rethink their infrastructure in a way that made since financially. Replacing outdated or too small of stormwater pipes was a costly approach that just wasn’t feasible. The city turned to green infrastructure to help absorb the rain fall that was overloading their systems.

Philadelphia added green roofs to bus stops, cut curbs to allow stormwater to flow into the planters, and incentivized green roofs on buildings across the city. Within the first year the green roofs and bio retention swales alleviated the ageing combined sewer and stormwater infrastructure at a reduced cost when compared to the project expense of replacing the system.

In addition to the overall heath of Philadelphia’s infrastructure, the community has experienced a higher quality of life, cleaner air, and more community involvement from citizens of all ages. Whether a municipality or an individual, we can all take a page from Philadelphia’s green infrastructure story and shift our perspective to incorporate plant material, permeable surfaces, and low-impact solutions.

Results don’t have to come in the form of a complete overhaul on a municipality’s infrastructure. There are things individuals can do to contribute to a community’s green infrastructure mosaic; such as permeable pavers, replacing hardscape with native plans, or harvesting rainwater (where legal) to reuse on site.

Sometimes the best outcomes stem from a serious issue that requires cities and professionals to think outside of the box. In this case, thinking green has made Philadelphia a city model for a green infrastructure transformation with multiple healthy outcomes!