tech talk: Green versus Gray Infrastructure
By: Kelli Schueler, PLA, LEED AP – Director of Landscape Architecture
Communities and economies depend on reliable infrastructure to thrive. In addition to traditional “gray” infrastructure, inclusion and understanding of “green infrastructure” can help provide a greater return on investment. As local and national governments debate the future of sustainable development, it is imperative to consider green infrastructure components in every development. Natural ecosystems such as vegetation, wetlands, mangroves, coral reefs, and other systems are often misunderstood or overlooked forms of infrastructure. By protecting our existing natural ecosystems and incorporating green infrastructure into new development and urban areas, we can enhance the quality of life in our communities while providing essential environmental benefits.
A green infrastructure approach as it relates to new development combines both natural and engineered systems. The goal is to take advantage of what nature provides, while reducing the load and reliance on traditional infrastructure – not necessarily eliminating it entirely. Green infrastructure can be incorporated in the form of green roofs, raingardens, bioswales, rainwater harvesting, or pervious paving. These elements encourage water to naturally percolate, therefore reducing the quantity of runoff that ultimately travels into to the stormwater system, while using plants to filter and reduce contaminants and debris. Urban tree canopy is another very important green infrastructure component in any development. Planting of sufficient tree canopy improves air quality and provides a wildlife habitat, while also providing a significant reduction in an urban heat island effect, especially important in South Florida. Each of these elements, when applied appropriately, provides a multitude of environmental benefits while enhancing health, comfort, and quality of life for those living in our communities.
At KEITH, our team has the capacity to design all components of traditional gray infrastructure systems, but we also realize the importance and benefit of incorporating green infrastructure into each project, where appropriate. We look at each project through this lens and determine which elements are best suited for the success of each individual project.
Combining both types of infrastructure allows us to consistently create beautiful, functional projects with environmental and social benefits increasing the quality of the communities we live in.