OOS 28-7 - Planning and designing green infrastructure: Lessons from practice

Wednesday, August 9, 2017: 3:40 PM
Portland Blrm 256, Oregon Convention Center
Keith Bowers, Biohabitats, Inc., Baltimore, MD

The market demand for Green infrastructure (GI) is growing as municipalities seek to supplement or replace aging grey infrastructure.

 Jurisdictions often call for a stormwater focus and miss opportunities to integrate multiple benefits and, by focusing narrowly on technical questions, fail to take a holistic view of how green infrastructure underlies and supports integrated placemaking. Ecosystem services is one of several useful lenses to expand the focus, but robust community engagement and a social justice perspective on environmental equity are also neglected if GI is only seen as an approach to managing water that incorporates both natural and engineered systems.

Project teams, NGOs such as the Conservation Fund, and municipalities are increasingly defining GI more broadly, as strategically planned and managed networks of natural lands, working landscapes and other green spaces – at many scales – that conserve ecosystem functions, restore ecosystem processes and regenerate healthy, robust and resilient communities.

Practitioners using this broader definition of GI can maintain water management outcomes but more readily leverage transportation, recreation, and mitigation requirements and funding. This presentation uses examples selected from over 100 built projects to answer the question: how can GI practitioners improve long-term system resilience across spatial scales?


  1. Clear language creates a shared understanding of what green infrastructure means for the project, stakeholders, and design team.
  2. Plans must be designed for the place not the computer: field work, public meetings, feedback from stakeholders, and local experts must be part of the approach.
  3. The output from the best GI model is limited by the quality of underlying data. Too many GI plans fail to address or specifically acknowledge limitations in the input data. 
  4. Urban GI planning is community planning. Social systems are part of ecological systems, and no GI project has the luxury of being planned/designed for just one role.
  5. History shapes landscapes. Historic ecological data is one part of understanding how legacies of contamination, social issues, and social upheaval affect existing conditions.
  6. GI frameworks are worthwhile. Overarching frameworks establish functional ecological zones integrated with upcoming projects and community needs.
  7. Spatial units of analysis should operate across scales. Designers and planners look down one scale to understand how a process operates and up one scale to understand its significance.
  8. Implementation strategies should be part of the green network planning process, and strategic partnerships with universities can be keys to long-term success.