Greening urban areas with street trees, rain gardens, parks, and other natural infrastructure offers many benefits to our communities. Neighborhoods become more hospitable to pedestrians and cyclists, getting people out of their cars. Urban heat islands—the increase in local temperature resulting from heat retention by an overabundance of asphalt and concrete—are reduced, decreasing the need for energy-intensive air conditioning during warm weather. Chemicals, trash, and other pollutants picked up by rainwater are filtered by vegetation and soil, reducing the pollution we send into our creeks and the Bay. There’s even evidence that urban greening leads to improvements in public safety.
Why, then, aren’t we greening all of our neighborhoods? If there are so many benefits to green infrastructure, what’s holding us back?
This was the topic of discussion at the Bay Area Leadership Conversation on Green Infrastructure on Friday, Dec. 9, that Save The Bay helped to plan and lead. At the beginning of the day, local and state elected officials representing the Bay Area gathered to learn from one another, sharing green infrastructure case studies and discussing the difficulties in scaling them from demonstration projects to community-wide implementation.
The main event was attended by over 250 people representing state agencies like Cal EPA and the Strategic Growth Council, cities and counties, local clean water programs, park districts, environmental justice organizations, environmental organizations, and more. Round-table and panel discussions were held throughout the day, and keynote speakers discussed the state and federal political climate and its implications for expanding green infrastructure, funding challenges, and examples of where green infrastructure is already having an impact. Examples ranged from wetland restoration projects on the Bay shoreline to rain gardens in dense communities that allow stormwater to seep back into underground aquifers, reducing pollution and improving local water supply.
A few important messages emerged from the day. First and foremost, people are excited about greening our communities, but it takes resources. We need our state elected officials to lead the way in securing more funding for local governments and agencies to implement green infrastructure, and to prioritize its integration with housing development and transportation projects. Every time our cities approve new housing developments, or repave our roads and sidewalks, is an opportunity to weave in bioswales, street trees, and rain gardens. But current policies and funding restrictions are making it very difficult to implement projects that include all of these elements. Secondly, while green infrastructure can result in many community and environmental benefits, we need to go about its implementation in thoughtful ways. Greening projects should be designed through a participatory stakeholder process to ensure that community priorities are incorporated. Additionally, local agencies and organizations should work together to train and retain a local workforce that can maintain our green infrastructure and ensure our ability to reap the full array of benefits from these projects.
Save The Bay’s Bay Smart Communities program will advocate for thoughtful green infrastructure projects throughout our region, as well as the funding and resources necessary to bring projects to life. We look forward to working with stakeholders and local government to transform our cities from gray to green, protecting the Bay and enhancing quality of life with each park and rain garden.