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By Kalle Butler Waterhouse, Associate ASLA
In an era of shrinking coffers and aging infrastructure, the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) and American Rivers joined forces to outline a method for more accurately valuing the benefits of green infrastructure. The resulting guide, The Value of Green Infrastructure: A Guide to Recognizing Its Economic, Social and Environmental Benefits, establishes a framework that gives planners, builders, and city officials the ability to choose infrastructure investments that are effective, efficient, and long-lived.
The guide fills an information gap that has until this point hampered widespread deployment of green infrastructure, defined here as a network of decentralized stormwater management practices such as green roofs, trees, rain gardens and permeable pavement. The Value of Green Infrastructure brings together current research on green infrastructure performance and presents methods for calculating related benefits in water management, energy, air quality, climate, and community livability.
This work extends initial research conducted in support of CNT’s Green Values Calculator, a web-based tool that quickly compares the performance, costs, and benefits of green infrastructure to conventional stormwater practices.
Working through the complex nature of green infrastructure and its benefits can be overwhelming, and a methodology can quickly become murky at best. To begin, CNT’s research team conducted an extensive literature review, much of which is in the reference section of the guide. The team then produced a report, Integrating Valuation Methods to Recognize Green Infrastructure’s Multiple Benefits, and presented it at the 2010 international Low Impact Development conference.
Working with an advisory group of outside experts in the field of green infrastructure and economic benefits of ecosystem services, the team created diagrams to represent the complex relationships of potential benefits for the five practices included in the guide: green roofs, tree planting, bioretention and infiltration, permeable pavement, and water harvesting.
The research team then organized a workshop around these complex ideas. National experts brainstormed over the challenges and considerations required when working through an economic valuation of this nature. The ideas that the workshop elicited helped shape the robust layout and framework now represented by the guide, including the eight benefit sections (water, energy, air quality, climate change, urban heat island, community livability, habitat improvement, and public education) and the two-step valuation and quantification process.
CNT believes the guide is very effective in compiling the various benefits of green infrastructure and establishing a logical framework for valuation. The Value of Green Infrastructure is intended to help decision-makers begin informed conversations about the true costs and benefits of green infrastructure solutions. While the economic values it presents are based on current research, many of the estimates likely undervalue the true worth of green infrastructure. More research is needed to put more accurate dollar figures on the full range of environmental, economic and social benefits.
The Value of Green Infrastructure: A Guide to Recognizing Its Economic, Social and Environmental Benefits was published in January 2011. Kalle Butler Waterhouse, Associate ASLA is a Design Associate with CNT’s Water program. Founded in 1978, the Center for Neighborhood Technology is a Chicago-based think-and-do tank that works nationally to advance urban sustainability by researching, inventing and testing strategies that use resources more efficiently and equitably.
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