SITES can create citywide green infrastructure benefits

Published on
14 Feb 2019
Maren Taylor

As global populations increasingly shift into urban environments, cities are facing more pressure to build and maintain sustainable, resilient places for their residents. Rapid urbanization often means rapid construction of buildings and paved roads, which can exacerbate air and water pollution, heat stress and other climate-related stressors.

Green infrastructure (GI) has the potential to combat these stressors on a city scale. GI practices like green roofs, rain gardens, bioswales and pervious pavement foster resilient outcomes on an individual site. By implementing these best practices on landscapes all over the city, cities can harness the benefits of GI on a scale that sets up the entire community for success.

The SITES rating system can provide local governments with the framework needed to implement green infrastructure practices on their landscapes. To earn certification, SITES provides performance measures, rather than prescribing practices, which helps individual communities assess their unique conditions and needs and develop projects with those in mind.

Green infrastructure can have city-scale benefits.

Consider how buildings and darkly paved roads absorb heat and exacerbate poor air quality. In dense urban environments, traditional infrastructure can elevate high summer temperatures across the city, resulting in higher energy bills—and urban low-income residents often suffer disproportionally.

When deployed on a city scale, green infrastructure such as green roofs and urban trees can make a noticeable difference by removing harmful pollutants from the air, producing an ambient cooling effect and reducing building energy bills. Studies also show that green infrastructure, when implemented in low-income areas, can have an even greater cost benefit when it comes to reduced health and energy costs and improved quality of life.

In addition, many cities struggle with growing water quality and stormwater management issues. Green infrastructure can transform individual landscapes from irrigation-intensive to native-planted and drought-tolerant. On a larger scale, green infrastructure can also absorb and filter excess stormwater to protect entire local watersheds or bodies of water that are important for quality of life, health, tourism and the local economy.

Local government plays a major role.

Cities bear a large burden when it comes to managing weather events that produce excess rain, drought or extreme temperatures. However, local governments are uniquely positioned to leverage large-scale deployment of green infrastructure to better protect and enhance the communities their citizens live in.

Open spaces in municipalities such as public parks, plazas and landscapes adjacent to public buildings are often owned and managed by public authorities. By using green infrastructure in these public spaces, a local government can lead by example and show their commitment to building sustainable, resilient and equitable cities.

With SITES, local governments can implement green infrastructure practices that work for their environments and benefit all residents. For example, the City of Atlanta is undertaking an unprecedented expansion of park land and public spaces along a 22-mile historic rail corridor. The Atlanta BeltLine project is a comprehensive, sustainable redevelopment project that will ultimately comprised 1,300 acres of parks, 33 miles of multi-use trails surrounded by units of affordable housing and much more.

Atlanta BeltLine, the municipal agency directed to oversee the 25-year project is the first municipal agency in the country to require SITES certification for its landscapes. Atlanta BeltLine now requires that all designed parks achieve SITES Silver or Gold certification.

Learn more about SITES certification