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Feb 12

Is Green Infrastructure Critical Infrastructure? - Corey Miles

Posted on February 12, 2021 at 8:09 AM by Bob Lazaro

Green Space Photo
When you think about infrastructure, transportation networks, water treatment plants, sewer systems, electrical grid, etc. is typically what comes to mind. The Department of Homeland Security identifies 16 critical infrastructure sectors1 . Natural landscapes and green infrastructure are not included in their list.  However, as the climate changes, it has become more apparent that green infrastructure such as wetlands, forests, and streams are just as critical and provide many benefits to a city and its residents.

For example, urban parks can be designed to act like sponges during storm events and decrease flooding while filtering pollutants. A range of Low Impact Development (LID) practices such as rain gardens, bioretention areas, and permeable pavement can be installed in parks and public spaces. Cities all over the world are leveraging green infrastructure to complement the gray infrastructure such as large underground networks of pipes and tunnels.

In addition to reducing the risk from runoff, parks and open spaces can help to preserve the urban tree canopy and provide a place for native plant gardens. A healthy tree canopy in an urban area can improve air quality, reduce the heat-island effect and create close-to-home opportunities for outdoor recreation and experiences with nature.

Beyond the challenges emanating from a changing climate, many areas are also facing a national health crisis. Nearly half of all adults in the U.S. have chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity, and 1 in 3 children is obese or overweight. Mental illness affects more than 46 million adults in the U.S., according to the National Institute of Mental Health2 .

Physical activity can reduce or prevent serious health problems, and a nearby park equipped with the right facilities and programming can help get people outside and moving. Spending just 20 minutes outdoors, especially in green spaces, can improve overall health and happiness. It’s been shown to lower stress, blood pressure and heart rate, while encouraging physical activity and buoying mood and mental health.3 Some research even suggests that green space is associated with a lower risk of developing psychiatric disorders. 

[1]   Department of Homeland Security, Critical Infrastructure Sectors https://www.cisa.gov/critical-infrastructure-sectors

[2] The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Statistics on Mental Illness https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml

[3] Hon K. Yuen & Gavin R. Jenkins (2020) Factors associated with changes in subjective well-being immediately after urban park visit, International Journal of Environmental Health Research, 30:2, 134-145, DOI: 10.1080/09603123.2019.1577368