Green Infrastructure Helping to Transform Neighborhoods in Cleveland and Across the Nation

By Alisha Goldstein

By Alisha Goldstein

Every community wants clean water. And most communities would like more green space that allows residents to enjoy the outdoors and makes neighborhoods more attractive. Green infrastructure – a natural approach to managing rainwater with trees, rain gardens, porous pavements, and other elements – can help meet both these goals. It protects water quality while also beautifying streets, parking lots, and plazas, which attracts residents, visitors, and businesses.

This week, we are releasing a new report, Enhancing Sustainable Communities with Green Infrastructure, that can help communities develop a vision and a plan for green infrastructure that can transform their neighborhoods and bring multiple benefits. It can be useful to local governments, water utilities, sewer districts, nonprofits, neighborhood groups, and others interested in innovative approaches to managing stormwater to reduce flooding and bring other environmental, public health, social, and economic benefits.

The city of Cleveland and the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) are innovators in using green infrastructure for its water quality benefits and its community benefits. That’s one reason why Cleveland is the site of the Community Summit on Green Infrastructure this week. This event, which EPA is co-sponsoring along with NEORSD and Cleveland State University’s Great Lakes Environmental Finance Center, brings together representatives from communities that are implementing green infrastructure techniques to learn from each other. Summit attendees will have the chance to see several great examples of green infrastructure projects, including the sewer district’s investments in the Kinsman neighborhood on Cleveland’s east side. The neighborhood’s green infrastructure projects, including an urban agriculture zone and a bioretention basin anchoring a park redesign, will help revitalize a 26-acre section of the city, bring new opportunities and amenities to residents, and build on community-led economic development efforts.

Using green infrastructure in combination with “grey” infrastructure (e.g., sewer pipes, treatment units) can be a more cost-effective approach for managing stormwater. But for many sewer districts, this approach raises new challenges. Water management officials may not have experience designing green infrastructure projects, installing and maintaining plantings, and working with the community to get their input. Determining how green infrastructure can help a city meet state and federal water quality standards is another challenge. The Cleveland projects help NEORSD work through the challenges of implementing green infrastructure. EPA has also assisted NEORSD in quantifying how green infrastructure can help Cleveland meet its obligation to reduce combined sewer overflows, lessons that may benefit other communities facing similar challenges.

EPA is helping communities implement green infrastructure in other ways. We are currently working with other federal agencies and private, public, and nonprofit organizations in the Green Infrastructure Collaborative, a partnership that will help communities implement green infrastructure solutions. One of EPA’s commitments under the collaborative is to provide technical assistance to communities to integrate green infrastructure strategies with hazard mitigation plans. The lessons we learn in these communities will help other communities across the country to become greener, healthier, and better equipped to cope with the challenges of climate change.

View images of green infrastructure in communities on Flickr

Joel Beauvais is the Associate Administrator for EPA’s Office of Policy.

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