Source: EPA, 2017
America has been called, “the City on the Hill” as our country has been a symbol to much of the rest of the world as a beacon of hope for a new and better world. In the context of our infrastructure our cities, this means that it is in our nature to always be improving. Much is said today about the poor state of our current infrastructure – from failing roads and bridges to leaky pipe systems to levees and dams that are considered unsafe. All of these assertions, of course, are true. However, we must pause to realize the wonder of this infrastructure and what it has done for our safety and our standard of living. We enjoy the freedom to fly from city to city with great efficiency and at relatively low costs. When we cross over bridges, we have confidence that we will make it to the other side. A vast majority of us have access to safe drinking water, and when major rain events occur, most of us our protected. To build an infrastructure that provides the services we enjoy is no small feat at all. And while we are sometimes compared to Rome, our infrastructure far surpasses that developed by the Romans – even considering the relative differences in technology available to us.
But does this mean we cannot do better? Not at all. In fact, we know we must, because we are the City on the Hill. We believe in a better day and a better world where our infrastructure not only provides the services that ensures our safety, well-being and happiness, but will do so in efficient and sustainable ways unrivaled by approaches from the past. Our current aging infrastructure needs a reboot, and while politicians may argue about the method of doing so, some tragedy, or a series of tragedies, may finally force our hand to take action in a serious way. When this happens, we must be ready to move ahead to deliver approaches for rebuilding or rehabilitating our infrastructure in a way that leverages technologies employed in other sector to deliver a system that is multi-beneficial, efficient, adaptive, sustainable, and improves our lives and the lives future generations. We should call this Infrastructure 2.0.
An important aspect of Infrastructure 2.0 is integrated green infrastructure. A paradigm seeking to develop new and enhanced ways to treat runoff, reduce flooding, provide resilience to our cities, and improve the environment and public health of our urban areas calls for the use of integrated green infrastructure. This approach includes the optimization of existing gray infrastructure as well as implementation of new, green infrastructure, such as bioretention facilities, green and blue roofs, permeable pavement systems, and urban street trees. Taken together, these practices will help us fulfill the dream of “New Urbanism”, which is based on the vision that our growing urban areas will be a place not devoid of nature, but built upon the very processes and aspects of natural systems that enhance our well-being and sense of place.
There are good reasons that study after study shows that those hospitalized have shorter stays and experience less discomfort during hospitalization – humans feel a sense of peace and improved well-being in nature. By driving investments in natural systems into our urban centers, we will fulfill our instinct to improve our society – not because our current society is bad, but to the contrary, because our current society has provided a platform for us to constantly strive for more and better. Green infrastructure, and the enhancement of our current gray infrastructure, is central to this reboot and the continued regeneration of our cities and other communities. We should not let short-term thinking and least-cost solutions dominate our decision-making. No, we must strive to demand long-term value in our infrastructure. Green infrastructure is just that type of investment that will provide enhanced value not only for our generation, but for generations to come.