In tandem with a recent New York Times article explaining Chicago’s green infrastructure planning, announcements in the last seven months from New York City and Philadelphia have shown a relatively rapid investment in and adoption of green infrastructure – vegetation in the form of green roofs, roadside plantings such as street trees and tree pits, cisterns, porous pavement and other strategies.
What’s the big hurry? According to the New York Times, “Climate scientists have told [Chicago] city planners that based on current trends, Chicago will feel more like Baton Rouge than a Northern metropolis before the end of this century.”
And those with skin in the game, like behemoth re-insurers, Fortune 500 companies and public and private institutions are integrating green infrastructure into their building inventories now as a hedge against future higher costs: the cost to owners of managing storm water runoff (or not, and paying municipalities skyrocketing fees); the inevitably rising energy cost of cooling and insulating buildings in urban centers. The cost of being left behind their competitors.
“Some of these events will occur in the near-enough term that local governments are under pressure to act. Insurance companies are applying pressure in high-risk areas, essentially saying adapt or pay higher premiums — especially in urban and commercial areas. The reinsurance giant Swiss Re, for example, has said that if the shore communities of four Gulf Coast states choose not to implement adaptation strategies, they could see annual climate-change related damages jump 65 percent a year to $23 billion by 2030,” according to the New York Times.
While Chicago’s Mayor Daly began making green infrastructure investments years ago, and New York City announced a $1.9 billion dollar plan to invest (and get a substantial return on that investment) in green infrastructure over 20 years, Philadelphia just announced a plan to become the country’s greenest city in just four years, by 2015!
According to “Switchboard,” the blog of the National Resource Defense Council, Philadelphia “will transform at least one-third of the impervious areas (think concrete and asphalt) served by its combined sewer system into “greened acres” — spaces that use green infrastructure like roadside planting strips, rain gardens, trees and tree boxes, porous pavement, cisterns, and other features to infiltrate, or otherwise collect, the first inch of runoff from any storm. That amounts to keeping 80-90% of annual rainfall from these areas out of the city’s over-burdened sewer system.”
And the investment return is stunning:
“Philadelphia has projected that a green approach to reducing sewer overflows will yield more than two dollars in benefits for every dollar invested!” [our emphasis]
So the vision of the dense, unbearably hot, over-crowded, over-polluted, urban environment – where the “grey” infrastructure is already being pushed to capacity, energy costs are rising steeply, and the cost of flooding is astronomical — this is being re-visioned with a new strategy. Forward thinking, pragmatic cities and private enterprises that, along with partners in the marketplace, recognize the economic cost of living in our urban centers is directly correlated to our stance vis-a-vis the environment.
Call it environmental inflation.
And that cost is shared by all of us in our heating and cooling bills, our water bills, our insurance premiums – in just about every expense we incur as individuals and as a society. I don’t know about you, but I like living in New York City, and I don’t want to be priced out of the market by the shared high cost of managing our city’s infrastructure.
R. Buckminster Fuller, a the Harvard trained design visionary envisioned avant garde urban planning concepts in the 1930s such as the geodesic dome and Triton City – extraordinary urban architecture designs that incorporated vast vegetation plantings on the rooftops, balconies, view sheds, streets, everywhere.
That vision is being adopted by assiduous American city planners less out of a penchant for design than a looming environmental and fiscal imperative.