For Release February 13, 2001

The Importance of the Green Infrastructure

AGRI-VIEWS
by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

Over the past several years we have all become familiar with the term infrastructure. Thatís the word that we use to lump together all those necessary components of our society that keep us up and running such as; streets, water, sewer, etc. These are the things that facilitate our daily lives.

Lately, Iíve been starting to see and read about a slight twist on the infrastructure concept. Iíve seen it referred to as the green infrastructure, the natural infrastructure or the greenfrastructure. Regardless of what you call it, this applies to the parks, greenspaces, hiking/biking trails, even the trees and plants along our city streets. It is probably the principal component that separates a community from simply a sterile collection of buildings, streets and sidewalks.

One of the reasons that we have heard about infrastructure is because so many communities were calling attention to the need to repair the crumbling infrastructure. We all know that we need those streets, sewer, utilities, etc. to have a viable community. We like to be able to drive down streets without dodging holes. Itís good to have a water supply that provides adequate amounts of safe water and a sewer system to transport the used water to a wastewater treatment plant.

Likewise, without a well planned and maintained greenfrastructure, a community ceases to be a desirable place to work and live. People often have very limited views of what a park or greenspace is. To some folks, a park is nothing more than a playground. A greenspace is nothing more than wasted development space or a handy container for a hiking trail. If that park or greenspace contains a wetland, then it is nothing more than a mosquito breeding ground.

These views are shortsighted and incorrect. While some parks do contain playground equipment and some greenspaces do contain hiking trails, they are more than just that. Green infrastructure is a space where concrete and buildings are replaced with trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers. Instead of adding to the summer heat of a community, it helps reduce the summer heat and provides an escape for the citizens. Instead of producing pollution, it helps deal with pollution.

Greenfrastructure provides a visible barrier. It helps to separate different communities. It can provide an effective sound and noise barrier between streets or industry and housing. It provides a safe location for urban wildlife, helping to keep them out of streets, yards and gardens. Greenfrastructure gives the community population someplace to go to have a picnic, to let the dogs get some exercise, or just to let Mom, Dad and the kids play beyond the confines of their own backyard, if they have a backyard.

Some citizens look at the public greenfrastructure and see nothing but a waste of government funds on land that isnít on the tax roll. For a community to grow, we have to get beyond that mindset. We have to set aside adequate space as we grow. We canít wait until all the houses are in place and then decide we need greenspace, we have to plan for it from the start. We need to use green barriers between varying land uses. We need to look ahead 10 or 20 years and see what will improve the quality of our community life. Greenfrastructure may not be as well known as the traditional infrastructure, but it is every bit as important!

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