Green Infrastructure (GI)—if properly designed and built with the balanced inclusion of ecology—can be the sustainable alternative to the unsustainable practice of conventional Gray Infrastructure—urban sewer systems and large water management/filtration facilities that are made of concrete, metal, and other non-living materials. The benefits of designing urban water systems through a nature-based approach include key services like water retention, water filtration, wildlife habitat, air pollution filtration, recreational access, and urban beautification. GI systems can be designed in a variety of ways, with a broad range of materials, and can be applied at any scale.
There is also a great potential to integrate edible and medicinal native trees and plant species. While some of these systems may be smaller than others, the larger and more contiguous we can integrate GI systems into the urban landscape, the more efficient and impactful they will be. If designed and managed properly (especially during the first few years), these systems have the potential to transform conventional gray and polluted cities into green oasis that cater to people and nature equitably—opening the doorway to grow more sustainable, more active, and healthier communities.
The "Living Shorelines" project showcases how waterbody edges can be landscaped or retrofitted to create a wetland environment and wildlife habitat that can naturally manage water and pollution. Stones and marshland vegetation help to reduce rate of water flow, and pond systems help to mitigate flooding and filter pollution runoff. On the contrary, conventionally built urban shorelines almost entirely consist of retention walls that prevents biodiversity development and increases flooding and pollution problems. With this type of built pond and aquifer system, there is great potential to utilize Recycled Glass Aggregate (RGA)—one of the world's most abundant waste stream materials, which the world does not know what to do with on a large scale (or at least has not acted on it). RGA is accumulated in large quantities at recycling facilities and landfills, largely created from single-use glass bottles that get crushed during the process (only a small percentage of RGA gets resold and used as material).
However, RGA has the characteristics to serve as the most efficient and cost-effective type of medium for creating human-made aquifers—water retention with RGA = 50% void space capacity vs. 15% - 35% void space capacity offered by any other type of sediment or material (the larger the void space capacity, the more quantity of water can be retained per square foot). While broken glass can be hazardous, RGA, buried in ground, and designed as a medium on which to grow wetland vegetation is completely safe. These systems are designed to substantially slow water movement via forcing water to traverse through the ground—in short time, RGA develops a natural microbial film that acts as an efficient water filtration machine, covering a greater surface area per square foot than with the use of other mediums.
Impact Potential: One cubic foot of water that is forced through ground vegetated root systems can become purified to potable levels after traversing just 400 feet of run (this project forces water to travel this distance despite being a small space). This type of system can and should be implemented around farms perimeters, manufacturing perimeters, landfills, waste treatment facilities, parking lots, streets, and even along urban waterways.
Recycled Glass Aggregate (RGA) mound at a recycling facility
VAN CORTLANDT LAKE, MANHATTAN
A Regenerative Approach for
Managing Flooding &
Nutrient Runoff Filtration
CITY ISLAND, BRONX
Promoting A Sustainable Vision for
Creating Marine Wildlife Habitats,
Rebuilding Oyster Reefs,
& Purifying Marine Waters
NEWKIRK COMMUNITY GARDEN, BROOKLYN
A Greener Approach for Gardens
to Naturally Increase Water Load Management & Biodiversity
NYC & BEYOND
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and designing a GI system?
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