Green Infrastructure used to cool and beautify a main street in Canada

What is Green Infrastructure?

Green infrastructure refers to urban infrastructure of natural or semi-natural systems strategically designed and implemented to manage water, air quality, biodiversity, and other environmental issues in cities and urban environments. It utilizes natural processes and vegetation to provide diverse ecosystem services, contributing to the overall sustainability and resilience of communities.

Key components of green infrastructure include:

  1. Natural Vegetation: This includes parks, forests, wetlands, green roofs, street trees, and other forms of vegetation that help absorb rainwater, mitigate urban heat, improve air quality, and provide habitats for wildlife.
  2. Water Management Systems: Green infrastructure incorporates features like rain gardens, bioswales, permeable pavements, and retention ponds to manage stormwater, reduce flooding, and enhance groundwater recharge by allowing water to infiltrate the soil rather than running off into sewers.
  3. Urban Design: It involves integrating green spaces and natural elements into urban planning and development, encouraging mixed-use spaces, promoting walkability, and creating connections between green areas to enhance the overall urban environment.
  4. Ecosystem Services: Green infrastructure aims to provide a range of services, including improved air and water quality, biodiversity support, climate regulation, carbon sequestration, and enhanced aesthetic and recreational values for communities.

The primary goal of green infrastructure is to mimic and restore natural processes, promoting environmental sustainability while simultaneously offering economic and social benefits to communities. By integrating natural elements into the built environment, green infrastructure helps address environmental challenges, adapt to climate change impacts, and create healthier and more resilient living spaces.

Why are Resilient Cities Important?

20210129 095817 green infrastructure Citygreen

Resilient cities are crucial for adapting to ongoing challenges such as climate change, minimizing risks, ensuring socio-economic stability, promoting environmental sustainability, prioritizing public health, and fostering long-term prosperity. Building resilience is an essential step towards creating safer, more sustainable, and thriving urban environments.

Table of Contents

Is Green Infrastructure Important for Urban Planning?

In a nutshell, Yes. Green infrastructure and public spaces play an crucial role in cooling and improving the quality of life and community wellbeing.

  • Green infrastructure benefits urban areas by improving air and water quality, reducing the urban heat island effect, enhancing biodiversity, and promoting health.
  • Various types of green infrastructure include green roofs, living walls, rain gardens, permeable pavements, urban forests, soil cells, stormwater tree pits, and green spaces.

Defining Green Infrastructure and Its Role in Urban Planning

Green infrastructure, a key concept in urban planning, involves integrating natural elements and processes into urban development. Green Infrastructure aims to reintroduce the environmental lifecycle back into cities and urban environments to improve environmental quality, promote sustainability, and improve the overall well-being of urban communities. Green infrastructure will continue to grow and become a pivotal consideration in local governments and cities are they plan to create liveable, resilient cities by addressing environmental challenges and fostering sustainable growth.

It encompasses a wide range of practices, methodologies, and technologies that are crucial for ensuring the long-term sustainability of cities. Green infrastructure offers a holistic approach to managing urban spaces, taking into account the interconnectedness of natural systems and human activities.

Rapid urbanization has led to significant environmental and social challenges, including air and water pollution, loss of green spaces, and heightened exposure to extreme weather events. Green infrastructure provides a means to counteract these impacts by promoting ecological balance, conserving natural resources, and creating more resilient and livable urban environments.

Benefits of Green Infrastructure in Urban Planning

Improving Air and Water Quality

Green infrastructure improves air and water quality within urban areas. Green spaces act as natural filters, capturing pollutants and mitigating the effects of air pollution. Additionally, green infrastructure features, such as bioswales and rain gardens, help manage stormwater and enhance water quality.

Reducing Urban Heat Island Effect

Urban heat islands pose significant challenges for urban residents. Green infrastructure, including green roofs and tree canopies, helps mitigate the urban heat island effect by providing shade, reducing surface temperatures, and promoting evaporative cooling, creating more comfortable and thermally balanced urban environments.

Enhancing Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

By integrating green infrastructure, cities can support biodiversity and enhance ecosystem services. Urban green spaces and corridors provide habitats for diverse plant and animal species, contributing to the preservation of local biodiversity. Furthermore, green infrastructure promotes ecosystem services such as pollination, carbon sequestration, and natural pest control.

Mitigating Climate Change Effects

Green infrastructure plays a vital role in mitigating the impacts of climate change within urban areas. By increasing vegetation cover and promoting sustainable water management, green infrastructure helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, combat urban heat, and enhance the overall resilience of cities in the face of changing climatic conditions.

Promoting Health and Well-being for Urban Residents

The presence of green infrastructure in urban settings has been linked to numerous health benefits for urban residents. Access to green spaces and natural environments has been associated with reduced stress, improved mental well-being, increased physical activity, and overall enhanced quality of life.

Benefits of Green InfrastructureTypes of Green Infrastructure
Improving Air and Water QualityGreen Roofs
Reducing Urban Heat Island EffectRain Gardens and Bioswales
Enhancing Biodiversity and Ecosystem ServicesPermeable Pavements and Green Streets
Mitigating Climate Change EffectsUrban Forests and Tree Canopies
Promoting Health and Well-being for Urban ResidentsGreen Spaces and Parks
Increases the property value of through treesBlue-Green Infrastructure for Stormwater Management
Laman St Newcastle 2023 16 green infrastructure Citygreen

Types of Green Infrastructure that help Cities the Most


Adding trees to urban spaces, plazas, streets, city blocks, downtown CBDs, is probably the most effective way to cool urban spaces and increase the liveability of our cities.

Trees provide immense benefits to a community, far beyond just aesthetic value. They offer immediate shade to protect against the heat of the sun. Through transpiration from their leaves, they cool surrounding areas. Their root systems and leaves absorb particular matter and pollutants from both air and soil. Trees improve physical and mental health by encouraging outdoor recreation in their cool shade. Increased green canopy has even been shown to sharpen mental cognition.

Additionally, trees support biodiversity by sustaining natural ecosystems. In all these ways, planting the right trees can greatly enhance urban spaces.

Related: Why we need Trees in our Cities?

Green Roofs

Green roofs can offer similar benefits to trees but add value as they can be planted on roofs to help dissipate the urban heat island effect as a major factor in creating the heat island is the reflection of heat from hardscapes such as cement, roads, and rooftops back into the atmosphere. The installation of vegetation on rooftops, provide benefits such as improved insulation, stormwater management, heat island mitigation, and the creation of urban wildlife habitats.

Rain Gardens and Bioswales

Rain gardens and bioswales are designed to capture and absorb stormwater, preventing runoff and reducing the burden on traditional drainage systems, thereby improving water quality. A new innovation in this space is connecting the stormwater system into the soil cells that hold trees. This gives the trees access to on-site water reducing the need for external irrigation, improves the quality of the water as the tree through its tree roots and soil clean the water of pollutants. Excess water now cleaned by the tree can be stored in a pit under the tree and released back into the cities sewerage system at a later date reducing the impacts of high level rain events and flash flooding.

Permeable Pavements and Green Streets

Permeable pavements and green streets allow water to infiltrate the ground, reducing surface runoff and contributing to groundwater recharge while minimizing flooding risks.

Urban Forests and Tree Canopies

urban forest planted to grow a large tree canopy to shade the new apartment buildings

Urban forests and tree canopies play a crucial role in mitigating air pollution, providing shade, and enhancing the aesthetic appeal of urban landscapes.

Environmental Benefits:

  • Trees help reduce the urban heat island effect by providing shade and cooling through evapotranspiration. This allows urban planners to plan for less electricity usage for cooling.
  • Trees absorb air pollution, store carbon, and filter particulates which improves air quality. This enables healthier urban population densities.
  • Tree canopies slow and reduce stormwater runoff, reducing strain on drainage systems. This allows smarter water management systems.
  • Trees provide wildlife habitat, enabling the incorporation of biodiversity in urban planning.

Economic Benefits:

  • Studies show property values increase with more surrounding trees and greenery. This provides higher property tax bases.
  • Trees provide natural noise reduction capabilities, enabling closer proximities between certain land uses.
  • Tree-lined retail areas have shown increased sales and attraction of businesses. This spurs economic revitalization.

Social Benefits:

  • Access to trees and green space provides mental/physical community health benefits. This allows for planning recreational spaces.
  • Trees provide natural privacy separation between incompatible land uses.
  • Urban forests aid in placemaking and establishing community identify and pride.

What is Blue-Green Infrastructure for Stormwater Management?

Blue-green infrastructure integrates natural and engineered water systems to manage stormwater, reducing flood risks and enhancing water quality in urban areas.

Stormwater pipes integrated into a stratavault soil cell to help reduce flooding and water the tree
Caption: Stormwater pipes integrated into a Stratavault soil cell to help reduce flooding and water the tree

The stormwater management potential of blue-green infrastructure in reorganizing our cities to be more resilient is a powerful concept as we can harness the power of natural processes to capture and filter rainwater right where it falls. Just imagine—rain gardens, green roofs, and bioswales of lush native vegetation growing our city, beautifying neighborhoods while putting stormwater to work!

This approach relies on the water-cleaning talents already found in soils and plants. It’s a decentralized network that keeps working even when one part fails. And it can adapt to handle bigger storms coming our way with climate change as Trees can absorb between 10 and 150 gallons of water daily.

Beyond stormwater perks like less flooding and pollution, blue-green infrastructure also provides habitat, cleaner air, urban heat relief—really boosting quality of life for all inhabitants across our communities.

Implementing it takes some upfront planning to get plant and soil selections right. But once established, the nature-centric approach lets vegetation and microbiology do the water treatment work for us! Plus, the infrastructure cost savings are substantial when you consider the pipe and treatment plant alternatives over the lifetime value of the project because as the trees and green spaces continue to grow the benefits just compound.

At Citygreen we’re convinced blue-green infrastructure is the sustainable, resilient way forward for both stormwater and the livability of our public spaces.”

If you’re interested in partnering with us to help create sustainable stormwater management solutions for your project. Use our Contact form below and one of our Urban Greening Consultants will be in touch.

Case Studies

Successful Implementation of Green Infrastructure in a Car Park

Several cities have successfully implemented green infrastructure projects, such as New York City’s High Line and Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay, demonstrating the transformative potential of green infrastructure in urban environments.

Positive Impacts and Transformations Resulting from Green Infrastructure Integration

The integration of green infrastructure improves urban resilience, enhanced environmental quality, and the revitalization of communities, fostering a new era of sustainable urban development. Watch our above case study on how a new sporting development in Edmonton, Canada used soil cells and trees to capture stormwater to support the cooling of parked trees and reduce the strain on the cities municipality system.

Challenges and Barriers of Green Infrastructure for Urban Planning

Education and Community Engagement

The lack of public awareness and education poses a barrier to implementing more green infrastructure as a lot of greenery is seen as a purely aesthetic value and the majority of stormwater infrastructure lives underground away from prying eyes so aware is lower compared to other strategies.:

  1. There may be misconceptions about effectiveness. Without seeing successful examples or understanding the water management capabilities of natural systems, the public may doubt whether green infrastructure can handle stormwater at the necessary scale or provide sufficient flood protection. Communicating proven results is key.
  2. Aesthetic concerns may arise. Bioswales, rain gardens, and other green systems look much different than conventional pipes and concrete channels. Some residents may perceive the vegetation and soil to be unkept or not properly “engineered”. Showcasing attractive, well-maintained projects can overcome this bias.
  3. There tends to be familiarity with the status quo gray infrastructure, but less knowledge of decentralizing systems that distribute absorption and infiltration capacities across neighborhoods. Explaining the logic and localized benefits (like cooler parks) facilitates acceptance.
  4. Funding proposals for novel approaches face skepticism if people don’t grasp the multiple functions provided, from stormwater management to community wellness perks. Quantifying budget savings vs gray infrastructure, recreational use values, air quality indexes, etc. builds a stronger case.

Limited Space and Land Use Conflicts

The limited availability of space and conflicts with existing land uses present challenges for the integration of green infrastructure, requiring innovative solutions to optimize spatial utilization. This is a key reason soil cells like stratavault and stratacell can be so beneficial in a project due to the value add of managing stormwater while supporting the tree roots.

Economic Costs and Financial Incentives

The upfront costs associated with green infrastructure implementation can pose financial challenges for cities, developers, and specifiers, as there are many stakeholders in large scale projects, so emphasizing the need for financial incentives and innovative funding mechanisms to support sustainable urban development. But the legacy of a green space or tree that will continue to support it’s community for the next 50 years is a key investment worth fighting for.

Regulatory and Institutional Obstacles

Lack of Regulatory practices and institutional complexities may impede the seamless integration of green infrastructure, necessitating green policies and the streamlining of administrative processes will help increases the green liveability of your local community and cities helping to reach climate targets sooner.

Addressing Equity and Social Justice Concerns

Equity considerations are critical in ensuring that green infrastructure benefits are equitably distributed across diverse communities, necessitating inclusive and equitable planning approaches. Lower socio-economic areas generally have less green canopy which exacerbates issues such as urban heat, cooling, and medical health problems.

Policy and Planning Considerations

Government Policies and Regulatory Frameworks

Government policies and regulatory frameworks play a pivotal role in facilitating the integration of green infrastructure, requiring supportive policies, incentives, and standards for sustainable urban development.

Integrated Urban Planning Approaches

Integrated urban planning approaches that prioritize green infrastructure can optimize land use, enhance environmental quality, and promote the efficient use of resources within urban areas.

Zoning and Land Use Planning for Green Infrastructure

Zoning and land use planning strategies can be leveraged to incentivize and mandate the incorporation of green infrastructure elements into urban development projects, ensuring the systematic integration of sustainable practices.

Community Engagement and Education

Importance of Community Participation in Green Infrastructure Projects

Community participation is essential for the success of green infrastructure projects, emphasizing the need for inclusive decision-making processes and the active involvement of local residents.

Public Awareness and Education Campaigns

Public awareness and education campaigns can foster a deeper understanding of the benefits of green infrastructure, mobilizing support and advocacy for sustainable urban development initiatives. Penrith City Council ran a deep public campaign to its community around the benefits of trees to help increase the uptake of free tree plantings in their front yard.

Collaborative Decision-making Processes

Collaborative decision-making processes involving stakeholders and local communities can lead to more informed and inclusive urban planning, ensuring that diverse perspectives are considered in green infrastructure projects.

Collaboration and Partnerships

Engaging Stakeholders and Local Communities

Engaging a diverse range of stakeholders, including residents, businesses, and community organizations, fosters collaborative partnerships and ensures that green infrastructure projects are aligned with local needs and priorities.

Public-Private Partnerships for Green Infrastructure Initiatives

Public-private partnerships offer opportunities for leveraging resources and expertise, facilitating the implementation of green infrastructure projects and promoting innovative financing models.

Multi-sectoral Collaboration and Networking

Multi-sectoral collaboration and networking enable the integration of diverse perspectives and expertise, fostering holistic and innovative approaches to green infrastructure planning and implementation. to further this goal we created the ‘Where the Shade hits the Pavement’ event to get the top professional in a range of industries to come speak to how we can improve the cooling and liveability of our cities.

See the full talks from the day here.

Smart Technologies and Data-driven Planning for Green Infrastructure

The integration of smart technologies and data-driven planning processes can optimize the design and management of green infrastructure, enhancing its effectiveness and adaptability in evolving urban environments.

Nature-based Solutions and Biophilic Urban Design

The adoption of nature-based solutions and biophilic urban design principles can further enhance the integration of green infrastructure, creating urban environments that prioritize nature, human well-being, and ecological resilience.

Innovative Financing Models for Sustainable Urban Development

Innovative financing models, such as green bonds and impact investing, offer opportunities to secure funding for green infrastructure initiatives, supporting the long-term sustainability of urban development projects.

Summary of Key Points and Key Takeaways

Green infrastructure will plays a pivotal role in shaping sustainable and resilient cities,

Emphasizing the Role of Green Infrastructure in Shaping Sustainable and Resilient Cities

The integration of green infrastructure is essential for addressing the challenges of urbanization, fostering environmental stewardship, and creating cities that are adaptive, sustainable, and inclusive.

Call to Action for Integrating Green Infrastructure into Future Urban Planning Initiatives

A call to action is issued for the integration of green infrastructure into future urban planning initiatives, emphasizing the imperative of prioritizing sustainable and resilient urban development.

Resources and Further Reading

For readers interested in delving deeper into the topic of green infrastructure and urban planning, the following resources are recommended for further exploration:

  • “Green Infrastructure: A Landscape Approach” by David C. Rouse
  • “Designing for Hope: Pathways to Regenerative Sustainability” by Dominique Hes and Chrisna du Plessis
  • The Nature Conservancy’s Urban Conservation web page
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Infrastructure website

For access to additional information and support related to green infrastructure and urban planning, the following organizations and online resources are valuable references:

  • The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA)
  • The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA)
  • The World Green Infrastructure Network (WGIN)
  • The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat)

In conclusion, the integration of green infrastructure is essential for building resilient, sustainable, and livable cities. By addressing environmental challenges, promoting community well-being, and fostering innovation, green infrastructure offers a pathway to shaping the future of urban development in harmony with nature.

Answers To Common Questions

Who benefits from green infrastructure in urban planning?

Green infrastructure benefits both city residents and the environment by improving air and water quality.

What is the role of green infrastructure in urban planning?

Green infrastructure in urban planning involves integrating natural elements like parks and green roofs to manage stormwater and reduce heat islands.

How does green infrastructure impact urban planning?

Green infrastructure impacts urban planning by promoting sustainability, enhancing resilience, and creating healthier urban environments.

What are the challenges of implementing green infrastructure in urban planning?

One challenge is the initial cost, but long-term benefits such as reduced maintenance costs and improved public health can outweigh this.

How can cities overcome objections to green infrastructure in urban planning?

Cities can overcome objections by educating stakeholders about the long-term benefits and cost savings associated with green infrastructure.

Who is responsible for implementing green infrastructure in urban planning?

At a high level the asset owners are responsible for creating a cool liveable space. Urban planners, city officials, and community stakeholders all play a role in implementing green infrastructure in urban planning