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Climate Change and Green Infrastructure

What's the Problem?

Cities are hugely impacted by the growing threat of climate change. Built environments have less green areas, which can lead to increased temperatures because less cooling occurs through evaporation, and increased impermeable surfaces that lead to an increase in water runoff. One solution to improving city environments is green infrastructure. Green infrastructure looks at the natural environment and highlights its function, while using regulatory or planning policy to ensure important natural areas are protected. It also includes the idea of multifunctionality, where different functions and activities are integrated on the same piece of land to increase efficiency and sustainability.

Who’s at Risk?

Everyone is impacted by climate change; however, those least able to cope are disproportionately impacted by negative health effects associated with climate change. Those less resilient are often already socially marginalized communities, like racial minorities, the elderly, children, those with pre-existing conditions, the physically and mentally disabled, and the poor. Individuals who live in large cities also face an increased risk of associated health problems due to the built environment that amplifies climate change effects. These include hotter temperatures from the urban heat island effect, and increase flooding from storm water due to the high prevalence of impermeable surfaces. Degraded air quality is another concern in urban communities, creating urban “canyons” and stagnant air masses. The risks include things like: increased temperatures that can lead to heat stroke or problems with asthma, extreme weather that can lead to flooding from increased water runoff, injuries, or infectious diseases, degraded air quality that can cause respiratory disorders. Improving green infrastructure can help decrease the risk of many climate change associated health problems for city dwelling populations.

Can it be Prevented?

There are many different ways to promote green infrastructure. One simple way is to increase green areas such as parks and roadside areas. Increasing bike lanes and green areas can lead to a transportation shift to walking, biking, or public transit use, decreasing carbon monoxide emissions and improving air quality. Buildings can also be retrofitted or built to run more efficiently and be more self-sufficient in terms of energy. Cities can use LED street and traffic lights as well as promote more energy-efficient transportation like electric buses to reduce their energy use and emissions. In addition, municipalities can improve their waste management program to reduce landfill and methane release as well as use greywater systems to reduce water waste.

The Bottom Line

Increasing green infrastructure can make a large impact in the health and safety of a city’s population. Increasing the built environment’s efficiency and outputs can reduce emissions and waste while increasing green areas and safety.

Case Example

Jackie owns an apartment complex that was built in the 1960s. She knows that older buildings aren’t very energy efficient, so Jackie decides to retrofit the building using green practices. She begins with an easy change – adding recycling bins in the trash room. Next, Jackie moves on to building-wide improvements. She removes all the old appliances, replacing them with energy star appliances. Leaky windows and doors were sealed. Programmable thermostats are installed, so their heaters can be set to turn on when residents are at home and awake.

  • Building energy efficiency (thermostats, energy star appliances, leaky windows/doors)
  • Building water efficiency (faucets, showerhead, toilet, dishwasher)
  • Water-efficient landscaping (plant species/density, use of captured rainwater, irrigation efficiency)
  • On-site renewable energy sources (solar panels)
  • Page last reviewed: December 12, 2012
  • Page last updated: December 12, 2012
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