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Fifty shades of infrastructure


When you hear of infrastructure, it's mostly about roads, bridges, buildings - that sort of thing. But there is another kind of infrastructure, and it's alive.

Green infrastructure is an important term because in the past people have always thought that the work in cities is done by things that are built, things that are engineered.

Green infrastructure says a lot of the ecological work in cities is actually done in the inconspicuous little places where ecology, that we are familiar with out in the countryside, still goes on --- the parks, the yards, the meadows, places that are conspicuously green or blue.

For example, there are strips of vegetation on rights-of-way, there are sometimes even abandoned lots, little corners of neighborhoods, little triangles between big streets and things like that. And even in people's yards, we're learning that there's useful ecological work that goes on. So you can manage all of those places to increase the amount ecological work that the city does.

One of the things that is really important in all kinds of cities is water management, storm water management -- how you absorb the water that comes in big storms. And these little pockets of green can be managed, so that they channel water from the streets the sidewalks, the impervious surfaces nearby, and provide an opportunity for that to infiltrate into the groundwater, so that it's not a problem for the sewer system, either the sanitary sewer system or the storm sewer system.

Steward Pickett is a Distinguished Senior Scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.

Photo: Aaron Volkening

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