The word “infrastructure” generally summons up images of roads, railways, power stations and shiny new bridges. But it’s a concept that includes all the features and systems that support urban environments, including water management, maintaining a comfortable habitat and providing pleasant places to live or work in.
Green infrastructure refers to the use of natural features and elements to provide these essential functions. For example, an avenue of trees that cleans the air, shades footpaths and absorbs storm water runoff.
Urban planners, landscape designers, local councils and property developers are all jumping aboard the trend to make urban landscapes more sustainable.
Water management features heavily in green infrastructure. Landscaped swales and rain gardens can manage local storm water runoff, while many councils and estate developers are installing wetlands to store runoff.
Wetlands highlight an important aspect of green infrastructure: unlike a concrete culvert, a nature-based or biomimicry solution like a swale or wetland manages water but also helps improve air quality, provides habitat for biodiversity, cools the surrounding area on hot days, and stores carbon.
They also tap into our inherent love of nature. Looking at green spaces and living plants is good for our mental and physical health, a benefit we can’t derive from staring at a concrete culvert.
Research into which kinds of plants work best for purifying water shows that reed beds and other semi-aquatic species can trap and contain pollutants, such as sediments and fertiliser run-off.
It is a technique that can be used in domestic settings. A domestic greywater or stormwater runoff system can incorporate gardens with appropriate species and make use of grey water or rainwater to add to gardens and reduce water wastage at the same time.