Green Infrastructure Toolkit


Getting Started: Pilot Projects


Implementing a comprehensive city-wide green infrastructure policy can be a daunting and challenging process. Regulatory constraints, the need for technical guidance, and inadequate political support are just some of the many barriers that local governments may confront.See footnote 1  Pilot or demonstration programs can be an effective way to test green infrastructure strategies without initially making a long-term or expensive commitment. Pilot programs are small-scale programs that can demonstrate the cost and performance of a given green infrastructure practice in a given place, which can result in increased confidence and support of further green infrastructure measures. Pilot projects can be installed on public lands through capital improvement projects.  Grant programs can also be established to provide funding to private parties to test approaches on private lands. 

 This chapter focuses on the role of pilots as both demonstration projects and as stepping-stones towards larger-scale implementation, and presents:

 various models for starting green infrastructure pilots,

  • tools to make those pilots most effective,
  • strategic approaches for choosing pilot sites, and
  • effective monitoring strategies to enable scaling pilots up into larger programs.

Image Credit: Dana Brown & Associates, Pontilly Stormwater HMGP

For each set of strategies, this toolkit presents real-life examples of local governments using the strategies effectively. For the models for starting pilots and for the approaches to using pilot sites, the toolkit compares the models and approaches along a set of criteria that supports a choice that best fits the local government’s needs, priorities, and circumstances (for example, an emphasis on retrofits versus new construction, or a desire to focus on streetscapes or roofs first given willing partners.

Models for Starting Pilots

This section presents pilot project models based on three types of green infrastructure practices (green streets/alleys, green roofs, and rain gardens) and applies various considerations to help local governments choose among them. Some green infrastructure practices, such as green streets, require significant public resources and planning and can only be carried out on the government level. Other practices, such as green roofs, can also be implemented through incentivizing private actors by means of grants or subsidies. This chapter also includes local government examples of each model. Local governments can compare these models along a set of considerations to enable decision making to meet each local government’s particular situation and priorities. These considerations include both the potential benefits that green infrastructure can achieve and the community or administrative considerations that local governments may want to take into account.

Implementing Pilots: Best Practices and Tools

Best practices and tools are emerging around the country to create green infrastructure pilot programs that yield the best outcomes. These best practices and tools relate to 1) communication strategies and engagement with both the public and with other governmental partners; 2) Creating local partnerships; and 3) conducting both cost-benefit analysis and tracking pilot project benefits for economic, environmental, and social criteria.  

Being Strategic: Tools to Choose Pilot Sites

To maximize the benefits of green infrastructure installations, decision makers must be strategic in choosing pilot site locations. By clearly defining the goals of a pilot program, local governments can decide which types of installations and which specific locations will best achieve these goals. The most common goals that local governments tend to consider include reducing strain on the stormwater and wastewater management systems, reducing watershed pollution, reducing flooding, creating public education opportunities, reducing carbon emissions, and addressing other effects of climate change (increased urban heat island, excess runoff due to more severe, less predictable weather patterns). Some local governments take a more holistic approach to maximize both the impact of the investment and the public good.

Effective Monitoring of Pilot Sites

A critical component of a successful pilot program is to demonstrate the performance of the green infrastructure installations. Monitoring a project’s performance (across goals and benefits) allows decision makers to make informed decisions about how to adapt the design of future projects based upon the performance of existing projects. This section of the toolkit describes the types of monitoring that local governments can perform for pilot sites to quantify co-benefits beyond stormwater management, meet regulatory requirements, create accurate performance standards, and use monitoring program to help make the transition from a pilot stage to jurisdiction-wide green infrastructure programs.

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