Green Infrastructure Toolkit


Government Operations

Unlike regulatory and incentive-based tools designed to influence private landowners, local governments have much greater discretion and control over municipal operations. Green infrastructure can be incorporated into processes and plans governing public land, such as street design standards governing road construction, capital planning processes guiding public investment, and facilities management governing construction of public buildings and on public land outside of the streetscape such as parks or recreational areas. By investing public dollars in green infrastructure, local governments can achieve multiple goals simultaneously, from managing stormwater to reducing temperatures and improving water quality.

Street Design Standards

Street Design Standards allow local governments to provide clear direction for employees and contractors who may be installing green infrastructure in rights-of-way along roadways. Street design standards allow green infrastructure to be built to a consistent standard, and to a standard that is well-suited for that particular locality’s soil type, traffic priorities, and drainage systems. These design standards may require time and effort to develop, and will require data from monitoring of pilot programs to ensure effectiveness.See footnote 1  Street designs that incorporate street trees should develop protocols for ongoing maintenance of trees, particularly in areas anticipating increased temperatures and/or drought.

Capital Planning Processes

Capital planning governs how local governments invest their funds in infrastructure and facilities over time. Local governments are beginning to incorporate green infrastructure into those capital plans, enabling green infrastructure to be funded by the bonds that generally support capital investments. 

Facilities Management

Facilities management is the term for the methods that local governments use to guide construction of public buildings and construction on public land outside of the streetscape such as parks or recreational areas. Local governments are now incorporating green infrastructure practices into the management and retrofitting of public properties in order to manage stormwater, increase energy efficiency, and improve water quality. The most innovative local governments are strategically choosing government facilities to get the most “bang for the buck,” as in the District of Columbia’s Smart Roofs Program, and are ensuring that green infrastructure investments benefit low-income and overburdened communities within their localities.


Related Resources

Great Lakes Green Streets Guidebook

This guidebook, published by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), provides examples of roadway projects within the Great Lakes Watershed that utilize green infrastructure methods to improve water quality and reduce stormwater runoff. Developed as a complement to the Low Impact Development Manual for Michigan, the guidebook offers support to municipalities interested in planning, designing, and constructing green streets. Chapter 3 describes green street techniques with demonstrated success including:

  • Bioretention/bioswales: areas or channels utilizing vegetation to clean stormwater runoff);
  • Native plant grow zones: vegetation areas that improve water quality, habitat, and reduce stormwater runoff volume; and
  • Permeable pavement: porous surface that drains water into a storage reservoir to facilitate stormwater infiltration.

The guidebook also includes 26 case studies showcasing projects from the Great Lakes regions that utilized green street techniques. Each case study describes the green technique used, the outcome of the project, the funding mechanisms that supported the project, who sponsored and designed the project, and any implementation challenges. Each case study also includes contact information for anyone interested in learning more. 

City of Chicago Green Stormwater Infrastructure Strategy

In 2014 Chicago, Illinois released their green stormwater infrastructure plan to improve the city’s water quality, reduce flood risks, and build climate resilience. This plan describes ways to integrate green techniques into Chicago’s well established, but already overtaxed stormwater system that will only become more burdened as climate change causes increased precipitation. The plan explains how urban landscapes such as Chicago will benefit from capturing, sorting, and filtering water using green techniques rather than diverting it to a sewer system. The long-term stormwater management goals of the plan are to minimize basement flooding, reduce water pollution, enhance environmental quality, and increase extreme rain and climate resilience. The City presents six major new initiatives to meet these goals, including integrating green stormwater infrastructure into future public capital projects and increasing the use of green stormwater infrastructure in streetscape projects. Through this plan, the City of Chicago recognizes the need for significant long-term investment in stormwater infrastructure, committing $50 million over five years to green infrastructure construction. In planning for the future, the report notes that Chicago intends to incorporate projections of climate change to ensure they are addressing the city’s long-term challenges.

Baltimore, Maryland Growing Green Initiative

Baltimore, Maryland launched the Growing Green Initiative (GGI) on May 14, 2014. This City effort repurposes vacant lots to advance community priorities, including open space, growing fresh food, managing stormwater with green infrastructure, recreational space, and social resilience. The Baltimore Office of Sustainability created aGreen Pattern Book to guide community groups and residents through the process of converting vacant and blighted properties into community spaces that can meet environmental and social equity priorities. To date, city residents and agencies have turned nearly 800 vacant lots into gardens and community open spaces. The goals of the Initiative include increasing tree canopy, creating jobs, and managing stormwater using green infrastructure techniques.

Washtenaw County, Michigan Water Resources Commissioner Rules and Guidelines: Procedures and Design Criteria for Stormwater Management Systems

Michigan's Washtenaw County Water Resource Commissioner released stormwater management guidelines in August 2014.  The guidelines outline the best management practices (BMPs) that should guide the design criteria for green infrastructure installations. The rules address when different BMPs are appropriate, how to design and build them (including calculations for runoff), how to test their effectiveness, and how to maintain them over time.

To achieve these goals, the guidelines outline a hierarchy of management techniques, placing infiltration techniques that reduce runoff at the top of the hierarchy. Retention and detention of stormwater was identified as the second most effective stormwater control, with the guidelines favoring green and vegetated techniques over structural changes. 

San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Green Infrastructure Projects

San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is implementing multiple green infrastructure projects based on their Urban Watershed Assessment, which will identify green and grey sewer infrastructure improvements over the next twenty years. The SFPUC recognizes that the sewer system, treating both sewage and stormwater runoff, was not built to withstand the impacts of climate change - such as intense rainstorms that overwhelm the system. The watershed-based planning process is being used to help plan the City’s Sewer System Improvement Program (SSIP), a multi-billion dollar project to to upgrade aging infrastructure, and ensure the reliability and performance of the sewer system. Phase One of the SSIP, will construct, monitor and evaluate eight green infrastructure projects to manage stormwater before it enters the combined sewer system in each of the eight urban watersheds, including projects with rain gardens and permeable pavement.

Washington D.C. Smart Roof - Roof Asset and Energy Management Program

Through the Smart Roof Program, the Washington D.C. Department of General Services (DGS) is successfully integrating roof asset and energy management projects to reduce its energy use by 20 percent across its entire municipal portfolio. The strategic approach to portfolio-based roof management is being applied across 435 buildings including schools, police stations, fire stations, parks and recreation centers, and office buildings that make up 321 acres of roof area in D.C.

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