Green Infrastructure Toolkit


Planning Tools

Local governments are increasingly creating plans for their green infrastructure programs and incorporating green infrastructure into other planning documents such as comprehensive plans and general resilience plans. Incorporating green infrastructure goals and practices into those plans can shape local governments’ interventions to be as highly effective and strategic as possible, instead of installing green infrastructure on a more ad-hoc basis.

Green Infrastructure-specific plans

Because green infrastructure can involve so many different agencies, partners, and funding streams, some local governments have created green infrastructure-specific plans to coordinate all of those moving pieces. These green infrastructure plans can accomplish several purposes including prioritizing particular neighborhoods or types of locations (such as streetscapes or parking lots), setting goals for research or monitoring of installations, clarifying relationships among partners, and calling for policy changes to support green infrastructure investments.

Because green infrastructure-specific plans are not regulatory, they can influence behavior for both new and existing development and can affect decision-making on both public and private land. Hoboken, NJ has created a green infrastructure-specific plan that lays out the target neighborhoods and even individual parcels for green infrastructure installation. Because these plans are not regulatory, however, they may need changes in law to implement their recommendations. Hoboken’s plan identifies the zoning changes that would need to happen to generate more green infrastructure on private property.

Comprehensive plans

Local governments use comprehensive plans to set policy and to plan the direction of their communities for years to come. In some localities, a larger jurisdiction such as a county might create the comprehensive plan, which then would guide the zoning codes set by the municipalities in that county. By incorporating requirements for green infrastructure into its comprehensive plan, a local government can thus require or encourage the use of green infrastructure through requirements or incentives in the zoning code for various types of land uses.

Because comprehensive plans shape future changes in zoning codes, they can directly cause green infrastructure to be required for new development and on private property. However, changes to the zoning code generally must happen for the comprehensive plan to be effective in changing construction and development; this can be a long and burdensome process for small local governments, and developers may resist additional requirements.

Different types of planning tools can achieve different goals and will face different challenges in enactment and implementation. The following chart compares green infrastructure-specific plans and comprehensive plans along four sets of criteria, following the discussion of each type of planning tool above.See footnote 1 


Related Resources

New York City Green Infrastructure Plan - A Sustainable Strategy for Clean Waterways

NYC's Green Infrastructure Plan was created in 2010 and sets water quality targets with very specific green infrastructure strategies for different land use types and with specific timeframes over the next twenty years. By establishing an interagency task force, engaging the community, using green infrastructure in combination with gray infrastructure, and carefully monitoring the performance of pilot installations, the City has been able to manage shifting priorities and adapt its approach based on real-time data. 

Linn County, Iowa Comprehensive Plan - A Smarter Course: Building on the Past and Embracing the Future of Rural Linn County

The 2013 Linn County Comprehensive Plan, effective July 19, 2013, broadens the scope of previous comprehensive plans beyond land use planning to include a broad range of goals such as economic development, sustainability, hazard planning, and renewable energy. While climate adaptation is only briefly mentioned, the plan does describe the expected risk from climate change to the county (including increased floods, heat waves, and other severe weather events).  Additionally, the plan encourages the use of green infrastructure to achieve sustainability and hazard mitigation goals.

Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan

The Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan focuses on the improved management of storm water, surface waters and groundwater in New Orleans, Louisiana, in response to flooding, land subsidence and “wasted water assets.” The primary area of focus is 155 miles of urban areas and 69 square miles of protected wetlands in Orleans, Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes. The plan discusses how climate change threatens to raise the frequency of extreme weather events, and rising sea levels. Considered along with land subsidence, residents and economic assets are at great risk - and pumping stormwater and keeping floodwaters out are both projected to become more difficult over time.  

Hoboken, New Jersey Green Infrastructure Strategic Plan

Hoboken's Green Infrastructure Strategic Plan calls for above-ground detention, infiltration, and retention using various green infrastructure strategies, and encourages policy changes, such as zoning requirements and incentives, pilot projects, and plans for public lands and rights-of-way. The Plan identifies neighborhoods, and even specific buildings and parcels, as candidates for a first round of green infrastructure pilot projects, including some pilots in public housing projects in multiple areas of the city in order for low-income and potentially more vulnerable populations to reap the benefits of the green infrastructure practices.  

Norfolk, Virginia Resilience Strategy

The City of Norfolk, Virginia released its Resilience Strategy in October 2015 to address the three major challenges facing the city today including sea level rise and recurrent flooding; a shifting economy; and a need to build strong, healthy neighborhoods. The report proposes high-level strategies and actions to address a wide range of challenges the city faces, focusing on sea level rise and broader risks such as an over-reliance on limited industrial or economic sectors and concentrated poverty.  This plan was supported by the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative.

Baltimore, Maryland Disaster Preparedness and Planning Project (DP3) 2013

The City of Baltimore Maryland’s Disaster Preparedness and Planning Project (DP3) was created by the Department of Planning as an effort to address existing hazards while simultaneously preparing for predicted hazards due to climate change. This project develops a program that integrates an All Hazards Mitigation Plan (AHMP), floodplain mapping, and climate adaptation planning. DP3 links research, outreach, and actions to create a comprehensive and new risk-preparedness system for addressing existing and future impacts.

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