Equitable Green Infrastructure

Green infrastructure creates numerous public health, social, environmental, and economic benefits beyond stormwater management. Co-benefits include improved water quality and air quality, reductions in localized flooding and the urban heat island effect, and increased access to public green spaces. While green infrastructure is an important tool in managing stormwater runoff, it is important to screen planned projects for potential unintended consequences that negatively impact overburdened populations.

Environmental justice communities in urban areas often experience flooding disproportionately due to high levels of impervious cover and aging water infrastructure. These communities would greatly benefit from green infrastructure solutions. Stormwater planning and design should be completed according to the unique needs of the community so as not to concentrate public improvements to wealthier areas.

To ensure the implementation of green infrastructure leads to the equitable distribution of benefits, the planning of projects should be community driven. It is also important to understand potential unintended consequences of community greening. While green infrastructure, state of the art parks and open spaces, and tree canopy cover are all aspects of a healthy and thriving community, it is imperative to ensure that these improvements do not price out current community members.

Equitable green infrastructure includes:

  • Community engagement surrounding planning, implementation, and maintenance
  • Local job creation
  • Inclusive green space design

Steps to Integrate Equity into the GI Planning and Implementation Process of Projects

  1. Evaluate existing planning documents and ordinances for inclusion of green initiatives. Cities must evaluate and revise those policies and processes that both created and perpetuated disparities.
  2. Engage the community. One example of community driven green infrastructure is the Green Infrastructure Champions Program facilitated by Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program.
  3. Identify opportunities to include green infrastructure. See Planning and Implementation pages of the Toolkit.
  4. Understand socioeconomic factors and how they intersect with environmental attributes. Identify high risk areas through overlaying different mapping features.
  5. Prioritize green infrastructure investments in communities facing disproportionate environmental risk and/or have experienced historic underinvestment.
  6. Create metrics to understand how projects are addressing inequities. For example, how are projects improving air quality?
  7. Ensure other planning activities are complementary to greening initiatives. For example, does your community have an affordable housing requirement for new development? What is the development potential around a green infrastructure project site that could increase property values and costs of living?

Explore the New Jersey Water Risk and Equity Map to visualize water-related issues in your community.