A Vision for Green Infrastructure in the Region

A bioswale in the median of a road is full of plants to absorb rainwater.

Bioswale | Photo via Aaron Volkening, Flickr

Stormwater runoff is one the major contributors of pollution in our waterways on any given day. When system failures occur due to excessive precipitation, our streets and homes flood and residents are sometimes exposed to untreated wastewater – and this will become more and more of a concern as climate change causes more frequent and severe precipitation. Just as water crosses boundaries, Metro Boston communities are eager to collaborate across jurisdictions to create solutions at scale to prepare for the effects of climate change, improve aging stormwater infrastructure, and meet new requirements for municipal compliance with the Clean Water Act.

Green infrastructure is a cost-efficient mechanism to manage runoff that also serves to cool cities, prevent urban heat islands, mitigate air pollution caused by excessive vehicle emissions, and beautify neighborhoods. A green infrastructure installation uses plants and natural solutions to expand pervious surfaces and allow for drainage. Examples include rain gardens and bioswales.

Green infrastructure is most effective when a portfolio of strategically-located installations occur at regional or even watershed scale. The Metro Mayors Climate-Smart Cities initiative prioritizes green infrastructure solutions at a regional level, and on Sept. 16, 2019, MAPC hosted an Urban Green Infrastructure Lab to accelerate implementation. The Washington-based think tank Earth Economics led the lab, which built off their latest research on how to mainstream green infrastructure solutions at-scale.

Participants included municipal, state, and federal staff as well as non-profits and private sector stakeholders. The group of 40 identified barriers and opportunities for implementing green infrastructure at a regional scale and created a collective regional vision toward implementation. This vision includes:

  • All municipalities and state agencies adopt a cohesive policy for the Metro Boston area to expand tree canopy by 20 percent annually by 2024. Plan will also include tree replacement.
  • Create regional green infrastructure incentives while prioritizing projects in environmental justice neighborhoods.
  • Dedicate one percent of municipal budgets to maintenance and operations of green infrastructure.
  • Reduce impervious cover across the region through land use, permitting, and new/redevelopment.

MAPC looks forward to working with our communities to collaboratively take these steps from vision to implementation. Future steps include creating a region-wide portfolio of green infrastructure projects. We'll be working with the Metro Mayors Climate Preparedness Task Force to discuss policies, incentives, and other opportunities.

Thank you to Earth Economics for their generous assistance!

Local Green Infrastructure

Cities and towns are already implementing green infrastructure solutions. Local projects include an installation in Arlington protecting Alewife Brook, one at the Mace Apartment Complex with the Chelsea Housing Authority protecting the Mill Creek, and the Everett Earthworks Sculptural Garden reducing runoff and inland flooding along the Northern Strand Trail.