An Introduction to Green Infrastructure

Everything you need to know about green infrastructure – what is it, why it is important, how it works, and some recent real world examples. Let’s dive in!

What is green infrastructure?

Green infrastructure uses both the natural environment and engineered systems to protect, restore, or mimic the natural water cycle. The main job of green infrastructure is to deal with water from heavy rainstorms in an environmentally friendly manner. Some examples include bioswales, rain gardens, and green roofs.

Why is green infrastructure important?

Green infrastructure reduces combined sewage overflows (CSO), which occur when raw sewage enters a waterway during heavy rainfall events because sewer systems can’t handle the extra influx of rainwater. Adding more green infrastructure means more stormwater runoff can be stored, which means less pollution in our streets and streams. 

Green infrastructure also provides storm resiliency and protection from damage due to flooding. As more frequent and intense rainfall events are predicted due to climate change, adding more green infrastructure to our world can help mitigate the effects of climate change.

What are the different types of green infrastructure?

Green infrastructure can take many forms. Let’s take a look at the most prominent and popular types.

What are bioswales?

Bioswales are shallow, vegetated channels with gently sloping sides. They are designed to capture and cleanse stormwater runoff before it moves downstream.


What are rain gardens?

Rain gardens are depressed areas that collect stormwater from nearby buildings, streets and other impervious surfaces. The plants and soil allow stormwater to soak into the ground, filter pollutants, and provide wildlife habitats. They also look great!


What are green roofs?

A green roof uses vegetation, soil, and a waterproofing membrane to capture stormwater and avoid dumping it onto the street below. The vegetation also absorbs heat energy, and provides a habitat for animals and insects.

Kingsland Wildflowers Green Roof in Greenpoint, Brooklyn

What is downspout disconnection?

Downspout disconnection means that water from roof gutters is diverted away from storm sewers and instead toward planter boxes, soil, or other permeable areas. Downspout disconnection can also be used for rainwater harvesting by diverting water to rain barrels and building cisterns.

What are permeable pavements?

Permeable pavements allow water to pass through into the ground below instead of directly into the sewer system. Types of permeable pavements include permeable interlocking pavers, porous concrete, porous asphalt.


What are green streets and green parking?

Green streets and green parking involves combining various types of green infrastructure to work together to capture and filter stormwater. For example, a green parking lot might include bioswales along its perimeter and rain gardens in medians. A green street might have permeable pavers and planter boxes installed in its sidewalks to capture stormwater.


What is an urban tree canopy?

An urban tree canopy, or city trees, soaks up stormwater through roots and can also absorb water in leaves and branches.


What are some recent real world examples of green infrastructure projects?

Here are 9 recent projects that show how the green infrastructure techniques described above can be put into practice in the real world.

1. New Stormwater Management Assets in Queens and Brooklyn

A total of 123 green infrastructure assets were added to 6 locations in Brooklyn and Queens to manage 30 million gallons of annual stormwater. These assets, which include rain barrels, rain gardens, and a shade structure are part of a $13 million effort to mitigate the effects of climate change, reduce pollution, and minimize damage due to flooding.

This project is also intended to improve the resiliency of the communities of Rochdale, Far Rockaway, Gravesend/Bensonhurst, Midwood/Flatlands, Canarsie, and Idlewild, which are bordered by water and more susceptible to flooding from storm surge. 

Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery Executive Director Katie Brennan says:

“Green infrastructure helps New Yorkers both mitigate climate change and adapt to its effects. We are proud that this innovative project is making historically underrepresented communities in Brooklyn and Queens more resilient and better able to withstand future storms.”

Green infrastructure assets constructed in Queens and Brooklyn (Source:

Learn more about the project here.

2. Rain Garden in Waynesville, North Carolina

A new rain garden was installed behind the Haywood County Arts Council (HCAC) in western North Carolina in an area that was previously susceptible to being waterlogged during heavy rain events and becoming a breeding ground for mosquitos in warm weather. The new green infrastructure element not only slows rapid stormwater runoff, but also protects surrounding landscapes from erosion.


Morgan Beryl, Executive Director at HCAC, says:

“The Haywood County Arts Council feels it’s important to bring the community together around initiatives that highlight how art is not only something beautiful to hang on a wall, but can be found in everyday efforts like the design of a colorful garden. The native pollinator rain garden is a way for us to lead by example and encourage the preservation of the earth that gives us the opportunity and inspiration to be creative.” 

Learn more about Haywood County Arts Council here.

As a future project, HCAC recently applied for a second round of funding to add more plants and educational signage with QR codes that will link to the local community college plant information website.

3. Community Commons Green Roof at University of Denver

University of Denver’s new Community Commons building features an expansive green roof which absorbs rainwater, keeps the building cool, and reduces building energy use. Located on the building’s 4th floor, the exterior deck features an expansive green space with plants native to the state.

Mark Rodgers, Director of Capital Planning & University Architect at University of Denver, says:

“We wanted this garden to be a destination that drew our community together and that there would be no mistake that it was a thriving green roof.  We used the necessary soil depth to assure success for the year-round survival of our plantings to create in effect “raised beds” such that when you are on the roofs the foreground of streets and the noise of cars are cut off and the view becomes one where native grasses wave in the breeze and the aural sensation becomes more calming.” 

Learn more about the project here.

4. Green Infrastructure Funding for Long Island Sound Watershed

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has granted $10.3 million dollars of funding for environmental restoration, green infrastructure, and education projects across Long Island Sound.

Some projects in New York include:

  • Providing community green space and improving water quality at IS 145Q Joseph Pulitzer School in Jackson Heights, Queens. This will involve adding green infrastructure to the school’s playground which will help capture 980,000 gallons of polluted stormwater annually before it flows into Bowery Bay, the East River, and then eventually to Long Island Sound.
  • Improving water quality by retrofitting parking lots and driveways with permeable alternatives at the Science Museum of Long Island in Manhasset, New York. This project plans to capture and infiltrate polluted stormwater runoff before it flows into Manhasset Bay and then Long Island Sound.

Director of the EPA’s Long Island Sound office Mark Tedesco says:

“There are a number of exciting projects. Both projects demonstrate how green infrastructure can reduce stormwater pollution, decrease flooding, and include the community in educational and involvement activities.”

Learn more about the Long Island Sound Study here.

5. Rain Garden Program in Urbana-Perry Park, Georgia

The Coastal Georgia Rain Garden program, which received funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was designed to improve stormwater management by collaborating with residents and local businesses in coastal communities to install rain gardens.

Jessica Brown, Stormwater Specialist at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, says:

“That particular project focused only on implementation of rain gardens, but we did have opportunities to talk with residents about other residential practices (e.g., rain barrels and downspout disconnection), as well as other stormwater green infrastructure practices they might see around town (i.e., Permeable pavement, bioretention, large-scale rainwater harvesting)…It was somewhat unexpected, but we had two residents that applied for and received permits to construct rain gardens in the City-owned right-of-way and chose to intercept and treat a larger volume of stormwater runoff to help reduce the burden on their neighbors.”

You can learn more about the project here.

6. Stormwater Management Improvements in Green-Wood Cemetery, New York

Plans have been announced for large-scale improvements intended to manage 51 million gallons of annual stormwater runoff at Green-Wood Cemetery, located in Brooklyn. This is part of a stormwater management initiative through a public-private partnership with New York State and The Nature Conservancy. New additions are slated to be completed by 2024 and include a pond with sensors, bioretention basins, subsurface storage, and rainwater harvesting. 

Learn more about Green-Wood Cemetery here.

7. Southwest Resiliency Park Expansion in Hoboken

Across the Hudson River from NYC, Hoboken has revealed plans for a flood mitigation park featuring rain gardens, permeable pavers, and underground detention tanks. Anticipated to open in 2025, the new design expands the existing Southwest Resiliency Park nearby, increasing the underground stormwater detention capacity by more than twofold to 460,000 gallons of stormwater. 

Learn more about the project here.

8. Green Infrastructure Renovations at Boston City Hall Plaza

City Hall Plaza in Boston finished its renovation and reopened mid-November 2022. The renovation included increasing the permeable surfaces to soak up stormwater as well as expanding its urban tree canopy by 100 new trees.


Learn more about the project here.

9. Green Infrastructure Parking Lot in Erie County

Seneca Bluffs Natural Habitat Park, located in Western New York, received $1.3 million through New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation (NYSEFC) Green Innovation Grant Program to install multiple green infrastructure practices, including stormwater street trees and porous pavement. The green infrastructure installation is expected to be completed in early 2024.

Learn more about the project here.

Interested in learning more about green infrastructure? Check out this post about environmental stewardship.

If you’re interested in collecting environmental data to measure green infrastructure effectiveness and keep your community informed, please contact us to learn how Temboo can help you!


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