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Demystifying Green Infrastructure
May 29, 2024 | |

Green infrastructure—you’ve most likely heard it mentioned as an important solution to climate issues. But what exactly is green infrastructure? What does it involve? And how exactly does it help make communities safer and more resilient?

Green infrastructure uses nature-based resources and methods to manage stormwater, beat extreme heat, and tackle air and water pollution. Think rain gardens, green roofs, permeable pavement, bioswales, and urban trees. These solutions are practical and scalable ways to address environmental issues and boost climate resilience.

Despite its proven effectiveness, green infrastructure solutions are often misunderstood—which makes it hard to implement and even harder to maintain.


Meet Riley Essert, the Youth and Environmental Programs Manager at Groundwork New Orleans. In her role, she leads initiatives like Climate Safe Neighborhoods and the Green Team, where she works with residents of all ages to understand and prioritize green infrastructure solutions in their neighborhoods. With her expertise in green infrastructure—from design to maintenance—Riley’s here to debunk myths and share some insights!

Myth #1: Green infrastructure is too expensive and difficult to install and maintain. 

The reality is the cost of green infrastructure ranges significantly and addressing our stormwater challenges will require projects of all sizes. If you’re looking for a backyard solution to help with stormwater, rain gardens are a low-cost option—maybe less than $200 for materials. These small projects use native plants, gravel, and soil to help manage water and keep the environment healthy at a local level. On the other hand, if you’re working on a bigger project that needs professionals to design and install it, it can definitely cost more. But the great thing is, organizations like ours often get money from grants to support these big projects. So, even if we’re designing something for the whole neighborhood, like a big community garden or park, you might not have to pay anything out of your pocket. Maintaining these sites doesn’t have to break the bank either. In our projects, we use native plants because they need less water and care. For a small rain garden at home, you might just need to pull out weeds occasionally. For larger sites with a more complex drainage system, they will need more upkeep, maybe every few months or once a year, but again, you may find that you have local organizations or community groups that lead these projects.

Small-scale residential project in New Orleans
Myth #2: Green infrastructure is only good for managing stormwater. 

The reality is green infrastructure provides a wide range of benefits to all. It reduces air pollution and extreme heat, lowers energy consumption, and mitigates noise pollution. It also boosts property values and creates employment opportunities within the green sector. With climate change on the rise, the demand for green infrastructure projects, both small and large-scale, continues to grow. This demand translates to increased job opportunities in installation and maintenance across various sectors.

See how Groundwork New Orleans is bringing together Green and Gray Infrastructure in the Vision to Reality Park


Myth #3:  We need to choose between green and gray infrastructure. 

The reality is green infrastructure works best when it’s used strategically alongside other types of infrastructure. Green infrastructure, such as trees and rain gardens, helps absorb and manage water naturally, while “gray” infrastructure, like storm sewers and treatment plants, provides engineered solutions for flood control. For example, after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans installed strong stormwater systems to pump water out quickly to reduce flooding. But, the pumps pull so much water out that the ground dries out and the shrinks like a sponge. This results in issues like potholes and sinkholes and structural damage to buildings. By pairing green with gray infrastructure, you have a comprehensive approach to managing flooding that pulls water away from flood-prone areas while using creative solutions to feed water back into the soil slowly.

Myth #4: Implementing large-scale green infrastructure like parks will lead to gentrification and displacement of residents. 

The reality is, unfortunately, that poorly planned or implemented green infrastructure projects can contribute to gentrification and displacement, but it’s not an inherent characteristic of the green infrastructure itself. To prevent displacement when putting in neighborhood-wide greenspaces, it’s going to come down to policy change that ensures renters are protected. Given that we know nature-based solutions save lives and improve communities, we must continue to implement them. But how we do it is just as important because while gentrification can push people out, unfortunately so does flooding.

Despite the myths and misconceptions, green infrastructure proves to be a powerful solution that when done strategically can benefit all. When we embrace green infrastructure with thoughtful planning, equitable policies, and a people-centered approach, we can pave the way for a healthier, safer future where everyone can thrive.