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Benefits of green infrastructure planning for communities

By Frances Waite, SC Forestry Commission

According to the Green Infrastructure Center, green infrastructure refers to a community's natural resources such as forests, agricultural soils, parks and open spaces, rivers, wetlands and bays, and other habitats.

The interconnected network provides clean water, food, air quality, wildlife habitats and recreation. It is also important to industries like tourism, forestry and farming.

It is important for local officials to know what natural resources they have and learn how to conserve or restore them. 

Green infrastructure planning can bring about many beneficial outcomes for a community, such as reducing the impact of stormwater contaminants, providing economic impact benefits in the form of environmental services and tourism, and keeping the sense of place that attracts people to particular communities.

The first phase of green infrastructure planning involves setting goals by recognizing what the community values (i.e. protecting drinking water, promoting working farms, conserving historic landscapes, etc.).

The next step is to identify green assets and connections so strategies can be developed to keep the green infrastructure working to the benefit of the community. Asset mapping should include elements like forestland, large farms, streams, rivers, recreational areas and historical features.

Once the assets are identified, officials should start a risk assessment process. Determine what areas need to remain contiguous to keep the network of natural assets connected. For the natural systems to function as drains or filters, green infrastructure must be recognized as an interdependent process. The areas that would be at risk are the areas where connectivity could be lost. 

Assess the city's zoning map to see if it is working as the community needs. Look into forest fragmentation and determining which streams may be impaired are  examples of risk assessment.

Once the risk assessment is completed, officials can determine which areas should be left as natural areas and draft strategies to conserve them. Some questions to answer in the process would be where will future parks/recreational areas be located, where should forestry, recreation or wildlife habitats be encouraged, and are there areas conducive for agritourism or providing scenic views.

The process also allows local officials to develop a coordinated strategy for channeling development and redevelopment to the most appropriate locations.

The SC Forestry Commission is working with the Green Infrastructure Center to create a green infrastructure guideline book for South Carolina. In addition, they plan to have a green infrastructure base model of connected habitats available for spring 2015.

Green Infrastructure: Building Great Communities is the theme for this year's Forest Resource Institute on June 11-12 in Columbia. The 2014 Forest Resource Institute is designed for planners and landscape architects who work for city and county governments.