Green Infrastructure: Overcoming institutional and social boundaries in small communities

Jenna Tilt, Oregon State University, and Paul Ries, Oregon Department of Forestry (Bend, OR) Green infrastructure: Overcoming institutional and social boundaries in small communities

Green infrastructure is a planning concept used by urban foresters and land use planners which brings together both the natural and built environments to provide ecosystem services such as reduced stormwater runoff, increased water quality and wildlife habitat. Green infrastructure projects have become increasingly important in densely populated urban landscapes in the United States and abroad as a cost-saving strategy to mitigate urban heat island effects, manage stormwater, as well as enhancing community aesthetics and quality of life of urban residents.

While green infrastructure projects and programs have been successful in large urban areas, adapting these practices for smaller communities have been met with a variety of institutional and social barriers. As one might expect, smaller communities often have little financial resources to facilitate green infrastructure practices, even if these practices prove to be cost-saving in the long run. Beyond financial barriers, smaller communities also face a variety of institutional and social challenges. These communities often lack the staff expertise to develop sound green infrastructure projects and land use regulations and city organizational management may directly conflict with green infrastructure practices. In addition, community leadership and community members may not be aware of the benefits of green infrastructure practices; and without a regulatory mandate to implement such practices they may choose not to invest time and resources towards these projects.

Acknowledging these barriers, a new research endeavor between Oregon State University and Oregon Department of Forestry has been initiated. This study will examine the institutional and social barriers and opportunities in implementing green infrastructure projects in small communities in three distinct eco-regions in Oregon: the coastal area, the Willamette Valley, and the high mountain desert. This study will have two primary components: 1) Interviewing and observing city staff, community leaders and community groups regarding their perceptions and experience in implementing green infrastructure projects within their community; and 2) observing and tracking the regulatory and financial steps involved to implement of three demonstration green infrastructure projects. The outcome of this project will be the creation of a guidance document which is specifically tailored for similar green infrastructure projects in other small communities.

In this presentation, I will share examples of successful green infrastructure practices, known barriers to green infrastructure implementation, and how our research questions and research design will contribute to the understanding and mitigation of these barriers. By exploring the institutional and social barriers and opportunities in implementing green infrastructure projects and programs, we hope to provide future guidance for communities to facilitate community sustainability and ecological health.