"Green infrastructure" has emerged as a term to refer to two different but related planning concepts: site-scale green infrastructure or regional green infrastructure. The latter concept plays an important role in the Expand and Improve Parks and Open Space section of GO TO 2040.
Site-scale green infrastructure can be thought of as a suite of practices to handle stormwater that emphasize using vegetation, soils, and natural processes to mimic natural hydrology. Regional green infrastructure, on the other hand, is a planned landscape of connected open spaces that conserves ecosystem functions and provides associated benefits to human populations.
Both can be thought of as critical complements and sometimes replacements for "gray infrastructure," like utilities and the road and rail networks. The concept of green infrastructure draws attention to its similarity to the other infrastructure networks that undergird prosperity in the region. Like other forms of infrastructure, it also needs to be managed, restored, and expanded.
Green infrastructure at the regional scale is described by the Chicago Wilderness Green Infrastructure Vision (GIV). This map and policy describing the most important areas to protect in the region was originally adopted by Chicago Wilderness in 2004. Working with The Conservation Fund, Chicago Wilderness refined and updated the mapping in 2011 -2012.
Downloadable green infrastructure datasets from this project are available for the entire Chicago Wilderness region, including portions of Indiana and Wisconsin.
Based on the direction set out in GO TO 2040, CMAP and partners have developed Policies to Encourage the Preservation of Regional Green Infrastructure. GO TO 2040 recommends protecting a significant amount of additional conservation land in the region using a green infrastructure approach. Moreover, the plan noted that "coordinated investment in land protection will be necessary to achieve this [goal]. Forest preserve and conservation districts, the state, and private funders should all prioritize land preservation within the green infrastructure network. Municipalities and the state should harmonize policies to promote the preservation of green infrastructure." The purpose of this policy paper is to explore in more detail how this can be done. Its guiding idea is to follow an "all of the above" strategy – any agency or organization involved in conservation or urban development has a role to play in preserving green infrastructure.
No comprehensive database of site-scale green infrastructure exists currently. The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center funded the Center for Neighborhood Technology to undertake an inventory of stormwater green infrastructure projects; the results are available through the Natural Connections website. The CNT dataset as well as site-scale green infrastructure data from the City of Chicago are included in the green infrastructure downloads under the title "urban-scale green infrastructure (1:100,000)," but comprehensive data are not available region-wide. Efforts are needed to continue to enhance these datasets to make sure they are as complete as possible.
Site-scale Green Infrastructure Policy Resources
There is no shortage of resources describing the benefits of green infrastructure and promoting a larger commitment to its use in managing stormwater. The Manage and Conserve Water and Energy Resources section of GO TO 2040 strongly recommends a shift toward the use of green infrastructure. Selected resources include:
- Center for Neighborhood Technology Green Values Calculator. Estimates the environmental benefits and monetary savings associated with various deployments of bioswales, tree plantings, native landscaping, and other kinds of stormwater green infrastructure.
- Recommendations to the Illinois General Assembly. The University of Illinois at Chicago, CMAP, and several other organizations completed a report to the Illinois legislature recommending ways to incorporate green infrastructure into state regulations.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Provides information on the ways U.S. EPA is incorporating green infrastructure in a number of different agency programs, both regulatory and non-regulatory.