investing in urban green infrastructure


We need to start shifting this conversation from supply to demand. The shifts we’re talking about here will require broad buy-in from communities, practitioners, and investors alike.


Getting green to scale


Mainstreaming nature-based assets as part of comprehensive capital planning that attracts large-scale investment across US cities is a major undertaking that requires a rethinking of how our government delivers services. Such significant innovation within entrenched public systems will surely pose diverse challenges at all levels, but meeting these challenges with bold action centered in shared commitments promises outsized rewards for generations of Americans. It is precisely this scale of reimagining government that our current systems are borne from, and there is evidence that this next shift is already underway. However, it will require participation from private industry, the philanthropic community, academia, and the general public in order to be truly successful. 

Following 10 months of extensive research—including interviews, literature review, process mapping, and econometric modelling —we developed the Blueprint for Increased Investment in Green Infrastructure, designed to support cities across the country to identify actionable steps toward growing their urban portfolios of green infrastructure assets to scale.


The Blueprint distilled: The 5 Shifts


The Blueprint is organized around five core shifts that cities must make to effectively scale green infrastructure investment and adoption. Each shift is made up a set of actionable steps customizable to a city’s unique context. 

    Rather than pet projects or add-ons to grey assets, green infrastructure installations need to be understood and presented as valuable, service-delivery assets that effectively address the same urban challenges as grey infrastructure. Building a strong foundation of social capital based on shared values and definitions will return significant pay offs as this complex process accelerates and new roadblocks arise. 

    From a “visionary leader” who gets the ball rolling, to the small “green team” on the ground that is perpetually seeking opportunities to add on and piece together projects, the advancement of green infrastructure in the United States is almost entirely tied to the individual prerogatives of a few rather than the daily operations of everyone. The shift from champions to systems requires the adoption and implementation of best practices that endure well beyond individual tenure. 

    Aggregating assets into comprehensive portfolios is paramount to wise investing. It’s necessary in order to maximize returns and effectively distribute risk. It’s also necessary to attract the level of investment needed to get green infrastructure adoption to scale. We must shift away from a system of one-off green projects and begin developing comprehensive, large-scale, programs that effectively integrate green and grey solutions to deliver the maximum benefits to communities and investors.

    While many existing systems and mechanisms are sufficient to support some city-scale implementation, a truly comprehensive, integrated infrastructure plan extends beyond jurisdictional borders to ecological boundaries. As we scale our solutions, we will need to scale our consideration of physical boundaries and our procedures around governance and service delivery, as well.   

    Moving from projects to programs will require new methods of funding and, most importantly, a shift toward financing. Municipalities need to rethink how dollars move through these new programs and be open to creative and combined solutions, and they need to carefully evaluate options specific to their respective needs and realities.


putting the blueprint into action: Urban GI Labs


Communities: Getting Green to Scale
Green: Urban GI Labs, Blue: Blueprint Interview Communities

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This year, Earth Economics is bringing together leaders from eight communities across the U.S. to discuss green infrastructure, the funding and financing tools that can help speed adoption at scale of nature-based solutions that increase urban resilience. Workshop participants will hear from industry leaders, with, dive into real-world case studies, and take home a wealth of resources and tools designed to help communities explore and implement their own green infrastructure opportunities.