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A Comparison Between Green Infrastructure Policies in the United States and the European Union.

By Dr. Anna Zakrisson

New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. Photo courtesy of greenscreen

Urban green spaces provide a much-needed oasis for relaxation and rejuvenation, supporting wildlife, tackling climate change, and cooling urban areas during heat waves. Governments and institutions worldwide have implemented programs and policies to support green development.

This article provides an overview of green infrastructure policies, highlighting key strategies and successful initiatives in the US and EU.

Comparing the US and the EU

The US and EU prioritize green infrastructure, incentivizing individuals and businesses with financial perks ranging from tax breaks to grants and loans. The EU provides directives, funding opportunities, and incentives at multiple levels, while the US primarily establishes regulations and initiatives at the state or municipal level. Despite bureaucratic and financial challenges, both regions offer excellent programs and initiatives supporting green infrastructure.

The US

Seattle Center. Photo courtesy of greenscreen

Seattle, Chicago, and NYC are among the US cities leading the way in incorporating green infrastructure into urban settings.  Seattle and Chicago offer incentives such as tax abatement, expedited permitting, and grants to help create financial viability for green infrastructure projects. The Seattle Green Factor (SGF) and the Chicago green stormwater infrastructure plan are excellent examples of programs that incentivize investment in related projects.

Meanwhile, NYC is ambitiously striving for carbon neutrality through Local Law 97, which sets strict limits on building emissions and promotes green infrastructure. Financial incentives for private landowners, such as the Green Infrastructure Grant program and the Green Building Tax Credit normalize sustainable development.

Overall, continued policy promotion and support can ensure more cities follow suit in prioritizing the inclusion of green infrastructure into our urban settings.

The EU

The EU has taken initiatives through policy and funding incentives to promote green infrastructure projects that aim to fight climate change and environmental degradation.

The European Structural and Investment Funds have been a significant source of financing for green infrastructure projects through direct grants and loans. Additionally, the European Green Deal has a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030.

Furthermore, the European Investment Bank provides loans for investments in clean energy sources, a cost-effective alternative to commercial loans. National and local municipalities, and private institutions, offer funding opportunities to support sustainable development and reduce emissions throughout the EU.

Hamburg, Germany has emerged as a leader in green infrastructure policies launching an ambitious green roof strategy to cover 70% of new buildings and suitable roofs. The city also offers grants, tax credits, and subsidized loans for residents and businesses to install green infrastructure. Successful outcomes include lowered emissions, economic growth, and financial incentives for small to large corporations.

Climate change in Austria is affecting the Alpine Region with more hot days, severe storms, and increasingly common urban heat islands. Several Austrian municipalities are planting new trees and using green roofs and walls for energy efficiency and stormwater protection to address these challenges. Vienna has also been proactive in providing subsidies for green infrastructure and building renovation, with support from Austria’s green roof association, Grün-Statt-Grau (GSG).

Insight from both sides of the Atlantic

The US Census building in Suitland, Maryland. Photo courtesy of greenscreen

Financial motivations and policies are available from both the US and the EU to support green infrastructure development in urban areas. While high-level directives, funding, and incentives exist at different levels in the EU, the US primarily offers green infrastructure policies focused at the state or municipal level. Learning from successful examples like Seattle, Chicago, Hamburg, and Vienna can inspire more cities to prioritize sustainable practices.  

Ultimately, we all share the responsibility of caring for the planet we call home.

This blog post was written by an independent writer and is not intended as legal or investment advice. The information provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as the basis for making any decisions related to purchasing, investing, or other financial matters. Please consult with a professional financial advisor before making any such decisions.
The Amazing History of Green Infrastructure

By Dr. Anna Zakrisson

Whole Foods, Chicago, IL Photo courtesy of greenscreen

Green walls are part of human history

Green roofs and façades are beautiful and have, over the ages, provided humanity with a plenitude of ecosystem services such as produce and shade. We have long relied on plants to create spaces for humans to thrive and prosper. However, some view green infrastructure (GI) as a recent construct, leading to a failure to understand how critical urban greening is for a healthy, sustainable, and happy urban life.  

Green infrastructure is integral to sustainable urban development and helps humans thrive.

Where it began

Green infrastructure has been a fundamental part of human settlements dating back to the Neolithic period (4300 BC-2000 BC). The first form of a green roof was the sod roof. Humans formed these sod roofs with a layer of peat or sod over a cave structure. While these sod structures were most prevalent in Norse countries, green infrastructure existed in parallel all over the globe, from the literary gardens in China during the  Shang Dynasty (600-1046 BC) to the giant, stepped ziggurat pyramids of Mesopotamia (600 BC) on which trees and shrubs grew to provide shade and produce. In modern-day Iraq, the hanging gardens of Babylon (600-500 BC) are often mentioned as examples of Mesopotamian green infrastructure. Despite lacking direct evidence of the garden’s existence, archaeological records display spectacular garden-related engineering, such as a building with a built-in irrigation system.

Fountain Park, Playa Vista, CA. Photo courtesy of greenscreen

Ancient Greece and the Romans

The climate of ancient Greece inspired the use of vegetated trellis structures and trees to create shade in their open meeting spaces or “agoras” in order to stimulate public discourse and interaction. The trellis systems  also supported grape vines for their burgeoning wine industry.  

The Romans took even further steps towards cooling by using imported trees planted on and around institutional buildings. They also used climbing plants outside the villas to create shade and cool buildings.

Roman botanist Theophrastus (371-287 BC) writes about using Sempervivum (a close relative to Sedum) on roofs and walls. Sedum plants are now one of the most used plant types on extensive green roofs.

Chesterfield Square, South Los Angeles, CA. Photo courtesy of greenscreen

Early green roofs in America

Sod houses also played an important part in US history stemming from the Homestead Act of 1862. The act was passed by the US Congress, stating that 160 acres of land would be granted by the government to settling families after five years, with the condition that they build a house and dig a well on the land. These settlers were referred to as “soddies” due to the construction of green roof sod houses.  also supported grape vines for their burgeoning wine industry.  

American green innovators

The US environmental movement originated in the 19th century and was vital in developing our modern understanding of the human need for access to green spaces.

One significant figure in this movement was landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, well-known for his work on parks and green infrastructure, most notably Central Park and the 1,100 acres of interconnected parks and waterways known as the Emerald Necklace in Boston and Brookline, Massachusetts.

“We want a ground to which people may easily go when the day’s work is done, and where they may stroll for an hour, seeing, hearing, and feeling nothing of the bustle and jar of the streets where they shall, in effect, find the city put far away from them
– (Frederick Law Olmsted, 1870)

Leading architectural and public figures already recognized the link between good mental health, high work output, and green infrastructure.

Rosa Parks Plaza, Dallas, TX. Photo courtesy of greenscreen

Modern green infrastructure

In 1938, Professor Stanley Hart White of the University of Illinois developed and patented the first green wall system. He named the modular system “Botanical Bricks,” as it allowed for a quick buildup of greened structures. However, green wall systems did not gain popularity until 1986. when French botanist Patrick Blanc successfully created a massive green wall installation at the Museum of Science and Industry in Paris.

Despite the advancements in green infrastructure, the simple and reliable trellis systems in tandem with climbing plants have always remained in fashion. Over the ages, green infrastructure has remained essential to human health and well-being, bringing great beauty and value to the built environment.

Contact greenscreen to continue with this great tradition.

Air Pollution Can be Mitigated Using Green Infrastructure!

By Dr. Anna Zakrisson

Realignment Project in Culver City, CA.  Photo courtesy of greenscreen

Air pollution causes a staggering 4-9 million deaths globally per year. 90% of the world’s population breathes air that exceeds the WHO air quality guidelines. Pollution source reductions are sorely needed, but effective pollution capture is equally impactful. Urban green infrastructure, such as the greenscreen trellis systems, can act as a pollution barrier and an air pollution capture system, thus improving the quality of life, and health, in urban areas.

The young and the old are the most affected

Air pollutants can be both natural and anthropogenic (man-made). In urban environments, anthropogenic air pollutants dominate and can primarily be attributed to the burning of fossil fuels from industrial processes, energy generation, and most importantly transportation.

As is often the case, the young and the elderly are the most vulnerable to air pollution. This is partly due to their limited range of movement and high air pollution exposure risks – especially as pollutants are suspended and resuspended in their local environment.

Air pollution, health scares, and costs

The Mark in Vancouver, BC.  Photo courtesy of greenscreen

Exposure to fine particulate matter, e.g., PM2.5, has been shown to increase the risk of acute respiratory conditions, lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, and COPD. An increase in the prevalence of Alzheimer’s and other neurological conditions has also been found. In addition, exposure to PM2.5 has been found to increase neonatal mortality.

Apart from immense suffering, The World Bank estimated a total financial loss of $143 billion in 2013 due to lost labor productivity after PM2.5 exposure. The global welfare losses due to PM2.5 were estimated to be $3.55 trillion. In 2016, the World Bank estimated that air pollution-related welfare losses were equivalent to 5% of the gross domestic product in high-income countries.

As such, green infrastructure is both an ethical and good economic decision.

Exacerbation through urban heat island (UHI) effects

Air pollution is often divided into primary and secondary pollutants. The primary pollutants are directly emitted from the source. The secondary pollutants, on the other hand, are formed from precursors originating from combustion (and other) processes. Further, the formation of these secondary pollutants is often exacerbated by high temperatures, which is bad news considering the increasing urban heat island (UHI) effects.

What we can do to indirectly affect air pollution is to cool our cities.  The introduction of green infrastructure would reestablish the natural water cycle, increasing the cooling effect via evapotranspiration.

How greenscreen can help protect your lungs

Residence in Oakland, CA.  Photo courtesy of greenscreen

Pedestrians are often exposed to high levels of air pollutants caused by vehicle emissions that become trapped at street level. Research studies have found that vegetated screens and walls that separate the traffic from pedestrians can significantly reduce harmful air pollutants.

greenscreen acts as both a direct capture of the pollutants and a dispersion agent , disrupting the airflow and diverting the poor-quality air away from the sidewalk. As an example: green facades were estimated to reduce PM10 by 50% and NO2 by 60% in a study by Abhijith et al. 2017. This can improve quality of life.

In summary: green infrastructure can achieve so much in our cities because it means working with nature rather than against it. GI can cool, reduce pollution, increase biodiversity, reduce energy costs, and re-establish the natural water cycle. Let’s green our streets, one by one!