What is Green Infrastructure?

The green infrastructure of this summer...

Allies and Partners
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Editor’s note: This is one in a continuing series of guest opinions about fostering environmental
stewardship and leadership coordinated by ACES — The Alliance of Climate and Environmental

There are a lot of references in the news to ‘green infrastructure’ and it’s a term that’s a little bit misleading to some. After all, when we say infrastructure, we historically have meant sewer plants, bridges, roads, and power plants. The things that are referred to as green infrastructure are generally smaller and include natural elements as part of their function.

Think of green infrastructure as a little green friend. A good example of green infrastructure is a pollinator garden that doesn’t take any lawn mowing etc. and absorbs water and attracts butterflies and flowers and bees to pollinate our farms. Or for instance planting a row of evergreens on the north side of your property to buffer winter winds and deciduous trees on the south side of your property to allow for winter sun while providing summer shade.

Green infrastructure refers to a set of natural or nature-based features and systems designed to provide ecological, economic, and social benefits to communities and the environment. They can include community gardens as Amesbury’s splendid example and our region’s excellent vegetated rail trails that enhance biodiversity and improve air quality. One concept is to use natural processes like rain gardens, bio-swales, and permeable pavements, reducing the strain on traditional drainage systems and minimizing pollution.

With the Merrimack River and our harbor nearby, concepts like ‘living shorelines’ are often considered a part of green infrastructure. Living shorelines are typically small-scale interventions to create places along the shorelines which will capture silt and allow vegetation and a variegated surface below the water for fish and other small creatures to prosper.  

As an example, Oyster beds are sometimes used by seaside communities as a green/gray strategy to protect shorelines and improve water quality. These can reduce the reach of waves and dampen their impact. Oysters also clean the water and sequester carbon in their shells and are a perfect natural solution for many environmental problems. 

Elevated berms such as at Newburyport’s Waterfront Park also protect the shore and at the same time adding trees and Adirondack chairs as the city has done makes it an especially attractive tourist draw. Small picnic gazebos like the bandstand behind the West Newbury town buildings can be considered green infrastructure. They provide shade and shelter to allow outdoor recreation on hot days and reduce the need for air conditioning. The countryside in warmer climates often have grape arbors or vine trellises over their patios. And in Boston the Rose Kennedy Greenway hosts a variety of green infrastructure designs including a walking colonnade, the vines growing over it along the water and beehives safely positioned in small patches where pedestrians can’t reach.

Permeable pavements are another small-scale intervention that can help keep greater Newburyport green.  Used for driveways, parking lots and rail trails with open patterned block instead of black top, water can be absorbed rather than running off. Perhaps builders can be encouraged to offer these.

ACES Youth Corp team members suggest you stay in touch with any micro-interventions involving green infrastructure being planned. Check out local opportunities for green infrastructure to help heal the planet. Please sign up for our monthly free newsletter and share any thoughts by sending us a note at To learn more about ACES and its Initiatives, visit .

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