By Riona Duncan
How is a tree like a sewer system? It sounds like a joke, but green infrastructure incorporates nature into architecture to help with stormwater and sustainability. Beyond its social impacts, such as encouraging physical exercise, green infrastructure has economic benefits.
Many cities turn to green infrastructure to deal with stormwater. "Every single day, millions of gallons of good water needlessly drain away, filling our waterways with sewage and urban pollutants, rather than replenishing our water supply," said NRDC Water Program Director David Beckman (Storm Water Solutions 2011). Tree planting is used because, in the Midwest, even a medium-sized tree such as the red oak will intercept 1,129 gallons of rainfall on average per year. (Center for Neighborhood Technology 2010) If a tree intercepts water, the city doesn’t have to pay to treat it when it becomes runoff. Due to the cost of treating wastewater in the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago each tree saves the city 10 cents (Center for Neighborhood Technology 2010). This might not sound like a lot, but Chicago has more than 500,000 trees on parkways alone (City of Chicago 2021). Chicago has a problem with sewer overflow, which tree planting can help avoid. Likewise, green roofs absorb rainwater, but they also help money on climate control. The Chicago Botanical Garden’s green roof saves them $552.35 a year by preventing them from having to pay for natural gas for heating and electricity for cooling (Center for Neighborhood Technology 2010).
Many people strongly support green infrastructure. Amy Ando, professor of agricultural and consumer economics at the University of Illinois, says “Our research indicates that these environmental goods produced by green infrastructure have significant monetary value and that people might be willing to volunteer a significant amount of time to help provide those goods” (Stein 2020). However, despite all its positive sides, one should be cautious when investing in green infrastructure. According to Charles Schwab, a new bubble in the stock market could form around green infrastructure (Business Insider 2021). For now, though, green infrastructure is on the way up!
"Cities Go Green" was selected as a winning submission in On the Money Magazine's Inaugural 2021 Spring Writing Competition. This article was written by Riona Duncan, who lives in Chicago's Mckinley Park neighborhood and is a junior at Walter Payton College Prep. She serves on the student board of the Illinois Junior Classical League, is a staff member of her school newspaper, and enjoys rowing and running. She hopes to pursue a career in an area related to writing.
Walter Payton '23