This past Earth Day in New York, we all celebrated as over 175 nations signed the International Climate Agreement, concluding the Climate Change Negotiations that started in Paris last December. This is a historic moment and the beginning of a long road to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to new weather patterns.
The task at hand is unprecedented for our society and it will require all our efforts to redesign our cities with nature in mind.
At The Watershed Project, we believe that green infrastructure is a key element in making our communities more resilient to climate change. Not only does green infrastructure beautify our urban environment, but it is also a cost effective way to clean and reuse rainwater to recharge our aquifers.
Our organization has devoted the last 10 years to promote and install close to 300 street trees and a dozen, low-cost rain gardens and bio-swales along streets, parks and campuses in Richmond, California and other neighboring communities. These Green Infrastructure Projects have helped alleviate local flooding and have reduced water pollutants from entering the Bay, among many other benefits.
Green infrastructure is the best way to retrofit our Bay Area cities, to regain some of the natural functions they had when the watersheds that feed the Bay were covered with oak trees and coastal scrub.
The problem we have today, is that our cities are designed to quickly discharge polluted water into the Bay and our communities are designed with too many paved and impermeable surfaces — streets, sidewalks, driveways, parking lots, roofs, patios, schoolyards. These types of surfaces quickly shed the rain and retain the heat. Instead of allowing the rain water and the pollution it is carrying to quickly enter the Bay, we need to “slow it, sink it, and spread it.” The solution is to hold back the rain in natural vegetated areas. And as we slow down the rain, and the pollution it carries, we can bio-filter it, before it reaches the waterways. Green infrastructure is also a great carbon sink and a way to cool our cities.
We invite all cities around the Bay to look at Green Infrastructure as a solution to climate risks that can be implemented at any scale, not only as part of large capital improvement projects, but also as part of small scale, park, home garden and street renovations. We believe that climate change adaptation and resiliency can start at our school play ground, our back yard, our sidewalk or our local park. Because after all, a cool city is a green city!