Researchers Find That Green Infrastructure Can Save Cities Millions of Dollars

Ed Greable Blogger March 24, 2018

A recent report has found that cities can potentially save billions of dollars by promoting the use of certain “smart surfaces” in their urban designs. Entitled “Delivering Urban Resilience,” the report makes a strong case for investing in green technology such as green roofs, solar panels and permeable pavement.

Addressing Environmental Issues with Green Features

By using three different cities as case studies, co-authors Greg Kats and Keith Glassbrook examined both the ecological and financial advantages to promoting smart surfaces in the city. Some of the factors taken into consideration included how these features helped to lower excess heat, to improve storm water management and to increase water quality, all of which are costly environmental issues that are further exacerbated by climate change.

To determine the cost-benefit of these features, the researchers used the insights they gained from city partners, tech experts, epidemiologists and energy experts. The results seemed to indicate that making these changes is more than just a good idea, but something that cities should look at as a necessary part of future development.

The Research Results

While the researchers did not specifically look at Boston and how smart surfaces could affect the city, they did look at other major cities. These included El Paso, Texas as well as two nearby cities: Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. The researchers found that El Paso could save $540 million by making these adaptations, while Washington, D.C. could save $1.8 billion and Philadelphia could save $3.5 billion. These savings figures include calculating the cost of making the investments and adjustments necessary to add green infrastructure. In Washington, D.C., for example, the report indicates it would cost $838 million to put these features in place.

By increasing their resilience with these new features, the researchers found that they would save significantly in energy, water and infrastructure repairs. Furthermore, improved cooling technologies and adaptations would help to reduce smog while cutting regional energy bills. The benefits these technologies provide to the overall health and livability of the cities would then compound over time.

The heat island effect caused by climate change and rising temperatures was also explored by the researchers. Due to increased temperatures, cities face the possibility of losing summer tourism dollars as the summers grow increasingly uncomfortable. Factoring in tourism revenue increasing the total savings estimate for Washington, D.C. to $4.9 billion and for Philadelphia to $8.4 billion.

Heat also has an adverse affect on city residents, particularly those who live in low-income areas where there is a lack of trees and greenery. Research has found that those who live in or near areas that are covered with dark, impervious surfaces are more likely to suffer from summer heat, respiratory illnesses, heat stress, air pollution and high health costs. A 2017 report by the Medical Society Consortium on Climate & Health further found that climate change is already making an impact on health in communities within every region of the United States.

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