It is estimated the world will invest 94 trillion U.S. dollars in infrastructure globally in the next 20 years. With that level of investment, we should ask some important questions. What is the best approach we should use today to deliver these projects? How can we incorporate climate change, social equity, and sustainability into our project planning? What is the future of our engineering practice?
One thing 2020 has taught us—we can’t solve problems as we did before. Today’s infrastructure investment must include new thinking. Through innovation, every project, regardless of sector, needs the longevity to last several decades and incorporate forward-thinking innovations to solve future challenges today. We must start to apply “green box” thinking.
Cities, developers, architects, and engineers are increasingly looking for ways to move away from the “concrete jungle” and incorporate elements of nature into our everyday lives. This focus on more sustainable development is the same approach we should take when evaluating infrastructure.
Many of us are familiar with gray infrastructure—the more traditional, concrete, human-engineered solutions — however, green infrastructure is a solution worth exploring and implementing alongside gray infrastructure. It refers to natural elements of our ecosystem, such as forests, reefs, and wetlands, which can serve many of the same gray infrastructure functions.
When you blend both green and gray infrastructure together, the result is a cohesive solution that helps address community resiliency future challenges. In many instances, incorporating green infrastructure into future infrastructure investments may boost eco-tourism and generate new revenues for local communities.
Green infrastructure can take many forms, from protected natural areas to green roofs in cities. The goal is to employ nature to provide natural benefits such as clean air or reliable flows of clean water. By blending conservation and restoration techniques with innovative engineering, green-gray infrastructure provides solutions enabling communities to mitigate natural disasters and adapt to a changing climate. However, the challenge is strategically combining the two.
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