ACES: What is green infrastructure? | local news

Editor’s note: This is one of an ongoing series of guest opinions on advancing environmental stewardship and leadership coordinated by ACES – the Alliance of Climate and Environmental Stewards

There are a lot of references in the news to green infrastructure and it is a slightly misleading term for some. After all, when we say infrastructure, we historically mean sewage plants, bridges, roads and power plants. Things referred to as green infrastructure are generally smaller in size 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 does not require mowing grass etc., absorbs water and attracts butterflies, flowers and bees to pollinate our farms. Or, for example, plant 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 winter sun while providing summer shade.
Green infrastructure refers to a set of natural or nature-based features and systems designed to provide environmental, economic and social benefits to communities and the environment. These could include community gardens as a great example of Amesbury and our region’s excellent botanical railway trails which promote biodiversity and improve air quality.

One concept is to use natural processes such as rain gardens, bioswales, and permeable pavements, which reduces pressure on traditional drainage systems and reduces pollution.

With the Merrimack River and our harbor close by, concepts like “living beaches” are often considered part of green infrastructure. Living beaches are usually small-scale interventions to create places along shorelines that will capture silt and allow plants and the diverse underwater surface to flourish, fish and other small creatures.

For example, coastal communities sometimes use oyster beds as a green/grey strategy to protect beaches and improve water quality. This can reduce the reach of the waves and dampen their impact. Oysters also clean the water and trap carbon in their shells, which is an ideal natural solution to many environmental problems.

Elevated barriers such as Waterfront Park in Newburyport also protect the beach and at the same time adding trees and Adirondack chairs as the city has done makes it a particularly attractive tourist attraction. Small picnic gazebos such as the bandstand behind the West Newbury city 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. Countryside in warmer climates often have grape arbors or vine trellises over their yards. In Boston, the Rose Kennedy Greenway hosts a variety of green infrastructure designs including a walking arcade, vines growing overhead along the water, and beehives safely placed in small spots where pedestrians cannot access them.

Permeable sidewalks are another small-scale intervention that can help keep the greater Newburyport area green. Used in driveways, parking lots and railway tracks with open patterned blocks instead of black surface, water can be absorbed rather than run off. Maybe builders could be encouraged to offer these things.

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

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