Green infrastructure a key to sustainable development

We can build a City of Frederick that supplies a better relationship between our built environment, the homes, streets, and infrastructures that support our lifestyles and the natural environment that sustains us. It depends upon two factors, how we treat water, and how we incorporate green infrastructure.

Look at the City’s recent growth and development: (green circles show roughly the City’s overall development)

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The City of Frederick is defined by the Monocacy River, the river flows through it, sometimes floods areas of it, and provides a quantity of our drinking water, currently about a quarter of it. All of the streams through the city feed the Monocacy River. Our treated wastewater gets returned to the Monocacy River.

Our variety of waterways includes streams that are river tributaries, feeder branches of those streams, wetlands, ephemeral streams, wetlands and pools, springs, and runoff sources. There is a major difference between the natural water systems and the built water systems – the natural systems conform to a regulated system defined by natural processes, they will establish and maintain an ecological balance between their flows, forces and impacts. On the other hand, the built environment of water movement has historically defied the natural system of ecological balance. Their flows, forces and impacts are generally destructive of natural processes.

Water is the most powerful force on Earth. It is a slow and persistent force, it conforms the land, and it erodes rock and mountains. It changes the landscape more than underground earth forces. Like gravity it is always at work. It can create river canyons. But it applications of force are readily apparent and easily understandable.

When our built impacts deny the ecological factors, we do harm to our waterways. Our waterways depend on ground absorption of a portion of rainfall. It is a moderating factor. Impervious pavements remove this factor and as they increase, they not only increase the immediate runoff force, they also increase the temperature of the water runoff, and they carry along a variety of pollutants from the pavements to the waterways.

So knowing the effects and the problems, it’s time to look at how we can solve these problems and make our built environment conform to the ecological balance between water and landscapes. We have models of how to build pavements that allow the balance to remain in place.

This is where we can determine that we will plan based on improving green infrastructure. Incorporating natural process into our built surfaces and allowing the runoff water to more efficiently percolate into the ground, slow down its force, cool off before reaching streams, and capture pollutants.

But before I focus only on water benefits, look at how many ancillary benefits accrue: aesthetics, reduction in heat health and energy costs, green collar jobs, social cost savings by green collar jobs, air quality improvement, and recreational enhancements. A Philadelphia study compared options between green infrastructure and managing storm water via underground piping and reservoir. The pipe estimated to yield $122 Million in benefit, but the green infrastructure estimated to yield $.8 Billion in benefits.

In the City there has been some talk about ‘complete streets’ meaning that bicycles and pedestrians are provided improved access environments among vehicle traffic paths. But true complete streets would also be green streets.

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Water is managed through bio swales:

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Theoretically, the City of Frederick follows the Maryland Stormwater Manual guidance which declares that new development will retain complete stormwater retention of a natural site, but in practice, the large development proposals are allowed exemptions from compliance. If you look south of the current Walmart along Route 26, you’ll see a stormwater pond of some size, caused by the parking lost above it. This was certified by the development planners to not occur, but it has lived and become a substantive feature of the parkland. Now that the new Walmart development along Route 26 has been approved, it included exemptions of parking lot standards.

Sites of such size could also provide mitigation features such as green roofs. A green roof was placed on the Baltimore Hilton Convention Center.

Current stormwater pond management requires clear cut impoundments, but that is not the only model, nor the best model (see below): which is most beautiful and efficient? Which do you want to live near?
 
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Recent Northern annexations into the City of Frederick have included property with large floodplain and wetland areas that should not be developed, but which have been proposed for massive office building construction and large parking runoff areas. In addition, the property has already sought approval to fill in nearly fifty acres of floodplain and wetland and eliminate an ephemeral stream. Citizens responded to this effectively so far, but it should never have been potentially allowed to occur.

In fact, the City of Frederick should define a goal for net wetlands increase, along tributaries and the Monocacy River. Floodplain along the Monocacy Boulevard development between Gas House Pike and Patrick Street East and along Church Street extended would be a potential wetland park location, the topography and the existing wetlands resources are in place.

We have a historic opportunity to both enhance natural elements found today, and repair existing waterways damage, as well as retrofit our urban environment for greenscapes and improved water quality efforts. You won’t find a word of this is our planning guidelines or new sustainability plan today, it does not fit the development and economic models we’ve lived under for so long, but a growing array of evidence points towards a future that might be truly sustainable, and thereby a better economic model.
 
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Let’s makeover Market Street into Green Street, and let’s makeover alleys into water absorbing, pervious pavements!