In addition to the direct benefits green infrastructure can offer to developers and property owners, there are numerous benefits to communities associated with public greening, better air, and green jobs opportunities. The benefits green infrastructure offers to a community can help build stakeholder support for the development project and can sometimes ease the process of planning or zoning board review. Many of these benefits can be quantified using these online calculator tools. Other benefits may be more difficult to quantify, but are no less important. The following summarizes the types of community benefits that can be leveraged to build consensus and improve public perception of a development through the use of green infrastructure:
- Beautification of Public Spaces: Generally a green infrastructure approach is associated with more green space as well as better landscape design. Public spaces will look and feel more “green,” a quality that studies have found can drive positive feelings about a place. This is evidenced by people’s willingness to pay more for properties with more greenery, as noted earlier (see “Increased Property Values”)
- Opportunities for Recreation: Greening public spaces creates more opportunities for outdoor activities like walking, jogging, and bird watching.
- Public Safety: Studies have shown that where there is green infrastructure in public spaces, there is often a reduction in crime. In Philadelphia, narcotics possessions were 18-27 percent lower in areas within a half mile of a green infrastructure practice (Kondo, 2015). Green infrastructure may also help to slow traffic when used in certain configurations in the right-of-way.
- Green job creation: Green infrastructure development requires specialized skills in design, construction, and maintenance, quickly becoming an engine for job creation regionally. In New York and Philadelphia, specialized training programs have been developed to transition service providers from the landscaping and construction industries into green infrastructure construction and maintenance.
- Habitat: If designed using native plant species, green infrastructure can provide habitat for a variety of beneficial animals such as birds and pollinators. Habitat values can be difficult to quantify and easy to overlook, yet are nonetheless an important consideration.
- Energy Conservation: Shade trees located around buildings help regulate outside temperature, slow wind, and reduce temperatures in warm weather. Likewise green roofs help reduce the amount of solar heat that enters a building in summer, and provide insulation year-round. These benefits have a public effect of reducing overall energy usage and thus, the carbon footprint of the development. As noted earlier, energy conservation also makes these buildings more cost effective to operate in the long term.
- Public Health and Welfare
- Water Quality and Supply – Green infrastructure removes sediment, nutrients, and other pollution from runoff, and can also help increase groundwater reserves through infiltration. Certain types of green infrastructure can also reduce flooding damage to property and to streams. It can also be a cost-effective alternative to traditional water treatment infrastructure.
- Air Quality – Green infrastructure systems that increase the number of plants, especially trees, in a development will help to keep the air clean by absorbing air pollution. Improved air quality reduces the rate of respiratory illnesses like asthma. In addition to direct pollution removal, green infrastructure can help reduce energy costs as noted earlier, which can help reduce fossil fuel need and reduce the carbon footprint of the site.
- Heat Mitigation – Plants and trees can decrease temperatures in the immediate vicinity, which in summer can have a measurable effect on heat-related illnesses. Even porous pavement can reduce heat stress in summer by allowing water to evaporate and by reducing radiant heat.
Some municipalities may occasionally offer incentives for development projects that incorporate a significant amount of green infrastructure. These kinds of incentives are not common practices and do not relieve the developer from NJ DEP requirements. Possible incentives vary by municipality, but could include the following:
- Density bonuses. In some cases development projects may be allowed to exceed municipal density limits if green infrastructure is incorporated in a certain quantity or configuration.
- Tax abatements. Municipalities may offer multi-year tax abatements for projects that incorporate green infrastructure, especially if the benefit to the community and/or municipality can be demonstrated.
- Municipal connection fee credits. In some cases, it may be possible to cost share the price of the project’s sewer connection with the municipality, if the proposed development can support municipal stormwater management goals.
- Redevelopment area bonuses. Municipalities may offer a onetime tax credit for development projects that incorporate green infrastructure in a way that benefits the local community.