The politics of multifunctional green infrastructure spatial planning in New York City

Authors: Sara Meerow*, Arizona State University
Topics: Urban Geography, Sustainability Science, Spatial Analysis & Modeling
Keywords: green infrastructure, nature-based solutions, urban planning, resilience
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Washington 3, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Cities are expanding green infrastructure to enhance sustainability and resilience. While these nature-based solutions are often promoted for their multifunctionality, in practice, studies and plans mostly focus on a single benefit and do not consider potential tradeoffs between functions. This represents a missed opportunity to leverage co-benefits, and siting decisions have important social justice implications because benefits are localized. This paper explores the politics of green infrastructure planning in New York City. When the city makes the case for its ambitious green infrastructure program, they argue that it will provide many sustainability benefits. It is unclear 1) how decision-makers prioritize potential benefits, 2) whether NYC is factoring these services–or disservices –into planning, and 3) who the winners and losers of siting decisions are. I examine these questions by combining spatial (GIS) analyses, surveys, and interviews. I survey local stakeholders about the relative importance of six commonly cited benefits of green infrastructure (managing stormwater, reducing social vulnerability, increasing access to green space, improving air quality, reducing the urban heat island effect, and increasing landscape connectivity). Second, I use spatial multi-criteria analysis to identify priority neighborhoods for green infrastructure based on those benefit criteria. I examine tradeoffs and synergies between criteria and ‘hotspots’ of multifunctionality and then compare modeled priorities with locations of existing green infrastructure projects. Qualitative interviews with key decision-makers provide a deeper understanding of planning processes, opportunities, and challenges. Results show green infrastructure priorities differ and empirically illustrate the inherently political nature of green infrastructure planning.

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