Green Infrastructure and the Depoliticization of Urban Water Governance

Authors: Marissa Matsler*, Cary Institute
Topics: Urban Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology, Coupled Human and Natural Systems
Keywords: green infrastructure, political ecology
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Jefferson, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Infrastructure tells a material story of ongoing challenges in cities and reflects the diverse, normative desires of different communities. In this article we examine the introduction of green infrastructure technologies into urban infrastructure systems as a way to think critically about these challenges and desires. Facing budget shortfalls as well as demands to mitigate hazards and green the city, urban leaders are looking at natural and constructed greenspaces as a multifunctional form of infrastructure that can meet multiple needs. Green infrastructure, in particular, has gained popularity as a technology that can provide diverse co-benefits along with traditional infrastructure services. However, a focus on stormwater-based metrics—effectively reframing green infrastructure as green stormwater infrastructure—discursively tamps down alternative politics and desires for the city. Through a case study of Pittsburgh’s stormwater governance, we argue that the work being done to (re)technologize green infrastructure as green stormwater infrastructure is an act of depoliticization that tamps down needed conversations about just infrastructure outcomes. To make our argument we draw on themes from qualitative interviews with community members engaged in urban water governance (e.g., practitioners, activists, municipal employees). This work further suggests that this moment of transition provides an opportunity to shine a light on previously obscured infrastructure politics, challenging the forms of knowledge that bind us to conventional routines of stormwater management. We see an opportunity to reframe the conversation in a way that opens up opportunities for historically disenfranchised communities to voice their needs beyond the technocratically framed problem of stormwater management.

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