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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