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Researchers Uncover Barriers to Green Infrastructure in Chesapeake Bay Watersheds

By Graham Binder

A University of Maryland study that examined barriers to deploying “green infrastructure” (GI) to manage storm water and mitigate the effects of climate change revealed a need for both increased transparency and communication from government and greater resident participation and buy-in on the concept.

While sustainable development of urban green space has been named a priority both by the White House and the United Nations, top-down policies have failed because of a combination of sociocultural, environmental, economic/financial and other challenges, researchers found in the study recently published in Sustainable Cities and Society.

The researchers include Debasmita Patra, assistant research professor in environmental science and technology; Victoria Chanse, adjunct associate professor of plant science and landscape architecture; Amanda Rockler, senior agent with the Maryland Sea Grant Extension; Sacoby Wilson, associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics; Hubert Montas, associate professor of bioengineering; Adel Shirmohammadi, professor of environmental science and technology; and Paul T. Leisnham, professor of environmental science and technology.

The community-based participatory research study identified both perceived roadblocks to GI, as well as an integrated governance approach to support it that would improve water quality locally and beyond.

“To get to the bottom of this, I really wanted to focus on community-based research with help from an advisory committee,” said Patra, who enlisted the participation of the Anacostia Watershed Society, Bluewater Baltimore, and Parks and People Foundation, all of which helped her connect with local community members.

Feedback from residents revealed feelings of disenfranchisement in the decision-making process.

“We uncovered so many interesting insights, but mostly we discovered that folks were not being consulted from the onset, and that the governance structure of GI installation and sustainability efforts was broken,” said Patra. “Several of these people have been living in these watersheds for decades, and felt that government officials would show up once in a while and tell them what’s going to happen. There simply wasn’t enough transparency at the community level for individuals to want to take action.”

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