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Webinar Series Examines Potential of Green Infrastructure

Birdseye view of rendering of parks near Lake Erie
The AAAS EPI Center webinar highlighted green infrastructure projects in the Great Lakes region, including those in Cleveland along Lake Erie. | Cleveland Metroparks

The Marquette Interchange in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is the second-largest highway interchange in Wisconsin. Underneath its bridges sits nearly 16 acres of land—which, for many years, went unattended. Tent cities came and went under the underpass, trash piled up and flood waters did damage every year.

In 2020, the city of Milwaukee completed a project that transformed the Marquette underpass, as part of the city’s first green highway project. Crews installed bioretention basins to help collect stormwater, permeable paths to shepherd runoff, and nearly four acres of native landscaping to help filter pollutants.

This overhaul was just one of many examples of the potential of nature-based solutions presented during “Regional Reflections on Green Infrastructure and Nature-Based Solutions,” a webinar series hosted by AAAS’s Center for Scientific Evidence in Public Issues (EPI Center). The third installment in the series, held on July 27, examined local efforts in the Great Lakes region to use environmental infrastructure to help reduce some of the effects of climate change.

“This discussion is a chance to hear about the successes, challenges, and opportunities that green infrastructure and nature-based solutions hold for local communities,” said Rebecca Aicher, project director at AAAS EPI Center.  The AAAS EPI Center is an initiative designed to deliver clear, concise and actionable scientific evidence to policymakers and other decisionmakers at the local, state and federal levels.

Nature-based solutions are sustainable ways of urban planning, engineering and environmental management that promote adaptation and resilience. By using natural features and processes, nature-based solutions can help to alleviate the effects of water runoff, reduce flood risk, help protect coastlines, improve water quality and more. Examples can include dunes along shorelines, recreational parks, rain gardens and stormwater parks, to name a few.

In Milwaukee, the Marquette overpass proved to be an example of a project that “translates to many other major city hubs within the U.S.,” said Breanne Plier, a manager of sustainability at the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. “This was a really great project to talk about how you make these things happen, how you improve these spaces, and how they can then become community amenities.”

The AAAS EPI Center began their Regional Reflections series this spring to showcase the regional impact of green and nature-based solutions. The webinars have covered the Mid-Atlantic, Gulf Coast and Southeast and Great Lakes regions so far, and additional webinars examining the Southwest and Northwest will be scheduled later this year. Each panel has boasted experts from the White House and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as well as a host of local and municipal partners dedicated to helping communities using green infrastructure.

“We’re grateful for forums like this to share lessons learned,” said Nicole Kinsman, a co-lead at NOAA’s Coastal Resilience Interagency Working Group. “It’s important to underscore that [nature-based solutions] are really coming to light more and more as we look at ways to tackle the climate crisis.”

The webinar series was first developed by AAAS EPI Center to explore various opportunities, processes and access points available to communities for the equitable planning and implementation of green and nature-based infrastructure. In addition to the EPA and White House, the series was developed in consultation with the Green Infrastructure Federal Collaborative.

“These examples of solutions and evidence show the impact of green infrastructure and nature-based solutions for communities that are facing the effects of climate change or that are in need of sustainable ways to protect their communities,” said Aicher. “We hope that this webinar series can continue to foster idea building, inspire leaders and policymakers to look into the evidence and potential of green infrastructure for their areas, and connect key thought leaders to help share successes and important information gathered through implementing nature-based solutions.”

More information about green infrastructure and nature-based solutions can be found on the AAAS EPI Center’s resources page and follow @AAASEPICenter on twitter for updates on upcoming webinars. All EPI Center webinar series recording can be found on YouTube.