Green Infrastrucure

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    Terry Naranjo

    How many of you out there are advocating the use of green infrastructure versus conventional stormwater systems to your projects? How important is it that LA’s provide empirical data to support the use of green infrastructure?

    Keven Graham

    In Illinois we had a bill in our state legislature las year that was to require green infrastructure and it also named LA’s as a resource. That bill was changed into a legislative directive to the EPA to further study the issue and come back with a report. Check out the Illinois EPA web sight and you will find more. There was a briefing today on the topic. There is alot of good information and project proven examples that are showing many benefits including cost savings for using green infrastructure.

    Steven Velegrinis

    Green Infrastructure seems to be the global buzz-word at the moment. Its not directly related to your question but the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects and the Landscape Institute in the UK have released guidelines on Green Infrastructure – see and

    Speaking from the perspective of someone practising in the Middle East and Asia emprical data (or more importantly realised projects demonstrating practicality) are essential.

    To see an example of a Green Infrastructure approach check out the ABC Waterways project in Singapore. I worked on this project a few years ago and it has been quite a sucess. See

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Some of the municipalities here on Cape Cod require bioswales and/or bioretention ponds on all commercial sites regardless of size. We are seeing and being able to participate in more environmental solutions due to regulation. Land is very valuable and limited here, so anyone doing anything (note that I am careful not to use the word – developer) on a piece of land is generally trying to maximize the use of that land even if they personally feel pro-environment. That is where it becomes very important that the planning boards, conservation commissions, and growth management provide the mechanism to maintain the values of the community through regulation.
    We (the company that I work for and all those others working in our communities based on what I see and hear) advocate for the client within the established rules and regulations first. Then we advocate to the client for the best application and practices within the context of the project. Regulation brings one set of values and the client brings another set. We essentially negotiate between the two through design and representation at meetings and hearings.
    I would not characterize us as advocating for green infrastructure so much as being available to apply those principles when called upon to do so.
    Do we not have an obligation as licensed professionals to provide services without being judgemental or biased? Everything should be in the interest of best practices, but advocating for outside interests is something different. I think this could be the point where the mentality of many landscape architects diverge from other design professionals who maintain the latter. understanding of professionalism and why we may not be invited to the party as much as the others.

    Jay Morgan

    Green Infrastructure systems like Deltalok Ecological Engineered Solutions provide structural vegetation options for stormwater management, detention ponds, creek naturalization projects, etc

    Keven Graham

    I don’t know if it is as much about advocating at this point, there are a number of programs be looked at that are considering requirements for “Green Infrastructure”, i.e. the EPA. As agencies look at requirements for infiltration, water quality and potentially stormwater utility taxes, green infrastructure is a cost effective, environmentally suitable measure to manage stormwater. LA’s are in a great position to be the suppliers of the service. I know alot of engineering firms are lining up to serve this sector, but LA’s have the background to play on a more even field now. So if it is advocating your asking about, we all should be doing it.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Would you not agree that when agencies such as the EPA or regulators such as local conservation commissions or planning boards are requiring practices and we are in a position to respond, that we would actually do so simply acting as non-biased professionals acting in the best interests of our clients and applying the rules of the day?

    Why do we, as landscape architects. have this obsession with wanting to believe that everything we do is because we have better values than other professionals?

    Why do we believe that LAs have a better background to implement such practices? I’d like to believe that, but I have a hard time actually believing that we are either better educated or more experienced to do this work than the people who have been doing it on a daily basis through their whole careers.

    Sure some landscape architects have been doing these practices for their entire careers as well, but only a small percentage. I can tell you that I have had more than one ASLA National Award winning firm’s project on my desk in both engineering firms that I haved worked in for us to tweak the drainage and grading work (including bioswales,….) and to own the responsibility with an engineer’s stamp on the plans. The LA basically laid out the site, but in the end, the engineer made it work and the landscape architect is taking the bow at the ribbon cutting ceremony. My assumption, based on what I have seen over and over is that an aweful lot of the “infrastructure” work that you see in the plans of landscape architects are being worked upon behind the scenes by other professionals as well.

    I’m not saying that none of us are capable, but I am saying that any developer (person with a project) that is doing a significant project where these rules are applied is going to know who took on what responsibilites of his or similar projects by others. The idea that these people are going to see this type of project and conclude that the LA knows more about it than the engineer is not quite that simple.

    Honest question:
    What makes any of us assume that it is a natural conclusion that LAs are better suited for this type of work?

    Terry Naranjo

    I dont think anyone would say that LAs are BETTER suited. I would say that by ‘making it work’ civil engineers are utilizing calculations and formulas that LAs simply dont use on a regular basis and in general dont have the experience to perform. We ARE capable, as Andrew points out. The firms that combine Civil with LA seem best suited to tackle this issue wholisticly. The degree that LA’s contribute seems to be up to the individual in terms of gaining knowledge to the point where he/she can sit at a table and talk knowledgeably and being able to back it up technically.

    By advocating I didnt really mean pushing an agenda to our existing or future clients, I meant in general, internally within our companies, or by means of distributing educational information to various entities including our colleagues, writing articles, speaking. Not saying that we SHOULD do this. Just benignly asking how many in the listening audience does and to what degree. Some good responses have been generated.

    David J. Chirico

    Well, I would like to know who else gets tested for licensure or certification on things like stormwater, grading and bioretention. As far as I know, LA’s are the only ones that have those items as part of their exam. I think you can claim some ground in that area. We have a civil engineer in our office, his PE exam didn’t cover any of that. What he learned, was all on the job training as well as meeting state and local stormwater requirements.

    The Virginia Stormwater Manual which is followed by every engineer in the state, was developed by a Landscape Architect. In that aspect, I think LA’s can flex a little muscle. I don’t think it falls under better values, but a better foundation.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Anyway you look at it, these things are not designed in isolation. They are some of the trailing parts of an overall site plan rather than the leading parts. It does not seem practical to expect to get work by marketing abilities in a portion of a site plan rather than marketing to the bigger context and being prepared to do well with the green infrastructure on the projects that you do get.

    The driving force for these practices is coming from regulation, at least it is where I live and work. You could look at that as meaning that it is coming from community values which are enforced through regulation because that is essentially what the boards are supposed to be doing. It is actually implemented by designers working for developers, but it is neither advocated or driven by those designers working for developers. We certainly recommend them as a practical matter (and believe they make sense), but we’ll go with the flow of the developer if he does not want to go there to start out with. The permitting process is going to force the issue rather than us having to advocate for it. In the end, we look good to the client because we advocated for him even though he still may have to do what we suggested in the first place. The result is the same, but clearly someone else pushed it on the client rather than us and we’ll get the call on the next project.
    Are they going to go with someone who has advocated for them before or are they going to hire someone who sounds like they are advocating for the regulatory board that they have to negotiate with? I think it is a fatal marketing strategy.

    Jonathan J. Bob

    I don’t think that LA’s as a whole are better qualified to design these “structures” but I think we are better qualified to Design these “structures”. There is more to the design than getting the calculations and math correct. As Design professionals we are better equipped to handle what comes after the calculations.

    I’m currently working on a large, single family residence that requires a large amount of retention. The engineers solution is a large retention/detention basin in the front yard. Not good. How about thinking beyond the obvious solution. How about sub-surface retention and using the water for irrigation (cost is not a big issue on this project). Or modifying the design as a bio-retention basin, with appropriate planting.

    We are better to suited to this type of work because we are (for the most part) more creative (or at least we’re supposed to be). While it can be a pain, the math is the easy part.

    David J. Chirico

    I don’t look at our regulating boards here in Virginia as strongly supporting me as a designer or as a member of the community. That has not been my experience and probably a whole other conversation. It may very well be a slippery slope to hand over part of the design process to a regulatory board for the slight of hand of being able to say I am an advocate for my client.

    I would rather my design stand alone as a good design and quality work, and not just good enough to get city approval. Altho more times than not, the latter is true and the only requirement from the client.

    I do agree that the place a landscape architect should shine is in the project as a whole, and not as a specialist in one portion of a site. Good on ya mate!

    Terry Naranjo

    Seems like optimal effectiveness of green infrastructure as a strategy would be compromised if not one of the leading elements of the site plan.

    Beyond professional competence and proven ability to get the job done a Developer is going to go with people they simply LIKE working with; comes down to personal preference mostly. I can’t think of anyone who would hire people they just don’t get along with. Unless they’re the only game in town. Sure it happens every so often.

    I’m changing my position to Yes, I think LA’s are better suited. Agree with J.Bob. If they aren’t yet then they need to be. What most civils have been doing for their “whole careers” is part of problem.

    Quote: “Why do we, as landscape architects. have this obsession with wanting to believe that everything we do is because we have better values than other professionals?” wt??? Obsession? Values?…

    Quote: ” …I think it is a fatal marketing strategy.” wt??? marketing?

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I’d like to think that all of us are suggesting the use of whatever makes the most sense for the situation at hand. When “green infrastructure” makes sense I believe we would advocate for it. In fact we do. When there is not enough room or the topography is working against us, it often makes more sense to go with subsurface leaching. We tend to use a combination of both. Sometimes it is collected in catch basins and piped to a large retention area. Other times it directly runs off into grass lined swales with raised drainage grates and piped through drainage trenches and into leach pits to keep the retention area from getting deep enough to require fencing or overflowing. Sometimes it just plain does not fit, so it all goes under ground.

    Swales and retention areas are sometimes the cheapest as well as the greenest, but sometimes the land value and intensity of use make it more expensive than the structures. Another added on expense in my area is that a somewhat rigorous maintenance program (with verification) is often required.
    And of course the third thing is the permitting process. You simply can’t do what can’t be approved.
    You have several things that influence the choices:
    1. does the site lend itself to green infrastructure?
    2. is it cost effective?
    3. how sensitive is the particular environment that it is in?
    4. how much does the regulatory process influence the outcome?
    5. to what degree does it conflict with other goals of the project

    This is why I don’t tjink it is purely about advocating for being green which I may be reading into this more than it is intended. The environment is a big issue these days, but it is not the only issue. Sometimes it is legitimately a huge issue on particular projects. Other times the world simply is not going to end when there is a leach pit intead of a swale.
    We all need to be vigilant in addressing every aspect on a particular site and weighing those values according to the particular situation. We should not stake claim to any particular value and declare it a mission to advocate for or against it all of the time.

    No one asks if we should advocate for a particular type of hardscape. Why does it make sense to advocate for a particular drainage solution? This is what I meant by a failed marketing strategy. When we declare the result before the process, only the guy who already wants that result will hire you. Our competitors simply don’t do that and that is one reason that they get “our work” while we complain that we are better qualified.

    Keven Graham


    Not saying LA’s are the only ones with the ability to do Green Infrastructure Design, but I would ask who is better suited? I would not say all LA’s can or should be going this type of work. But Green Infrastructure is built on the premiss that all the elements work together, the hydrology, soils, vegetation and human interaction of the infradtructure improvements. Sounds like a pretty good definition of landscape architecture to me. By all means there are other professions that should be promoting, advocating and executing the work, but just like LA’s not all civils should be doing this. Testing concrete for ten years doesn not make a civil that should be designing infiltration bioswales. Green Infrastructure needs to be integrated design and that is what we we do right?

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