Better Green Infrastructure Starts with Benefits-Driven Design

By Rose Jordan

Rose Jordan is the marketing director at Greenprint Partners, a green infrastructure delivery partner that helps cities achieve high-impact, community-driven stormwater solutions.

“Peoria should be proud today. We’re standing on a piece of property that was vacant for a lot of years, and we’re seeing crops grow… and we’re talking about them growing from stormwater.”

Everyone gathered at today’s Well Farm at Voris Field Ribbon Cutting ceremony knows the stakes. Peoria is one of nearly 800 U.S. cities whose infrastructure spills raw sewage to its waterways and must yield to regulations under the Clean Water Act or risk federal judicial action. Collectively we’re risking our precious water resources, but everyone is smiling and applauding today. Why? Because we know we’re looking at a prototype of the solution.



Ribbon cutting & site tour of the stormwater forest.


Urban watersheds: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

When it comes to urban watersheds, climate change can transform our most precious resource into a destructive force. And while hurricane season gets most of the press, there’s a year-round battle inland, where states in America’s heartland face historic flooding from increasingly frequent and intense storms. Urban flooding impacts everyone, but we know it hits low income communities hardest because they are more likely to:

  1. Be located in areas prone to flooding
  2. Lack the resources to invest in flood preparation
  3. Lack the resources to respond when floods do occur

The ugly truth is that lower income communities are unable to invest in climate resilience and are rarely included in the funded solutions. The result? These communities are reliant on the public sector, which currently faces a crippling water infrastructure funding gap (according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, we face a $105 billion funding shortfall between committed public funds and those needed to make critical water and wastewater infrastructure upgrades by 2025).

Compounding this issue is that fact that America’s water management infrastructure is outdated and centralized, which concentrates risk and makes systems easier to overwhelm, even during minor storms. How widespread is this issue? Today in the United States, 772 cities have obsolete combined sewer systems that collectively discharge an estimated 900 billion gallons of untreated sewage each year (that’s more than 1.3 million Olympic sized swimming pools, or–put another way–it’s how much water everyone in the U.S. will collectively drink over the next 50 years). And there are ripple effects: the ASCE estimates that unless this water and wastewater infrastructure funding gap is closed, America will lose $896 billion in business sales, $508 billion in GDP, and 489,000 jobs by 2025. Resource-constrained communities must prioritize critical water infrastructure updates, but they need a smarter solution.


A Better Infrastructure Solution

Green stormwater infrastructure is the use of vibrant natural systems to manage water where it falls. Today, many professionals view it as the best tool for addressing stormwater, flooding, and water pollution problems because:

  1. It is cost effective (studies show an average of 60 percent cost savings compared to traditional “grey” infrastructure) making it a more viable option for resource-constrained cities
  2. It creates stable jobs due to its long-term maintenance requirements
  3. It drives community health, safety, and prosperity, giving communities more value for every dollar invested

However, in order to realize its potential, green infrastructure must be designed holistically in partnership with the community, delivered at scale, and maintained for the long-term.

And that’s where mission-driven organizations like Greenprint Partners can define and play a new role, helping cities achieve high-impact, community-driven stormwater solutions, by leveraging private capital to accelerate and scale green infrastructure development in low-to-middle income communities. Several forward-thinking U.S. cities have realized the potential for green infrastructure to not only solve regulatory challenges, but also transform communities faced with urban blight, vacant properties, and economic decline, and I’m standing in one of them. Peoria isn’t the largest city investing in green infrastructure by a long shot (others include: Detroit, Milwaukee, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, and Seattle) so why is it garnering so much attention? At The Well Farm Ribbon Cutting, Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis’ reflections shed some light… “we’ve actually developed a 100% green solution for our [combined sewer overflow] issue…and it’s the first one in the country.”


If it Plays in Peoria…

Kari Cohen, Director of the Conservation Innovation Team at USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), flew in from Washington D.C. to witness today’s ribbon cutting that wouldn’t have been possible without his Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG, is a federal program that stimulates the development and adoption of innovative approaches and technologies for conservation on agricultural lands). In 2016, NRCS awarded Greenprint Partners $1 million in CIG funds to install an urban agriculture and stormwater management project in Peoria. Stepping up to the mic, Kari’s eyes sweep the crowd, and he says with pride, “there are many people around the country watching this project who are interested in using it as a model…no one’s doing it quite like this.”



The raised beds at the Peoria stormwater forest.


Scanning the site, the City leaders and community members gathered see what he means. The Well Farm features surprisingly few of the more common green infrastructure installations like tree trenches, rain gardens, and subsurface storage and infiltration. Here, stormwater water management features include:

  • A ‘stormwater forest’ with 126 hybrid poplar trees,
  • 100 agricultural raised beds tended by urban agriculture apprentices, and
  • A 3,000 square foot bioswale that grows flowers for sale at local farmers markets.

Together, these features capture runoff from a 1.55 acre area, preventing an estimated 1.3 million gallons of stormwater from entering Peoria’s combined sewer system each year.

But the differences go even deeper. As the ribbon cutting speeches continue, the attendees are struck by the sheer number of private sector experts, nonprofits, community volunteers, and government agencies that rallied resources to turn the vision into a reality. It includes everyone from the Mayor and members of City Council, to local urban agriculture nonprofit, The gitm Foundation, to the 20-member stakeholder advisory group representing residents of Peoria’s First District. At the center of the web of activity is April Mendez, Greenprint Partners’ co-founder and VP of programs. Recently asked what gets her up in the morning for a Delta Institute profile, April quipped, “coffee…and an inherent respect for the human spirit, not necessarily in that order.” It’s her authentic drive to help diverse communities blossom that led April to spearhead Greenprint Partners’ innovative “benefits-driven design” approach to green stormwater infrastructure.


Benefits-Driven Design

Greenprint Partners may be one of many organizations tackling stormwater challenges, but we do things a little bit differently. A certified B-Corporation and a women-owned business, Greenprint Partners is a mission-driven green stormwater infrastructure delivery partner dedicated to making it easy for cities to build high-impact green infrastructure at scale and in partnership with their communities.

At the heart of our approach to green infrastructure developments is a process we call ‘benefits-driven design’, and it’s based on a firm belief that green infrastructure must be designed holistically in partnership with the community. The goal? Approach every green infrastructure project with the goal to maximize social, economic, and environmental benefits during the design phase. This involves identifying the local community’s priorities, whether they be better health, a greater sense of safety, beautification, or other assets, and integrating them into green infrastructure designs. This requires deep upfront engagement with the local community (e.g., leading stakeholder working and advisory groups, deploying surveys, and hosting community workshops). And not only does it result in goodwill for the projects, but it’s also an investment in the long-term success of green infrastructure projects. We find that community-driven designs are more likely to be protected by local neighbors who feel pride of authorship. The Well Farm is the perfect embodiment of benefits-driven design.


A Stormwater Farm is Born

The idea to pursue an urban farm concept began with the goal to pioneer green stormwater infrastructure solutions that maximize benefits to the local community, and engage residents in design, construction, and maintenance to ensure the long-term success of installations. Through our community engagement process, our team identified the First District community’s deep desire to increase access to fresh produce and create new jobs. This made the urban farm concept an ideal fit for the community.

The working urban farm, which produces locally grown flowers, food and timber, and provides youth internships and adult apprenticeships, offers a lush backdrop to the Ribbon Cutting ceremony. Raised beds are overflowing with thriving crops of kale, collard greens, and okra. When The gitm Foundation’s Dwayne Harris takes the mic, he explains that their Urban Agriculture Apprenticeship Program hosted here will take up to 20 participants each year to cultivate produce, cut flowers, and learn how to sell their products at local farmers markets. With a smile, he proudly states that his apprentices sold out of Well Farm-grown produce this morning at the Riverfront Farmers Market.

The activity and excitement of the ribbon cutting draw to a close, but the impact on the local community and environment is just beginning; the stormwater forest, the raised beds, and bioswale together will manage 1.3M gallons of stormwater each year and energize the next phases of community-driven green infrastructure development.


Leave your comment below, or reply to others.

Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.

1 Comment

  1. Funding capital source Startup Pre-development Dayton, Ohio Design for Savings Welcome Visitors Guests Warming Charging Car E-bike e-bikes rentals Stations both private Public park for public Benefits Right Aways or good win win win Scale Model case studies Walkable Run Ride Trails Tourism Marking History Make A Difference ( Needs Studies Major Service Sales Repair Operator Management Stakeholders Citizen Participation and Decision Making. Capacity Building
    937-369-9102 love here Regina and Don awesome presentation


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more from

Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology

Optimization Tools to Help Transit Agencies Recover

Optimization Tools to Help Transit Agencies Recover

I spoke last week with Krishna Desai from Cubic Transportation, and we discussed three big problems facing transportation, and the ways that Cubic is approaching these challenges:

1) If (or when) more workers return to traditional on-location jobs, but feel a lingering distrust of crowded spaces, people who can afford it may opt for private cars instead of using public transit for their commute. This will create a massive influx of cars on roads that were already crowded, and more financial woes for transit agencies already dealing with budget shortfalls. Krishna told me about a suite of optimization tools Cubic is deploying in places like Mexico and San Francisco to make public transit more efficient, more transparent, and, overall, more attractive to riders.

2) For the time being, though, we’re dealing with the opposite problem. How can transit agencies find ways to influence user behavior in a way that complies with social distancing and capacity requirements? How can you incentivize riders to wait for the next bus? (In a way that doesn’t alienate them forever – see #1). Cubic has deployed a loyalty/advertising program in Miami-Dade County that was originally intended to increase ridership, but is now being used to help control crowding and social distancing on transit.

3) Transportation infrastructure, in generally, was not built to accomodate 6-feet of separation between riders – or between workers. Little things like, for example, opening gates, requires workers to be closer than 6-feet to riders, and there are examples like that throughout every transit hub. Technology can help, but creating and implementing software/hardware solutions quickly and efficiently requires experience with innovation, deployment, maintenance and more. Cubic has a program called Project Rebound that shows the possibilities.

Need to Improve Your Transportation Plans? Try Inverting the Order of Planning

Need to Improve Your Transportation Plans? Try Inverting the Order of Planning

Advanced Urban Visioning offers a powerful tool for regions that are serious about achieving a major transformation in their sustainability and resilience. By clarifying what optimal transportation networks look like for a region, it can give planners and the public a better idea of what is possible. It inverts the traditional order of planning, ensuring that each mode can make the greatest possible contribution toward achieving future goals.

Advanced Urban Visioning doesn’t conflict with government-required planning processes; it precedes them. For example, the AUV process may identify the need for specialized infrastructure in a corridor, while the Alternatives Analysis process can now be used to determine the time-frame where such infrastructure becomes necessary given its role in a network.

Life is a Highway: Embracing Intelligent Transportation Systems

Life is a Highway: Embracing Intelligent Transportation Systems

The introduction of intelligent transportation systems, which includes a broad network of smart roads, smart cars, smart streetlights and electrification are pushing roadways to new heights. Roadways are no longer simply considered stretches of pavement; they’ve become platforms for innovation. The ability to empower roadways with intelligence and sensing capabilities will unlock extraordinary levels of safety and mobility by enabling smarter, more connected transportation systems that benefit the public and the environment.

The Future of Cities

Mayors, planners, futurists, technologists, executives and advocates — hundreds of urban thought leaders publish on Meeting of the Minds. Sign up below to follow the future of cities.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This