Understand the Opportunities

Where to Begin

Opportunities to demonstrate, and take advantage of, the benefits of trees as green infrastructure may simply surface – or you may have to seek them. Some targets of opportunity are hard to resist – for example when plans, zoning, or development rules are being rewritten; or when new capital projects or neighborhood-sized developments are being proposed. So how do you choose?

Here are two suggestions:

  • Initial projects should cross departmental lines and engage multiple stakeholder groups.
  • Timing is everything. Once timetables for planning, permitting, and policy review are aligned across departments, then roles, responsibilities, and accountability can be assigned. More importantly, each agency will have a stake in monitoring progress alongside its peers.

Projects to Consider

Choices fall into two categories: the first, where you’ll be working on public land; the second, if you decide to address privately-owned land – that is, the bulk of the land in your community. Below are some suggestions:

Municipality-OwnedPrivate Property
Create green streets to revitalize central business districtPartnership with major institution (e.g. university, medical center) to commit to health promotion via urban forestry
Demonstrate practices in school and or public building constructionCertification (SITES, STAR, Envision, LEED)
Develop and implement infrastructure elements in park renewal

Green Infrastructure Opportunities that Arise During Municipal Operations

While not explicitly tree-oriented, EPA’s recent publication is rich with case studies, suggested stormwater practices along with their costs and benefits, and sample criteria for monitoring and maintenance.

American Forests’ Guide

American Forests has published a formidable, but accessible guide to assessing a community’s forest assets, and using these data, how to maximize forest benefits. The paper offers descriptions of inventory methods, benefits calculators, community visioning and engagement strategies.

Many municipal staffers understand the benefits of trees and will incorporate them into stormwater management plans – especially to meet pending regulatory requirements. Consent decrees to eliminate combined sewer overflows, permitting and renewing MS4 systems, or compliance with TMDL’s can all sensitize officials to the positive aspects of deploying green infrastructure, including trees. EPA strongly supports these types of strategies, and in many cases can help fund them through the Section 319 clean water program.

Regulatory drivers aside, following a step-by-step process can make green infrastructure and urban forestry a defining feature of your community.


Implementing projects in public spaces can showcase the aesthetic appeal of green infrastructure practices and provide a visual demonstration of how they can function.

This real-life context will also allow residents, businesses, and local governments to experience additional benefits and values of many green infrastructure practices—more walkable streets, traffic calming, green public spaces, shade, and enhanced foot traffic in retail areas.

Municipal managers can then use the experience gained from the design, installation and maintenance green infrastructure projects to help tailor regulations and incentive programs and make green infrastructure easier to implement in the future.