Photo: Jennifer Salazar

During a recent weekday lunch, representatives from local transportation organizations – including the MTA and OCTA – gathered in a small banquet room at the Biltmore Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles for the Women in Transportation Seminar-sponsored presentation entitled, “Infrastructure State of Good Repair & Asset Management”. The panel focused upon the “useful life” of moving vehicles (i.e. buses and train cars), specifically their long-term maintenance costs and the necessity to prioritize these needs. During the presentation the panel admitted repair and asset management was not one of their more exciting topics, but it was a critical for keeping the city’s transit systems operating long into the future.

By the end of the discussion I was left with a few questions, most importantly, “What about the investment in green infrastructure, both long and short term?”

AHBE and other landscape architects integrate and prioritize around green infrastructure, designing for various transit facilities like train stations, and bus and train maintenance facilities. I wondered about the span – or “useful life” – of green infrastructure in similar terms to transit. What investment would be required for a “state of good repair”?

True monetary landscape costs are not just represented by funds allocated for the purchase of materials and labor costs upfront for installing trees, paving, irrigation systems, infiltration systems, and site furniture. There are also the ongoing costs related to maintenance: annual plant pruning, weekly debris removal, the removal and replacement of infiltration plants that have absorbed contaminated roadway runoff (approximately every 5 years), and water costs required to irrigate the plants. All of these maintenance costs certainly need to be included in any green infrastructure project’s budget.

The next obvious question is, “What is the ROI – return on investment – of those green infrastructure costs?”

Colleagues have remarked about various studies citing monetary figures related to a landscape’s worth, quantifying and placing a value upon environmental benefits like the removal of air pollution by urban trees and shrubs. According to a 2015 USDA study – The State of California’s Street Trees – the monetary value placed on these trees from energy conservation, stormwater management, and property value averaged $110.63 per tree. Another online calculator factors in geographic location to identify the monetary value associated with the benefits of specific tree species.

Looking beyond monetary costs and benefits, we as a culture should be asking additional questions related to the investment in green infrastructure:  Are we willing to pay for lowered ambient air temperatures produced by trees, so our cities are more comfortable to walk, bike, or roll in?  What is the perceived value of large, mature tree in a park or plaza?

As a culture, we need to remember the intangible benefits of green infrastructure sometimes escape quantifiable value, but deserve to be appreciated nonetheless. Each tree adds immensely to the quality of life for all citizens, something with a long-lasting return on investment benefitting many generations.

 

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