The old concept for building cities was "grey infrastructure"--where the "grey" refers to concrete, pavement, and other structures that prevent rain from soaking into the ground.
Over a hundred years ago, city streets were wallows of mud. That's why high leather boots were in fashion--to keep the mud out. First cities build boardwalks and bumpy roads made of logs. When asphalt became available--it seemed like the ideal solution.
But once everything was paved, new problems emerged.
- Flooding, because the rain ran off rapidly in storms.
- Erosion--because streams became overburdened with the floods.
- Groundwater wasn't replenished. Springs and streams dried up.
- Pavement collected pollution--which quickly flushed to the lakes when it rained.
- Rain gardens infiltrate rain where it falls
- Green roofs keep buildings cool, absorb rainwater.
- Porous pavement--allows rain to get in
- Green swales and sediment ponds--instead of stormwater pipes
Examples of progress in Madison
Madison is making slow progress towards green infrastructure, but it lags behind many other cities.
- The City is undertaking a comprehensive study of the Lake Wingra watershed.
- Monroe Street will be reconstructed in 2012 with green infrastructure features.
- Madison is developing a standard for green streets.
- More rain gardens are being constructed (but not nearly enough!)