Green Infrastructure as Modern Art: Sustaining Our Cities


My colleague Stacey was intrigued after hearing a piece on about the nexus of modern art and sustainable urban design. She writes:

Barry Bergdoll, the a curator at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, discussed a new exhibit called “Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront,”which brings artists and architects together to present their solutions to the challenges of sea level rise in New York City. On Marketplace Radio he stated:

“One of the problems with streets in a city like New York that has a combination of sewage and rain runoff is that every time it rains, the streets have a tendency to turn into rivers.”

Not the kind of statement you’d normally expect to hear from the curator of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City! Featured projects range from artificial reefs made of glass to re-introducing oysters in the Gowanus Canal and were all designed to help the city adapt to increased flooding, pollution, and new shorelines caused by sea level rise.

One project highlighted by Mr. Bergdoll is a street made of absorptive concrete that is designed so that “the street actually doesn’t act as an accelerator of water, but as an absorber of water” – essentially making the street more than just a street (for more on green streets see a great stimulus funded project in Edmonston, Maryland).

This is the quintessential principle behind green infrastructure. Whether it is permeable pavement installed in a parking lot or a series of restored wetlands, the ultimate goal of green infrastructure is to protect, restore, and mimic the natural hydrologic cycle by absorbing and infiltrating water on site.

This exhibit emphasizes the broad scope of green infrastructure, from a rain barrel installed in your backyard to state of the art absorptive concrete in a museum exhibit with ideas to inform how cities can become more resilient and adapt to climate change.

Innovative and effective ways to manage water through green infrastructure are constantly evolving and developing so that instead of creating rivers of polluted stormwater runoff in city streets, we are protecting our clean water and restoring natural river systems.