In Southeast Michigan, green infrastructure includes two broad categories. The first encompasses the natural, undisturbed environment such as wetlands, trees, prairies, lakes, rivers, and streams. The second category includes constructed or built green infrastructure such as rain gardens, bioswales, community gardens, and agricultural lands.
SEMCOG recently completed the Green Infrastructure Vision for Southeast Michigan. The vision, for the first time:
- Benchmarks green infrastructure in Southeast Michigan,
- Visions where we want to go, and
- Contains regional policies on how to get there.
The Winter 2014 issue of SEMscope is also dedicated to Green Infrastructure.
Low Impact Development
Low Impact Development practices are a key component of green infrastructure. SEMCOG has helped to develop a LID Manual for the State of Michigan.
SEMCOG supports the regional GreenWays Initiative and local efforts to implement greenways. The goal of a greenways project is to connect communities in Southeast Michigan through green infrastructure that includes biking and hiking paths, conservation corridors, and habitats.
Greenways are linear open spaces, including habitats and trails, that link parks, nature reserves, cultural features, or historic sites for recreation and conservation purposes. As part of the regional GreenWays Initiative, each SEMCOG county and the City of Detroit held public forums to discuss the greenways vision for their jurisdiction. After these meetings, a regional workshop was held to develop the regional vision based on the visioning sessions. As a result of this process, GreenWays maps of the region were produced.
Natural Resources Protection Ordinances
Another important component of green infrastructure is protecting natural resources through the master plan and zoning ordinance. SEMCOG and our partners have developed numerous tools that can assist in protecting natural resources - wetlands, woodlands, riparian buffers, and native landscaping.
Parks and Open Space
Parks and open space is another important component of green infrastructure. This includes local, state, and federal parks, land conservancy properties, and other natural areas. Open space that extends across community boundaries provides opportunities for parks and recreational use. It can also conserve natural features such as habitat for plants and animals. In addition to the environmental and recreational aspects of open space, these areas:
- provide transportation opportunities through linear trails and bike paths,
- allow for the preservation of historical areas, and
- preserve the character of the community.
Good, sound local land use management practices are needed to meet the demands for new development that accommodates community growth and, at the same time, protects open space areas with natural resource, recreation, and aesthetic value. The tools and techniques that follow provide some direction and options for creating and/or protecting unique and special open space areas.
One mechanism local communities can use to provide public open space is directly purchasing land for parks and recreation. Priority areas for parkland acquisition should be clearly stated in the community’s parks and recreation plan. In addition, that plan should contain criteria to evaluate a parcel being considered for acquisition.
Financing Parkland Acquisition
Having the financial resources necessary to acquire land, develop parks, maintain parks and recreation facilities, and carry out recreation programs is another issue facing many communities. Financial assistance is available through state and federal sources for park and recreational purposes or merely to retain open space and public viewing of a particularly scenic resource. In addition, communities in Southeast Michigan have passed millages specifically dedicated to acquiring land for recreation purposes, and for maintaining and operating parks and recreation programs.
Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund
The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund is an annual grant program managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources that provides funding to local governments, school districts, and the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority for development projects as well as parkland acquisition. SEMCOG has numerous resources to assist applicants through the grant process.
Using Conservation Easements
Another mechanism for preserving public open space is the use of conservation easements. An easement is a restriction on private property, which is legally binding on present and future landowners. Initiation of easements by the landowner is voluntary. However, after signing, the easement is an enforceable document binding both parties. When an owner places a conservation easement on land, certain rights are transferred to another person or organization. When the easement document is properly signed and recorded in the county land records, owners cannot exercise the rights, which have been given up.