Looking beyond facility location to evaluate equity in the distribution of green stormwater infrastructure

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Green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) has long been touted as a multi-purpose approach to stormwater management that offers environmental, economic, and social benefits, and many cities across the US are incorporating GSI into stormwater management plans. There is an underlying assumption that the installation of GSI results in benefits to the communities in which they are located, and as a result, it is assumed that the placement of GSI in marginalized communities creates an equitable distribution of green amenities. However, evaluation of the physical distribution of GSI does not capture the site-specific contexts that can lead to variability in the outcomes of and benefits derived from GSI structures. We hypothesize that conditions of GSI ecosystems are variable within and across cities, producing unique outcomes that may differ across individual facilities, and the potential benefits of GSI are conditional on these outcomes. This study examines the distribution of ecosystem services of GSI in neighborhoods with differing sociodemographic characteristics in two US cities. Thirty GSI facilities were surveyed in Portland, OR and Baltimore, MD in 2016. At the time of sampling, we found that ecosystem services serving the watershed (infiltration, nutrient removal) were evenly distributed within and across cities, however, ecosystem services serving the viewshed (aesthetics, ecosystem health) were unevenly distributed, with more visible signs of maintenance and care occurring in wealthier and whiter neighborhoods. Our results suggest that maintenance plans may affect the quality of GSI and play a role in determining equitable distribution of benefits derived from GSI.