A ‘Green’ Chameleon: exploring the many disciplinary definitions, goals, and forms of “green infrastructure”

Marissa Matsler, Sara Meerow, Ian Mell, Mitchell Pavao-Zuckerman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


While the concept of green infrastructure (GI) is increasingly popular, definitions,
terminology, and goals differ based on geographic and disciplinary context. This paper
examines these differences through a three-part systematic review: 1) content analysis
of academic GI review publications, 2) bibliometric review of academic publications
focusing on GI and GI-associated terms, and 3) an online search for grey GI literature.
Parsing out conceptualizations of GI, and the agendas they support, helps us better
understand its probable outcomes in different contexts. We find that urban planning,
urban forestry, ecology, engineering, landscape architecture, and law have epistemic
claims to GI, and use divergent conceptualizations to implement the concept.
Moreover, there are a number of related concepts, each of which is associated with a
distinct scholarly community. These different conceptualizations and terms can be
grouped into three primary categories: GI as 1) a greenspace planning concept, 2) an
urban ecology concept, and 3) a water/stormwater management concept. Cutting
across these categories we find the ecosystem services concept, a focus on specific
engineered facility types, and a gradient of implicit GI definitions. A surprising number
of publications (41% of those reviewed here) do not define GI, which can cause
confusion or lead to implementation of GI projects that fail to meet expectations. We
therefore argue that scholars and practitioners need to be explicit and specific about
how they are defining GI and its purpose to avoid the siloing of research and practice
and to take advantage of opportunities to address multiple agendas simultaneously.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104145
JournalLandscape and Urban Planning
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2021


  • Ecosystem Services
  • Green infrastructure
  • Nature-based solutions
  • Stormwater Management
  • Urban Planning
  • Urban ecology


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