Northern Research Station News Releases

Green Stormwater Infrastructure Helping Flush Narcotics Possession?

Before and After: Green stormwater infrastructure replaced pavement at the Wissahickon Charter School in Philadelphia. Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Water Department. Philadelphia, PA, March 1, 2015 - The benefits of replacing outdated and overwhelmed urban sanitary and storm sewer systems with green stormwater infrastructure may extend far beyond water quality. New research by U.S. Forest Servicescientists and partners found reduced narcotics possession occurring within a half-mile of Philadelphia’s new green stormwater infrastructure projects.

The study, “The impact of green stormwater infrastructure installation on surrounding health and safety,” was recently published in the American Journal of Public Health. It is available online at: http://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/47686    

Why specifically narcotics possession? “That was a surprise,” said Michelle Kondo, a research hydrologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and the study’s lead author. “Police officers tell us that it could be an example of the ‘broken window’ theory; green infrastructure and regular maintenance is making the area look cared for and less abandoned and thus less hospitable to criminal activity.”

The study found that narcotics possession after green stormwater infrastructure construction at treatment sites was between 18 percent and 27 percent lower than at matched control sites. By contrast, there was a citywide 65 percent increase in narcotics possession between 2000 and 2012.

Green stormwater infrastructure consists of in-ground installments planted with wetland or wet-friendly vegetation, which allows infiltration, evapotranspiration, and capture and use or reuse of stormwater. Installations are on average approximately 1,500 square feet in area, and include features such as rain gardens, stormwater tree trenches, basins, bumpouts, and planters. Kondo’s research included both green stormwater infrastructure installations that had been built by 2012 and, as control sites, locations where green stormwater infrastructure had been proposed but not yet constructed. Researchers compared crime data for both control sites and green infrastructure sites.

“With more than 80 percent of Americans living in urban area, this research underscores the need to fully understand the role trees and urban natural resources play in human health and wellbeing,” said Michael T. Rains, Director of the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory. “Forest Service research is contributing to the way that communities value and manage the 138 million acres of trees and forests that grace the nation’s urban areas.”

Co-authors on the study included Sarah Low and Jason Henning of the Northern Research Station and Charles Branas of the University of Pennsylvania.

The U.S. Forest Service is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a mission of sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The mission of the Forest Service's Northern Research Station is to improve people’s lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.

The U.S. Forest Service manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live. For more information, visit www.fs.usda.gov/.

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Last modified: March 1, 2015