As cities become more dense, problems naturally occur due to congestion and overuse of basic services and infrastructure. One of the bigger issues with concentrated built environments is stormwater management. Where soil and vegetation formerly absorbed rain, hardscape (impermeable pavement and buildings) forces it to roll off and flow into storm drainage pipes – or building basements.
The problem is those pipes in many cities were built a hundred years ago and most combine waste and stormwater into a single system. Add to that heavier precipitation events that are characteristic of climate change – fast, hard rainfalls or melting snows accumulated over weeks and months – and it's easy to see why urban flooding is a challenge to so many metropolitan areas. Surprisingly, those cities with alleys (Chicago has them, New York City does not) are discovering that these utilitarian venues can also serve to capture water, allowing it to infiltrate the earth as nature intended.
I wrote about the ways in which we are rethinking alleys for client Pothole.info, a site largely dedicated to improving pavement. Included in this story is how Chicago is experimenting with gravel alleys, set in a rigid grid system that can absorb water from garages, backyards and houses. This system works in parts of the city where sandy soils below the surface allow for rapid absorption in place (I know this from personal experience -- I live in this area and built my own French drain system to accomplish much the same thing).
Russ Klettke is a business writer and sustainability advocate. He has experience in a broad variety of industries over three decades: general business management, finance, banking, law, food, nutrition, fitness, manufacturing (B2B) and consumer products (CPG). Contact him to discuss your communications ideas and needs.