This April, the Fort Worth Report is spotlighting individuals and institutions across Tarrant County who are working to create a more sustainable community. Check back for a new story each Monday of Earth Month.

In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Tarrant County newsmakers, UT-Arlington architecture professor Hyesun Jeong explores the challenges of building more “green infrastructure” — defined as man-made structures that imitate natural systems, such as wetlands that recycle water — in North Texas. 

Jeong has expanded that definition to include trails and other infrastructure that support walking and cycling in the region. Her research project, titled “The Future of Green Infrastructure: Measuring and Designing the Built Environment for Pedestrian and Bicycle Activities in Dallas-Fort Worth,” will evaluate how different groups of people currently use trails. 

From there, she and her team will design potential solutions to better connect neighborhoods to trails without having to drive to access them. Jeong plans to create a playbook that would help residents advocate for green infrastructure that fits their community’s needs. 

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For the unabridged version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.

Haley Samsel: How do you define green infrastructure and what kind of draws you to that?

Hyesun Jeong: Green infrastructure has so many definitions, actually. A narrow definition of green infrastructure is some kind of infrastructure or engineered landscape system that filters the rainwater and purifies the water through that natural ecosystem, and then re-use it for some other uses. It’s really imitating the natural system of soil trees and all these kinds of things that are already in nature. It can be artificial and mimic nature. 

Examples of green infrastructure include constructed wetland, or also a green roof on top of the buildings. But also, I’ve been looking at the larger and more social aspect of green infrastructure — maybe some kind of open public spaces, where people can safely and freely walk. I kind of redefined green infrastructure in this project so it’s not just confined to bioswale or wetland, but some kind of public space where people can actually enjoy and walk. 

Hyesun Jeong is an architecture professor at UT-Arlington who will study potential solutions to improving walkability in North Texas. (Courtesy of UT-Arlington)

Samsel: What are some challenges that DFW faces, in terms of increasing or maintaining green infrastructure? 

Jeong: I think the challenge we face right now is a more cohesive system of building codes or land use regulations that allow this green infrastructure to happen with more incentives. So I guess, there lacks incentives for private developers, or any kind of entities that actually invest in green infrastructure. Without any motivation or incentives, it’s less opportunity, I’ll say. 

Samsel: Do you think there are barriers in terms of institutions just not being used to creating that kind of infrastructure?

Jeong: In terms of sustainability, it demands a lot of spontaneous will. It also requires the citizens’ interest and participation. But sadly, a lot of private developers are more focused on the profits and returns, so that is one part of the challenge. 

I guess it’s a combination, but I think cities can really lead that role to initiate this kind of movement, to change the land use and zoning that could allow more sustainable infrastructure on private lands, and they can collaborate with private developers to incentivize these kinds of facilities. 

Samsel: I know you’re also looking at how much parking and impervious surfaces there are in DFW. What is the impact of having that much concrete across the Metroplex?

Jeong: In Dallas, around 30% of the total land area is occupied by impervious surface, which means a parking lot, asphalt, buildings, roofs, highways, all kinds of non-nature surfaces. So if we have these significant amounts of impervious surface, that causes a lot of heat island effect, which raises the temperature in the air and also causes climate change at large. 

Even if we have a parking lot, we really need to have trees and green spaces to mediate that heat island effect. Unfortunately, cities need far more trees, because if you walk around the streets, there are not many tree canopies. 

That’s why I think people are using more trails, because trails are where you can continuously walk in nature without any interruption. There are parks in Dallas-Fort Worth. But the question is: How can we better connect different parts? The walkability of streets really matters. If the street is not walkable, you have to drive to the park and walk there. That’s what I’m interested in.

Samsel: How are you tackling some of the baked-in opposition to potentially turning parking spots into trails or open space? 

Jeong: We can survey publicly owned lands and parking lots, and that could be an easy start. We are collaborating with the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth because they also want to promote the usage of green infrastructure. But I think the first step we want to do is to look at possible areas that could be actually turned into something more green. 

Maybe in the future, the larger implication is that even private owners can be more interested in this kind of conversion. They can see that (an area) could be transformed into some kind of green space combined with co-working space, or an art gallery. A lot of street malls are empty, especially after the COVID crisis. What is the possibility of these kinds of conversions (for those areas)?

Fort Worth runner Macy Hill begins training at the Trinity River Trails near The Shops at Clearfork in October 2021. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Samsel: How are you going about identifying opportunities for connecting trails and building more green infrastructure? 

Jeong: In the first phase of the project, we are working with the city of Dallas and also architects and planners in the private sector. The first phase of the project is really the research, we want to see the relationship between the demographic environment and how people use trails — the foot traffic, I’ll say. Then the second phase of the project is design, so we want to propose design prototypes of green infrastructure. 

If the trail hits the residential neighborhoods, we want to look at vacant lots and green infrastructure in the residential neighborhood. If the trail is connected in the downtown core, we want to look at parking lots next to high rise buildings and how we can promote connectivity to this trail. If it’s next to industrial neighborhoods, we want to see if the warehouse can be converted into green infrastructure. We want to finish this project by the end of 2023. 

Samsel: Who will these recommendations be targeted toward? 

Jeong: Hopefully we can also work with the city of Arlington, where I work. That’s our hope and plan. North Texas will be our first target. 

We want to make a playbook as a final product, so the playbook will combine research and design together and the playbook can be used for installing some kind of small scale design by the community more in a spontaneous way. The playbook is not a definitive way of implementation, but people can still flexibly adjust or adapt these kinds of ideas in their neighborhoods. That’s what we are hoping for. 

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman FoundationContact her by email or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Haley SamselEnvironmental Reporter

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at Her coverage is made possible by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman...

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