Infrastructure crises are not only technical problems for engineers to solve—they also present social, ecological, financial, and political challenges. Addressing infrastructure problems thus requires a robust planning process that includes examination of the social and ecological systems supporting infrastructure, alongside technical systems. An integrative Social, Ecological, and Technological Systems (SETS) analysis of infrastructure solutions can complement the planning process by revealing potential trade-offs that are often overlooked in standard procedures. We explore the interconnected SETS of the infrastructure problem in the US through comparative case studies of green infrastructure (GI) development in Portland and Baltimore. Currently a popular infrastructure solution to a wide variety of urban ills, GI is the use and mimicry of ecological components (e.g., plants) to perform municipal services (e.g., stormwater management). We develop the ecological-technological spectrum—or ‘eco-techno spectrum’—as a framing tool to bridge all three SETS dimensions. The eco-techno spectrum becomes a platform to explore the institutional knowledge system dynamics of GI development where social dimensions are organized across ecological and technological aspects of GI, exposing how governance differs across specific forms of ecological and technological hybridity. In this study, we highlight the knowledge system challenges of urban planning institutions as a key consideration in the realization of innovative infrastructure crisis ‘fixes.’ Disconnected definition and measurement of GI emerge as two distinct challenges across the knowledge systems examined. By revealing and discussing these challenges, we can begin to recognize—and better plan for—gaps in municipal planning knowledge systems, promoting decisions that address the roots of infrastructure crises rather than treating only their symptoms.
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