What is “Green Infrastructure”? – Looking back to understand the origin, meaning and use of the term in British Columbia
“Two complementary strategies can ‘green’ a community and its infrastructure: first, preserving as much as possible of the natural green infrastructure; and secondly, promoting designs that soften the footprint of development,” wrote Susan Rutherford. “Green infrastructure design is engineering design that takes a ‘design with nature’ approach, to both mitigate the potential impacts of existing and future development and growth and to provide valuable services.”
“The Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia is the keeper of the GIP legacy,” observes Paul Ham, a Past-Chair of the Green Infrastructure Partnership
“I see my years of chairing the Green Infrastructure Partnership as helping to get the ball rolling and ideas disseminated, on green infrastructure, all of which has subsequently been taken up by others to a much greater degree of implementation and success. Our efforts a decade ago moved the state of-the-art of green infrastructure to a more mainstream level,” said Paul Ham.
CASE FOR GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE: “Revitalizing the natural hydrological system can also aid the absorption of floodwaters,” notes Dr. John Jacob, Texas A&M University
US cities situated next to large bodies of water, including Boston, Houston, and Milwaukee, are making plans to build water-absorbent green spaces that also serve as recreational spots – instead of installing more industrial concrete walls – to stem rising floodwaters. “The focus of Community Engagement and Risk Communication is to help Texas coastal communities go beyond emergency response to achieve long-term resilience to hazards,” said Dr. John Jacob.
DESIGN WITH NATURE: “Developing a more thorough understanding of the community’s natural assets aligns with the city’s overall asset management efforts,” stated Courtenay CAO David Allen
“We’re very pleased to have been selected for a natural asset pilot project here in Courtenay, and it puts us on the leading edge nationally for this approach,” noted David Allen. “We’ve already seen the effects of several floods in low-lying areas in recent years, and it makes sense to maximize the potential of our natural environment to reduce the potential impact of these events on residents and businesses.”
GREEN CITY, CLEAN WATERS: Philadelphia is in Year #7 of a 25-year program to to create a citywide mosaic of green infrastructure and restore the water balance
Benjamin Franklin, Philadelphia’s favorite son, described his city’s stormwater problem well: By “covering a ground plot with buildings and pavements, which carry off most of the rain and prevent its soaking into the Earth and renewing and purifying the Springs … the water of wells must gradually grow worse, and in time be unfit for use as I find has happened in all old cities.”
FLASHBACK TO 2006: “The Design with Nature Game Show gets workshop participants thinking about real things, on the ground, so that they can begin to see how use of the Water Balance Model will help them,” explained Richard Boase
The Design with Nature Game Show was one of the features of the training workshop hosted by UBC-Okanagan University.“It is fascinating to see how excited and ‘into it’ people get after a few minutes. The irony is that the grand prize is one hour of personal tutoring by me by phone. Just imagine what they would be like if there was a real prize! It just goes to show how important it is to make a computer modeling workshop fun. If people have fun, they will get more out of the day and perhaps some of the philosophical stuff will actually stick,” stated Richard Boase.
The Nature of Cities: “Instead of aiming at control, we must embrace uncertainty and redefine principles of design to acknowledge the complexity of hybrid ecosystems,” stated Marina Alberti, University of Washington
“I suggest that if we are to understand ecosystems in which humans are the key players, we need a paradigm shift in the way we study these ecosystems,” wrote Marina Alberti. “As ecosystems are increasingly dominated by human action, they move toward a new set of feedback mechanisms. Their state is unstable. We can drive them to collapse or we can consciously steer them toward outcomes we desire.”
“Instead of expanding our infrastructure, we put together a plan to price, value, reuse, recycle, infiltrate, transpire or otherwise manage, every drop of rainwater we could. We started to invent the millions of ways to reduce the amount of rainwater that arrived at our sewer inlets. The goal was to consider rainwater as a commodity and a resource—if it enters a sewer drain it becomes a costly waste product,” explained Howard Neukrug. “There is no single formula for success—and we still don’t know whether ultimately we will succeed.”
Reflections on Balancing Green & Grey: “The smart thing is to work with nature and learn as much as we can from it,” observed Torgny Holmgren, Executive Director, Stockholm International Water Institute
“The relationship between humans and the rest of nature is not always easy. We have entered the Anthropocene – an era in which our species has emerged as a major force of nature,” stated Torgny Holgren. “This is particularly visible in relation to water, where human interventions occur throughout the hydrological cycle: Change in land use alters evaporation which in turn can change atmospheric movements of moisture and cause droughts or floods in distant river basins.”
The county is currently developing a plan to meet 20 percent of L.A.’s current demand. “We get a lot of our water from outside of Los Angeles, from northern California, Colorado, and it is getting more and more expensive,” said Dr. J.R. DeShazo. “It’s getting less reliable, and the water quality from some of those external supplies is getting worse.” Advocates hope to build support for green infrastructure designed to capture and store a largely untapped resource that could help quench the county’s constant demand for water – and provide multiple benefits for L.A.’s communities.
FLASHBACK TO 2007: “Practitioners in local government are not necessarily aware when they are being innovative and are not often aware of innovation in other municipalities,” stated John Finnie, CAVI Chair, at the launch event in the Showcasing Green Infrastructure Series on Vancouver Island
“The CAVI vision for Vancouver Island is catching on. There is increasing interest,” stated John Finnie. “We believe a key to the success of CAVI is that we are talking to people, not preaching at them. Our approach is to inform and educate. We do this by creating situations for people to have conversations. The CAVI role is to plant seeds and start the conversations that will lead to action. We are encouraging people to move from conversations to dialogue, and to learn from the experience of each other.”
“Surrey has established a new sustainability benchmark in Canada with a state of the art facility that converts organic waste into renewable energy,” said Mayor Linda Hepner. “The Biofuel Facility will be instrumental in reducing community-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by approximately 49,000 tonnes per year, which is the equivalent of taking over 10,000 cars off the road annually.”