“Sponge Cities” – a catchy way to describe the goal in restoring the capacity of the urban landscape to absorb water and release it naturally

In 2013, President Xi Jinping injected a new term into the global urban design vocabulary when he launched China’s Sponge City program. And then in August 2017, the Senate of Berlin released its Sponge City Strategy. The common guiding philosophy for both? Mimic nature, restore the water balance, adapt to a changing climate. The ‘sponge city’ imagery resonates. People intuitively get it.

Adapting to Climate Change in Hong Kong: “To cope with stormwater flooding, the Government could adopt the ‘Sponge City’ concept,” urges Dr. Jeffrey Hung, Friends of the Earth

"Climate change is already happening and affecting all of us. Recent extreme weather highlight the concrete impact of climate change. It requires immediate action to improve the city’s resilience," wrote Dr. Jeffrey Hung. "The Hong Kong Government should identify the risks, reinforce the infrastructure, establish recovery programmes, educate the public, and finance the reinforcements and adaptation measures to make Hong Kong truly climate change ready."

At the 2017 Comox Valley Eco-Asset Symposium: “The latest milestones in the ‘green infrastructure’ journey focus on the services provided by nature,” stated Kim Stephens, Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC

“It is important to recognize that we are all on a journey, and this journey did not just start yesterday. This journey has a 20 year history," stated Kim Stephens. "Post-2015, there are two initiatives in play. One is the Municipal Natural Asset Initiative. The other is the Ecological Accounting Protocol Initiative. They have the potential to achieve complementary outcomes. It is important to establish precedents. We learn from precedents."

At the 2017 Comox Valley Eco-Asset Symposium: “The engineer cannot tell you what value a natural asset has, nor how important its function is, nor how to maintain that function,” stated Jim Dumont, Engineering Applications Authority, Partnership for Water Sustainability

“We have been working on an ecological accounting protocol approach that recognizes the importance of the stream in its natural state. It is not a thing that carries stormwater,” stated Jim Dumont. “We asked the question – how can we superimpose a drainage function while maintaining that natural function? This is a different way of thinking from saying that we have a drainage system in which we want to have some natural features. "

At the 2017 Comox Valley Eco-Asset Symposium: “The time is right for nature to be incorporated into economics,” stated Michelle Molnar, environmental economist, speaking for the Municipal Natural Assets Initiative (MNAI)

“There has been a lot of work done over the last couple of decade to start to incorporate nature and nature’s services in economics. And the work that we are doing in the Municipal Natural Assets Initiative is helping to move this along.," stated Michelle Molnar. “We are working to test how nature can substitute, how it can safeguard, and how it can complement existing engineered infrastructure systems. "

At the 2017 Comox Valley Eco-Asset Symposium: “Shifting baseline syndrome, whole-system approach, and cathedral thinking – those are the three thoughts that I hope you will leave with in your head,” stated Kim Stephens in his keynote address on the role that ecosystem services can play in an infrastructure strategy

"With each new generation, your view of the world is based on the world as you see it now. Those images of ‘now’ are in your head. So, when change happens, you have no knowledge of what happened before you," stated Kim Stephens. “Our approach in British Columbia is to say ‘hey, we can make a difference’. We have to think differently about how we develop on the land. The experience and tools that we are developing is key to reversing the trend and making things better.Communities can re-set the ecological baseline.”

DESIGN WITH NATURE: Top Ten Cities in USA are Integrating Nature & Technology – a new report (2017) by Anil Ahuja, Smart Cities Guru

Smart Cities Guru founder Anil Ahuja has compiled a list of the top U.S. cities — from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles — that have found a way to combine technology and nature. "The challenge is to raise the bar for designing net zero living while enjoying and protecting the natural world. Water, Energy, Health, Equity and Beauty can all be protected and integrated through constructive implementation of technology," wrote Anil Ahuja.

FLASHBACK TO 2012: “In practical terms, we have packaged useful estimates of what the future will bring,” stated Dr. Charles Rowney when explaining the addition of the Climate Change Module in the Water Balance Model for British Columbia

“The Climate Change Module enables a wide range of stakeholders to make decisions based on a detailed assessment of climate change effects on local drainage, without having to decode the huge body of confusing and contradictory literature. Delivering this capability quickly and easily on the web is a ‘must’ – and this result is a ‘first’,” stated Dr. Charles Rowney. “This starting point will continue to evolve, but the leap in capability that this represents cannot be understated."

FLASHBACK TO 2006: “The urban environments that we can build using LID will be healthier, more sustainable and use less natural resources then the ones we grew up in,” stated Bert van Duin at the Cochrane Innovations in Urban Development Conference

"LID is a practical and cost-effective approach to reducing and/or better managing the impacts of urbanization on our landscape in order to leave a better place for our children and grandchildren," stated Bert van Duin. This is an exciting turning point in how we can reduce the impacts of urban development on watersheds."

GREEN SPACE & HUMAN HEALTH: “Studies show that there is a definite link between mental health and living proximity to parks,” wrote Brian Strahan, mental health activist

In his article, Brian Strahan poses these questions: "What has a crystalline, winding, stream, got to do, with gaining clarity of mind? And what have the sawtooth edges, and linear veins on the leaves of an Alder tree, got to do got to do with someone’s capacity to adhere to societal norms and mores? How much vision is there on the long-term effects of living with more concrete and less space? We need to invest more in urban nature. It will improve mental health."