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‘Design With Nature’ to Create Liveable Communities

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.

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GREEN CITY, CLEAN WATERS: Philadelphia is in Year #7 of a 25-year program 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.”

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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.

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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.”

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Green Infrastructure & A Tale of Two American Cities: Philadelphia and Chicago


“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.”

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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.”

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Los Angeles County has a bold plan to use green infrastructure to supplement water supply


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.

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North America’s First Closed-Loop Waste Management System Opens in Surrey, British Columbia


“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.”

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FLASHBACK TO 2009: “The Fused Grid combines the geometries of inner city grids and of the conventional suburbs.” stated Fanis Grammenos


The fused grid network pattern recently passed another test with top marks – the traffic safety test. Planers using it for its rainwater management advantages can now be confident that it will also enhance safety. “The city plan is organized in repeatable wards, with a square in the centre, which is visible to half of the homes in each ward”, explained Fanis Grammenos, “The square is protected from heavy traffic since through streets are located at the boundaries of the ward, leaving the centre relatively calm for casual strollers.”

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China is building 30 ‘sponge cities’ that aim to soak up floodwater and prevent disaster


“Launched in 2015, the Sponge City Initiative invests in projects that aim to soak up floodwater. The projects are being built in 30 cities. By 2020, China hopes that 80% of its urban areas will absorb and re-use at least 70% of rainwater,” wrote Leanna Garfield. “The initiative is facing some challenges. After surveying all 30 cities, the researchers noticed several roadblocks, including planning models that are too homogeneous and not locally specific.”

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