In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping offered a new way to think about flooding and drought. At China’s Central Government Conference on Urbanization, he announced that cities should act “like sponges.” This proclamation came with substantial funding to experiment with ways cities can absorb precipitation. It also injected a new term into the global urban design vocabulary.
Integration with Land Use
IMAGINE: Once we know what we want our watersheds and neighbourhoods to look like, the next step is to decide what the tools are that will get us there
The Green Infrastructure Guide is an invaluable reference document for those who embrace a ‘design with nature’ philosophy. “All of us have an impact on the land, on the water, and on the way things look. Each party in the process has a responsibility. There are solutions to be found if all parties in the development process simply talk to each other about how they could all work together more effectively, using law reform or other process changes as tools,” wrote Susan Rutherford.
WHAT HAPPENS ON THE LAND DOES MATTER: To Protect Agricultural Lowlands, Restore Watershed Hydrology in the Uplands
In British Columbia, agricultural development is often situated in the lowlands, with urban development mostly in the uplands. “Without compliance with the drainage standards, the viability of agriculture and local food supply is potentially at risk. The criteria are essential in protecting crops (food on the table) from damage caused by excessive durations of flooding and saturation of roots. If crops are at risk, then so is the sustainability of a region,” stated Jim Dumont.
Pittsburgh's Green & Clean Plan: "This is a COMPREHENSIVE approach to address the root of the problem and not just one of the problems," stated Mayor Bill Peduto
“The draft City-Wide Green First Plan will guide where green infrastructure will be installed to achieve the most cost-effective and beneficial results to the residents of Pittsburgh,” stated Mayor Bill Peduto. “The draft plan analyzed 13,700 acres in the City and proposes to manage runoff from 1,835 acres with green infrastructure over the next twenty years. “Going ‘Green First’ means improving the resiliency of our communities to disaster during extreme weather.”
FLASHBACK TO 2008: At a meeting of the Urban Development Institute in Victoria, Kim Stephens reviewed the science-based breakthrough in understanding that led to development of the Water Balance Model (March 2008)
“Urban land use has been degrading the natural environment for more than 100 years. Sit on that for a while. 100 years, perhaps more. Holy smokes,” wrote Marie Savage. “So what’s all this talk about developers and builders, the ultimate urban land users, protecting watersheds? It’s true. All it took was a twist and a twirl and the connection between runoff, sewers, and the resulting stress on natural systems came out of the pipework.”
FLASHBACK TO 2002: “An important message is that planning and implementation involves cooperation among all orders of government as well as the non-government and private sectors,” wrote Erik Karlsen, BC Ministry of Municipal Affairs
“During the late 1960s, BC began its multi-faceted and ongoing journey towards sustainability,” stated Erik Karlsen. “In the early 2000s, inter-governmental partnerships were formed to address environmental challenges; and were supported by protocol agreements between the Province and the Union of BC Municipalities.” Watershed / Landscape-Based Approach to Community Planning, a landmark document, was developed by an intergovernmental working group.
What Happens on the Land Matters: "North America’s first natural asset policy directs the municipality to consider the role of natural assets within our overall asset management strategy,” says Emanuel Machado, Town of Gibsons Chief Administrative Officer
“What gives life to the policy is the fact that, once the natural asset is within the policy, a budget must be set aside for its ongoing management and maintenance, and town staff must work together to preserve its integrity. The Town’s Eco-Asset Strategy recognizes the role of nature as a fundamental component of the municipal infrastructure system, leading to improved financial and operational management plans,” states Emanuel Machado.
"90% of the problems fish experience in small urban streams are caused by land use decisions and activities in the watershed," says Peter Law, a founding Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC
“It was through my work as a Provincial Fish Biologist that I became aware first-hand of the issue of water sustainability and watershed health. In the work we did to develop the 2002 Stormater Planning Guidebook, I felt it was important to showcase the science from the University of Washington that linked impacts to fish and fish habitat with changes associated with land development,” recalls Peter Law.
What Happens on the Land Matters: Town of Gibsons “Eco-Asset Strategy” Incorporates Natural Capital in Infrastructure Management
Gibsons is one the first Canadian municipalities to explore managing the natural capital in their community. Their rationale is that natural services have tangible value to the community. “Bringing natural assets into the same asset management system as engineered infrastructure recognizes the quantifiable value they provide to the community and integrates them into the municipal framework for operating budgets, maintenance and regular support,” stated Dave Newman.
News from the United States: First continent-wide watershed research study quantifies the connections between land use and climate to the runoff process and flooding at a larger scale than was available before
The first continent-wide, multi-factor analysis of climate and land cover effects on watersheds in the United States provides a broad new assessment of runoff, flooding and rainwater management options. “We propose the increased use of green infrastructure and best management practices to enhance the resilience of the watershed system,” stated Timothy Randhir.