Green Infrastructure

Green communities – ‘today’s expectations are tomorrow’s standards’ is a provincial government mantra in British Columbia. Since the built and natural environments are connected, design with nature to protect watershed function. The Green Communities Initiative provides a policy, regulatory and program framework for enabling local governments to create more compact, more sustainable and greener communities. Lead by example. Showcase innovation. Celebrate successes.

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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.”

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“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.

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THE STORY OF GUICHON CREEK: “Fifty years ago, few people felt that it was worth the trouble or the cost to try and bring degraded urban streams and rivers back to health. I believed very differently and would say, we must try. We can turn around almost anything when there is a will, a plan is in place, and there is commitment,” stated Mark Angelo – conservationist, author of The Little Creek That Could, and founder of BC Rivers Day and World Rivers Day

“I am such a believer in engaging the broader community as best we can. Going back 50 years ago to the 1970s when I was first starting as a streamkeeper, it was a lonely undertaking. Streamkeepers were few in number. One of the great steps forward that I have seen over the decades is that now there are many many streamkeepers and there streamkeeper groups attached to virtually every stream in the Lower Mainland. These volunteers put in thousands of hours, keep an eye on local waterways, profile issues when they arise, and approach local governments to help them deal with and correct those issues,” stated Mark Angelo.

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PROFILE IN COURAGE: “There is a special type of courage that Council needs to have to say, ‘give us the naked truth’. There is not a lot of political up-side to shining a light on infrastructure challenges. Oak Bay Council did that, no holds barred,” stated Christopher Paine, Director of Financial Services, when he explained the vision of Council in setting the direction for Oak Bay’s Sustainable Infrastructure Replacement Plan

“Two things about Oak Bay are quite unique. First, I know of no other situation where an engineering department and a finance department are so much in lockstep on a unified vision for asset management. That was really spurred by Council’s culture. That is the second thing. They knew there was an issue with an aging infrastructure because the visible signs were there. They trusted staff and they started investing heavily in infrastructure funding. Anybody who is going to hear or read about the Oak Bay story, the thing that they really must understand is the role of Council,” stated Christopher Paine.

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WHAT IS GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE, REALLY: “Cities are increasingly incorporating ideas for ‘green infrastructure’ into their planning, but what they mean by that can be unclear and inconsistent within and across cities,” wrote Maria Rachal, editor of Smart Cities Dive, in her article about recently published findings from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies (January 2022)

City planners often fail to clearly define “green infrastructure,” although they tend to favor hydrological or stormwater concepts in such projects, according to a study by the New York-based Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. The report calls for a clearer and more comprehensive definition as part of a larger project assessing equity in cities’ ecological services. The empirical study is the first of its kind. It is part of a multiyear project assessing green infrastructure’s role as “a universal good.”

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TOWARD A MORE INCLUSIVE DEFINITION OF GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE: “Green infrastructure is broadly understood to be a good thing, but many city plans lack a clear definition of what it actually is. Hydrological definitions dominate. This narrow view can cause cities to miss out on vital social and ecological services that more integrative green infrastructure can provide,” stated Dr. Zbigniew Grabowski, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, lead author of a nationwide analysis of GI plans from 20 American cities (January 2022)

“City planning often fails to explicitly define “green infrastructure” (GI), but when it does, stormwater concepts of GI are much more prevalent than landscape or integrative concepts. Types of GI vary widely and significantly, and often exclude parks and larger urban green spaces in favor of smaller engineered facilities. Functions of GI are primarily hydrological, although more functional diversity is provided by landscape and integrative definitions of GI. Stormwater concepts appear to engage in greenwashing by purportedly offering the greatest number of benefits,” stated Dr. Zbigniew Grabowski.

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RESTORE THE BALANCE IN THE WATER BALANCE: “The sponge city concept marks a transformative change of China’s water management from the engineering-oriented paradigm to a more holistic and nature-based approach, which aims to strengthen the sustainability of the urban water cycle,” wrote Genevieve Donnellon-May, researcher with the Institute of Water Policy, National University of Singapore (January 2022)

“Sponge cities, an integrated grey-blue-green solution for urban water management, are considered a paradigm shift for sustainable urban planning and management in China. Sponge cities seek to reduce the impact of urban surface-water flooding, water shortages, and the consequences of rapid urbanization by promoting water security, water environmental protection, and water ecological restoration. This concept is influenced by the ancient Chinese concept of human-nature harmony,” stated Genevieve Donnellon-May.

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ASSET MANAGEMENT CONTINUUM POINTS THE WAY TO EAP, THE ECOLOGICAL ACCOUNTING PROCESS: “It is all about the service. Basically, well-maintained infrastructure assets are worthless IF they do not provide a service. Also, for any asset management approach to be successful, it must not focus on the infrastructure asset by itself,” stated Guy Felio, infrastructure management and resilience specialist, in his keynote address at the 2017 Asset Management BC Annual Conference

“Lack of data and certainty has not stopped municipalities from providing services, managing their assets, and making effective and efficient use of their scarce resources. Extreme weather and future climate uncertainty is another variable to consider; but where to start? There are no reasons not to consider climate uncertainty in asset management. Ultimately, the focus is on the service and the community, and ensuring critical assets maintain functionality during the extreme event, and recover quickly any functionality lost!”

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ASSET MANAGEMENT CONTINUUM: “Implementation of asset management along with the associated evolution of local government thinking is a continuous process, not a discrete task. We needed a way to illustrate this diagrammatically. This led us to the concept of a continuum to illustrate sustainable service delivery,” stated Glen Brown, General Manager (Victoria Operations), Union of BC Municipalities

Glen Brown coined the term Sustainable Service Delivery in 2010. Formal branding came with rollout of “Asset Management for Sustainable Service Delivery: A BC Framework” in 2015. The emphasis on service is a game-changer. Under Glen Brown’s leadership, Asset Management BC uses the term Sustainable Service Delivery to focus local government attention on desired outcomes. These flow from policy objectives in Living Water Smart to implement a life-cycle approach to asset management AND eliminate the unfunded gap for infrastructure replacement.

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WHY NEW YORK CITY IS UNEARTHING A BROOK IT BURIED A CENTURY AGO: “We need to be coming up with more innovative solutions that will ensure communities are resilient in the face of climate change,” stated Jenny Hoffner, a vice president for conservation strategies for American Rivers (December 2021)

The $US130M plan to daylight Tibbetts Brook would be one of New York City’s most ambitious green infrastructure projects. The brook would be rerouted above ground for one mile — including along a former railroad line that would be turned into a new greenway — before being sent back underground for a half mile in a new dedicated pipe to the Harlem River. “Restored waterways serve as a kind of natural infrastructure in cities, bringing benefits. Building for the storm of today won’t really work anymore,” stated Jenny Hoffner.

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ASSET MANAGEMENT FOR SUSTAINABLE SERVICE DELIVERY IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Asset management reduces my risk and gives me confidence so I can focus on optimization, performance and efficiency at the Wastewater Treatment Plant,” stated Anna Agnew, the Town of Gibson’s level 4 lead operator, in an article written for the Asset Management BC Newsletter (October 2021)

“Imagine yourself as the lead water and wastewater operator at your organization. At the front lines of it all managing or preventing failures, one after the other. You know the system inside and out and have grown a professional pride and ownership over the system. However, potential mechanical failure or permit violation is always on your mind. You know you need a better system in place than you have,” stated Anna Agnew. “We had the right combination of the people on the team, the right support and tools at the right time, a clear road map we set up, leadership’s support, and a stubbornness and commitment to the end goal. We started small.”

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ASSET MANAGEMENT FOR SUSTAINABLE SERVICE DELIVERY IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Experience with a great many consultants over the past 20 years reveals that in the absence of client stated clearly defined parameters, most consultants tend to default to cookie cutter report formats,” wrote Joe McGowan, Director of Public Works (retired) with the City of Cranbrook, in an article written for the Asset Management BC Newsletter (October 2021)

“The majority of consultant asset management (AM) related reports describe a catastrophic scenario where the municipality is in a crisis situation due to large portions of its infrastructure deemed to be past its useful life. The reports often communicate the need for immediate replacement of assets at costs that are multiples, if not tens of multiples of the municipality’s annual capital budget. So, why is this occurring? Municipal governments are not providing outside consultants with clear direction as to the nature of the problem being explored and the specific details required by the client of any analysis,” stated Joe McGowan.

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