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.
STRIVING FOR A SMALLER HYDROLOGIC FOOTPRINT: “I wanted to come up with answers to two questions: How much green infrastructure do we need, and where should it be located?” stated Moira Zellner, University of Illinois
“We built a computational cellular model of integrating land cover with hydrology, and when we built this model, we tried to answer those two questions with it,” stated Moira Zellner.”For small storms, we need about 10 percent coverage of green infrastructure to prevent runoff from going downstream. The locations [of green infrastructure] which are more scattered but also follow roads are particularly good. Roads are built to convey water, and if we put [these green infrastructures] around the roads, then what it does is it enhances a function of the road as a way to store and convey and drain water toward the sewers.”
ENGINEERED NATURE: “The world is round, but Detroit is extremely flat,” said Palencia Mobley, chief engineer, when explaining the approach to Green Stormwater Infrastructure
In Detroit, simply making a park where there was once a building is often not enough to prevent flooding due to its topography and geology: “We don’t have a lot of elevation to move water. Another problem is that Detroit is full of clay soil which doesn’t readily absorb water,” said Palencia Mobley. So many Green Stormwater Infrastructure projects in Detroit excavate the clay and mix it with sand or gravel so water can move underground faster.
FLASHBACK TO 2007: “The Capital Regional District Headquarters Building is the first LEEDs Gold Certified building in the Capital Region,” reported Jody Watson
“The CRD has installed a new weather station that is part of the performance monitoring program for the green roof project,” stated Jody Watson. “The extensive green roof and the living wall are being monitored, in partnership with the BCIT Centre for Architectural Ecology – Collaborations in Green Roofs and Living Walls to provide real-time regional data on the environmental and economic benefits of these innovative technologies. Monitoring includes a measure of rainwater retention and runoff reduction and temperature and energy statistics.”
Historic Passing of the Climate Mobilization Act in New York City – Green Roofs Required on New Buildings (April 2019)
The Climate Mobilization Act is the largest single act to cut climate pollution of any city. In a densely packed metropolitan of over seven million residents, commercial and residential buildings are the largest source of emissions and sit at the center of the policy change. “My legislation will require green roofs to be installed on new residential and commercial buildings, making New York the largest city in the nation to pass such a law,” stated Rafael Espinal. “We’ve already seen the revolutionary benefits of green roofs in action thanks to places around the city.”
JUST RELEASED (March 2019): “Integrating Green and Gray – Creating Next Generation Infrastructure” – joint report by World Bank and World Resources Institute states that the next generation of infrastructure can help drive economies and strengthen communities and the environment
“21st century challenges require innovative solutions and utilizing all the tools at our disposal. And integrating ‘green’ natural systems like forests, wetlands and flood plains into ‘gray’ infrastructure system shows how nature can lie at the heart of sustainable development. ‘Integrating Green & Gray – Creating Next-Generation Infrastructure’ provides guidance on how to do just that,” stated Greg Browder, World Bank Global Lead for Water Security & Lead Author.
CREATING NEXT GENERATION INFRASTRUCTURE: “By harnessing the power of nature, infrastructure services can be provided at a lower cost while delivering greater impact,” wrote Andrew Steer in the foreword to a landmark report on integrating green and gray infrastructure (March 2019)
“Green infrastructure can be cheaper and more resilient than gray infrastructure alone—and it can produce substantial benefits beyond what the balance sheets measure,” states Andrew Steer, President and CEO, World Resources Institute. “These nature-based solutions can help us meet the infrastructure investment gap in a cost-effective manner, while lifting up local communities with benefits in their backyards. We’re at a climate inflection point, and in the midst of an infrastructure crisis. Now more than ever, the world must tap into nature’s wealth.”
IMPROVING WHERE WE LIVE: At the Parksville 2019 Symposium, Tim Ennis elaborates on precedent-setting nature of “Kus-kus-sum Restoration on the Courtenay River – Transforming a Decommissioned Sawmill Site into a Valuable Habitat Corridor”
“The economic return to the community through this project will far outweigh the costs. For example, the restored site will have tremendous potential to absorb floodwaters and provide resiliency to buffer the effects of climate change from more frequent and severe rain storms, sea-level rise, and storm surge events. This will mitigate the flooding-related costs to Courtenay, which have been in the ballpark of $500,000 per event,” stated Tim Ennis.
WATER STEWARDSHIP IN A CHANGING CLIMATE: “The essential ingredients for restorative development encompass: vision, strategy to deliver the vision, and commitment to implement an ongoing program,” says John Finnie, Chair of the Parksville 2019 Symposium Organizing Committee (Asset Management BC Newsletter, February 2019)
“Guided by a whole-system, water balance approach, restorative land development would reconnect hydrology and ecology, and this would: reduce stream erosion, flooding and the associated infrastructure liability; increase the dry weather baseflow in streams; and stem the loss of aquatic habitat and fish. Connecting dots, then, a key message is that restorative land development results in sustainable stream restoration,” says John Finnie.
GREENING ROCK CREEK DRAINAGE AREA IN WASHINGTON, DC: Re-engineering the city to reverse the damage done by engineers of generations past, using modern technology to imitate how nature handles rainwater and stormwater runoff
“I was just reading an article recently by a Washington Post reporter back in the 1930s, saying it was a ‘lusty stream,’” Steve Dryden says. “Development in the early 20th century just paved all of this over.” Before most of Piney Branch disappeared under pavement, the “lusty” creek drained storm water from more than 2,000 acres of forests and fields. The land naturally absorbed much of the rain. Now, all that water is instead funneled into underground pipes. “This is the foundational mistake that was made in developing cities and suburbs.”
Bringing Nature Back to the Urban Core – a photo feature on three US cities that are seeking to restore their connection to nature by reclaiming land for green space
Frederick Law Olmsted understood nature’s ability to rejuvenate the mind and body. One of the principal designers of Central Park in New York, he took pains to replicate the gentle beauty he saw in European parks that blended trees and shrubs, streams and bridges. “The park throughout is a single work of art,” he wrote. The relationship between humans and nature improves mental health and promotes prosocial behavior. But as cities grow, green space is squeezed out. Community leaders are finding ways to restore some of the balance.