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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INTER-GENERATIONAL COLLABORATION: “In a representative democracy, politicians can only lead where people are prepared to follow,” stated Joan Sawicki, a former Speaker of the BC Legislative Assembly and Minister of Environment, Lands and Parks during the period 1991 through 2001

“Voters often send mixed messages. While it is perfectly legitimate to hold politicians’ “feet to the fire”, there is some justification to do the reverse as well! It is sometimes too convenient to blame politicians for the short term thinking hole that we are in. If we truly want our governments to shift from short-term to longer term thinking, as voters we must then be prepared to support – and re-elect – those politicians who bring in such policies and legislation, even if those initiatives negatively impact us personally today ” stated Joan Sawicki.

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APPLICATION OF BC’S FRAMEWORK FOR SUSTAINABLE SERVICE DELIVERY: “There are many considerations in a local government’s budget every year. The questions asked should revolve around service and risk. Are you asking the right questions?” – Wally Wells, Executive Director, Asset Management BC

“Asset Management BC has a program initiative underway to operationalize asset management. We have selected a cohort of seven local governments and First Nations communities in different regions. These are demonstration applications and cover a range of situations along the Asset Management Continuum. The understanding gained from this process will inform evolution and application of the BC Framework. We have asked each participating government to identify a barrier to sustainable service delivery. We are working our way through a process with each one to overcome that specific barrier,” stated Wally Wells.

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BC’S GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE PARTNERSHIP: “You can trust these people. Their only goal is to turn you on to the practical reality that designing with nature – particularly water – is underway, is working, and holds out hope for communities and cities to function better,” stated (former) West Vancouver Mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones when she facilitated a presentation to elected representatives on the Metro Vancouver Sustainable Region Initiative Task Force (October 2006)

“I was asked by members of the Green Infrastructure Partnership to help them support local leaders throughout BC, so that we – the politicians – can champion the idea that designing with nature, particularly with regard to how water flows, has everything to do with achieving a built environment that is truly sustainable. As the leaders appointed to design the Sustainable Region Initiative, we view you as critical partners in affecting positive change with regard to infrastructure design in the region,” stated Mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones.

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WHY THE FUSED GRID STREET PATTERN? – “In the early 2000s, entirely new priorities, along with old ones, were being staked at every corner of the planning universe. A tangled web of interacting variables emerged from these demands; a truly formidable, complex puzzle,” stated Fanis Grammenos, author of Remaking the City Grid, and an urban sustainability thinker

“The real urgent task was to convince a Municipality or a developer that this combination of known components worked well and that it produced desirable outcomes. Developers listened to the evidence with one ear while holding the other close to their clients – Sold! But they hesitated, being anxious that the City would not approve such plans; Cities, big and small, had just issued policy reports declaring: ‘cul-de-sacs are no longer allowed in this city because they are disconnected’,” stated Fanis Grammenos.

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HYDRATING LANDSCAPES TO MITIGATE CLIMATE CHANGE: “It was 20 years ago when we realized that soil is the cornerstone for water sustainability. Restoring the ‘balance’ to the ‘water balance’ starts with soil,” stated Kim Stephens, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia, in his panel presentation at the virtual Living Soils Symposium hosted by Regeneration Canada (February 2021)

“To adapt to a changing water cycle, soil depth as an ‘absorbent sponge’ is a primary water management tool, during both dry-weather and wet-weather periods. When the soil sponge has sufficient depth, the water holding capacity means that less water would be needed during dry-weather to irrigate gardens. This contributes to sustainability of water supply. And in wet-weather, an effective sponge would slowly release runoff and contribute to sustainability of aquatic habitat,” stated Kim Stephens.

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FLASHBACK TO 2009: “To do an Integrated Stormwater Management Plan right, one has to start with the desired outcome – which is protect or improve stream health – and then determine what actions in the watershed will green the urban landscape,” stated Kim Stephens, Chair of Metro Vancouver’s Liquid Waste Management Reference Panel, when reporting out to regional elected representatives

A commitment by Metro Vancouver municipalities to integrate land use and drainage planning was the genesis for Integrated Stormwater Management Plans (ISMPs). “When the Reference Panel reported back to the Waste Management Committee in July 2008, we identified the ISMP process as a sleeper issue because there are 130 watersheds in the region; and continuation of the old-business-as-usual would potentially result in an aggregate unfunded liability that could easily equal the $1.4 billion cost of sewage treatment,” stated Kim Stephens.

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“The adaptive nature of cities is exemplified once again, by the self-organizing response of street networks after transformative changes,” wrote Fanis Grammenos, creator of the Fused Grid planning model

“While individual roads are normally built to a plan, their collective assembly into a network is retrospectively observed in totality, but never conceived as such—partly because networks grow piecemeal, often in unpredictable ways, and partly because of their time scale, often many decades long. The outcome of all these separate influences resembles a patchwork rather that a neatly woven fabric. Each new addition to the system not only becomes context for the subsequent one, but is also conditioned by factors that emerge in the long interim,’ stated Fanis Grammenos.

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FLASHBACK TO 2006 / DESIGNING COMMUNITIES DIFFERENTLY IN CALGARY, ALBERTA: “Meeting the City’s expectations for rainwater management drove the merger of two innovative concepts in laying out new communities – Water Balance and Fused Grid. Saddlestone was to be the litmus test of their validity and effectiveness,” stated Fanis Grammenos, the innovator who pioneered the Fused Grid Model for compact community design and beneficial uses

“Planning, common experience shows, is an act of balancing competing interests, perspectives and priorities. And since interests often waver and priorities shift, the challenge of achieving a balance is forever new. The fused grid model rests on a replicable (but not repetitive) 16 hectare superblock, a cellular unit , which displaces simplistic geometry for organic order. Translated into a neighborhood street pattern, this means shorter, skinnier, end-of-line local streets. Simple math shows that the closer this organic geometry is followed the more land becomes available for beneficial uses,” stated Fanis Grammenos.

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THE NATURAL ASSET SOLUTION: “Innovation in asset management is most likely to occur when the focus is on the end goal of Sustainable Service Delivery,” stated Gracelyn Shannon, Manager of Asset Management and Strategic Initiatives with the qathet Regional District, in an article written for the Winter 2021 issue of the Asset Management BC Newsletter

“qathet Regional District, in collaboration with the City of Powell River, has undertaken a capital project which uses forested Natural Assets to support stormwater management services. Rather than fixating on the details of the original proposed engineered design, the project team was able to step back and recognize the opportunity to use a Natural Asset solution which saves forest and taxpayer money. The project advances the natural asset management maturity of qathet Regional District,” stated Gracelyn Shannon.

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ASSET MANAGEMENT FOR SUSTAINABLE SERVICE DELIVERY IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “By taking the long-term view we strive to address the renewal, maintenance and replacement needs of our assets while maintaining affordability and reliability for future generations,” stated Andy Wardell, Co-Chair of the Asset Management BC Community-of-Practice, in the Winter 2021 Newsletter

“Financial health and providing for a long-term sustainable future are top priorities for local governments. This paper profiles two key financial indicators that are integral to how the District of North Vancouver measures service, financial and asset sustainability. As municipalities and their assets are the foundation on which our community standards of living are built, planning and reporting on key financial sustainability indicators is critical to our municipality’s long-term financial health,” stated Andy Wardell.

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