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.
DEMONSTRATION APPLICATION OF ECOLOGICAL ACCOUNTING PROCESS: Kilmer Creek in the District of North Vancouver, completed in June 2020
“EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process, addresses this question: How do communities decide how much to invest in the natural commons? The EAP methodology and metrics enable a local government to determine the WORTH of the natural commons, with ‘worth’ being the foundation for an annual budget for maintenance and maintenance of ecological assets. Application of the EAP methodology can help to inform an investment strategy for protection and/or restoration of ecological-hydrological function,” stated Tim Pringle.
REPORT ON: “Kilmer Creek Re-Alignment in the District of North Vancouver: Assessing the Worth of Ecological Services Using the Ecological Accounting Process for Financial Valuation” (Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC; released June 2020)
“The report introduces new terminology – such as, the NATURAL COMMONS ASSET. The NCA is the portion of the stream defined by the set-back area required by streamside protection regulations. Often the NCA is augmented by contiguous natural area, such as parkland. This larger area is the Natural Commons Area. In addition, the report emphasizes the acronym M&M to draw attention to the distinction between these objectives as strategies: MAINTENANCE, which means ‘prevent degradation’; and MANAGEMENT, which means ‘improve the condition’,” stated Kim Stephens.
NEW REPORT: “The science is clear— natural infrastructure can provide significant, quantifiable levels of protection for communities from natural hazards, and is often more cost-effective than structural infrastructure,” said Jessie Ritter, Director of Water Resources and Coastal Policy, US National Wildlife Federation (released June 2020)
The report titled Protective Value of Nature summarizes the latest science on the effectiveness of natural infrastructure in lowering the risks to communities from weather – and climate-related hazards – benefits often described as natural defenses. “The use of natural infrastructure for hazard risk reduction has not reached its full potential. This is due, in part, to perceptions that conventionally engineered approaches are always more effective – despite numerous instances when they have failed,” stated Jessica Ritter.
FLASHBACK TO 2006: “At the end of the day, we literally tore up our work plan. It was clear that practitioners did not need another guidance document that would go on a shelf. Rather, they needed to network and learn from each other,” stated Ray Fung, Chair, when the Green Infrastructure Partnership released a report on conversations with a mayors and chairs focus group (September 2006)
“As we went around the table, the stories came out as to what Metro Vancouver municipalities were doing. A common refrain was: ‘We didn’t know you were doing that!’ The energy in the room just kept building and building. As a result, our outreach emphasis shifted from ‘informing and educating’ to ‘showcasing and sharing’. We witnessed the motivational power of celebrating successes. We also recognized the need to get the story out about the leadership being shown by local government,” stated Ray Fung.
CREATING OUR FUTURE IN THE METRO VANCOUVER REGION: “Today, what we as leaders do, will resound for the people of the future, their cities and their regions. In fact, for the world at large,” stated the City of Delta’s Lois Jackson, currently a Councillor and formerly the Mayor, when she reflected on her five decades of public service in local government and why it matters to ‘make a difference’ as a champion for ‘design with nature’ infrastructure practices (June 2020)
“One of the reasons that I ran for office in 1972 was ‘to make a difference’…. a difference to the children and their families of the future. But we are not the only ones sharing this planet, and what we do on a daily basis, can impact positively or negatively having a resounding effect and rippling effect of which we must be aware. We must all be leaders who selflessly have a vision, and we must then act to make the vision a reality, because air, water and continents are interconnected and if you can dream it — you can do it,” stated Lois Jackson.
CITIZEN SCIENCE IN ACTION: “As cities venture into unfamiliar territory, fear of public embarrassment and fear of unfamiliar maintenance obligations may scuttle worthy projects – and that’s where committed volunteer groups can ease the way forward,” observes Deborah Jones, Rain Gardens Coordinator, Cougar Creek Streamkeepers in the City of Delta in British Columbia’s Metro Vancouver region (June 2020)
“When any project is seen as ‘The City’, residents are quick to criticize or complain, elected officials are quick to pass these complaints to staff and staff are quick to ‘backpedal’ — especially if a project is a departure from past practice. No surprise, then, that many municipal officials and staff across all jurisdictions are subject to fear of public embarrassment in relation to rain gardens. By contrast, when rain garden projects are seen as ‘volunteer streamkeepers and school kids’, residents are more willing to cut us some slack if there are issues at the outset,” stated Deborah Jones.
TREES, HEALTH AND WELLBEING: “The urban forest needs to be designed as a first principle, part of the critical infrastructure of the whole city, not just as a cosmetic afterthought,” wrote Professor Alan Simpson, Leeds Beckett University
“The scale and speed of urbanisation has created significant environmental and health problems for urban dwellers. These problems are often made worse by a lack of contact with the natural world,” stated Alan Simpson. “The creation of urban forests will make cities worth living in, able to function and support their populations: Treetopias. Our urban forest can give us the spaces and places to help manage our mental health and improve our physical health.”
EARTH DAY #50 AND GREENER BUILDINGS: “The ones who caught on the fastest to what we were doing were the business leaders – the CEOs, the CFOs and the building owners,” stated Mary Tod Winchester, retired Vice-President for Administration, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, when reflecting on the value green building has delivered for people and the planet
“CEOs, CFOs and building owners were obviously looking at the bottom line and not necessarily what it would cost them, but what the operating costs were going to be. They talked with staff and quickly realized it was a place people wanted to work and loved to work. They really picked up on so many pieces of the puzzle. They would go on and incorporate what they saw into their own office buildings or new builds. And when you have businesses doing that you move markets.” reflected Mary Tod Winchester.
FLASHBACK TO 2011: “We are challenging those in local government: What do you want this place to look like in 50 years? To get there, you will have to start now. Actions ripple through time,” stated Kim Stephens at the FCM Sustainable Communities Conference held in Victoria, BC
Eight innovators from across Canada shared their breakthrough examples of municipal sustainability in a range of sectors. The format was interactive, which allowed participants to share and learn from each other. “Kim Stephens provided a water perspective, with an emphasis on designing with nature. His takeaway message was that water sustainability will be achieved through green infrastructure policies and practices. There was a great deal of excitement and energy in the room and delegates were very engaged during the roundtable discussion,” stated Azzah Jeena.
INFRASTRUCTURE ASSET MANAGEMENT IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Glen Brown has provided leadership at a provincial scale to transform the phrase ‘sustainable service delivery’ into an actionable vision for local government,” states Kim Stephens, Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability
The 20/80 Rule refers to the initial capital cost of municipal infrastructure being about 20% of the ultimate total cost, with the other 80% being an unfunded liability. This is a driver for doing business differently. “Tackling the unfunded infrastructure liability involves a life-cycle way of thinking about infrastructure needs and how to pay for those needs over time. This holistic approach is described as Sustainable Service Delivery. The link between infrastructure asset management and the protection of a community’s natural resources is an important piece in Sustainable Service Delivery,” stated Glen Brown.