What is “Green Infrastructure”? – Looking back to understand the origin, meaning and use of the term in British Columbia
Note to Reader:
In June 2004, the British Columbia Green Infrastructure Partnership (GIP) released a Consultation Report which included a comprehensive definition of “green infrastructure”. Three years later, in June 2007, the first in the Beyond the Guidebook series of guidance documents provided a clear distinction between natural and engineered green infrastructure.
The Beyond the Guidebook Series builds on the technical and philosophical foundation provided by Stormwater Planning: A Guidebook for British Columbia, released by the British Columbia Ministry of Environment in June 2002. The Guidebook articulated a ‘design with nature’ approach to community design.
Built and Natural Environments are Connected: So, Design with Nature!
The Green Infrastructure Partnership (GIP) was formed in 2003 to promote an integrated approach to land development and infrastructure servicing that addresses the need for coordinated change at different scales – that is: region, neighbourhood, site and building.
Water Sustainability Action Plan
The GIP was one of six elements that made up the Water Sustainability Action Plan for British Columbia, released in February 2004. The six elements holistically link water management with land use, development and resource production.
“Under the umbrella of the Water Sustainability Action Plan, the GIP mission was to facilitate implementation of infrastructure practices and regulation province-wide that embody a ‘design with nature’ way-of-thinking and acting,” states Kim Stephens, a founding member of the GIP Steering Committee and currently Executive Director, the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC.
“An over-arching goal of this approach is to protect and/or restore the natural environment by improving the built environment. This is the essence of why we design with nature.”
After incorporation of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC as a not-for-profit society in 2010, the responsibilities of the GIP were assumed by the Partnership for Water Sustainability.
Beyond the Guidebook: Context for Rainwater Management and Green Infrastructure in British Columbia (2007)
“In recent decades, the British Columbia landscape has been transformed by settlement and economic growth. While the province has been experiencing enhanced social and economic well-being, it has also experienced avoidable cumulative environmental impacts. The latter are due to pressures on land and water resources.
“The desire to mitigate environmental impacts has provided a driver for a ‘green infrastructure’ movement that is water-centric and is founded on a natural systems approach.
“Through implementation of ‘green infrastructure’ policies and practices, the desired outcome in going Beyond the Guidebook is to apply what we have learned at the site scale over the past 10 to 15 years…so that we can truly protect and/or restore stream health in urban watersheds,” concludes Kim Stephens.
Distinguishing Natural from Engineered Green Infrastructure
“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 in 2007. At the time, she represented West Coast Environmental Law (WCEL) on the GIP Steering Committee.
Susan Rutherford was the author of The Green Infrastructure Guide: Issues, Implementation Strategies and Success Stories, May 2007, a deliverable under the Outreach and Continuing Education Program undertaken by the Green Infrastructure Partnership.
“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.”
Legal and Policy Strategies to
Support Green Infrastructure (2007)
“The Green Infrastructure Guide traces some of BC’s local government experience in implementing engineered green infrastructure designs,” wrote Susan Rutherford.
“The Guide’s purpose is to encourage successful designs, by reporting on what the legal and policy strategies are, what some of the implementation hurdles (and solutions) have been, and how they have been effective in achieving sustainability goals.
“The intent is to support the efforts of local government officials and decision-makers to green their community’s infrastructure, by sharing the tools and the collective wisdom that have been gained as a result of implementation experiences from around the province.”
Green Infrastructure Defined (2004)
“Using a narrow interpretation, green infrastructure refers to the ecological processes, both natural and engineered, that are the foundation for a healthy natural and built environment in communities,” wrote Deborah Curran for the GIP’s 2004 Green Consultation Report. Deborah was the original WCEL representative on the GIP Steering Committee.
“Municipalities using the green infrastructure as an integral part of how development occurs find that it is often less costly than hard infrastructure, and also offers aesthetic, environmental, health and recreational benefits.”
“Using the green infrastructure to manage common processes, such as rainwater runoff, keeps water on the land longer, thus recharging aquifers while protecting stream hydrology and morphology.
“Street trees, greenways and rooftop gardens, the ‘urban forest’, help mediate summer heating in developed areas, restore pre-development levels of evapotranspiration, and sequester pollution while providing habitat for many species.
“Green infrastructure in neighbourhoods, such as green streets, constructed wetlands, protected stream corridors and new greenways, are seen as amenities and increase property values.
“Finally, maintaining working lands is important both for the economy and for their contribution to the green infrastructure of a region,” concluded Deborah Curran.
To Learn More:
Read Beyond the Guidebook: Context for Rainwater Management and Green Infrastructure in British Columbia, released in June 2007.
Read The Green Infrastructure Guide: Issues, Implementation Strategies and Success Stories, released in 2007.