GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE IN URBAN CENTRES: “Our goal was to design a course to have appeal and applicability for professionals from diverse disciplines seeking to understand green infrastructure’s potential for managing the impacts of urbanization and climate change,” said Dr. Joanna Ashworth, Simon Fraser University

Note to Reader:

Published weekly from September through June, Waterbucket eNewscelebrates the commitment, hard work and perseverance of individuals who strive to make a difference for the common good. We shine the spotlight on those who embrace “design with nature” approaches to reconnect people, land and water in altered landscapes.

This edition features the work of Dr. Joanna Ashworth in the Faculty of Environment at the Simon Fraser University. She has emerged as a champion for green infrastructure implementation in the Metro Vancouver region. A researcher and educator, she brings a social lens to a bottom-up approach that is founded on community engagement as a tool to “improve where we live”.

Inspired by a ground-breaking campaign to install 12,000 rain gardens in the Seattle/Puget Sound region of Washington State, Joanna Ashworth walks the talk. She is Project Director for the North Shore Rain Garden Project. Her vision is that a region-wide rain garden program would build connections between and among neighbours, citizens, community organizations, schools, and local governments.

Joanna Ashworth has also spearheaded development of an online course on Green Infrastructure policy, design and practice. A desired outcome is to influence professional practice in British Columbia.

Editor’s Context

“When Joanna Ashworth and I were discussing her vision for the online Green Infrastructure course, and what she hoped to accomplish by sharing her story via Waterbucket eNews, I was reminded of my meeting many years ago with a representative of the Cowichan Tribes. ‘To get to the big picture,’ Jamie Swanson said, ‘it starts with the smallest piece’,” stated Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.

“Jamie’s example of the big picture was protection of the Cowichan River, and his smallest piece was the engineering standard that he had developed for the foundation drain around the Band Administration building. Much like Jamie’s example, the smallest piece in Joanna’s Green Infrastructure big picture is a rain garden. Her vision is that Metro Vancouver communities would create 12,000 rain gardens to offset the impacts of urbanization and climate change in the region.”

“There is a long history of green infrastructure innovation in British Columbia. In 2006 and 2007, for example, the Partnership organized the Metro Vancouver Celebrating Green Infrastructure Innovation Series. On their day to host, the City of Vancouver showcased both their Country Lanes program and their flagship Crown Street green infrastructure beautification. When staff from other local governments were on the walkabout, the refrain was: “This is no big deal. We too can do this.” Yes, to get to the big picture, it does start with the smallest piece!”

“An aspect of the SFU course that caught my attention is that participants will be exposed to Green Infrastructure experiences in cities around North America. My hope is that this exposure would result in greater appreciation of why the drivers for implementing Green Infrastructure in BC are so different from those in other regions. Our goal is to reconnect hydrology and stream ecology so that we can sustain salmon. Elsewhere in Canada and the USA, an over-arching regulatory goal is to meet a pollution control standard.”

DOWNLOAD A COPY OF Creating the Future in British Columbia: Recognize and Address the “Shifting Baseline”.

The smallest piece in Joanna Ashworth’s Green Infrastructure big picture is a rain garden!

Rain garden constructed at Capilano Mall in the City of North Vancouver, Fall 2020, under the umbrella of the Simon Fraser University North Shore Rain Garden Project for community engagement. The goal is to empower communities to address the impacts of uncontrolled rainwater runoff on ecosystems, property and creek systems.


Integrating nature with infrastructure starts with rain gardens!

“To scale up our response to climate change requires a concerted, connected and collaborative approach to finding a way to work together towards identifying solutions and taking action. This perspective provides the context for an ecosystem of teaching, interdisciplinary professional practice and research that informs the new Green Infrastructure course,” stated Dr. Joanna Ashworth.

She is the  Director of Professional Programs and Partnerships in the Faculty of Environment, Simon Fraser University (SFU). She is also Project Director for SFU’s North Shore Rain Garden Project. As the Director of Dialogue Programs at SFU’s Centre for Dialogue for ten years, where she founded the Certificate in Dialogue and Civic Engagement, Joanna Ashworth also identifies awareness-building, engagement and collaboration as crucial success factors in understanding Green Infrastructure and realizing the benefits.

“The course aims to inform and foster a growing network of professionals working in related fields towards implementing Green Infrastructure (GI) policies and practices, from policymakers, sustainability managers, landscape architects and urban planners to municipal engineers and climate change, transportation and community engagement specialists at the city or regional level. The course is also relevant to those professionals working in the private sector, including in the design, construction and real estate development fields.”

“It is a true pleasure to be part of this timely learning experience about the role of Green Infrastructure. Knowledge and innovation are key to advancing ‘multi-solving’ public infrastructure investments that tackle ecological and social imperatives,” adds Chad Nelson, Principal Advisor and Manager for Adaptation, Resilience and Natural Infrastructure, Infrastructure Canada. “In particular, historic and long-lived infrastructure investments need to take account of a changing climate in how we make short-run decisions and better appreciate what nature-based solutions can offer.”

Address Knowledge Gap & Foster Collaboration

“Whether it’s the community coming together to build rain gardens or adopt catch basins, dedicated volunteer streamkeepers who put in countless hours restoring and protecting important salmon habitat, or government decision-makers and employees enacting policies, everyone has a role to play in advancing Green Infrastructure implementation. There’s more work to be done as we collectively travel along a path to find upstream, proactive solutions to climate change impacts and growing urban centres,” continues Joanna Ashworth.

“Every significant innovation results from a magical combination of timing, preparation and luck. So true for the creation of a new online course on Green Infrastructure, or GI, at Simon Fraser University. After several years of promoting the use of rain gardens in communities, including offering workshops, my colleagues and I were delighted when the Adaptation Learning Network, awarded funding for us to develop an online course.”

Watch the video of the Mary Bayes Memorial Rain Garden being constructed in Horseshoe Bay, West Vancouver:


A Self-Directed Course on Green Infrastructure in Urban Centres

“With these funds, the SFU team – in particular Nick Mead Fox, a researcher from  the Faculty’s Pacific Water Research Centre – began in earnest to develop a comprehensive course on Green Infrastructure that would meet the learning needs of the various professional disciplines who have the power to influence the integration of GI systems into city and regional infrastructure – systems that support climate resilience, rainwater management, water quality and protect against the heat island effect while increasing liveability. Such great co-benefits!”

“Simon Fraser University has been advancing the implementation of green infrastructure at the municipal level through an interdisciplinary approach combining community-engaged teaching, research and outreach. Building on what we have collectively learned, this month the Faculty of Environment’s Professional Programs and Partnerships program will launch a new 12-week online course, Green Infrastructure in Urban Centres: Policy, Design and Practice.”

“We designed the course to have appeal and applicability for professionals from diverse disciplines, especially those seeking to understand green infrastructure’s potential for managing the impacts of urbanization and climate change. Not only will participants come away with a greater understanding of the benefits, opportunities and challenges of integrating nature and infrastructure, it’s also a chance for professionals from jurisdictions across North America and beyond to share insights and innovations and to learn from one another.”

“We are excited that the City of Vancouver’s Melina Scholefield will share her valuable insights and expertise as course facilitator. A much-in-demand speaker, Melina is the recipient of the 2020 Water Steward of the Year Award from Water Canada magazine for her work as team lead for the City of Vancouver’s multi- award-winning Rain City Strategy, a cross-departmental green rainwater infrastructure and urban rainwater management initiative.”

“Self-directed, the course includes curated readings, videos, and learning activities designed to enhance understanding of core concepts, critical questions and evolving best practices in GI. The course draws on global experience from cities such as Portland, New York, Toronto and Copenhagen; as well as the City of Vancouver and the Metro Vancouver region. The class will come together via Zoom meetings to discuss issues and cases.”


Green Infrastructure in Urban Centres: Policy, Design and Practice provides a broad overview of how green infrastructure systems work, the targets and policies that support effective practice. The 30-hour, on-line course is self-directed. Here’s how it’s organized:


Part One – The Grey to Green Transition explores the reasons that motivate cities, suburbs, and towns to adopt and expand GI systems, identifies the different types of GI and the multitude of benefits associated with them, and showcases successful employment of specific GI strategies.

Part Two – Design and Implementation discusses the principles and practices behind successful GI design and implementation, identifies targets and guidelines used to regulate GI implementation, and considers the data needed to inform GI design and implementation decisions, and potential sources for the relevant data, particularly as it informs climate change impacts.

Part Three – Policy and Governance focuses on the policies, institutions, and systems that govern and drive green infrastructure employment in cities around the world, highlights specific tools and regulations for GI, and compares and contrasts GI policies and governance.

Part Four – Planning for Green Cities reviews recent advances and most innovative examples of GI design, science, and practice. This section showcases bold views of what GI will offer cities in the future and how these progressive visions might be realized.


Joanna Ashworth and West Vancouver Mayor Mary Ann Booth