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.
FLASHBACK TO 2011: “The link between asset management and the protection of a community’s natural resources is emerging as an important piece in Sustainable Service Delivery,” stated Glen Brown in foreshadowing the ‘Primer on Integrating Natural Assets into Asset Management’, released in September 2019
“The term Sustainable Service Delivery describes a life-cycle way of thinking about infrastructure needs and how to pay for those needs over time. The challenge is to think about what asset management entails BEFORE the asset is built. This paradigm-shift starts with land use planning and determining what services can be provided sustainably, both fiscally and ecologically,” stated Glen Brown. “Land use planning in British Columbia may be significantly improved when integrated with asset management planning.”
IMPROVING THE PROCESS OF IMPROVING PLACES: “Storm Cunningham’s RECONOMICS Process raises the bar for community and regional revitalization. It’s a powerful package, succinctly capturing the process that we have doggedly tried to identify over time, not always knowing the next step,” states Eric Bonham, founding member, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia
“Every public leader knows that the reliable production of anything requires a process. They also know, deep down, that they have no real strategy or reliable process for producing either revitalization or resilience in their community (though few would acknowledge it),” stated Storm Cunningham. “I’ve thus spent the past two decades researching commonalities: what’s usually present in the successes, and what’s usually missing in the failures? I’ve boiled it down to six elements. Each of them individually increases the likelihood of success. The more of them you have, the more likely you are to succeed.”
NATURAL ASSETS AS ECOLOGICAL SYSTEMS & SERVICES: “EAP demonstration applications have yielded three defining conclusions. These go to the heart of how practitioners look at the world around us,” says Tim Pringle, Chair, Ecological Accounting Process Initiative
EAP is the culmination of a 30-year journey by Tim Pringle. He has thought about and worked hard to develop and evolve a guiding philosophy, pragmatic strategy and meaningful metrics for valuing the services provided by nature. “Residents and property owners are familiar with constructed commons services – roads, potable water, storm sewers and many other ongoing services. They expect these services to endure. Similarly, communities expect the ecological services provided by the natural commons to be enduring,” stated Tim Pringle.
SUBURBS CAN HELP CITIES IN FIGHT AGAINST CLIMATE CHANGE: “The growth of the suburban footprint of cities in Australia and Canada tests the limits of the sustainability of our present way of living in terms of energy use, transportation and provision of utilities,” state Paul Maginn and Roger Keil
“The edges of cities around the world are being devastated by fires and floods. It’s drawing attention to suburban residents and the role they’re playing in exacerbating their exposure to climate change risks. But instead of focusing on the suburban way of life alone, planners and policy-makers need to focus their attention and actions on what holds it all together: the ‘brutalscape’, which is comprised of the infrastructures that enable suburban life,” wrote Roger Keil.
GREEN SPACE AND HUMAN HEALTH: “Urban designers have a significant role to play in lowering rates of mental illness, and the data on how nature affects our brains are central to changing the ways we design,” stated Dr. Zoe Myers, Australian Urban Design Research Centre
“Research has found that people in urban areas who live closest to the greatest ‘green space’ are significantly less likely to suffer poor mental health. Urban designers thus have a significant role to play in lowering rates of mental illness,” stated Zoe Myers. “Successful parks and urban green spaces encourage us to linger, to rest, to walk for longer. That, in turn, provides the time to maximise restorative mental benefits.Compare this to urban areas that employ creative uses of incidental nature to capture attention and offer genuine interaction.”
‘BLUE’ SPACE AND HUMAN HEALTH: “My colleagues and I are eyeing what planners call the water-centric city, or ‘sponge city’. Blue urban design – alongside green – may well be an agent for promoting mental health and not just an amenity,” stated Jenny Roe, University of Virginia
“Officials are increasingly recognizing that integrating nature into cities is an effective public health strategy to improve mental health. Doctors around the world now administer ‘green prescriptions’ – where patients are encouraged to spend time in local nature spaces,” wrote Jenny Roe. “Much of this research to date has focused on the role of green space in improving mental health. But what about ‘blue’ space – water settings? A few studies have shown that water bodies score just as well – if not better.”
GREEN SPACE AND HUMAN HEALTH: “Urban greening is emerging as a key part of the solution to some of our major health and environmental challenges,” stated Sara Barron, lead author for a collaborative effort by Australian, Canadian and American researchers
“Cities around the world are facing major challenges. Industrialised nations are experiencing epidemics of chronic diseases like diabetes, cardio-vascular disease and dementia, and it would be all too easy to give up hope of finding solutions. But there is positive news,” said Dr. Sara Barron. “A growing body of research reveals that spending time outdoors in and around trees, parks and gardens can boost our physical and mental health and help prevent a wide range of diseases.”
URBAN FORESTRY AND CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION: “As more cities begin to link their current climate change activities to the benefits of carbon sequestration and storage through the management of urban forests, the climate benefits provided by trees will only continue to increase,” stated Dr. Lauren Cooper, Forest Carbon and Climate Program, Michigan State University
“Why aren’t more cities explicitly linking the CO2 sequestration benefits with their urban forests? With varying city size and capacity, the answer is not simple. While there are examples of cities incorporating forest carbon storage and sequestration policies into their planning, these are limited, and often only in our largest cities,” stated Lauren Cooper. “Many cities are not quite comfortable taking a leap into climate mitigation claims and calculations.”
HOW A VEGETATED GREEN ROOF CAN ACHIEVE MORE DETENTION: “A new technology involves replacing the traditional fast-draining drainage layer with a ‘friction’ or ‘detention’ layer to ensure that during large storms, runoff rates are lower than rainfall,” stated Sasha Aguilera (November 2019)
“Imagine a traditional vegetated roof of customary design. The vegetated roof acts like a sponge. However, when the sponge is wet, the entire system is designed to drain rapidly,” wrote Sasha Aguilera. “Though it is possible to achieve detention via increased distance to drain and reduction of the slope, those two changes are often impractical or impermissible. However, the introduction of friction to a vegetated roof system is possible; thus causing a temporary accumulation of water within the vegetated roof.”
BUILDING RAIN GARDENS IN THE CLIMATE EMERGENCY ERA: “Community engagement and green infrastructure are powerful partners for building climate resiliency. Our vision is to scale up this work and encourage our partners to embrace this winning partnership as significant levers for change,” stated Dr. Joanna Ashworth, Project Director, North Shore Rain Gardens Project (Metro Vancouver)
“One rain garden does not seem like much in the face of so much road water runoff that is sending containments into our salmon bearing streams and rivers, but scaled up, green infrastructure like rain gardens capture and filter large volumes of runoff, thereby reducing flow and pollutants and better protecting species. These green approaches are also more cost effective than replacing municipal storm water infrastructure: and they provide opportunities for community interaction,” stated Joanna Ashworth.