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.
FORESTS 101: The green infrastructure sustaining life on earth – “People can work together to sustainably and effectively shape natural resource use, as long as ground rules and parameters are clear, and those who work on the land are involved,” stated Robert Nasi, Director General, Center for International Forest Research
“There are five areas where investment can be made to rejuvenate the functions of degraded ecosystems. These will help protect, expand and value forests and their biodiversity, transform agriculture into perennial systems, and build sustainable value chains, with the combined support of governments and the private sector to make the transition to sustainable economies,” said Robert Nasi. “Major policy decisions will continue to be undertaken with a presumption that individuals cannot organize themselves and always need to be organized by external authorities.”
DESIGN WITH NATURE: Stefano Boeri Architetti’s Smart Forest City plan for Cancun, Mexico, takes the concept of a green city to entirely new levels
“Indeed the effort of the smart Forest City of Cancun could make our world a better place, reducing significantly the negative impacts on the environment, possibly being a pioneer for a new kind of human settlement, a man made city for nature and biodiversity,” said Stefano Boeri. “”Thanks to the new public parks and private gardens, thanks to the green roofs and to the green facades, the areas actually occupied will be given back by nature through a perfect balance between the amount of green areas and building footprint.”
“Green infrastructure focuses on cost-effective, living, upstream solutions. And there is no-where farther up stream than the roof! Green infrastructure is so powerful because it harnesses the simple solutions of nature to provide primary and secondary benefits,” states Charlie Miller, one of the key people behind friction-detention technology. “By virtue of their huge surface area and their large lateral extent, green roofs change the hydrologic response of the roof surfaces that they cover.”
RENATURING CITIES: “The public realm must increasingly be where we get the benefits of nature. This has historically been a ‘blind spot’ for city planners, urban designers and engineers,” stated Thami Croeser, spatial analyst at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and part of an international project team advising the European Union on planning for urban greening
“As cities have developed, we’ve been focused on transport, housing, industry and infrastructure – nature has been an afterthought, as cities get a handful of parks and street trees at best. In the process, we have often produced very grey urban environments that get hot, flood easily and are unattractive and unhealthy to spend time in. We have a lot of retrofitting ahead of us, especially as the climate becomes more extreme. The good news is the nature-based solutions (NBS) industry is maturing and there are more and more ways to help our cities go green,” stated Thami Croeser.
FLASHBACK TO 2011 AND THE VANCOUVER ISLAND ECONOMIC SUMMIT: “A key message is that we must get it right at the front-end of the land development process in order to achieve long-term sustainability, especially financial,” stated Judy Walker, planner with the Village of Cumberland, at a pre-summit forum about the unfunded infrastructure liability as a driver for sustainable service delivery
“We have learned from Glen Brown and others that the change in approach starts with land use planning and recognizing that infrastructure and services can be provided sustainably, both fiscally and ecologically. Another key message is that everyone involved in land development has a role to play in achieving sustainable service delivery,” stated Judy Walker. “The topic for the town-hall part was Sustainable Service Delivery Means Integrate Land Use Planning and Infrastructure Asset Management.”
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.”