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,” foreshadowed Glen Brown, Chair of Asset Management BC, in a co-authored article that is one of the first articles to introduce Sustainable Service Delivery as an objective
Glen Brown is the visionary and thought leader who coined the term “sustainable service delivery”. This way of viewing the local government sphere of responsibility changes everything about how local governments do business in an era of rapid change. “Level-of-Service is the integrator for everything that local governments do. What level of service does a community wish to provide, and what level can it afford? Everyone will have to make level-of-service choices. Establish the level-of-service that is sustainable to protect watershed health,” stated Glen Brown.
AFFORDABLE AND SUSTAINABLE RE-INVESTMENT IN MUNICIPAL INFRASTRUCTURE IS ESSENTIAL: “The risk and consequences of not taking action for infrastructure renewal are substantially higher and more consequential than for Master Plans which are ‘futures’ documents,” stated Wally Wells of Asset Management BC
As an advocate for Asset Management for Sustainable Service Delivery, Wally Wells has done a public service by drawing attention to the urgent need to engage and inform elected representatives so that they truly understand “risks and consequences” associated with their core responsibility, infrastructure. “An Asset Management Plan is about what is necessary to continue providing EXISTING services at existing levels, Thus, a decision not to invest in infrastructure renewal would risk reducing or compromising EXISTING levels of service,” stated Wally Wells.
AFFORDABLE AND SUSTAINABLE RE-INVESTMENT IN MUNICIPAL INFRASTRUCTURE IS ESSENTIAL: “Too often, thinking stops after the capital investment is made. Yet everyone needs to be thinking in terms of life-cycle costs,” stated Glen Brown, Chair of Asset Management BC
“The core document for asset management for BC local governments is Asset Management for Sustainable Service Delivery: A BC Framework. The title is deliberate and important because the ‘function’ and responsibility of Municipal Councils and Regional Boards is Sustainable Service Delivery. The process to support decision making is Asset Management. The Framework provides the basis for the entire asset management process for our local governments to follow. Funding agencies, as part of funding applications, request communities to identify where they are within the asset management process using the framework,” stated Glen Brown.
ASSET MANAGEMENT FOR SUSTAINABLE SERVICE DELIVERY IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Ask a citizen in a public place if they expect their local government to fully maintain its assets to the end of their useful life and then replace them. They will look at you, like duh, of course! The public expects this level of service. Our professions should require it,” wrote Kim Fowler (Fall 2022 issue of Asset Management BC Newsletter)
“Local governments manage 60% of the physical assets in Canada on 8 cents of the tax dollar. These assets comprise the economic backbone of our communities – they are essential – and so should their management. While all local governments do asset management and financial planning, the integration needs to enable discussions with our community about level of service, required maintenance and the cost of replacement. As professionals, we owe our communities those discussions. The resilience of our communities increasingly relies on the integration and the discussions will break the poor practices through awareness,” stated Kim Fowler.
STORY BEHIND THE STORY OF EAP, THE ECOLOGICAL ACCOUNTING PROCESS: “We validated the usefulness of EAP through application of a consistent set of research questions and objectives to seven subsequent case studies,” stated Tim Pringle, EAP Chair
“Master drainage planning, integrated stormwater planning, and other processes at best pay lip-service to the role of the streamside protection zone within a stream system context, the condition of native vegetation and woodlands cover, and the need for restoration. Now, the Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) provides the reason to ask the question, why aren’t these factors considered and given equal weight to engineering considerations? With EAP as a foundation piece, local governments have a rationale and a metric to do business differently via multiple planning pathways,” stated Tim Pringle.
ECOLOGICAL ACCOUNTING PROCESS: “Living Water Smart in British Columbia: What’s in a Number?” – ‘story behind the story’ of the methodology and metrics (released by the Partnership for Water Sustainability in October 2022)
“Three decades ago, the philosophy that ‘use and conservation of land are equal values’ launched Tim Pringle on a career trajectory that has culminated with his breakthrough accomplishment in leading the EAP initiative. EAP opens ups multiple pathways for local governments to achieve the goal of ‘natural asset management’. Now, with EAP as a foundation piece, maintenance and management (M&M) of stream systems can be integrated into a Local Government Finance Strategy to tackle the Riparian Deficit,” stated Kim Stephens.
STORY BEHIND THE STORY OF EAP, THE ECOLOGICAL ACCOUNTING PROCESS: “The asset management planning and the community planning frameworks resemble each other; planning is planning is planning. Collaboration can strategically and proactively ensure the ongoing essential reliable levels of services,” stated Christine Callihoo, community climate resilience and adaptation planner
“Community resilience is defined as the sustained ability of a community to utilize available resources to respond to, withstand, and recover from adverse situations while continuing to deliver critical community services. The goal of enabling and supporting community resiliency also brings to the fore the role of land use and community planning; the very profession that develops the policy and plans that either enable or impede the resiliency we seek,” stated Christine Calihoo.
STORY BEHIND THE STORY OF EAP, THE ECOLOGICAL ACCOUNTING PROCESS: “There is a special type of courage that Council needs to have to say, ‘give us the naked truth’. There is not a lot of political up-side to shining a light on infrastructure challenges,” stated Christopher Paine, Director of Financial Services, District of Oak Bay
The big picture context for EAP is whether a local government has a strategy for its constructed assets. Success over the long-term depends on local government political commitment to the guiding principles of sustainable service delivery. Bridging the infrastructure funding gap for constructed and natural assets requires an intergenerational commitment. “Lack of a long-term financial plan to support asset management really forces an incremental erosion of the service level. That is why forward looking long-term financial statements are so important to inform Council decisions,” stated Christopher Paine.
ECOLOGICAL ACCOUNTING – WHAT’S IN A NUMBER? “Start with an understanding of the parcel because that is how communities regulate and plan land use. It is the parcel level where you get the information that you need to change practice to protect natural assets. That is what everyone must get their heads around,” stated Tim Pringle (October 2022)
How will communities ensure that streams survive as healthy ecosystems in an urban setting? This existential question defines a key challenge facing local governments in an era of weather extremes. EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process, provides communities with a path forward. It is the means to inject balance into the natural asset management conversation. “We needed a measure of financial value that could be applied on stream systems generally, not just because somebody somewhere had done something somehow. And then it struck me, the BC Assessment database is the lynchpin for financial valuation,” stated Tim Pringle.
STORY BEHIND THE STORY OF EAP, THE ECOLOGICAL ACCOUNTING PROCESS: “By accounting for and integrating the services that nature provides, communities can achieve the goal of Sustainable Service Delivery for watershed systems,” stated Liam Edwards, former Executive Director, BC Ministry of Municipal Affairs (quotable quote, 2015)
Three landmark initiatives came to fruition in 2014. One of these is ‘Asset Management for Sustainable Service Delivery: A BC Framework’. It makes the link between local government services, the infrastructure that supports the delivery of those services, and watershed health. The BC Framework provides context for EAP. “The BC Framework points the way to integration of natural systems and climate change thinking into asset management. Resilient cities will be the ones that can absorb water and manage the water cycle as a closed loop,” stated Liam Edwards