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‘Design With Nature’ to Create Liveable Communities

WHY THE FUSED GRID STREET PATTERN? – “In the early 2000s, entirely new priorities, along with old ones, were being staked at every corner of the planning universe. A tangled web of interacting variables emerged from these demands; a truly formidable, complex puzzle,” stated Fanis Grammenos, author of Remaking the City Grid, and an urban sustainability thinker


“The real urgent task was to convince a Municipality or a developer that this combination of known components worked well and that it produced desirable outcomes. Developers listened to the evidence with one ear while holding the other close to their clients – Sold! But they hesitated, being anxious that the City would not approve such plans; Cities, big and small, had just issued policy reports declaring: ‘cul-de-sacs are no longer allowed in this city because they are disconnected’,” stated Fanis Grammenos.

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HYDRATING LANDSCAPES TO MITIGATE CLIMATE CHANGE: “It was 20 years ago when we realized that soil is the cornerstone for water sustainability. Restoring the ‘balance’ to the ‘water balance’ starts with soil,” stated Kim Stephens, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia, in his panel presentation at the virtual Living Soils Symposium hosted by Regeneration Canada (February 2021)


“To adapt to a changing water cycle, soil depth as an ‘absorbent sponge’ is a primary water management tool, during both dry-weather and wet-weather periods. When the soil sponge has sufficient depth, the water holding capacity means that less water would be needed during dry-weather to irrigate gardens. This contributes to sustainability of water supply. And in wet-weather, an effective sponge would slowly release runoff and contribute to sustainability of aquatic habitat,” stated Kim Stephens.

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FLASHBACK TO 2009: “To do an Integrated Stormwater Management Plan right, one has to start with the desired outcome – which is protect or improve stream health – and then determine what actions in the watershed will green the urban landscape,” stated Kim Stephens, Chair of Metro Vancouver’s Liquid Waste Management Reference Panel, when reporting out to regional elected representatives


A commitment by Metro Vancouver municipalities to integrate land use and drainage planning was the genesis for Integrated Stormwater Management Plans (ISMPs). “When the Reference Panel reported back to the Waste Management Committee in July 2008, we identified the ISMP process as a sleeper issue because there are 130 watersheds in the region; and continuation of the old-business-as-usual would potentially result in an aggregate unfunded liability that could easily equal the $1.4 billion cost of sewage treatment,” stated Kim Stephens.

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“The adaptive nature of cities is exemplified once again, by the self-organizing response of street networks after transformative changes,” wrote Fanis Grammenos, creator of the Fused Grid planning model


“While individual roads are normally built to a plan, their collective assembly into a network is retrospectively observed in totality, but never conceived as such—partly because networks grow piecemeal, often in unpredictable ways, and partly because of their time scale, often many decades long. The outcome of all these separate influences resembles a patchwork rather that a neatly woven fabric. Each new addition to the system not only becomes context for the subsequent one, but is also conditioned by factors that emerge in the long interim,’ stated Fanis Grammenos.

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FLASHBACK TO 2006 / DESIGNING COMMUNITIES DIFFERENTLY IN CALGARY, ALBERTA: “Meeting the City’s expectations for rainwater management drove the merger of two innovative concepts in laying out new communities – Water Balance and Fused Grid. Saddlestone was to be the litmus test of their validity and effectiveness,” stated Fanis Grammenos, the innovator who pioneered the Fused Grid Model for compact community design and beneficial uses


“Planning, common experience shows, is an act of balancing competing interests, perspectives and priorities. And since interests often waver and priorities shift, the challenge of achieving a balance is forever new. The fused grid model rests on a replicable (but not repetitive) 16 hectare superblock, a cellular unit , which displaces simplistic geometry for organic order. Translated into a neighborhood street pattern, this means shorter, skinnier, end-of-line local streets. Simple math shows that the closer this organic geometry is followed the more land becomes available for beneficial uses,” stated Fanis Grammenos.

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CONVENING FOR ACTION IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “If we are going to tackle the huge challenge that is the climate emergency, then we are absolutely going to need to work with nature and put aside the idea that we can dominate it,” stated Laura Dupont, President, Lower Mainland Local Government Association


“Salmon brought me a strong sense of community, something I had never really felt before. That came as an unexpected surprise. I felt protective of what we share, and that the next generation deserves it as much as we do. I got political and ran for city council. I talked to everyone who would speak with me and found out that a lot of people shared those values. It was rare to come across someone who didn’t care about the parks and trails and nature we are so fortunate to have right outside our door,” stated Laura Dupont.

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DESIGN WITH NATURE: “Floods will always come, but we can build better to prepare. How do we dispose of large volumes of water when they collect in inconvenient places is the question,” – Elizabeth Mossop, University of Technology Sydney


“Traditionally, we have tried to armour rivers and waterfronts with levees, barriers and sea walls to keep all floodwaters out. Increasingly, however, planners, designers and engineers are looking to new approaches. Instead of trying to keep all floodwaters out, we can design landscapes to accommodate the water without damaging cities or farmland. There are many examples around the world of buildings and landscapes where flooding is ‘designed in’,” stated Elizabeth Mossop.

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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


“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,” stated Joanna Ashworth.

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FLASHBACK TO 2008 / CREATE LIVEABLE COMMUNITIES: “In the first year of the Living Water Smart rollout, my lead-off presentation in the inaugural Comox Valley Learning Lunch Seminar Series traced the evolution of rainwater and stormwater management policies and practices in British Columbia. This provided a frame-of-reference and a common understanding for subsequent seminars,” stated Kim Stephens, series team leader


“In 2008, the Vancouver Island Learning Lunch Seminar Series was held in both the Comox and Cowichan valleys. This program was the first step in building a regional team approach so that there would be consistent messaging regarding on-the-ground expectations for rainwater management and green infrastructure in BC. By spreading the curriculum over three sessions, this enabled participants to take in new information, reflect on it, blend it with their own experience, test it, and (we hoped) eventually apply it in making decisions,” stated Kim Stephens.

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FLASHBACK TO 2008: “It strikes me that we have created a new social norm; and it is being accepted by the development community as a whole,” stated BC Environment’s Maggie Henigman during a town-hall session when she commented on changes in rainwater management practice at the second in the Comox Valley Learning Lunch Seminar Series


“Since 1996 I have been working across Vancouver Island, both reviewing development proposals and monitoring project implementation. In the last couple of years I have been really pleased to see a huge shift take place in the way projects are being done. As I reflect on the current situation, the change in attitude is really gaining momentum. Everywhere I go I am seeing evidence of the new ethic. It is not that everyone is perfect, but the change is really coming,” stated Maggie Henigman.

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