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Implementation of Green Projects in British Columbia and Beyond

LAND DEVELOPMENT AND WATERSHED PROTECTION CAN BE COMPATIBLE: “1997, a presentation on the science of land use change by Kim Stephens and Bill Derry helped an inter-ministry working group realize that we needed more than a setback to protect aquatic habitat. The science shows that communities also need to tackle what is happening on the land that drains to streams,” stated Peter Law, Chair of the former Guidebook Steering Committee, on the 20th anniversary of Guidebook publication (June 2022)


“I found the opportunity to ‘look beyond the stream’ and address poor water quality from drainage runoff in the Waste Management Act. The opportunity resided in the non-point source provision for Liquid Waste Management Plans. The term non-point source pollution was used by my colleagues in the Waste Management Branch to highlight poor quality of runoff from developed and/or developing lands. But this provision was not being applied to the issue of how land is developed. So, I asked my colleagues, why not use this mechanism to connect the dots between changes to the land and impacts on streams,” stated Peter Law.

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POLICIES, DECISIONS, AND RAINFALL INDUCED FLOODING IN CITIES: “Communication is king. As urban decision making brings in more voices, and climate change becomes less of an abstract future but a present-day reality, it is imperative for policy to understand what the different perspectives are and how to weigh their importance,” stated Charles Axelsson, PhD, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice in the Science and Management of Climate Change (March 2022)


“One of the main takeaways from my doctoral work is there is still a lot of disagreements in communication throughout this decision-making process. Within policy itself, there is a disconnect between the way the problem of stormwater adaptation is framed theoretically versus perceived in reality. Theoretically, there is a large focus on adaptation. However, in my research I found that many of those involved in policy still place a higher importance on the political limitations of policy making and the economic costs of project management.,” stated Charles Axelsson.

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‘DESIGN WITH NATURE” FRAMEWORK FOR GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE: Nationwide document survey by Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies reveals that the green infrastructure state-of-the-art in the United States is now close to where British Columbia was in 2005


How green infrastructure is defined guides the types of projects that local governments implement, with enduring impacts to people and the urban environment. “Ecology is not really being embedded in any planning practice, This realization turned my attention towards urban planning and this question, how do you embed ecosystem science and principles within landscape planning to conserve landscapes and landscape functioning quality? It resulted from me thinking about how the social processes shaping landscapes are inseparable from people’s relationship with nature,” Dr. Zbigniew Grabowski.

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TOWARD A MORE INCLUSIVE DEFINITION OF GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE: “Green infrastructure is broadly understood to be a good thing, but many city plans lack a clear definition of what it actually is. Hydrological definitions dominate. This narrow view can cause cities to miss out on vital social and ecological services that more integrative green infrastructure can provide,” stated Dr. Zbigniew Grabowski, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, lead author of a nationwide analysis of GI plans from 20 American cities (January 2022)


“City planning often fails to explicitly define “green infrastructure” (GI), but when it does, stormwater concepts of GI are much more prevalent than landscape or integrative concepts. Types of GI vary widely and significantly, and often exclude parks and larger urban green spaces in favor of smaller engineered facilities. Functions of GI are primarily hydrological, although more functional diversity is provided by landscape and integrative definitions of GI. Stormwater concepts appear to engage in greenwashing by purportedly offering the greatest number of benefits,” stated Dr. Zbigniew Grabowski.

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SHARED RESPONSIBILITY EXPLAINED: “Policy and legal tools can help developers, regulators and designers collaborate to implement green infrastructure solutions and ensure responsible outcomes. Each party in the process has a responsibility,” stated Susan Rutherford, former Legal Counsel with West Coast Environmental Law, during capacity-building presentations delivered under the umbrella of the Water Sustainability Action Plan in the first decade of the 2000s


“If someone says something is not working – that barriers prevent success – then our challenge for them is: Think about what would make it work, and what are you going to do to make that alignment of goals happen? Our theme is ‘imagine’. Once we know what we want our watersheds and neighbourhoods to look like, the next step is to decide what the tools are that will get us there. What this underlines is that we are all interconnected – our actions influence whether others will succeed, and our own achievement of goals is influenced by how we’re supported,” stated Susan Rutherford.

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MANAGING THE IMPACTS OF URBANIZATION AND CLIMATE CHANGE: “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,” stated Dr. Joanna Ashworth, Simon Fraser University


“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, in 2021 we launched a new 12-week online course. 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,” stated Joanna Ashworth.

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HOW VANCOUVER IS PROTECTING ITSELF FROM FLOODING: “In the old days, it was ‘scoop the water up and send it down these pipes.’ Now, with climate change, we have to restore these old systems,” said Melina Scholefield, the City of Vancouver’s manager of green infrastructure implementation


Vancouver’s narrative over the past two decades has often hinged on densification — how to manage the rise of dull grey towers framed by distant green mountains. But with every megaton of carbon dioxide belched into the atmosphere, the risk of rising seas and increasingly heavy rainfall has pushed the region toward letting more of that forest creep back into the city. Known as “green infrastructure,” the idea is to simulate a natural water cycle wiped out from decades of city building. “We know how to design it,” said Scholefield. “What we’re aimed at now is making it mainstream.”

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CREATE SAFE CITIES FOR SALMON: “Inadequate statutory foundations and enforcement of current regulations have only hindered the implementation of nature-based solutions to protect salmon in cities. There must also be increased clarity and communication from the top to ensure these regulatory requirements are understood and effectively implemented,” stated Andrea McDonald, author of the joint research study by the Pacific Water Research Centre and the Salmon-Safe BC team (May 2021)


“Protection of salmon and their habitat from the adverse impacts of urban development is a challenging task that requires an all-of-government response. Findings from this research highlight the variable involvement and guidance provided from the higher levels of government in Canada. As one expert noted, the province must provide more clarity on direct regulatory obligations which have compliance initiatives in place to enforce them,” stated Andrea McDonald. “Providing opportunities for the public to be more engaged and educated on the subject can offer that bottom-up pressure necessary for more rapid-paced change in local governments.”

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INTER-GENERATIONAL COLLABORATION: “In a representative democracy, politicians can only lead where people are prepared to follow,” stated Joan Sawicki, a former Speaker of the BC Legislative Assembly and Minister of Environment, Lands and Parks during the period 1991 through 2001


“Voters often send mixed messages. While it is perfectly legitimate to hold politicians’ “feet to the fire”, there is some justification to do the reverse as well! It is sometimes too convenient to blame politicians for the short term thinking hole that we are in. If we truly want our governments to shift from short-term to longer term thinking, as voters we must then be prepared to support – and re-elect – those politicians who bring in such policies and legislation, even if those initiatives negatively impact us personally today ” stated Joan Sawicki.

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CLIMATE ADAPTATION: “NYC, Vancouver, Sydney, Auckland, Copenhagen and Amsterdam present differing narratives toward pluvial flooding. Vancouver has embraced an image of environmental friendliness and constructs a narrative of rainfall management full of ‘green’ improvements,” stated Charles Axelsson, PhD candidate, University of Venice (January 2021)


“As a geographer researching urban environments, I really enjoy focusing on where scientific environmental research meets urban policy. In developed cities, decades and centuries of urban growth have led to a jigsaw puzzle of urban infrastructure. Storm drainage systems are ageing, built at different times to different standards, and often follow political boundaries not drainage basins. With climate change stressing these systems, it is all the more urgent to understand how to design with nature to prevent rapid runoff,” stated Charles Axelsson.

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