URBAN TREE CANOPY: “A new science of valuing nature will shape our urban projects of the future,” says Bonnie Keeler – her area of expertise at the University of Minnesota is natural capital and the value of ecosystems
Bonnie Keeler reviewed 1,200 scientific studies on increasingly popular green infrastructures such as urban forests, parks, rain gardens, and wetlands and found in a recent paper that it’s unclear how well any of them stack up against “gray” solutions like concrete storm sewers and air conditioning. “There is a huge interest in expanding funding for green infrastructures,” she said. “But we don’t have a tool to understand their value.”
Michigan’s Struggles to Fund Stormwater Infrastructure: “The pipes that we put in the ground 50 years ago were designed under a different set of criteria,” said engineer Greg Kacvinsky
As problems of flooding and overflow become more common, communities butt up against the reality of having to pay for repairs and improvements. “And so when rainfall changes, and when climate changes, the system doesn’t provide the same level of service that it used to. Where communities used to be able to rely on money coming down, or raining down, from the federal government, now the federal government is there to say, we’ll give you money…but you’re gonna pay us back. Paying more for infrastructure and utilities is the new reality,” Greg Kacvinsky said.
WHOLE-SYSTEM, WATER BALANCE APPROACH: “We know there are development practices that could help restore our environment, increase resilience to climate change, and reduce infrastructure costs,” says Emanuel Machado, CAO of the Town of Gibsons. “So why are we having so much trouble implementing them?”
“Last October’s Meeting of the Minds was invaluable,” said Emanuel Machado, Gibsons’ Chief Administrative Officer. “One of the key impediments to implementing a whole-systems, water balance approach is the many policies, practices and ideas the various players within a particular watershed bring to their work. Our roundtable session helped promote a better understanding of the challenges faced by peers and provided the opportunity to brainstorm solutions to perceived roadblocks.”
Primer on the Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) – A Methodology for Valuing the ‘Water Balance Services’ Provided by Nature (released January 2019)
“The concept of natural capital and natural assets can be a challenge to integrate effectively into asset management practices. EAP deals with a basic question: what is a creekshed WORTH, now and in future, to the community and various intervenors? We landed on the notion of the ‘natural commons’ as the starting point for calculating the financial value of a stream bed and riparian corridor. The EAP valuation methodology yields an asset value for the stream corridor that can then be used for budget purposes,” stated Tim Pringle.
SUSTAINABLE WATERSHED SYSTEMS: Every urban creekshed comprises a ‘constructed commons’ and a ‘natural commons’, and each is a system – this way-of-thinking is foundational to the Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) which looks at the value of the lands that underlie the natural commons
Professor John Henneberry in the United Kingdom and the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC have identified the same methodological problems – that is, natural systems do not dissect conveniently in order to be quantified and given financial value. ”Quantifying and valuing nature are complex tasks. Undertaking them alters our conception of nature. As a result of it, nature appears more fragmented because we have to slice it into categories and dice those categories into bits before we can value bits of those bits,” states John Henneberry.
LIFE AFTER CARBON: “The emerging idea inverts the modern-city hierarchy, restoring nature, instead of the city, as the dominant context,” wrote Peter Pastrik and John Cleveland in their book about cities that are reinventing themselves to combat climate change (published in 2018)
“Part of urban renaturing is a restorative exercise, a way to reinstate balance and sustainability to the city’s relationship with nature,” wrote Peter Pastrik. “When cities renature themselves, they pursue three distinct, interrelated applications of the idea. They expand the use of green infrastructure. They protect and enhance ecosystems and biodiversity. And they provide people with ways to immerse in nature. Each of these methods involves innovative practices used at multiple urban scales.”
HOW CITIES CAN MAKE ROOM FOR WATER: “Understanding the water cycle is an opportunity to generate a positive relationship between natural processes, plants and people,” stated Elisa Palazzo
“Innovative strategies understand flood as a natural process to work with, rather than resist. Non-structural, soft and nature-based solutions to flood adaptation are replacing centralised and engineered technologies. These projects use climate change positively to provide multiple added benefits,” wrote Elisa Palazzo. “Looking at how cities are designed and performing in Australia, there is plenty to learn from the international experience. We have a lot to do to adjust this knowledge to the local context.”
BUILDING RESILIENT BMP TOOLKITS: “Resiliency is not about just bouncing back, but bouncing back in better shape than before,” wrote Jacob Dorman
“Jurisdictions are struggling to make their infrastructure more resilient in light of challenges such as recurrent flooding, higher intensity and longer duration rainfall events, aging conveyance systems, and the lack of financial resources, to name just a few issues,” wrote Jacob Dorman. “Before you can solve the problem of providing resilient BMPs, you must first understand what resiliency is all about in the first place. It’s an immense undertaking at the community scale and requires a seismic shift from historical thinking.”
GREEN CITY, CLEAN WATERS PROGRAM: City + University Partnership Pioneers Application of Real-Time Data to Help Philadelphia Improve Green Design for Rainwater Capture
“A partnership between the Philadelphia Water Department and Drexel University’s Sustainable Water Resource Engineering Lab uses sensors on green infrastructure in order to utilize city storm water more efficiently,” reports Ben Levine. It just so happens that Drexel’s campus has a variety of green infrastructure project types that make it a good test bed for developing new and more efficient approaches to monitoring and using new technology and networks. They have developed low-cost and low-power sensor networks to collect environmental data from green infrastructure in real time.
LOS ANGELES COUNTY’S BOLD PLAN FOR RAINWATER CAPTURE: “Measure W gives Los Angeles County and its 88 cities the chance to transform urban hardscapes into more nature-based, green infrastructure,” wrote UCLA’s Mark Gold in an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times
The county is developing a plan to supply 20% of annual water demand from rainwater capture. “Going forward, every street improvement initiative should be viewed as an opportunity for greener streets that facilitate water absorption and ensure that remaining runoff is treated. New park projects should include ways of capturing runoff on site for local irrigation or to augment groundwater supplies. With funding from Measure W to supplement existing funds, these goals now seem possible,” wrote Mark Gold.