LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “In the process of analyzing the 122 plans, we uncovered this grain of systems thinking within green infrastructure planning. It is like a crystal within a larger chaotic mix of planning ideas, an idea allowing us to integrate many different kinds of infrastructure systems,” stated Dr. Zbigniew Grabowski, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, lead author of a nationwide analysis of GI plans from 20 American cities (February 2022)

Note to Reader:

Waterbucket eNews celebrates the leadership of individuals and organizations who are guided by the vision for Living Water Smart in British Columbia to build greener communities and adapt to a changing climate. The edition published on February 15, 2022 featured a conversation with Dr. Zbigniew Grabowski of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, and Tim Pringle, Chair of the Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) initiative. Dr. Grabowski is the lead author of a nationwide survey titled What is green infrastructure? A study of definitions in US city planning.

What is Green Infrastructure, Really?

Released in January, a nationwide analysis of 122 plans from 20 United States cities found that many plans fail to explicitly define green infrastructure. When they do, concluded the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, they tend to focus on stormwater management, favouring engineered facilities over parks and larger urban green spaces. The study is the first systematic review of the use and definition of the green infrastructure concept in local government plans in the United States. The findings may also be viewed as applicable to Canada.

“This headline in an American publication caught my attention: Cities are murky on how they define ‘green infrastructure’. The headline distilled a key takeaway from the survey by the Cary Institute. So, we reached out to Dr. Zbigniew Grabowski (“Dr. Z”) to have a conversation and delve into the story behind the news release,” stated Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia..

Green infrastructure state-of-the-art in the United States now close to where British  Columbia was in 2005

“Dr. Z’s epiphany, when he uncovered a grain of systems thinking within green infrastructure (GI) planning, is the point of departure for this article. It allows us to connect the dots to a GI milestone in 2005 when BC’s Green Infrastructure Partnership (GIP) developed the Design With Nature framework for a whole-system approach that integrates across infrastructure systems,” continued Kim Stephens.

“Formed in 2003 and co-funded by the provincial government and the Real Estate Foundation, the GIP provided provincial leadership and influenced the nature and direction of the green infrastructure conversation in British Columbia. The work of the GIP is foundational to the Water Sustainability Action Plan for BC and the Partnership for Water Sustainability is the keeper of the GIP legacy.”

“The GIP framed green infrastructure in terms of six objectives for community development. At that time, the mantra was create liveable communities and protect stream health. Almost two decades later, this framework mirrors what Dr. Z and his colleagues are now urging in the United States.”

“The conversation with Dr. Z revealed that the state-of-the-art in the United States is now close to where British Columbia was in 2005. In the meantime, we have continued to progress and evolve our systems approach, and this is why it is important for readers to know about, understand, and care about EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process.”

Investigative process resulted in the “synthetic definition” of green infrastructure

Dr. Z explained their Aha Moment, “We had this moment of realization about the diversity of plans when it clicked in our minds about analyzing all the plans in terms of three big buckets: something that is very stormwater-focused, something that is very land-focused, and something that is trying to integrate the two.”

“In the process, we started to uncover this grain of systems thinking within green infrastructure planning. It is like a crystal within a larger chaotic mix of planning ideas, an idea allowing us to integrate many different infrastructure systems.”

“I have talked to folks at the US EPA. Even within that organization, there is confusion around what green infrastructure means. Maybe, if we just crystalize that nugget of an idea even more, it will catalyze a more structured way of thinking about these things in US urban planning and beyond.”

“We can deal with stormwater, and we can deal with landscape values in conservation. We can do so through a systems framework. By proffering a synthetic definition that places relationships between systems, in order to design a green infrastructure system at its core, we hope our work might be able to advance that conceptual agenda.”


To read the complete story published on February 15th 2022, download a PDF copy of Living Water Smart in British Columbia: Design With Nature Framework for Integrating Across Infrastructure Systems.

The article has two parts. Part 1 delves into the “story behind the news release” to understand what the nationwide analysis revealed. It highlights from a conversation with “Dr. Z” and Tim Pringle, Chair of the Partnership’s Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) initiative. Part 2 introduces the idea of the “green infrastructure continuum”.

The Partnership uses the term “green infrastructure continuum” to frame how green infrastructure understanding and the state-of-the-art around it are building on experience and evolving over time. The continuum idea provides context for milestones on the green infrastructure journey in British Columbia.