GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE GENESIS IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “By the mid-1990s, the need for a new approach to drainage was clear. The East Clayton Sustainability Community initiated the green infrastructure movement in BC,” stated Paul Ham, former General Manager of Engineering, City of Surrey


Note to Reader:

Published by the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia, Waterbucket eNews celebrates the leadership of individuals and organizations who are guided by the Living Water Smart vision. Storylines accommodate a range of reader attention spans. Read the headline and move on, or take the time to delve deeper – it is your choice!  Downloadable versions are available at Living Water Smart in British Columbia: The Series.

The edition published on November 7, 2023 featured Paul Ham, former General Manager of Engineering with the City of Surrey. A generation ago, his quiet and unassuming leadership behind the scenes made the green infrastructure movement possible in British Columbia. As chair, he provided the Green Infrastructure Partnership with early credibility.

Green infrastructure genesis in British Columbia

Paul Ham spent 34 years with the City of Surrey, retiring as General Manager of Engineering. Without Paul Ham’s quiet and unassuming leadership behind the scenes, would the green infrastructure movement in British Columbia have successfully launched a generation ago?

Somebody had to go first and establish the landmark precedent. That is what the City of Surrey did with the East Clayton Sustainable Community. Green infrastructure innovation at a community scale! It all started with East Clayton and an idea in 1998 on how to solve a multi-faceted problem.

Bringing a new way of doing business to fruition was hard work for all involved but the stars were in alignment. As so often is the case, it is about the right people in the right place at the right time.

North America’s FIRST large-scale “sustainable” residential community…that is East Clayton’s claim to fame! Success gave Surrey the confidence and the momentum to learn and adapt through a building blocks process that continues to this day.

The precedent established with East Clayton also inspired other municipalities to take up the sustainability challenge and learn by doing.

A milestone in BC’s environmental history

In 2005, Paul Ham succeeded Chuck Gale as chair of the newly formed Green Infrastructure Partnership.

“The paradigm-shift that occurred during Paul Ham’s watch far exceeds our original expectation that the Green Infrastructure Partnership would be a catalyst for change,” stated Chuck Gale in a 2008 statement. ”I am so proud of all those committed participants who have been instrumental in making this initiative an unqualified success in BC’s environmental history.”

Paul Ham provided the Green Infrastructure Partnership with enhanced credibility at the regional engineers table. Their support enabled the partnership to lead a “convening for action” initiative in the Lower Mainland region.

Upon incorporation of the Partnership for Water Sustainability as a legal entity in 2010, it assumed the responsibilities of the Green Infrastructure Partnership and is the keeper of the “green infrastructure legacy”.



“Viewed through the green infrastructure lens, one word characterizes the 2000s. That word is transformational. Almost overnight, the term “green infrastructure” went from novel idea to mainstream concept in the Metro Vancouver region. There was energy. There was a willingness to learn by doing. The regional team approach emerged as the new business as usual,” stated Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Partnership Executive Director.

“In this edition of Waterbucket eNews, we weave a selection of quotable quotes from a conversation with Paul Ham to tell a short story about green infrastructure evolution in Surrey as it progressed from pilot projects to watershed-based actions.”

“The past informs the future. It is about looking back to see ahead. What universal principles are timeless? How do we leverage what we know in order to continue advancing the common good? How do we pass that understanding on to inform the actions of successive generations?”

Story of the Metro Vancouver region’s Green Infrastructure Journey (1997-2023)

“The complete conversation with Paul Ham is included as an appendix to the downloadable version of this edition of Waterbucket eNews. Paul Ham is a valuable source of oral history. This is the first in a 3-part series. The next two feature other voices.”

“These stories are preview extracts from Create Liveable Communities and Protect Stream Health in the Metro Vancouver Region: Moving Along the Green Infrastructure Continuum. This legacy resource will be published early in 2024.”

Collaboration, Partnerships and Alignment

“Success in advancing the green infrastructure mission during the 2000s under Paul Ham’s watch is attributable to 10 cascading factors being in alignment within Surrey as well as within the Metro Vancouver region. The ten are illustrated on the graphic below. These are universal principles. They are timeless.”

“This top-to-bottom alignment enabled local government collaboration at the regional scale. Paramount is political commitment. Staff can only carry things so far. Only when someone who is elected takes the lead, and is the champion, does something happen,” concluded Kim Stephens.



STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Surrey’s green infrastructure evolution from pilot projects to watershed-based actions – a conversation with Paul Ham

“When I joined the City of Surrey in 1974, the municipality was looking at a way to deal with its stormwater drainage. The driver for action was the need to protect the agricultural lowlands from flooding caused by uplands urban development,” recalls Paul Ham

“First came the Natural Drainage Policy in 1975. This led to the requirement that every development build a detention pond. The next evolution was the move to community ponds.”


A short history of stormwater management evolution in the city of Surrey

“Ponds were then done on a development-by-development basis. At the time, this approach was described by some people as chickenpox ponds because they were dotted all over the place. Small ponds are difficult to make attractive or be of benefit to the community for alternative purposes. This led to a re-think.”

“The move from there was to get developers to join together to build larger joint facilities. Eventually a Development Cost Charge was introduced where Surrey would take the lead in putting those facilities in, using parks space and soccer fields.”

“After that, the next evolution was the introduction and use of wet ponds for water quality purposes.”


“When different neighbourhoods wanted to move from rural to urbanized zoning, there was a requirement to come up with Neighbourhood Concept Plans and neighbourhood servicing plans. Those would include a drainage plan for the neighbourhood.”

East Clayton Sustainable Community: Game changing for green infrastructure!

“By the mid-1990s, the need for change was clear. The East Clayton Neighbourhood Concept Plan provided the first large-scale opportunity to test a new approach advocated by UBC’s Patrick Condon. Described by Patrick as the future is the past, the approach to drainage embodied a design with nature way-of-doing.”

“It was 1999 when the City of Surrey entered into a precedent-setting partnership agreement with UBC’s James Taylor Chair (Patrick Condon). Our shared vision was to create the Headwaters Project. Often it is referred to as the East Clayton Sustainable Community.”

“Patrick Condon chaired the multi-constituent East Clayton Advisory Committee. It was uncharted territory for everyone involved.”

A once-in-a-generation opportunity

“The 250-hectare East Clayton neighbourhood was designated as urban in 1996. This set the stage for an unprecedented plan to increase residential density, promote social cohesion and maximize affordability and walkability.”

“Guided by Patrick Condon, the Headwaters Project was the first real-life demonstration in BC of how to implement sustainable development principles and performance standards at the neighbourhood scale.”

Surrey then evolved from pilot projects to setting watershed-based objectives and targets

“As years pass, we tend to forget or take the early innovation for granted. We learned a lot from our East Clayton experience, and we adapted our approach in subsequent Surrey neighbourhoods.”

“The East Clayton experience gave us confidence to implement new green infrastructure objectives in the next two plans. Council made green infrastructure practices a condition of the Campbell Heights Economic Development Plan in 1999-2000, and the Highway 99 Corridor Land Use Plan in 2002.

“The Fergus Creek watershed plan followed. It was the inspiration for going beyond the Stormwater Guidebook. Surrey provided core content for the seminar that launched the provincial initiative in 2007.”

“By the time I retired in 2008, Surrey was ready to move beyond pilot projects. Council passed a bylaw which enables setting of watershed-specific performance targets for rainwater runoff volume and rate reduction at development sites.”



Living Water Smart in British Columbia Series

To download a copy of the foregoing resource as a PDF document for your records and/or sharing, click on Living Water Smart in British Columbia: Surrey’s green infrastructure evolution – from pilot projects to watershed-based actions. The downloadable version includes a Bonus Feature – the complete interview with Paul Ham.



About the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC

Technical knowledge alone is not enough to resolve water challenges facing BC. Making things happen in the real world requires an appreciation and understanding of human behaviour, combined with a knowledge of how decisions are made. It takes a career to figure this out.

The Partnership has a primary goal, to build bridges of understanding and pass the baton from the past to the present and future. To achieve the goal, the Partnership is growing a network in the local government setting. This network embraces collaborative leadership and inter-generational collaboration.