How Green Infrastructure Makes Cities Sustainable

How Green Infrastructure Makes Cities Sustainable

Embracing The Green

So now that we know about living infrastructure, let’s learn about green infrastructure! It’s one of the most widely-used terms when speaking about urban greening solutions. What comes to mind when you think about what can make a city more sustainable? Probably something that’s literally green, right?

Well, you’re not far off. Green infrastructure is gradually becoming a part of every large city’s development plans. It’s integral to designing for the future. So let’s talk about what it is and why it’s a crucial part of climate change mitigation.

A Triple Threat

Green infrastructure is defined as natural vegetative systems and green technologies. It can be used to effectively protect, restore, and enhance natural capital and ecosystem services within cities and suburbs. It has the potential to provide society with a multitude of economic, environmental and social benefits (all 3 pillars of sustainability!). This includes:

Urban agriculture is a way to get people involved with nature as well as fight hunger.
Urban agriculture is a way to get people involved with nature as well as fight hunger. [Image: Civil Eats]

Principles of Green Infrastructure

Green infrastructure has roots in urban planning and conservation efforts that emerged over 100  years ago. In 1903, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead stated that “no single park, no matter how large and how well designed, would provide the citizens with the beneficial influences of nature.” Our modern idea of green infrastructure has since evolved from 2 important precedents:

  • The linking of parks and other green spaces for the benefit of people and,
  • The linking of natural areas to benefit biodiversity and counter habitat fragmentation

This concept encourages the construction of a cohesive system of green spaces. It’s so they actually follow a design pattern, rather than simply having random parks throughout a city. Purpose and design are essential components. Indeed, green infrastructure is so much more than parks! It comes in all shapes and sizes.

My Top Picks for Urban Greening

Wait, you mean normal people don’t have favourite forms of green infrastructure? One of my favourite forms of urban greening is street trees. This may not seem like a big deal, but they provide numerous benefits!

For instance, trees provide habitat for many species, shade for people, absorption of CO2 emitted by cars. They also increase the capacity for water absorption of sidewalks, thereby mitigating flooding damage. And of course, they totally make a city look that much prettier.

A glorious example of green infrastructure, in Amsterdam, nearly every street and canal is lined with trees. Beautiful and useful!
In Amsterdam, nearly every street and canal is lined with trees. Beautiful and useful! [Image: Megan Fuller]

A Living Canopy

Next, green roofs and walls are probably the biggest commercial area of green infrastructure. Private companies like Zinco, Skyspace, LiveRoof, and VitaRoofs are among some of the best-known in North America. Each of them offers innovative products and services. In particular, I’ve been through Zinco’s entire website (hire me, please!) in order to learn about everything they have to offer.

One thing that caught my attention is their green roof/solar combination. Green roofs + solar panels = a match made in heaven! This installation method boasts improved solar performance and all the benefits of a green roof.

Speaking of, green roofs improve air quality by absorbing greenhouse gases, capture and manage storm water, and can ever reduce heating and cooling costs for the building for which they are installed.

The use of green roofs and solar energy can help mitigate the urban heat island effect and contribute to a city's sustainability.
The use of green roofs and solar energy can help mitigate the urban heat island effect and contribute to a city’s sustainability. [Image: Zinco Canada]

Becoming the Norm

In March 2018, the Governments of Canada and Ontario agreed to the federal government investing over $2.2 billion in green infrastructure projects across the province over ten years. All over the world, green infrastructure is becoming more common. Indeed, it’s actually become a matter of a priority!

This important attention is a result of governments trying to address the immediate consequences of the climate emergency. For leadership, that means confronting the issues that are further aggravated by grey infrastructure (human-made infrastructure).

These consequences include freshwater scarcity and warming over 1.5 degrees Celsius. Thankfully, green infrastructure has the potential to really make a difference! It’s a key element for urban sustainability. So, let’s strive to follow in the footsteps of places like Singapore and Denmark and ensure the future of our cities and the planet.

Green infrastructure can be amazing, as demonstrated by this gorgeous indoor garden and waterfall (Changi Airport, Singapore).
Singapore is famous for its biophilic architecture and goal of being the greenest city on Earth. [Image: Phyo Hein Kyaw/Pexels]

The Green Way Forward

Clearly, green infrastructure is crucial for our future. But this isn’t just a fantasy of the sustainably motivated. It already exists! Chances are, you’ve probably enjoyed green infrastructure before. That’s because societies have been incorporating green infrastructure well before we became aware of the climate crisis.

Besides the immense environmental benefits, there are also tremendous mental and physical health benefits. Indeed, everyone should have access to nature! Why it’s so important that we continue to push our municipalities in this direction. We totally need to ensure accessibility to green spaces and encourage the implementation of green infrastructure in our cities.

Growing The Network

If you happen to share this vision of greener future, try reaching out to your community and local leaders. There are also a bunch of organizations you can join or work with. Here in Ottawa for instance, Ecology Ottawa always has a list of petitions you can sign and events you can volunteer at. Currently, they’re focused on encouraging the municipal government to prioritize green infrastructure development.

You can even implement your own forms of green infrastructure! Balcony gardens are gorgeous.😍 For those of you with lawns, you can try turning it into a wildflower or food garden (we love biodiversity!). If you lack the green space, consider proposing a community garden.

Once you adopt the mindset, there are opportunities everywhere! So take a good look around. There are numerous ways you can help incorporate green infrastructure into your own neighbourhood. You, your community, and the environment can all benefit from it!

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