Challenges & Opportunities for Green Infrastructure Deployment

February 19, 2020

Written by Teghan Acres

The PWRC hosted a workshop in September 2019 to discuss the challenges in use of green infrastructure in the Metro Vancouver area. Green infrastructure (GI) refers to a range of elements that are designed to deliver nature-based solutions in urban environments. A broad range of GI applications includes rain gardens, green roofs and permeable pavement. The workshop was held with the goals of exploring innovation in planning and implementing GI, identifying and discussing challenges encountered in effective implementation and identifying avenues for mutual collaboration and future research. This session brought together local and global municipal representatives, academics and a local First Nation.

The key ideas brought forward at the workshop centered around collaboration and education. The discussions concluded that there not only needs to be cooperation across the public sector, private sector and academia but most importantly with First Nations who are essential actors in this transition. First Nations can provide unique framing and tools for developing natural asset infrastructure. As well, all of these actors must come together to share data and develop research. Education about the “co-benefits” of GI was emphasized as a tool for mobilizing municipalities to implement. These co-benefits include filtering out pollution, supporting habitats, reducing storm water runoff, purifying air, and promoting community interaction. By creating a widespread understanding of these advantages, the conversation can move from if GI should be implemented to when and how.   

The workshop participants had the chance to discuss challenges that are faced in the implementation of GI. The lack of capacity related to GI design and application in municipalities and private sector firms was explored. As well, concerns from engineering departments were mentioned in relation to difficulties in operation and maintenance. A related issue is that decentralized infrastructure can be harder to maintain than traditional, steel-and-concrete infrastructure. However, it must be noted that decentralized infrastructure is more resilient for communities. There is also the perception that GI is experimental and will cause a conflict of interests. This perception can be overcome with devising policy measures that ensure competitiveness while encouraging innovative technologies. Despite the obstacles that participants are facing, they understand the benefits GI offers to green their communities and build resiliency to climate change.

The future is promising for GI with a variety of local opportunities. The workshop dove into possible next steps by looking at framing and communication, logistics and capacity development. Emphasis of GI benefits in communications and framing of infrastructure as adaptive and resilient can lead to faster implementation and greater support. The logistics of GI utilization would be improved by training maintenance staff, offering financial incentives for early innovators, sharing specialists between projects and engaging with professional regulatory bodies. The discussion brought up the idea of PWRC continuing a series of workshops and seminars for engineers, resources and standards in design and inventory building of current natural assets for GI implementation as capacity building opportunities.

The PWRC’s three key functions are research coalition building, resource mobilization and bridging science and policy. This workshop drew on all of these to bring together multi-disciplinary actors and build capacity for green infrastructure implementation across their communities.

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We respectfully acknowledge that the PWRC operates on the unceded traditional territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.