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The Economics of Green Infrastructure

Posted on April 29, 2013
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Traditionally, green infrastructure was developed for aesthetic reasons. However, these systems provide much needed services such as water management, climate change mitigation and adaptation, air quality improvement, and the potential for ongoing local employment.

Enabling communities to use green infrastructure to build resiliency and address greying infrastructure assets will require us to adopt new business and governance models that cut across the existing narrow jurisdictional mandates and policies. All too often these structures work against the protection and renewal of green infrastructure resources.

Living green infrastructure involves the use of living systems such as green roofs and green walls, urban forests, engineered wetlands, meadowlands, and rain gardens as well as supportive technologies such as engineered soils and water storage systems. Well over 200,000 people across Ontario already work in jobs related to growing, manufacturing, designing, implementing, and maintaining living green infrastructure. This provides a substantial base to create significant new employment by increasing investment from government in living green infrastructure resources.

The related technologies are often able to complement traditional grey infrastructure such as roads and sewers by providing filtration, shading, cooling, reducing water flows and thermal expansion and contraction. By combining grey and green, we can often extend the life cycle of grey infrastructure. In some cases living green infrastructure systems such as rooftop farms provide totally new solutions. Rooftop farms can retain and slow storm water, conserve energy used for air conditioning, generate new employment, produce fresh organic food for local consumption contributing to food security, offer new recreational opportunities, provide nutrient and water recycling opportunities, reduce the urban heat island effect, contribute to biodiversity, and even contribute to social justice. Urban forests are now being utilized to provide food and carbon neutral fuel in combined heat and power stations, while reducing stormwater runoff and contributing significantly to the cooling of the city and the improvement of air quality.

Cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Milwaukee are starting to invest billions of dollars in green infrastructure solutions. Philadelphia, the leader in green infrastructure in the United States, is planning to invest $2.5 billion to develop 9,000 acres of green infrastructure focused on stormwater solutions over the next 25 years. In Ontario, the Green Infrastructure Ontario Coalition recently launched a major report entitled Health, Prosperity and Sustainability: The Case of Green Infrastructure in Ontario that examines the value of green infrastructure protection and investment and proposes specific provincial policy changes to stimulate the use of these technologies.

On May 21, experts will gather from across North America at the Grey to Green conference in Toronto to share their findings on the business case for private and public green infrastructure investment and to explore new business and governance models that value and incorporate these technologies. Only by incorporating green infrastructure solutions will we be able to achieve the maximum return for our increasingly scarce public dollars.

Steven W. Peck, GRP, Honorary ASLA
Co-founder, Green Infrastructure Ontario Coalition
President, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities

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