Green Infrastructure – Let’s Just Do It

Green Infrastructure – LET’S JUST DO IT!
Aidan J. ffrench MILI, Landscape Architect

 “Sustainability? The protection of land is an expression of faith in the future: it is a pact between generations”. (Green Infrastructure-Linking Landscapes and Communities. Mark A. Benedict, Edward T. McMahon)

Modernising our planning system

Compared to our more progressive EU partners, Ireland has been slow in implementing the ‘green agenda’ in a strategic and systematic manner. This is reflected by failures in sustainable land-use planning during the boom period. These failures include the inefficient use of natural resources, urban sprawl and developer rather than plan-led building, leading to environmental damage and poor living environments. Sadly these unsustainable ‘boom-time’ practices have impacted negatively on the quality of our lives, as evidenced in long commuting distances, poor health and a lack of quality green infrastructure.

There are signs that the recession is giving pause for considered reflection and for the preparation of more sustainable practices. One such example is the application of ‘Green Infrastructure’. An international conference in Malahide (November ’08) spearheaded the concept while stimulating a diverse audience. The results, three years later? More conferences, policy work and guidelines and some strategies, but seemingly few on-site projects. It is hard to know since the Government abolished COMHAR (Sustainable Development Council) in 2011, which was promoting G.I in Ireland. The baton was taken up by the Irish Landscape Institute (I.L.I) which ran an international conference (2012) and a seminar (Dec. ’13). At local level Dublin City Council is embarked on an Open Space Strategy and Limerick City Council recently participated in a European project on parks planning and management.

What is Green Infrastructure’ (G.I)

GI is the network of natural and semi-natural areas, features and green spaces in rural and urban, terrestrial, freshwater and coastal areas (Naumann et al., 2011a)[1]. It is a broad concept, and includes natural features, such as parks, forests, wetlands and marine areas, as well as man-made features, such as cycle paths.

G.I originated in the U.S.A in the 1990’s. It has two key attributes that speak directly to the green agenda. Firstly, it is uniquely placed to deliver a diverse range of inter-related socio-economic and environmental benefits. Secondly, these benefits arise by linking natural systems to decisions about land use planning and landscape management. So, a natural or manmade wetland can serve as a flood attenuation area, a wildlife reserve, an area for bio-energy crops, a recreational amenity and an educational resource.

In this way G.I places a particular emphasis on the “life support” functions provided by Nature, which policy makers call “natural assets management”. It’s a mutually sustaining cycle – a ‘win-win’. The G.I approach analyses the natural environment in a way that highlights these functions and seeks establish, through regulatory and planning policy, practices that maximize these functions. Hence Open Spaces Audits and Green Strategies in Scotland, England and the U.S.A, where G.I is an integral part of spatial and economic planning. It is be applied to all scales of planning in the aforementioned countries and in The Netherlands, Germany and Australia.

Work in Scotland – where there’s a serious commitment to G.I – points to the role of G.I becoming in economic well-being. This is particularly true in green tourism/outdoor recreation, bio-energy and engineering infrastructure. Evidence-based research in Scotland proves that economic regeneration through greenspaces is possible. To quote Greenspace Scotland, the Scottish Executive’s agency for greenspace  “Research shows that a positive approach to quality greenspaces can make a difference to local economic development”.

Current application in Dlr (Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council)

In 2014 DLR will commence a statutory review of its County Development Plan (2010-2016). To coincide with this, Dlr will appoint consultants to prepare a G.I. Strategy for the county by the end of 2014. The Strategy is to be readily integrated with a Regional G.I Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area (GDA), as and when required. Dlr Parks and Landscape Services and Planning Department’s will lead the Strategy. This is a follow-up project to Dlr’s Open Space Strategy which included the first systematic audit of the county’s open spaces, sports and play facilities.

The lead consultant shall be a landscape architectural or multi-disciplinary practice with expertise in the following areas:

  • Land use planning
  • Landscape planning / management,
  • Urban and regional economics,
  • Transportation management
  • Water quality and hydrology

The Strategy will provide the following:-

  • an accurate picture (mapping) of the county’s green infrastructure
  • opportunities for improvements to watercourses in the county to reduce pollution, enhance amenity, permeability and environmental quality.
  • opportunities to improve permeability for pedestrians and cyclists (off road)
  • opportunities and mechanisms to improve biodiversity and G.I
  • a framework for the sustainable land and resource management
  • attract funding by demonstrating researched needs and outcomes
  • attract inward investment to the county and region.

The Strategy will include consideration of the following;-

  • Coastal habitats
  • Private gardens
  • Institutional grounds
  • Derelict land
  • Urban Trees and Woodlands
  • Allotments, community gardens and urban farms
  • Cemeteries, churchyards
  • Parks / Open Spaces
  • Existing and proposed greenways
  • Natura 2000 sites / pNHA’s
  • Water courses / Wetlands

Among the themes to be addressed by the Strategy are the following:-

  • Flood management / Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems)
  • Mental and physical health
  • Education and life-long learning
  • Social inclusion and community development
  • Access to natural greenspace
  • Economic investment; Land and property value

The EU Com mission plans to set up a financing facility, in 2014, to support people seeking to develop GI projects. The Dlr Strategy will investigate the possibility of accessing such finance to fund the delivery of outputs

In the final analysis, G.I in Ireland can best measured by the degree to which it is mainstreamed in professional practice. One measure would be using G.I demonstration projects, such as ‘Green Streets’, which represent a new and sustainable way of constructing/retrofitting streets to promote the management of polluted stormwater runoff (www.lastormwater.org). Surely, this would be timely in the light of recent weather events!

Aidan J. ffrench MILI, Landscape Architect
Past-President, Irish Landscape Institute
Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council Parks & Landscape Services

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council


 

[1] Naumann, S., McKenna D., Kaphengst, T. et al. (2011a). Design, implementation and cost elements of Green Infrastructure projects. Final report. Brussels: European Commission.