GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE FOR THE U.S.

By ARANCHA MUÑOZ  DIC. 23, 2016

 

25 years ago, while I was studying Landscape Planning in USA, I discovered a concept that fascinated me and I have applied it in all my projects and plans.

This concept is the Green Infrastructure. It is such a simple concept. Place in one map the most valuable landscapes and design a network of green spaces before growth.

 
Place in one map the most valuable landscapes. By Arancha Muñoz/ESRI. 

Place in one map the most valuable landscapes. By Arancha Muñoz/ESRI. 

 

It all started when...

This concept was founded in the United States by the fathers of Landscape Planning more than a hundred years ago, based on the contribution of the works of outstanding personalities, such as the architect, journalist, social critic and public administrator Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903).

Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903). 

Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903). 

 
 

A good example is the Emerald Necklace in Boston, where Olmstead designed a network of green spaces using the existing landscape infrastructure , rivers, unhealthy wetlands, floodplains..., as a river park system from which the city of Boston expanded.

 
Original plan of the necklace from 1894 by F. L. Olmsted.

Original plan of the necklace from 1894 by F. L. Olmsted.

 

I have incorporated Green Infrastructure into planning policy in the Autonomous Region of Valencia in Spain. Now 550 municipalities are required, by Law, to do the Green Infrastructure before they do their development plans.

 
Europe and the Autonomous Region of Valencia in Spain.

Europe and the Autonomous Region of Valencia in Spain.

 

At the same, time I developed plans and projects at all scales to show people the benefits of doing green infrastructure. You can see several examples in the slideshow below these lines:

 
 

What I could not do, although I tried, was to offer maps and apps to help municipalities deliver their local green infrastructure. So when Jack Dangermond -CEO and founder of GIS vendor Esri, invited me to take up the challenge of creating a Green Infrastructure national framework for U.S. with him and his team, I dropped everything and joined them immediately.

 
 

THE CHALLENGE...

The concept of creating a network of green spaces before growth is now more important than ever. In a world were population has grown 4 times in the last century, fragmentation of the landscape has become the main threat to biodiversity and therefore to human life.

 
 

THE CONCEPT...

Green Infrastructure can be broadly defined as a strategically planned network of high quality natural and semi-natural areas with other environmental features, which is designed and managed to deliver a wide range of ecosystem services and protect biodiversity in both rural and urban settings
— 'Building a Green Infrastructure for Europe', EU Commission.

Over the past decade, the concept of Green Infrastructure has been defined by many ways by differents organizations.

But beyond those technical definitions, the concept is a very simple idea, and I will share it with you in this video. It is a fragment of my conference titled 'Designing and Creating a Green Infrastructure' which I presented at the 2016 Geodesign Summit, which was held January 27-28 at Esri headquarters in Redlands, California.

 
 
 
 

EVERYONE BENEFITS...

The new developments benefit from a quality setting which keeps their landscape identity; we preserve areas of environmental value and biodiversity and avoid hazard areas.

 
 

EXPORTED TO THE WORLD...

The term Green Infrastructure was created here in the US and has been exported all over the world: Europe, Australia, China, South America, everybody is talking about it...

For example, the European Union is developing a strategy for Green Infrastructure to achieve common European policy objetives in regional development, forestry, environment, risk management, climate change...

Nature 2000 Network and European Greenbelt.

Nature 2000 Network and European Greenbelt.

 
 

EXISTING INITIATIVES IN USA...

In the US, more and more Green Infrastructure projects have been carried out and there is a wealth of experience demostrating that the approach is flexible, sound and cost effective.

Esri has helped many of these initiatives at state, regional and local level, and has seen that they all share similar goals and vision; to preserve lands and water on which life depends and to enhance the quality of life of our communities.

 
 

But valuable landscapes don't stop at municipal or project boundaries. If no action is taken, we only have independent initiatives that they don't deliver the full potential to restore ecosystem functions.

So Jack Dangermond thought, wouldn't it be wonderful if we have a common national framework, maps and tools, that allows us all to have a complete picture of our environment before development occurs?

 
 

GI TOOLS

We now have a Green Infrastructure framewok, maps, apps and guidance to help you define your local green infrastructure.

 
 

LINKING SCALES

This framework works at all scales.

When consistency and coherence is achieved across the different scales, benefits are multiplied manyfold. What happens upstream will have an impact downstream.

 
 

A PILOT EXPERIENCE...

Thanks to Esri, we now have for the first time a map of intact natural areas for all United States, from where you can zoom in and create your own green infrastructure. 

 
 
 
 

According to this, decision makers, planners, investors, local people will know now that in the green areas they have some kind of environmental restrictions. And they just have to click at the GIS map to know which they are.

As you can see, Green Infrastructure is about transparency. Everybody will know where the most valuable landscapes are before development occurs.

Having all your most valuable landscapes in one map; rivers, tributaries, critical habitats, wetlands, floodplains, prime agriculture, and connecting them to the city allows decision-makers to identify how proposed new projects and urban growth potentially impact on existing natural resources, and how to mitigate and manage them.

 
 

Green infrastructure is the harmonic confluence between environment, development and economy.

 
 

APPLICATIONS...

Water is the backbone of green infrastructure. Water needs space to adapt to climate change and we need to reserve that space.

If, for example, you intersect the intact habitats areas that ESRI has created with rivers, you will visualize priorities and opportunities for connections, conservation and recreation. Let's see an example in the pictures below: 

 
 

The questions will be now: Where are the areas that should be protected? Where are the opportunities for land acquisition?

By designing green infrastructure we can preserve space for water and enchance biodiversity, recreation and local character... creating ecological corridors and making possible a new relationship between urban and rural areas. 

Growth is going to occur. If we don't design green infrastructure first, we will loose those areas and connections for ever. Once, connectiviy is gone, it is much harder, if not impossible, to re-establish it. 

 
 

THE NEW CONSERVATION APPROACH OF THE XXI CENTURY?

Why is green infrastructure so successful, why are so many countries around the world taking it on as the new conservation approach of the XXI century?

  • because it is very simple, everybody understands it
  • because it joins conservation with development
  • it saves money
  • because you show people benefits that they understand and care about like access to nature, beautiful landscapes in the surroundings, clean water and air, increase of the property values
  • because it is abour transparency, and everybody and all disciplines feel involved
 
 

The time to do your Green Infrastructure is now, you have now the technology and information to deliver it at all scales

 

If you want the complete presentation of this speech, visit: Designing and Creating a Green Infrastructure