GREEN | Green Infrastructure

Posted on 24/12/2009

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Yesterday I received an email from David Barrie in which he discussed green infrastructure in the UK. I’m not across this in any meaningful way and thought I should do a bit a reading about it and identify how the idea is being taken up in Australia. Much to my delight I discovered the website of the Green Infrastructure Research Group at the University of Melbourne which states that green infrastructure is the network of designed and natural vegetation found in our cities and towns. It includes public parks, recreation areas, remnant vegetation, residential gardens and street trees, as well as innovative new urban greening technologies such as green roofs and green walls. Perhaps we can add to that quality landscaping and gardens at the street level and throughout industrial and commercial sites – presenting a major community dividend or design standard reform potential – rather than the meanly hacked hedging and sparing plantings that seems to prevail on such sites. I had previously thought that ‘green infrastructure’ was focused on energy and water management (and sustainable design in infrastructure systems) and not so attentive to land use, landscape and building design.

Green infrastructure is not, for example, considered in the South East Queensland Regional Plan even though there are provisions for open space, natural assets, bio-diversity protection and the like – what happens in the planning process or to the discourse of the plan when ‘green infrastructure’ registers as a priority? What does that mean for loaded assertions of ‘best and highest use’? A Google search of green infrastructure, named as such, did not reveal any statements from Brisbane City Council, although the city did host an international green infrastructure conference this year at which green roofs seemed to be a priority. (One objective [of the conference] is to shift the perception of green roofs from quirky to mainstream by demonstrating relevant examples, to be experienced first-hand by delegates with the proximity of the South Bank Car Park, one of Brisbane’s most public green roofs.) A green infrastructure plan as part of the River City Blueprint would be an ideal context in which to consider this network of issues – through the frame of green infrastructure and coalescing as a set of understandings of the city – in a growing city with due consideration of both retrofitting and new development.

What I particularly like about this shift in thinking about ‘living green’ in our built environment is that it positions it as integral – in the way that infrastructure is integral – rather than as a landscaping or urban design affect. In this respect, I am keen to see what artists and planners can do with green infrastructure as a city-making proposition. Rather than fragmenting the green across open space, recreation etc the clustered thinking about green infrastructure provides a less fragmented way of thinking about the city and the relationship between built and natural systems. A South Australian Government presentation about Green Infrastructure addresses some considerations (opens a PDF). Also look at the CSIRO’s research on urban ecologies.

Imagine the possibilities for figure and ground – what if, for example, instead of figure and ground (built and open space) our drawings of places represented their green and non-green elements? There are potentials for a more careful and caring approach to land use.

For more thinking around these issues, try the CABE Sustainable Cities (UK) website. CABE also initiated a Grey to Green campaign calling for a switch in public spending from grey projects, like road building and heavy engineering projects, to green schemes like street trees, parks, green roofs and waterways. Another resource is produced by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and their website says that green infrastructure can be considered a conceptual framework for understanding the “valuable services nature provides the human environment.”

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