There is no standard understanding of Green Infrastructure (GI), but there are a number of common strands. GI refers to natural, semi-natural and managed green areas in both urban and rural settings that promote the connection of open green areas at all levels. In urban areas, GI is about putting the environment at the centre of the planning process and producing a network of spaces with benefits for people and wildlife. In rural areas, GI is often viewed at a larger scale, encompassing large country or regional parks, extensive habitats, major landscape features and the identification of wide green corridors and ecological networks.
Ongoing developments and land-use changes, such as the development of transport routes, energy generation, agricultural intensification and urban sprawl, are contributing to fragmentation that poses one of the most significant threats to ecosystem survival. Green infrastructure re-connects habitats that had been separated by development creating physical space for natural processes to take place. Linking fragmented habitats and landscape features is more beneficial than designating isolated patches and creating new spaces for wildlife. It allows the dispersal and migration of individual species and whole habitats, which will become increasingly important with climate change.
An example of the application of GI can be found in ways of addressing the need for water supplies. It is predicted that Dublin will need a new source of water by 2016. Collecting and using rainwater, rather than letting it run off into streets and sewers and water bodies, called “harvesting rainwater,” can minimise costly water abstraction and transport systems and help reduce flooding. Rainwater harvesting also avoids wasting energy and generating emissions in cleaning water for use. The harvested rainwater can be used within buildings, urban gardens, parks and other green spaces.
Flooding and extreme wet weather will be a major challenge in the future. To date it has been the most economically damaging aspect of climate change. One of the best ways to mitigate the impact of flood risk is by restoring flood plains, another instance of GI. These spaces also can be used for recreation and wildlife habitats. GI also can provide space to grow healthy, organically and locally produced food contributing to healthy diets for local communities. This can be through supplying allotments, community gardens or orchards from derelict plots.
Green infrastructure enhances the amount and quality of biodiversity in an area. However, it also provides social and economic benefits for people such as a healthier environment, a place for recreation and education and a more attractive place for people to live, work and invest in.
Green infrastructure is essential for the protection and enhancement of ecosystem goods and services underpinning our quality of life. GI is as critical as traditional infrastructure, such as transport and energy networks.
Niamh Kirwan, Policy Analyst, Comhar Sustainable Development Council,
This text is derived from web materials developed by Comhar SDC. You can access the full article with references on www.comharsdc.ie
Some further ideas to explore on Green Infrastructure:
How is green infrastructure more beneficial than unconnected green spaces?
Identify cases when it is better to provide separate spaces for wildlife and humans and when it is beneficial to provide mixed-use spaces?
Design an urban green space that provides benefits for both humans and wildlife. How would you obtain the funds to make that plan happen?
UCD Urban Institute Ireland, Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council & Fingal County Council (2008) Green City Guidelines: Advice for the protection and enhancement of biodiversity in medium to high-density urban developments, Available on www.uep.ie/news/greencity.htm
CABE (2009) Open Space Strategies, Available on www.cabe.org.uk/publications/open-space-strategies
Green Space Scotland (2009) Making the Links, Available on www.greenspacescotland.org.uk/default.asp?page=506
Milton Keynes and South Midlands Environment and Quality of Life Sub Group (2005) Planning Sustainable Communities, Available on publications.environment-agency.gov.uk/pdf/GeAN0305BIWY-e-e.pdf
Natural England (2009) Green Infrastructure Guidance, Available on naturalengland.etraderstores.com/NaturalEnglandShop/NE176
NECF (2005) Green Infrastructure Planning Guide Version 1.1, North East Community Forests, Available on www.greeninfrastructure.eu/images/GREEN_INFRASTRUCTURE_PLANNING_GUIDE.pdf
North West Green Infrastructure Think Tank (2008) North West Green Infrastructure Guide, Available on www.greeninfrastructurenw.co.uk/resources/GIguide.pdf
Town and Country Planning Association, Communities and Local Government and Natural England (2008) The Essential Role of Green Infrastructure, Available on www.tcpa.org.uk/pages/green-infrastructure.html
Agriculture, Nature and Food Policy (2005) Ecological networks experiences in the Netherlands, Available on www.minlnv.nl/portal/page?_pageid=116,1640321&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL&p_file_id=14783
The US EPA uses the term GI to refer to the use of natural systems to manage wastewater or other ecological problems, in contrast to using traditional “grey infrastructure,” such as constructed impoundments and large scale piping systems. See, Managing Wet Weather with Green Infrastructure, cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/home.cfm?program_id=298