August 11th, 2023

Living Green Infrastructure:

Hopeful Strategies for the Future of Urban Living

By David Tracey

In this article, author and Gaia College instructor David Tracey explores how Living Green Infrastructure can help mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events on urban environments. Thanks to integrative nature-based solutions, municipal leaders and citizens alike can feel hopeful about combating the climate crisis. 

Living Green Infrastructure is now a study stream offered through our Diploma in Organic Land Care. 


Even long term climate crisis watchers would have found the news this summer particularly troubling. 

They had to close the Acropolis to prevent tourists from suffering heat stroke in Athens, a city which has also hired Europe's first Chief Heat Officer (CHO). Canada's worst fire season in history led officials from New York to Chicago to issue air quality warnings. In lower South America temperatures reached nearly 40 degrees Celsius during what was supposed to be their winter, a phenomenon climatologist Maximiliano Herrera called one of the "most extreme weather events the world has seen." Even our most reliable temperature regulator to date, the sea, is in peril with the BBC headlining, "Ocean heat record broken, with grim implications for the planet."

Grim yes, but hopeless, certainly not, if enough people commit to the solutions such as Living Green Infrastructure. This innovative approach to city-building takes a holistic, ecological approach to development using nature as a guide. While grey infrastructure channels excess storm water through a system of curbs and gutters and pipes to a treatment plant or large body of water, green infrastructure means adding areas of healthy plants and living soils to absorb stormwater in place. This can not only reduce construction and renewal costs of massive concrete networks, but also improve health and quality of life for human and non-human urban dwellers.


"Grim yes, but hopeless, certainly not, if enough people commit to the solutions such as Living Green Infrastructure."


Living Green Infrastructure (LGI) can go by various names, including Green Infrastructure (GI) and Low Impact Development (LID), but the principle of working with rather than against nature is the same. No matter what scale – from a rain barrel to water the garden around a single home to a conduit of wetlands linking a region, Living Green Infrastructure adds life while softening the harder edges of urban existence. 

Doing it right, naturally, all comes down to the details. As a holistic approach, it requires people with the vision and skills to collaborate with like-minded colleagues across boundaries. Designing the living city our planet needs doesn't mean you must master each part. Someone trained to help living soil ecosystems thrive amid crowded urban conditions may not have the time or resources to become an expert in how city trees grow differently than their forest counterparts. But gaining a fundamental knowledge in the value of the components and how they all fit together is crucial for anyone hoping to join the growing list of those working for a better planet. 



"This innovative approach to city-building takes a holistic, ecological approach to development using nature as a guide."


Urban designers, planners and engineers, as well as urban growers, educators and anyone else looking to improve our living conditions at home and planet-wide will find a rich source of study materials through Gaia College's course in Living Green Infrastructure. Besides providing a chance to develop the skills and language required to work with Living Green Infrastructure, it may also offer something rare for our challenging times: hope. 

Remember Athens? It too is looking at Living Green Infrastructure to tackle the climate emergency, including a plan to revive an ancient Roman underground viaduct to water parks and create more green and blue spaces. Another example of a nature-based solution, a good idea whose time seems to have come again. 


About the Author

David Tracey is a designer, writer and community ecologist. He is also an adjunct professor for UBC's School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture and the author of six books including Vancouver Tree Book, a BC #1 Bestseller. He will facilitate the Living Green Infrastructure course for Gaia College from September, 2023.

Read more about David Tracey.

Learn more about our Living Green Infrastructure course, and our new Diploma stream


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