Living Cities Canada

Our Living Cities Canada program is advancing green infrastructure (GI) in cities and towns across the country. We envision communities from coast to coast where green infrastructure—wetlands and woodlands, tree-lined streets, parks, bioswales, rain gardens, green roofs and permeable pavements—is equitable, abundant, and thriving:

Living Cities Canada is accelerating change at two levels:

  1. Supporting municipalities to advance policies, programs, and partnerships that enable GI to be systematically integrated into city-building processes; 
  2. Increasing public awareness, support, and capacity for community-led GI action projects.

Learn more about how we’re advancing supportive green infrastructure policy and community-led action:

Living Cities Policy Framework

A resource to help GI practitioners learn what has worked in other communities, and what they can do to successfully advance GI.

People working on creating green infrastructure in their community

Our Pilot Communities

We’ve been supporting local organizations in five communities across Canada to accelerate equitable, abundant and thriving GI.

The Living Cities Fund

Our Living Cities Fund is supporting local organizations to engage members of their community to advocate for and implement GI.

Interested in how we can support you to scale up equitable, abundant and thriving GI?

Why Green Infrastructure

Green infrastructure helps make urban areas work more like natural systems. When we develop cities, we replace natural vegetation and soils with hardened surfaces, like buildings, roads, and parking lots. This interrupts the natural functions the land used to provide—such as absorbing and purifying stormwater, filtering the air, providing habitat to animals and pollinators, regulating temperature, and more.  Losing these natural functions makes our cities more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, like flooding and extreme heat. It also makes our cities less sustainable, healthy, and joyous places to live. 

‘Green infrastructure’ includes natural assets that are both naturally-occurring and introduced (e.g. wetlands, forests, parks, and soils), as well as enhanced and engineered assets that use natural materials and processes (e.g. rain gardens, street trees, green roofs, permeable pavements) to provide a number of services.

Talking about natural systems and nature-inspired processes as “green infrastructure” helps highlight how it offers critical services to our human communities. 

In some cases, green infrastructure can be used as an alternative to grey infrastructure—like stormwater sewers and pipes systems that outlet to water bodies or treatment plants. In almost all cases, it can be used as a complement to grey infrastructure, helping to prolong the life of expensive municipal works. Unlike grey infrastructure that is constructed with a single purpose, green infrastructure always offers several benefits at the same time. Below is a list of some of the environmental, economic and social benefits that different kind of green infrastructure can provide.

Benefits of Green Infrastructure

Climate Change Benefits Flood Management GI allows rain to drain into the natural environment, diverting stormwater from conventional systems and reducing flows during extreme weather events. This leads to reduced overland flooding and can help mitigate riverine flooding. Urban Cooling City centres are typically 2-3°C warmer than the surrounding countryside and sometimes up to 6-7°C warmer. GI, especially shade trees, can help keep cities much cooler and reduce the “urban heat island effect.” Reduced GHGs Nature-based GI solutions can sequester greenhouse gases (GHGs) through photosynthesis and storing it in their biomass and soil. Using GI can also help local governments avoid the need to build or replace carbonintensive grey infrastructure.
Other Environmental Benefits Water Quality GI improves local water quality by enabling soil and plants to filter polluted stormwater. GI can reduce the risk of pollution caused by combined sewer overflows, where untreated wastewater is released directly into waterways during extreme weather events. Groundwater Recharge Conventional stormwater systems are designed to rapidly convey storm flows to the nearest water source, reducing opportunities for groundwater recharge. GI allows rain to drain where it falls, aiding groundwater recharge and reducing seasonal water shortages. Air Quality Natural features such as urban forests and vegetative barriers planted near roads and parking lots help reduce the impact of vehicle emissions and improve local air quality. GI can help reduce particulate pollution and ground-level ozone and provide public health benefits. Urban Biodiversity Nature-based GI can provide vital habitat, supporting local pollinators and wildlife and helping restore ecosystem functions and services.
Economic Benefits of Green Infrastructure - Efficient Use of Public Resources GI is often less capital intensive than grey infrastructure, and, unlike grey, can become more valuable over time with proper care and maintenance. GI can take pressure off existing grey infrastructure, extending its life and avoiding costly replacements of public infrastructure. GDP and Job Creation Each dollar invested in GI yields $3 to $15 of environmental, social, and health benefits. A recent study estimated that GI in Ontario contributed $8.33 B in GDP and created 122,000 jobs in 2018 alone.15 Homeowner Savings Homeowners receive many economic benefits from installing GI, including flood abatement, lower property maintenance costs (when using native and/or drought-tolerant plants), and reduced overall utility costs (in the case of variable-rate stormwater fees). Energy Savings GI can reduce energy demand. For example, shade-providing or insulating GI can reduce cooling costs; rainwater harvesting systems can reduce energy to treat potable water.
Social Benefits Physical Health People are more likely to walk and bike in GI-rich neighbourhoods, supporting physical health. Further, air and water quality benefits from GI can reduce human exposure to contaminants, lowering mortality risk and increasing vitality.1,13 Mental Health Studies have shown, even just being exposed to the colour green can improve psychological well-being and lower anxiety and depression.14 Increasing green-spaces and GI in cities helps to reduce stress and improve mental health. Social Cohesion Communal spaces can facilitate increased interactions among neighbours, which helps improve local attachment, community cohesion, and reduce crime levels. Food Provision Nature-based GI assets such as green roofs and urban gardens can be planted and maintained to reduce food insecurity and increase equitable access to healthy foods. Environmental Education Community-led GI demonstration projects support residents to get involved in local greening initiatives. This environmental and civic empowerment may lead to shifts in other sustainable behaviours. Permanent signage can amplify community learning and encourage further action. 1 An increase in community greenspace can reduce the risk of diabetes, respiratory illness, and cardiovascular disease. Exposure to residential greenspaces have been found to reduce the incidence of stroke by 4% and dementia by 3%. Similarly, mortality risk can be decreased between 8-12% from respiratory illness and cardiometabolic disease due to an increase in residential greenspace.

Partners

Partner: University of Toronto
Partner: Green Infrastructure Ontario

supported by

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Our Living Waters
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada