By Joseph Bailey, University of Nottingham, UK.
The Los Angeles River, and its iconic concrete channels, made the BBC news last week following discussions of a ‘greener’ LA River catchment by researchers at the American Geophysics Union (AGU) Fall Meeting in San Francisco. The idea of ‘green infrastructure’ (or ‘blue-green infrastructure’) is proliferating internationally and essentially aims to reconcile humans and nature in urban and suburban settings, as opposed to employing previously favoured ‘hard engineering’ (i.e building man-made structures) strategies against flooding and other environmental threats. Green infrastructure initiatives have already begun on certain stretches of the LA River (e.g. see this National Geographic article from July 2014), however, this recent BBC article focusses on the complexities of such strategies.
The present concrete channels are vital in protecting Los Angeles from flood events by rapidly moving water away from the city and its residents, as outlined by one of the scientists interviewed in the article. This same scientist also notes that redesigning such a huge structure in the middle of a highly densely populated area is very difficult if the primary function to prevent flooding is to be maintained into the future as storms become more intense under climate change.
About a month prior to the focal news story of this article on the LA River, there was another story discussing droughts in the wider California area, with reservoirs and ground water supplies running dry as the state endures its third year of drought. This may sound like a wholly separate issue to flooding but a more integrative environmental management agenda implementing green infrastructure can contribute towards a host of environmental management foci, not just flood prevention. Indeed, one option discussed in the LA River article is to capture more water by creating a greater number of catchment basins to replenish groundwater supplies. However, this would ‘almost certainly’ necessitate moving people, homes and businesses, thus proving costly.
Here in the United Kingdom, Jones and Somper (2014) discuss integration of green infrastructure in London, highlighting the importance of collaboration between businesses, government and local communities and of making the socio-economic advantages of such infrastructure clear to investors. Jones and Somper provide examples of such collaboration, including Camden Council, who are actively encouraging the community to engage with ‘green issues’. Of course, expert opinion from geographers and others also has a large part to play alongside such collaborations. Indeed, research within the green infrastructure theme is thriving. For example, the Blue-Green Cities project emphasises the potential of such green strategies to provide resilience to flooding through adaptive management.
Overall then, green infrastructure seems to be able to offer much towards protecting people from environmental threats both now and into the future, while also encouraging a more harmonious relationship between people and nature in presently unnatural urban areas. If the known complexities of green infrastructure can be overcome to produce environmental solutions that make for a better future for both nature and humans (both practically and aesthetically), then this should surely be encouraged.
Jones, S. & Somper, C. (2014). The role of green infrastructure in climate change adaptation in London. The Geographical Journal, 180 (2), 191–196.