Audits of such green infrastructure as the massive living wall of the Rubens at the Palace hotel, in London, can reveal opportunities for communities to develop additional environmentally responsible infrastructure. A new review by Arup of such “green audits” in the United Kingdom has generated a list of best practices and processes to follow. Solent News and Photo Agency
A five-step, comprehensive examination of green infrastructure often uncovers opportunities for collaboration on new projects.
November 12, 2013—For the past several years in the United Kingdom, business improvement districts (BIDs) have undertaken comprehensive green infrastructure (GI) audits, mapping “green” resources in an area, examining the function and benefits of the infrastructure, and identifying opportunities to add to or improve it.
The audits have led to some interesting green infrastructure projects, such as the impressive new living wall at the Rubens at the Palace hotel, in London. The lush, green tapestry of ferns, ivy, and flowering plants not only adds aesthetic appeal to what had been a large blank wall, but also serves as a means to control storm water runoff in the area.
The Victoria BID in London was the first to undertake an audit, in 2010, and recently commissioned a best practices guide prepared by Arup, a global engineering firm headquartered in London. The guide, based on lessons learned from the first green infrastructure audits, presents keys to the ideal ways to add green infrastructure and a five-step process for creating successful outcomes.
“BIDs feel that they already have a detailed understanding of their district, but one BID manager commented that the GI audit identified spaces they didn’t know existed,” said Ian Lanchbury CMLI, a landscape architect and urban designer for Arup, in written comments to Civil Engineering online. “Part of the process of the GI audit is to encourage people to look at their area in different ways and enhance the functionality of the limited space available to the benefit of the wider area.
“Two of the main things that BIDs discover are a vast increase in their own knowledge and improved engagement with businesses and stakeholders in and around the BID,” said Lanchbury.
To develop the guide, Arup assembled a team of professionals with a wide array of experience in green infrastructure, sustainability, and landscape design. Additionally, the team reviewed relevant literature and interviewed 50 stakeholders from government, business, and BIDs about their experiences with GI audits.
The resulting five-step approach begins with the development of a vision for the audit and identifying partners. The second step is the actual audit, which is likely to be performed by an external consultant, Lanchbury said. The consultant must begin with an understanding of the issues driving the effort—for example, increasing biodiversity, improving air quality, and reducing storm-water runoff.
“The final GI audit should result in a comprehensive identification of existing GI and where there are opportunities for improved and additional GI with functions and benefits that are linked to the drivers and objectives of the area,” Lanchbury said.
Step three is the design and implementation of green infrastructure projects and improvements identified in the audit. Step four is the management and maintenance of the infrastructure. The final step is monitoring and evaluation to determine if the driving issues are being adequately addressed by the improvements. The guide notes that the best approach is nonlinear, with constant feedback and adjustment throughout the process.
The audit process enables BIDs to identify and actively engage stakeholders who can support and benefit from green infrastructure improvements in an area. The key is for the audit area to be well defined and for it to accurately reflect the most important drivers and objectives for that community, Lanchbury said.
“Increased engagement with stakeholders has allowed BIDs to encourage additional investment in the area from external organizations and apply for funding as a direct result of the GI audit,” Lanchbury said. “For example, if a business were to fund one tree, they may not think there is much benefit. However, if that one tree is part of a wider strategy (defined by a GI audit) then the business can see how it will contribute to the overall enhancement of the area and feel like part of the wider improvement, making that type of private investment more likely as part of an initiative.”
Although the guide was prepared and informed by experiences in the United Kingdom, and especially the greater London area, the principles can be adapted anywhere, Lanchbury said.
“A GI audit and the five-step process [are] relevant and applicable to anyone interested in mapping their local area and realizing the business, community, and environmental benefits that green infrastructure provides,” Lanchbury said. “The approach should be aspirational, but also realistic about what can be achieved, so that green infrastructure is implemented on the ground that is of multifunctional value.”
The guide is available at no cost on the Victoria BID website.