In a session at the 2009 ASLA Annual Meeting in Chicago, Sandra James, International ASLA, City of Vancouver; Chani Joseph, University of British Columbia; and Nancy McLean, ASLA, Corporation of Delta, discussed Vancouver’s green streets program, an initiative started in 1995 to retrofit urban streets with more sustainable stormwater management technologies, a comprehensive set of bike lanes, and better infrastructure for pedestrians. Vancouver, a city of 600,000, needed a sustainable approach to rainwater management — the city has a rainforest climate and receives some 40 inches of rain per year. Vancouver’s green street program is a key part of its broader plan to further incorporate green infrastructure.
In 1992, Vancouver formed an urban infrastructure taskforce. Then, a few years later, the city council issued a “greenways” or green streets plan, which was later incorporated into greater transportation and bicycle plans.
Vancouver has invested in green streets because it prioritizes the transportation experience of walkers. According to Sandra James, Vancouver puts walkers first, then come bikers, community buses, trucks, and cars. The city purposefully makes walking interesting through different native vegetation to encourage more walking. The city also created a target: green streets should be no more than a twenty minute walk to any residence.
James added that green streets provide an opportunity for “place-making,” or creating green space with strong local character. “Spaces are becoming more international” (or homogenized), meaning that all cities are using the same benches, trees, landscape technologies. To differentiate a city’s ecological design, cities must build on native vegetation to create a sense of local character.
Vancouver currently dedicates USD 3 million in every capital plan to green street development. Green streets now cost 160,000 per kilometer. There are now 14 neighborhood green streets that communities help maintain.
Chani Joseph at UBC noted that Vancouver has focused on plant diversity, believing that increased plant diversity in its green streets will increase the city’s resiliciency to climate change. The city also tracks the state of soils, and lets organic soil matter build up to improve C02 sequestration. Joseph noted the importance of tracking pollutant load in green streets.