October 13, 2009

Turning Cities into Sponges

I never thought I'd be quoting a publication called the Daily Commercial News and Construction Record, but I'm willing to learn from anyone. An article entitled Philly's bold stormwater management plan leads the way caught my eye - it's an initiative that I'd like to see in more cities, and promoted by ones like my own Burnaby.

I love the following quotation from the article:

The plan reimagines the city as an oasis of rain gardens, green roofs, permeable pavements, thousands of additional trees, and more. The idea is to turn the city into a giant sponge to absorb as much rainwater as possible and delay the rest in its journey to the nearby Delaware and Schuykill rivers.

Now that's vision! Or simply going back to what used to be . . . Most cities were once giant sponges, because that's what most land used to be before we built on it. So it makes sense to return to what worked for Mother Nature for millennia, eh?

How about this?

The new plan announced last month would "peel back" a lot of the city's concrete and asphalt and replace them with plants - rain gardens, green roofs, landscaped swales in parking lots, heavily planted boulevards, and small wetlands.

Yes! Streamkeepers and other concerned citizens have dreamed of this for years. The main issues dogging urban creeks are massive flows during rains because of all the water that goes shooting off of roads, roofs and parking lots straight into street drains, and pollution from oil, antifreeze, brake-lining dust, rubber, soap, other chemicals, etc., washing off our streets. Rain gardens, ponds, swales - they would all help with both problems, slowing peak flows and filtering out pollutants.

I believe all municipalities in British Columbia are required to produce ISMPs (integrated stormwater management plans) for all of their watersheds, and Burnaby is no exception. The City has been working on a Byrne Creek ISMP for some time now, and I have sat in on stakeholder sessions as a representative from the Byrne Creek Streamkeepers.

Unfortunately, I haven't witnessed much imagination in the process so far. I get the sense that there's more talk about more pipes, than there is about rain gardens, swales, street-edge alternatives, trees and plants. More pipes? That's so 19th and early-to-mid 20th century, eh? Let's be forward-looking!

Posted by Paul at October 13, 2009 04:25 PM