Module 10: Innovations in GI

Learning Objective

  • Examine best practices and technologies that are pushing the boundaries of GI performance and planning.

The UN estimates that nearly 70% of the global population will live in cities by 2050, yet uncertainty remains as to how the current infrastructure can accommodate this rapid increase in population and associated infrastructure needs; a significant leverage point for integrating GI to augment and/or replace conventional infrastructure (Ritchie, 2018). The difficulties of accommodating this demographic shift are compounded by the impacts of climate change and potential corresponding loss of existing natural areas. Addressing the uncertainties and potential impediments to GI design and employment is essential to mitigating the environmental damage from 20th century urbanization and minimize the potential for continued ecological impacts into the future. Recent advances in GI science and technology hint at the possibilities of how GI can help facilitate urbanization and mitigate environmental harm to enable and support increased resilience to change.

One of the most important categories of GI innovations are efforts to more accurately account for the benefits that GI systems provide. Municipalities, national agencies, and academic institutions are developing easy-to-use calculators that can provide broad estimates of GI benefits; such as heat island reductions, ecological improvements, livability benefits, and water quality improvements. These innovations allow municipalities to make better informed decisions regarding GI design and investment and can support informed decision making in terms of quantifying the full range of benefits a GI system can provide. Stormwater management benefits of GI are continuing to be refined as innovative designs are tested for new performance variables, such as microplastic removal and microbiota concentrations. New materials or new uses of old materials are continuing to ‘push the envelope’ of GI performance standards.

An important innovation in GI employment is expanding municipal understanding of GI from single, isolated systems, to expansive networks that can address larger, city-wide demands and requirements. GI systems are being integrated into city planning efforts to optimize the benefits that GI can provide. GIS analysis is enabling greater information and understanding as to where GI can be effective and what information should be considered in implementation decisions. In Ottawa, a machine learning algorithm is compiling municipal GIS data to enable city engineers to choose the most proficient and effective sites for GI applications. Heat-mapping and socio-economic data is being used in the City of Vancouver to ensure that GI is implemented with a lens towards equity and city livability. Blue-green corridors are being used throughout Ontario to protect against floods and provide recreation space for residents.

Active monitoring of grey and green infrastructure system performance is also expanding what cities can achieve through green infrastructure. To date, GI systems have largely relied upon passive methods to reduce peak flow; the infiltration rate of soil, the number of orifices in a perforated pipe, the size of an overflow inlet. New methods of experimental control and system modelling are allowing cities to predict and optimize GI performance with greater precision and accuracy. Active sewer system monitoring and remote GI system control will allow city engineers to hold back and release water from GI systems as needed to accommodate back-to-back storm events or retain water in times of drought or potential sewer overflow. Active monitoring of groundwater levels may allow city planners make informed decisions on where GI can most effectively contribute to replenishing groundwater and improving urban water security.

Planning for biodiversity using GI requires supporting and protecting existing ecosystems and important biodiversity principles include habitat protection, connectivity and multitropic interactions. GI can prioritize habitat protection by providing habitat or creating buffer zones for existing habitat. Three case studies are presented in this module that highlight policy and GI tools fit for scale.


Learning Activities

  • As you review the reading and video cases, consider which of the GI systems described is most interesting to you? Which do you think would be most applicable in your municipality?

Discussion Question

  • Which of the innovative GI systems described in the readings and videos is most interesting to you and why?



Readings & Resources


  • Xiang, C., Liu, J., Shao, W., Mei, C., & Zhou, J. (2019). Sponge city construction in China: Policy and implementation experiences. Water Policy, 21(1), 19–


Additional Resources and Citations



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Green Infrastructure in Urban Centres: Policy, Design and Practice Copyright © by Joanna Ashworth and Nick Mead-Fox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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