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Green Infrastructure: an introductory definition

An introductory definition of Green Infrastructure.
An aerial view of the German countryside, with fields, trees, fields hedges, some house scattered about and a road.

In this course, we are expecting our learners to come from very varied backgrounds. In order for everyone to be on the same page, I will start with an introductory definition of Green Infrastructure.

We will keep it simple to start with. Through the various activities in this course, we will add more elements to this definition. By the end of Week 2, you will be asked to write your own, more complete definition of Green Infrastructure.

What is Green Infrastructure?

The idea behind Green Infrastructure is to harness and enhance the benefits we can derive from nature. Indeed, nature offers food, materials (e.g. wood or stone), clean water, clean air… By protecting natural processes and integrating them in our spatial planning, we can enhance these benefits and use them to tackle the challenges we face in our communities. By doing so, we improve our well-being and social outcomes, and we can also create value and jobs.

It is called Green Infrastructure in opposition to ‘grey infrastructure’, such as bridges or sewage systems. These words imply that they are natural or somewhat natural areas and that they are actively managed. Depending on where you are, there can also be Blue Infrastructure – these would be the rivers or lakes and seas. In this course, when we talk about Green Infrastructure, we also imply Blue Infrastructure.

Green infrastructure elements

The word ‘infrastructure’ also implies, fundamentally, that we are referring to a system, as opposed to isolated elements. A tree in a city, on its own, would be like a train station that is not connected to the rail network… A line of trees leading up to a park through which flows a river – this is when we can start talking about Green infrastructure. The individual components in this network are called Green Infrastructure elements. Here are some examples in both a rural and urban setting:

A graphic representation of GI elements

To view this image in better resolution and for further information, take a look at the EU Commission report ‘Building a Green Infrastructure for Europe’ (page 8)!

In the past, you might have come across concepts such as green networks, greenways, green wedges, green corridors… To an extent, these concepts overlap with Green Infrastructure. Recently, you might have also heard about ‘Nature-based Solutions’. This is a similar concept to Green Infrastructure, or rather Nature-based Solutions are one type of Green Infrastructure that is solely focusing on natural elements (whilst Green Infrastructure can also be mixed with ‘grey’ infrastructure or managed more actively).

To sum up: Green Infrastructure is a planned network of natural (or semi-natural) areas, designed and managed to deliver a wide range of benefits to our communities.

Also, from now on, we will refer to Green Infrastructure as ‘GI’!

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Shaping a Sustainable Future with Green Infrastructure

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