Green Infrastructure Initiatives for Sustainable Cities in Northern Ontario

February 11, 2019 - Northern Ontario communities are seeking innovative solutions to address infrastructure gaps. At the same time, climate change is prompting city planners to consider new design structures. How do we ensure that climate action plans and green infrastructure initiatives go hand in hand?


Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) offers four guiding principles that Northern Ontario communities could implement to meet infrastructure needs and green initiatives.

Data Driven

GIS professionals combine both data and geography to analyze geospatial information, such as layering census data with environmental information. This positions them to take on an important role in climate change resiliency including developing risk and assessment tools for their city and to analyze what structural adjustments the city will have to make in relation to climate change projections. For instance, if heavy rainfall is projected to increase with climate change, surface run-off will increase.

These are the discussions that are currently taking place in cities across Canada. Take, for instance, The Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance, who recently released a Salt Discussion Summary and Report expressing concerns that the City of Sudbury’s proposed developments will increase road salt runoff into the Ramsey Lake watershed. Solutions proposed include using tools such as GIS to track and measure how much salt comes from the landscape, a project that could be funded within the City’s hydrology budget.

Policy-based tools, such as the performance standards utilized by the City of Thunder Bay in their City’s Urban Design and Landscape Guideline (2012), are a reported “unique feature” by EcoHealth Ontario’s Greenspace & Ecohealth Toolkit. Performance standards are informed through consultation with the City, the environmental committee, stakeholders, and the public, and applied during the design, review and approvals process for new developments. Moreover, one of their objectives includes using Smart Growth, which provide guidelines for sustainable design and development.

Data driven initiatives can also include open access mapping tools for the public such as the Open Data portal, which is provided by the City of Edmonton. It includes a spatial database that displays content on a number of categories from sustainable development, facilities and structures to an inventory of urban primary land and vegetation.

In this technological era of geospatial web platforms, social media and volunteered geographic information (VGI), GIS professionals, software developers, and city planners can now work together with the public whether it be community mapping or visualizing local knowledge to consult on public issues in what is referred to as a geo-citizen approach in Public Participatory GIS (PPGIS).


Placemaking in the development of green infrastructure is defined as designing cities for people, focusing on the social and cultural components of neighbourhoods and public spaces. Public consultation and advisory boards are important processes that support place-based, green infrastructure development.

According to “Its Our Space: A guide for community groups working to improve public space, a well-designed place has a number of qualities, including: sustainability, character and distinctiveness, definition and enclosure, connectivity and accessibility, legibility, adaptability and robustness, inclusiveness, and biodiversity. Some of these are more difficult with cities that are spread out geographically, which means more unique and city-specific challenges and solutions.

In Sudbury, the
“green necklace” is underway within the Elgin Street Greenway Project. Part of a 10-year renewal plan for the downtown, it proposes a one-kilometre walking and cycling corridor, connecting to the shores of Ramsey Lake as outlined in Downtown Sudbury’s Master Plan. As well, to ensure they are creating intentional spaces, the Advisory Council holds a mandate to meet identified needs and gaps and develop a comprehensive study, outlined in Final Report of the Greenspace Advisory Council, 2010. This report provides an inventory of green spaces, public consultation and acquisition strategies publicly available online.

Aligned with Cities’ Structural Adjustments

Green infrastructure refers to “the network of different types of green spaces which together enable delivery of multiple benefits of goods and services”. It can also include some aspects of water environment known as ‘blue infrastructure’, such as sustainable urban drainage systems. These can be proposed by cities but home owners can also take action.

There have been a number of innovative green interventions that have been proposed and adapted in recent years, one being permeable sidewalks, which allows for improved storm water drainage and enhances the ability to remove pollutants. Home owners can now opt for a “green driveway” among other things, like installing solar panels. Another hot topic is greenfield developments, which seeks to build smart cities in the suburbs in opposition to urban sprawl, though there is debate about whether this is really “green”. On such contentious issues, policy implications can often become complex and wrought when planners try to balance the renewal and creation of development plans while also considering a sustainable future. Moreover, the provincial and federal budgets and programs must be in place to support green initiatives for cities to update policies, rewrite codes and implement projects that align with green infrastructure initiatives.

Currently nationwide, Vancouver is consistently ranked as one of the greenest cities, with a strategy to be the greenest city in the world by 2020, including zero carbon, zero waste and healthy ecosystems. Perhaps Northern Ontario can take a leaf out of their book.

Integrated with other Initiatives

The City of Edmonton’s strategic growth and development plan The Way We Grow, is also a good example of aligning initiatives. In the plan, the city identifies nine goals for land use planning which coordinate with the Transportation Master Plan.

As the regions of Northern Ontario plan for future infrastructure needs, coupled with climate change considerations, the principles of LEED ought to be examined for integration into municipal policy planning and strategic direction documents. Through investments into data driven and placemaking green planning, our communities can become more innovative, more walkable and more livable for today, and for future generations.

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Caitlin McAuliffe was an Experience North student summer placement with NPI for the summer of 2018.

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