Using Green Infrastructure as a Tool to Enhance Rural Land Use Planning
This paper explores the use of nature, herein referred to as Green Infrastructure (GI), as a new asset to improve the rural condition of communities in southern Ontario. The exploration includes the formulation of a planning framework that can create new understanding around the systems use of nature to address needs and challenges of life in rural areas. The exploration is made through the life lens of a land use planner who is principally interested in looking at mechanisms to improve health and wellness, resiliency and sustainability conditions for rural communities. GI system planning uses nature to leverage beneficial attributes while minimizing risks and potential downsides. At a community level planning effort, matters of public and private interests are discussed, debated and prioritized in the overall formulation of a plan. A simple explanation for describing this planning effort might be described as identifying ways and means to more fully exploit the assets of nature for human endeavour. A subtler and preferred explanation would be aligned with the following - to utilize nature/natural assets in a symbiotic association that maximizes utility, multifunctionality and sustenance for both the human and natural worlds. The research employs a qualitative mixed methods approach to inquiry. GI planning as practiced in many other parts of the world may have application in the Canadian/Ontario context. The southern Ontario rural landscape was chosen as the case study investigation area. This landscape, while being richly endowed with natural land and water assets, also may be described as having a land use system that is conflicted/contested – multiple activities vying for prominence, with differing time horizons for achieving success as defined by various public and private interests. Rural planning leaders working within communities of this area provided inputs to this paper. A comprehensive research method comprising a literature review, surveys, key informant interviews, a focus group discussion and a research review meeting was conducted. Content analyses of the compiled information provided the principal data source. As a conclusion, land use planning with green infrastructure can assist in addressing the unique challenges and aspirations for various types of communities within rural Ontario.