A future where nature is valued, just as roads and highways are, holds the key to more resilient cities, sustainable development, and improved liveability.

Far from invisible is the blue-green infrastructure so inherent with our natural surroundings. This nature-based infrastructure has, in the past, been side-lined in favour of built form superimposing over our landscapes. 

Now, blue and green – as a class of infrastructure that includes the wetlands, waterways, green roofs and rain gardens, nature corridors of a verdant landscape – is becoming more valued as integral to the urban balance sheet. 

Highlighting the need to re-balance our cities, the Australian Government has recently proposed ‘Nature Positive Plan: better for the environment, better for business’, a major reform plan that can stress the value of blue-green infrastructure in city planning.  

For government, managing this transition is a formidable task as it requires a transformative change to how cities are planned, funded, designed and built.

The importance of a resilient and healthy environment

We have reached a time in society that it’s not a nice-to-have ambition, but a necessary strategy to preserve the planet for future generations. Augmenting ageing infrastructure with nature-based solutions also helps improve cost-effectiveness while providing cleaner natural cities.

Global economy flux, natural disasters and climate change are placing downward pressure on natural ecosystems.

Blue-green infrastructure makes cities nature positive by repairing natural ecosystems. For example, wetlands, healthy catchments and permeable pavements help mitigate the impacts of flooding and stormwater runoff. Trees and green spaces reduce urban heat island effect, and green corridors provide habitat for wildlife, and stormwater for reuse.

A rebalancing approach will value blue-green infrastructure as part of projects that not only achieves biodiversity enhancements, but also extends to economic, social, and Indigenous heritage.

Investing in blue-green infrastructure can lead to job creation, increased property values and improved public health, promote social cohesion and encourage community engagement by providing spaces for residents to gather, play, and connect with nature.

Actions in motion

The proposed nature repair market proposed by the federal government – along with existing offsets conservation payments – seeks to create new ways to invest in the environment to realise net positive environmental outcomes.

The proposed new Environment Protection Agency for the Commonwealth would oversee new national environmental standards to provide clarity and certainty for businesses and ensure more consistent decision-making by governments.

The federal government’s recognition of valuing nature is most definitely a positive step. There is still a way to go, however, to make this a reality. The bill is intended to be released mid-year and would require senators to cross the floor to support it.

In many cases, a shift towards more nature positive outcomes will require significant investment in share-based infrastructure.

One essential aspect in this shift is that a natural capital assessment is incorporated into program conceptualisation to ensure that natural enhancement can be determined with integrity, and that the benefits of nature-based solutions are integral to the business case and program master planning.

The fragmented ownership of costs, benefits and risks can be a barrier to blue-green outcomes.  

Response driven by communities and investors

Urban communities want green neighbourhoods, access to transport and leisure activities, and residential dwellings that attract low water and energy usage. Investors want to invest in green projects.

A resilient and healthy environment is necessary for a vibrant economy and society and essential to quality of life.

The response for governments is proactive planning policy and delivery of blue-green infrastructure so that cities can rebalance the synergies of ’systems’ of water management and urban greening, to create the “total value of ownership” outcomes for attractive and successful communities.

Governments will need to develop policy frameworks that enable decision makers to balance and allocate the benefits of natural assets and enhanced urban amenity against additional costs, such as capital and operational costs at scale. This will facilitate engagement with communities, investors and stakeholders in the planning and design process. 

Policies that reflect value and benefit, rather than cost, will favour nature positive solutions over traditional built form, and ensure that blue-green infrastructure projects meet their societal needs and values. 

When blue-green infrastructure and physical built form are planned and integrated in balance, local authorities have the opportunity to achieve co-benefits over full asset lifecycles. 

This gives us living infrastructure and places nature alongside humans in the blue green city. Think of blue-green infrastructure as adding to the urban balance sheet! 

Learn more.

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Colm Molloy